Okinawa is known as the tropical paradise of Japan and a tourist spot for many travelers from all over Asia. Beaches, palm trees, relaxing hotel resorts, island culture, delicious regional foods and dances invite the visitors to enjoy their break from reality. But not too long ago, the island was far away from being a relaxing paradise.
During World War II, Okinawa was the last and bloodiest battle ground in the Pacific and many lives were lost here. Fighting raged for 83 days on the island and almost a third of its 475,000 residents were killed. Today, many memorials tell the war stories and honor the sacrifices of those involved in the war. The Okinawan government did a wonderful job transforming former battle grounds into beautiful parks and museums. Important historic places like this are preserved and built into visitor spots, so Okinawa's history can be re-lived and understood.
Kakazu Ridge Memorial Park
One of those memorial spots is the Kakazu Heights Observatory Park in Kakazutaka, Okinawa which can be found just off the 330 in Toyama. Kakazu is such a famous historic battle ground, that tour groups regularly visit and explore around. The extremely steep hills of the area were defended by the Japanese troops during the war. In April 1945 however, the American forces tried to push through Kakazu towards Shuri Castle and a fierce battle took place. The Japanese had a great advantage over the US soldiers and did not allow them to overtake the ridge. In weeks of intense fighting, the Americans finally overcame the Japanese with flame throwers and artillery fire. The soldiers crawled and climbed up the hills, taking cave by cave and battling the intense monsoon rains.
Taking the stairs to the lookout point
Today, the ridge remembers this time in a peaceful manner. A lookout point stands high on the tallest hill, facing the Futenma Air base. From the observatory, the beaches and city of Ginowan and even the famous Hacksaw Ridge in Shuri can be spotted.
A great view over the city
The visitor can enjoy the view or explore the Tochika and the Jinchi-go Underground bunkers in the area.
World War 2 preserved bunkers
The Jinchi-go caves are built mountain tunnels in which the civilians and soldiers used to hide. Those caves run deep and are sealed off today, but just even a look inside the dark holes helps understand the living conditions in those times for the fighting soldiers and hiding Okinawans.
The underground caves
War refugees used to cower in fear from the violence outside and were recruited to be field nurses and helpers by the soldiers that were also occupying the bunkers. The American soldiers had to conquer these caves one by one to take the hills in Okinawa.
The Tochika's front opening
The Tochika (Tochika is a Russian military term that describes 'Hub' or 'point') was one of the most important defensive positions of the Japanese soldiers. The concrete boxes with one meter thick walls were placed on strategic points on the hills. Little windows in the Tochikas allowed the Japanese soldiers to fire rifles or machine guns at the attacking U.S. Forces. Three adults could fit in the station and it was a hard challenge for the American soldiers to overcome these battle points.
Today the park is not just a memorial to the battles that were fought here but also a place of rest and re-creation. Elderly visit the park often to socialize and play games on the large grass fields. A nice playground for kids was erected and many runners train and work out on the walking paths. In spring, the hill is covered with beautiful pink cherry blossoms and invites the visitor to linger and enjoy the beauty of the park and the vast view of the city. The park is open 24 hours and also has free admission. It is a very rich and historic spot in Okinawa.