Ben and I, like most adventures we get ourselves into, happened to randomly stumble upon Sueyoshi Park while we were aimlessly driving around Naha. Our initial plan in the city was to visit the only international cemetery in Okinawa (a cool site in and of it's self) but it took us just a few minutes to wander the cemetery grounds before we realized that we were 30 minutes down South without any other plans.
Sueyoshi Park was a point of interest that popped up on my Google maps. The reviews showed that a beautiful red shrine was there and I was immediately intrigued. Japanese culture + Pretty red buildings = My cup of tea!
While we did end up going to Sueyoshi Park... This particular day just so happened to be New Year's which is a THE holiday in Japan (they celebrate New Year's 10,000 times more than we do - seriously.) The entire park, especially around the shrine which is where people pray on New Year's, was packed which made exploring quite difficult. After briefly trekking around the main trail, Ben and I had to call it quits and headed home since we were sweaty, hungry, and over the crowds.
However, things got much more interesting after we made it back to our home. In true Ben fashion, he did some serious WWII investigative research on Sueyoshi Park because in his own words "every part of Naha was involved in the Battle of Okinawa" and alas! He was right! In 1945 Sueyoshi Park was the site of the Wana Ridge Battle. It was a devastating, bloody battle (as they all were on the island of Okinawa) which saw a victory for the 1st Marine Division.
Since Ben now knew every single historical fact about the park (he doesn't half ass anything when it comes to historical research) he was very adamant about going back as soon as we could. I didn't mind making a second trip so soon because I knew we definitely had more ground to cover and more importantly I wanted to see the shrine - hopefully with more privacy - once again.
On our second go around of Sueyoshi, Ben took us on every. single. trail. in the entire park. Let me tell you, I seriously underestimated how expansive this place was! All of the trails were also very undeveloped which made this a ROUGH trek. Needless to say, my choice of converse and skinny jeans were very regrettable... However, we persevered and I did manage to enjoy my personal two hour long battle site tour from Ben (people really don't understand the true scope of this guys passion for history - it really is something else!!!)
Scattered around the park are remnants of the many caves that were destroyed by artillery and ordnance from the battle. Japanese soldiers relied on these caves for hiding which made them a target for American troops. Ben and I took an off-the-beaten-track trail in the dense jungle and I'm not going to lie, I was really paranoid that we were going to step on an unexploded ordnance. This isn't a totally crazy fear in Okinawa... Just the other week they found not one, but TWO unexploded bombs behind our apartment building - very scary! We were lucky though and the only minor disturbance we experienced during our hike were some hand sized snails.
Ben and I kept calling the main trail in Sueyoshi the "ancient road" because well... It looked like an ancient roadway... We're not that creative, people! We're also aware that in one point in time there was an ancient roadway that connected the cities of Nago and Naha, however, we had no clue if this was actually a part of it. I guess the mystery and nickname will live on!
Knowing what we knew about the Wana Ridge Battle, the atmosphere in Sueyoshi Park couldn't help but feel eerie. However, like many tragic battle sites in Okinawa there were physically no signs left of the devastation. Today, a dense and beautiful jungle has transformed the landscape to create a tranquil place of remembrance, prayer and peace. There were so many different types of flora and fauna packed tightly into this park and when we were deep in the jungle, it felt as though we had be transported to a mystical forest. I love that Okinawan's find importance in preserving their historical battle sites, however they also believe it is essential to bring positive energy back into the landscape which is why they create beautiful parks like this one for all to enjoy.
I'm so glad that Ben and I continue to discover so many beautiful and historical sites on this island - even when we least expect it. There's really no place quite like Okinawa! Until time next time...
Address: 1 Chome-1-3-1 Shurisueyoshicho, Naha-shi, Okinawa-ken 903-0801, Japan
We're Kara, Ben and baby Zoe also known as the Lesniaks. We’re a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Yorktown, Virginia after a three year tour in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together!
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