For many people, Okinawa is the perfect holiday destination. However, warm weather and beautiful beaches aren’t the only reasons for coming to this paradise island. Okinawa sadly played host to one of the biggest and most significant battlegrounds during the Pacific War. The island stood as the last remaining obstacle before the Allies could advance to the mainland of Japan, thus the battling was unrelenting on both sides.
Scattered throughout the island are harsh reminders of this fascinating period of history. In modern times they’re the enormous expanses of American military bases that command the island. Okinawa’s horrific past is memorialised by the structures and relics that have survived since the war. One of the most unique remnants of the war are the unbelievable amount of cave systems throughout the island. These played an incredible role during the war and amongst the most historically rich artefacts.
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Finding the Right Cave
The island’s caves served both as headquarters and avenues of surprise attacks by the Japanese military against the invading Americans. More importantly, the residents of the island would use them to hide from the devastation. Desperate civilians hoping to escape the carnage, trying to survive the onslaught.
These days, many of these caves have been lost to the tourist trade, turning into nothing more than another run of the mill user-friendly experience. Others remain hidden, away from the tourist trail, ones completely void of people, providing a more organic experience.
The island of Okinawa is an unbelievable draw to not only the citizens of Japan, but also to people from across the globe. There’s plenty of appeal to this tropical little island; the beautiful nature, the abundant sea-life and the sweltering beaches. However for me, this wasn’t the main draw. Okinawa happens to come with…
Finding one is by no means an easy task. Though sites like Dark Tourism has some valuable information on sites worth visiting, very little information is available on the lesser known caves. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe they want to keep them a secret, keep them away from nosy tourists. Regardless, they’re out there, caves that come with an immense history and played a major part in the war. A cave which is little known, lacking any tourist-friendly modifications, a completely unique experience. This is what you find at Todoroki Cave.
A Brief Horrifying History
It’s a cave that comes with quite a horrifying history. It indeed played a very significant role during the war. Originally it was used by the inhabitants of the southern end of the island during the relentless air-raids undertaken by the Americans. Local Okinawans used these caverns to hide from the destruction and constant bombardments from the Allies. As the war progressed and the defeat of Okinawa neared, the military also began to take shelter, mixing the Allied targets with innocent civilians.
The excess of people began dying of starvation as the military deprived them of the little amount of food and supplies that were left. As the war came to an end, the Americans inexplicably began throwing in grenades and petrol-bombs to flush out the people they had discovered. Without a doubt the most horrifying tale is that of a crying baby being strangled to death, as they feared it would alert the Allies of their position.
How To Get There
Getting to the cave takes some patience and dedication, as its a bit difficult to find. It isn’t near any other attraction or next to anything of note. Unless you’re driving or planning on spending a ridiculous amount on a taxi, taking the bus is your only option.
From Naha Bus terminal, take bus number 446 to the terminal stop Itoman Eigyosho and walk for 20 minutes. Otherwise, take bus number 34, 35 or 89 to Itoman Ichiba Iriguchi then transfer to bus number 82 or 446 to Nambu Byoin mae bus stop before walking the rest of the way.
From Nambu Byoin mae, walk along the main road for about 10 minutes until you get to a 4-way junction. Across the road is an ominous set of stairs that leads off into the shrubbery. There aren’t any signs, just look for the stairs. At the top, a path leads deeper into the bush until it reaches an information plaque for “Todoroki Cave”.
How to Get In
Next to the plaque you’ll see a set of concrete stairs and a metal railing that leads down into a collapsed cavern. The stairs continue to descend further down passing some small shrines and memorials which have been set up in the hollows in the rock face.
About half-way down the stairs a small path deviates right. This path allows you to explore more of the open cavern, however the main show is at the bottom of the stairs. The steps continue to the bottom of the cavern where they seem to disappear. A series of thick black cables that follows the concrete steps suddenly vanish into a pitch black hole that seems to lead nowhere. This is the entrance to Todoroki Cave.
Visitors must carefully slide-in feet first into the abyss, where you can follow the last remnants of steps that lead into the cavern. You’ll then have to carefully crawl your way through a narrow 3-foot gap in the rocks until you’re officially in the belly of Todoroki Cave.
What to Expect
Once you enter the cave, two things are immediately apparent. The complete and total darkness and the intense heat that radiates from within. The creepy silence is broken by a small creek that runs through the cave, providing an eerie chorus of running water which resonates in the cavern.
It goes without saying that a torch is more than necessary, a simple phone light will not be enough. Only then will you be able to carefully step deeper into the cave and see the incredible formations across the caverns roof. There are an incredible number of enormous stalactites hanging from above.
Inside there are shocking reminder of what took place here 75 years ago in the form of shrines. No doubt the former in inhabitants of the cave would use them. Modern day visitors leave offerings to the people that once sheltered here. An even more chilling thought is that many modern visitors that leave behind offering are likely memorialising family members that once inhabited the cave.
The isolation and the lack of safety measure of the cave makes it quite a risky venture. Coming with a guide is recommended, though not essential. At the very least you should inform someone of where you are going before visiting the cave.
Bear in mind that you are on an island that experiences frequent earthquakes. Not only is there potential to have collapses within the cavern itself but can also be shut in. The tiny entrance of the cave can easily be shut with falling rocks, it’s a very real concern.
A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.