Mukyudou, or the Eternal Cave, is an air raid shelter dug by the Miya village elementary school teachers and students during World War II. The then principal, Ikeda Chiaki, suggested the plan and the construction lasted for about two years, from 29 Aug 1943 to 15 Aug 1945. The cave was designed to let children be able to live and study even during the evacuation time. This was a unique shelter which had an Imperial Room, a food storage, a kitchen, and a restroom as well as a classroom. After the end of the war, it was used briefly as an underground classroom, but after that it remained untouched for about 60 years.
WHY was the underground shelter built?
In those days, Miya village was a district that was prosperous with farming and fishery. As the Pacific War grew more violent, it caused damage to this small and peaceful village. A lot of young men were sent to the front lines. Sometimes enemy fighter airplanes flew overhead and strafed villagers. Four big bombs were dropped. Mr. Chiaki felt a sense of crisis and decided to build an air raid shelter in a hill behind the schoolhouses. This became the Eternal Cave. It is said that around 600 students were evacuated into the cave when an air raid alarm sounded. The subjects which were taught in the cave must have been moral or something similar because these subjects didn’t require a blackboard and could be taught regardless of grade level. Sometimes teachers showed movies in the cave. According to a former student, they were mainly war-sentiment-whipping-up movies.
WHO did the digging?
The digging work was done mainly by 7th and 8th grade students. The composition of the Eternal Cave is tuff, stone of volcanic ash origin. Tuff was a perfect stone for the children to dig because it is soft and light. In those days, many students were already mobilized to work in military factories, so the construction was conducted by the rest of the students. Boys dug with pickaxes, girls evened out the surface with chisels and hoes, and the lower grade students carried the mud out of the cave with buckets made of braided bamboo. They repeated the same work every day, working in shifts of groups of three or four students. According to a former student, the work was hard for them but they engaged in it earnestly with a ‘No Desire Until Smashing Enemies’ spirit. Nearly every day the principal was there with the children and gave instructions to them. There was a tense atmosphere and it put a great strain on the children. The lower grade students’ work was to carry mud from the cave to the nearby playground and the road beyond the river. Sometimes they had to go as far as the mountainside. For the higher grade students, the priority was placed on military training and working rather than studying. They also engaged in other activities such as making charcoal, even when they were off duty.
HOW did they dig?
What enabled them to build a facility with such a high ceiling? In short, they dug from the top, not from the bottom. The construction started from the upper part. After leveling the ceiling, they started digging into the rock toward the ground. This is the best way if you don’t want to put up a scaffold. They must have thought that the scaffold would hinder students from carrying mud out of the cave.
WHAT did the shelter look like?
- In those days, the wall and floor of the shelter were boarded. The holes on the walls are marks of nails which fixed boards to the wall. There were no chairs or desks in the shelter, so the students had to sit on the floor directly. To avoid direct touch to the wet walls and floor, boards were needed. It must have been the teachers’ consideration to provide the students with better accommodations for studying.
- One of the characteristics of this shelter is its elaborate decorations. They carved the water fountain, the light self, and teacher’s desk from the rocky wall.
- Looking at the ceiling, you can find traces of a power transmission line. Electricity was installed even to the deeper part of the cave because natural light could not enter there. It is said that no candles were used in the cave.
Some of the elaborate decorations:
For Japan, the Eternal Cave is a valuable historic war relic. It tells us the facts that this facility, which is big enough to accommodate hundreds of people, was dug exclusively by the power of the children and yet education was still the top priority even in extreme situation. This facility should be called an Underground Classroom rather than an air raid shelter. They say that what remains at this place is children’s eternal future and they hope that we can understand the principal’s wish to provide his students a safe place with better conditions for learning. To the Japanese, this place reminds them that a child’s peaceful future should be wished by us all.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!