Everywhere we travel, if we are mindful, we will find hints of history. Down the street from my university there was a stone on the street corner with a plaque saying that General Washington had passed by there on such-and-such a date in 1770-something. Houses throughout the UK have little blue plaques on them saying which famous person used to live there.
I am ever mindful of this when I am in Japan, as Japanese history is one of my great loves, and there is so much to find around each and every corner. Once, while exploring Kamakura with my friends, got a tad lost and came upon a temple I’d never been to before; reading the sign, we discovered that the great swordsmith Masamune – famous enough that all my friends had heard of him – was buried in that very temple’s grounds.
But when I went to Okinawa, seeking out traditional culture and sites relevant to the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom, even as I visited Shuri Castle and numerous other sites destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, I failed to recognize or realize that the black and white photos and videos we see of that battle took place on those very streets. As I stayed within Naha, and did not seek out any war memorials or the like, the battlesites were far from my mind, even as the horrible losses and destruction suffered by Okinawa during that war were very much on my thoughts.
The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill was a central part of the Battle of Okinawa, and even as I knew that Shuri Castle was the Japanese military command center for the island, and that the battle centered on control of Shuri, I never gave any thought to just where in Naha/Shuri these battles took place.
Well, the Japanese Wikipedia article for the Battle of Sugar Loaf gives the exact GPS coordinates of Sugar Loaf. I was surprised to discover that I’d been there.
Located just west of Omoromachi Station on the Okinawa Monorail, a water tower today sits atop Sugar Loaf.
I wonder if any marker or plaque indicates the significance of the site or the immense number of people whose blood was spilled fighting over control of this hill. A plaque giving the history of the battle is located up on the hill.
Omoromachi is today the new metropolitan center (新都心) and the station is attached to a series of major shopping centers, including Fendi and Bulgari shops, and a movie theatre. It’s beyond strange for me to imagine this place, today overrun with an army of teenagers and stroller-pushing moms, as the site of a major battle between the Imperial Japanese Army and US forces.
Nambu World includes a photo-filled tour of WWII sites around southern Okinawa, including Sugar Loaf. Thanks to Flickr member Carol.Okinawa for pointing out this site to me, and to Teri of the Nambu World website for writing it and sharing her photos.
EDIT (Sept 3 2013): On my trip to Okinawa this summer, I made sure to take a few minutes to check out Sugar Loaf Hill, which I had missed last time. Sadly, I realized afterwards, I failed to take any pictures of what it looks like up there, or of the view from the top of the hill, but, basically, what I found was a single plaque, and a fair bit of green-grassed empty space, where one can walk full around the water tower, and see the view of the city from atop the hill. There were a few benches, and a little lookout tower sort of thing, like one might find in a public park or playground. From up there you can really get a good view out over the city – and so it’s easy to appreciate why this tiny hill would have been of such incredible tactical importance.