Chichibu caves off-limits

 In Mountain information, Others

Caves located in the prefecture owned forests and managed by the Chichibucenter for the promotion of agriculture and forest (Chichibu-nōrin-shinkō center, 秩父農林振興センター) located in the Chichibu city (秩父市) in Saitama prefecture (埼玉県), including Ishibunesawa-shōnyūdō (石舟沢鍾乳洞), Butsusekisan-shōnyūdō (仏石山鍾乳洞) and Tojūrōsawa-shōnyūdō (藤十郎沢鍾乳洞) caves are now off-limits due to an accident that happened on the trail heading to one of the cave. Following the accident, the mountain rescue police unit recommended to close the caves as they think rescue operations will be too complicated if an accident happen in one of the cave and the center which manage these forest have followed those recommendations.

For more information check this page on the Saitama prefecture site:

An accident on a trail and they close the cave ?!?! Welcome to Japan ! If I was the police I would have also forbidden the access to all the roads in the area to be easy.

More seriously, I understand that the mountain rescue unit recognize that they don’t have the competency to realize rescue operations in caves, but to go from there to banning the access to caves due to an accident that happened on the trail there’s a huge gap. Caves are for sure a very specific environment where rescue operations are made complicated by often difficult access and the narrowness of the environment which makes progression complicated, especially if you are carrying rescue gears. In France only the fire-brigade’s GRIMP (Groupe de Reconnaissance et d’Intervention en Milieu Périlleux – reconnaissance and intervention in dangerous environment team), is trained to do rescue operations in caves. Despite that and because the environment is very specific, caving is the only field in France were volunteers remains predominant in rescue operations. This implies of course slower reactivity and rescue operations which can result in the death for the victim. So the situation is not that different. Yet, except if there are objective dangers – like impending rock fall or collapsing – no caves have been closed in France because there was an accident inside, all the more for an accident that happened outside.

Closing a cave in such a situation has nothing to do with people’s security to my opinion and is just pure hypocrisy. Do mountains gets forbidden when someone has an accident on the trail ? Isn’t the real reason just about money ? Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts are a source of profit that is quite considerable while the few people doing caving in Japan are not “profitable”.

If police’s real interest was security, they would start by taking care of bicycle traffic security in towns. To my opinion I feel the risks are way higher to suffer serious injury or leave my life on Tōkyō‘s pavement while riding my bicycle than when doing caving with appropriate gears to ensure my security. If mountain rescue team don’t have the skills to execute rescue operations in caves, so be it. They can, like in other places, ask for the help of the caving community. No need to close the cave. They can advertise to adventurers of the earth’s bowels that they might not be able to rescue them and that they enter the world of darkness at their own risk. Cavers knows anyway that in most cases they will have to be autonomous in case of an accident and continue to practice the activity knowingly (this doesn’t mean that we won’t ask for help if rescue is possible).

In the end, such measures just reduce the field of practice and liberty of cavers and do not help security nor rescue in anything. They are just avoiding the problem. As Helen Keller was saying “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable

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