Exploring Okinawa: Kakazu and Hacksaw Ridges key WWII sites

A northward view from Kakazu Ridge. Photos by Shoji Kudaka
A northward view from Kakazu Ridge. Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Exploring Okinawa: Kakazu and Hacksaw Ridges key WWII sites

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Although Kakazu Ridge is a quiet area where locals go to play mini-golf or let their children loose for playground time, this place was the site of deadly combat during the Battle of Okinawa.

A playground on Kakazu Ridge

Only a 15-minute drive from MCAS Futenma, the ridge boasts a good vantage point of the mid-section of the island. During the war, the ridge looked smaller than its southern neighbor, Hacksaw Ridge, but its position and size did not make it any easier to conquer during the war.

According to “Okinawa: The Last Battle,” a book recounting the events of this deadly battle, U.S. forces coming from the north launched a substantial attack on Kakazu Ridge and another ridge nearby known as Kakazu West on April 9, 1945. The two ridges are positioned in a way that forms a “T” and although U.S. forces successfully reached the top of the ridges, their effort was met with heavy counterattack that forced them to retreat.

Kakazu Ridge itself was especially fortified by the Japanese Imperial Army with bunkers, tunnels and pillboxes. A deep gorge, which bordered the north side of Kakazu Ridge, posed more challenges. Many portions of this side were rice paddies meaning tanks could not be utilized. It took the U.S. forces about 15 days to conquer the ridges and the battle left several thousand dead on both sides, according to a 2008 NHK report.

A front view of a bunker on Kakazu Ridge

Although Kakazu Ridge was renamed Kakazu Takadai Kouen, or Kakazu Takadai Park, after the war, some remains of the battle are still left on site, including a concrete wall peppered with bullet holes. According to Ginowan City, this wall used to belong to a local residence. Another reminder of war is an underground bunker halfway up a staircase leading from the bulleted wall. The entrance is fenced-off, but visitors can take a look through and get an idea of the exhausting labor it took to build the structure.

An entrance to underground bunkers

Another point of interest is at the top of the stairs—an observatory which gives visitors a view as far as Yomitan, the U.S. Forces landing point up north. And it is also a place where Japanese media and amateur photographers go to snap off great photos of MCAS Futenma. Facing south, Hacksaw Ridge is visible towering over Kakazu.

An observatory on Kakazu Ridge

After the observatory, take a look at what remains of the site’s pillbox, or “tochka,” which the Ginowan City office explains is a Russian military term for “point” or “hub.” Although significantly damaged, the cubic structure still retains its framework. Near the pillbox, there are monuments for citizens of Korea and Kyoto who were involved and killed in the battle at Kakazu.

All in all, visitors can see all the points of interest in Kakazu in an hour, so make the most of your time by heading to Hacksaw Ridge, a must-see historical spot only 10-minutes away by car. American forces launched an attack on this ridge a couple of days after the fall of Kakazu. This ridge garnered fame and became a popular spot to visit thanks to the 2016 movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”

A visit to this site will not only show you points you might remember from the movie, but also other historically-significant spots not shown. “Needle Rock,” located on the east end of the ridge, is a 42.7-foot monolith where the first stage of the battle at the ridge took place. Some portions of Hacksaw Ridge are now covered with stone walls, which bring back the time when the location was known as “Urasoe Castle” and “Urasoe Youdore,” a mausoleum for King Eiso and King Shonei of the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879). The restored castle wall gives an idea of how this place looked before the war.

Needle Rock at Hasksaw Ridge

Make time for the museum nearby for a close look at some of the preserved artifacts of the battle, including weapons, bullets and a replica of the mausoleum’s stone chamber.

A trip to both Kakazu and Hacksaw Ridges on Okinawa makes for an interesting glimpse into the history of the area beyond what the big screen can give you. If you’ve seen the movie or are a history buff, both ridges are a must-see.


Kakazu Takadai Park
GPS Coordinates: N 26.258678, E 127.736877

Hacksaw Ridge (Urasoe Castle Ruins)/Urasoe Youdore Museum
GPS coordinates: N 26.248041, E 127.730335
Admission: Entry to Urasoe Castle Ruins is free; Entry to museum costs 100 yen (high school student and above) and 50 yen
(middle school student and below)
Museum Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Closed on Mondays and Dec. 28 – Jan. 3)

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