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Monday, July 14, 2014

The Nankabama Monument

The Nankabama Monument

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Nankabama Beach

     N 26 26.417E 127 50.708

Tracing the First Shō Lineage, The Nankabama Monument

The first Sho Dynasty (or Shō Dynasty) ended around 1469 at the hands of King Shō Toku, who plundered his kingdom into dire straits. He had sought a military campaign to conquer Kikai Island(1), now part of Kagoshima Prefecture(2)(3). Though, his invasion was deemed a success, there was no economic value gained from this venture and as a result, squandered the royal treasury in the process. A rebellion ensued and the King later died(1). The details of his death is not exactly clear.

The first Shō lineage is perhaps more known by its first king than the last. He was King Shō Hashi and in 1429, unified the entire Ryukyu Kingdom under one rule(1) thus making him the first King of the Ryukyus. But the distinguished Shō bloodline vanished from history with the demise of Shō Toku some 40 years later. Whatever happen to the famous lineage from there on after remains a mystery.

But there may be clues to where the remaining family members fled to.

In the Yaka district of Kin Town there is a shoreline called Nankabama Beach. The area was known for its deep sand which made it difficult for travel. Yaka village chronicles claim that family members of Shō Toku fled north after the King was overthrown. They hid in the mountains during the day and traveled under the cover of darkness. On the 7th day they reached Nankabama Beach. A monument now stands in the vicinity to mark the occasion. Where they traveled to afterwards is uncertain. It is believed they fled further north towards the Kunigami region. Author's speculation. It would seem by this written account that someone from the entourage discussed the details of the journey with someone significant in the Yaka community.

The Nankabama area, is also mentioned in two kumiodori's (Okinawan classical operas) called 'Kushi-no-Wakaaji' and 'Yagura-nu-hya' thus adding to its historical importance to the people of Yaka.(i)

i.. 'Kushi-no-Wakaaji' means 'The Young Lord of Kushi' and 'Yagura-nu-hya' is a name of a person
ii. The Second Shō lineage begin right after the demise of Shō Toku. The first king of the Second Shō Dynasty was Shō En (Kanamaru). There is no blood relationship with the First Shō Dynasty.(1)
iii. Nankabama beach area is highlighted in yellow in the map above. This is an approximation based on a graphic image from the Kin Town's Board of Education's Historical Chronicle (2012) pg 34. The northern edge of Nankabama beach is said to be an area called Kohamabaru.(4) 

1. History of an Island People, by George Kerr, Charles Tuttle Publishing Co, 2000, pg 86 (King Shō Hashi unifies the Ryukyus) , pgs 100-101 (The Fall of Shō Toku), pgs 101-104 (The Rise of Shō En)
2. Kagoshima Prefectural Website
3. Kikai Island Website
4. Kin Town Historical Chronicle, Kin Town Board of Education, Published 2012 pg 35

Directions/Parking. The Nankabama Monument Stone lies near the southern border of Kin Town in the Yaka District. The monument can be seen from Highway 329 next to the shore. It stands next to a much larger structure seen here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"A Dawn of a New Day..."

A Peace Pole at Hedo Misaki

Peace Poles - Hedo
     N 26 52.337E 128 15.817
     *GPS is of the Parking Lot

June 23rd - Irei no hi

Between April 1st and June 22nd of 1945, up to 200,000 lives would perish in what would be dubbed the 'Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific'. Of that number, the Okinawans would pay the heaviest price – men, women, children, estimated to be over a hundred thousand...gone.

And up north on the main island, you will find Hedo Misaki. It is as far as one can get from the once war-torn regions of the south, where much of the carnage had taken place. And there, you will find two Peace Poles firmly wedged into the rugged coral cliffs of Cape Hedo. They are beacons of hope, with each side having a message inscribed in a different language. The message reads, “May Peace Prevail on Earth”. Both objects serve as a simple reminder of peace and of the tragedies of war. On June 23rd, the anniversary of the day after the war ended, many Okinawans will pay tribute to the fallen who passed away during those very dark times. It is their way of spreading this message of peace. It is their way of healing. It is 'Irei no hi', Okinawa's Memorial Day.

And for this special occasion, the picture above taken at Hedo Misaki is symbolic in many ways. Hardly scathed by war, Hedo remains almost as pristine as it did in 1945. Its innocence remains intact. And based on its orientation, Hedo is one of the first places on Okinawa to receive the warmth of the sun's rays, marking the beginning of a brand new day for the Ryukyu Island. And as you glare towards the horizon you are no longer facing the horrible images of the past. And on any given night, as you stare deep into infinity, all that lies between you and the horizon is an abyss of endless darkness, where no hope could possibly shine through. But at that magical moment,  a glimmer of life emerges from the clouds, a dawn of a new day..... and a shiny beacon of hope is lit.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Hydrangea Cafe

The Hydrangea Cafe overlooking the ocean

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Hydrangea Cafe

     N 26 37.824E 128 02.699

The Hydrangea Cafe, Nago City

A small cafe with a wonderful view, the Hydrangea Cafe sits comfortably overlooking the ocean. The cafe named after the Hydrangea flower, is owned by Mr. Sueyoshi who opened the cafe on 18 May 2013. On the surrounding hillside is his garden. During the months of March and April it's filled with Begonia flowers followed by Hydrangea's in May and June. On or off-season, the Hydrangea Cafe is a great place to relax and enjoy. Please see information below entrance fees and times.

Sueyoshi Hana-en (Garden Only)
Begonia Flower Season: Late March through April (See website below for current dates)
Hydrangea Flower Season: Late May through June (See website below for current dates)
Entrance Fees: 300 Yen for Adults, 100 Yen for Middle School and below (Cash only)
Where to pay: You can pay below at the desk counter located at the large parking lot at the bottom of the hill or inside the Hydrangea Cafe
Hours: 9am to 6pm.
Open: Daily during flower season. Closed Tuesdays during the off-season
Telephone: 098 058 1768
Facebook Page:
Parking. For garden viewing, please park at the bottom of the hill (see picture with the white car)

The Hydrangea Cafe
Currency: Cash Only (Yen)
Hours: 10am to 8pm. After 6pm, must make reservations (Last order 7pm)
Open: Closed on Tuesdays. Open daily during flower season
Telephone: 098 058 4488
Facebook Page:
Menu: English and Japanese (See menu here)
Parking. There is designated parking under the cafe. Or you can at the bottom of the hill.

Directions/Parking. Take Highway 58 north into Nago City. Please study the map carefully since there are no official street signs directing you the way. The cafe resides in the northwestern part of Nago City. If you pass Highway 14 you have gone too far. There is a graffiti picture on the seawall opposite of the turn-off. Once you make this turn, the cafe parking area is about 500 meters. You can park at the bottom (large lot) or take the road going up to the cafe. There you can park underneath the cafe building.

Recommendations. Flower viewing. June marks the beginning of typhoon season. It is highly recommended that you should visit the garden prior to the first typhoon. Route Recommendations. On weekends the merging traffic from the Okinawa Expressway onto Highway 58 will cause long delays. If you are taking the expressway, it is recommended that you get off on Exit 9 in Ginoza Village, then take Highway 329 north passing Camp Schwab. Then take Highway 331 as if you are going to travel on the east side of the island. Then take Highway 18 taking you to the other side of Nago City. Use the Haneji Dam Route off of Highway 18. This will take you back to Highway 58. Proceed north on the directions above.

Other places to visit nearby. Fukugawa Falls, Minzoku Shiryokan Museum

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Adaniya Gusuku & The Tomb of Lord Wakamatsu

Grave of Lord Wakamatsu
The Grave of Lord Wakamatsu

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Adaniya Gusuku & the Tomb of Wakamatsu

     N 26 17.891E 127 47.274

Wakamatsu Park (若松公園), Kitanakagusuku Village

In the Adaniya district of Kitanakagusuku Village there are two large hills on the grounds of what is now called Wakamatsu Park.(i) The smaller of the two is called Yunahan Hill and is the final resting place of Lord Nakagusuku Wakamatsu l.(1)(ii) To the east, on a much larger landmass, are ruins of the Adaniya Gusuku.(2) At one time, Lord Wakamatsu was the leader of this domain and by all accounts was as a very good leader.(1) His fame became the subject of royal Okinawan poems called Omoroshoshi, and his persona was the driving force behind the main character in a famous play titled, Shushin Kane Iri, authored by the great Chokun Tamagusuku in 1719.(1)(iii) After his tenure in Adaniya, he was assigned as Land Stewart (Jito) for Uema Village, now the Uema district of Naha City.(1) To honor his legacy and contributions, the park was named in his honor and is known as Wakamatsu Koen (Wakamatsu Park, 若松公園).

Son of a King? According to the Kitanakagusuku Board of Education, legend has it that Lord Wakamatsu was the son of Noro Adaniya and King Shō En, the first king of the Second Shō Dynasty (1469).(1) (vi) There seems to be a discrepancy on this historical account however. The book, History of an Island People written by George Kerr, briefly outlines Shō En's life from the time he was born to his rise of power. King Shō En was born on Izena-jima, a small island just north of the Okinawa main island.(7) He was believed to be a son of a farmer and given the name Kanamaru.(6) He married his first wife, said to be a local girl from his home village, while they were both very young.(6) However, it was not mentioned (or is unknown) that they had a son together. As of yet, there is no account to what happened to his first wife.(6)

Kanamaru eventually moved from Izena. He temporarily settled in a village called Ginama, located on the northwestern side of the Okinawa main island. Later, he set forth to Shuri where his talents were quickly recognized by the royal government. Once established, he rose high in the ranks before he seized the throne in 1469 and assumed the title of King Shō En in 1470.(6)(8) Years before he became king however, he had married another woman by the name of Yosoidon. Together they had a son (Shō Shin) who would become the third king of the Second Shō Dynasty.(viii) There is no account in George Kerr's book that a Lord Wakamatsu was an off-spring of Shō En. How this legend came about is uncertain by the author. Further research is pending. Perhaps the answer lies with the woman, the Noro Adaniya. Her role may shed light to this myth, as it doesn't seem to be documented anywhere else.

Wakamatsu's Tomb. Wakamatsu's grave sits on top of Yunahan Hill. As of March 2014, renovation was in progress to stop the erosion near his tomb. According to the historical sign there was spherical rock (hoju) that once laid on top of his tomb.(1) The Kitanakagusuku Historical Office said it was removed during the renovation process. The remains of Wakamatsu's wife and children (located near Lord Wakamatsu's tomb) was also said to been removed. It is not certain if both the stone or the remains will return to their original location.

The Adaniya Gusuku. The term gusuku can have different meanings. It could mean castle, domain, or a sacred grove. Typically they are found on a large landmass. No dates were given about the origins of the Adaniya Gusuku. Considering Wakamatsu's time of existence, possibly during the 15th century (author's speculation(v)), the Adaniya Gusuku would then seem to predate this time period. Currently, there is a network of trails throughout the gusuku location with areas deemed sacred by local villagers. Please see photo album for additional pictures.

The Three Hinukans. Around both the Yunahan Hill and the Adanyia Gusuku area, you will find three major uganjyu's (worshiping structures) that house hinukans (monuments dedicated to the fire god). The one closest to the Yunahan Hill (see picture) belongs to a separate family (unknown by the author). The hinukan belonging to Lord Wakamatsu's family is pictured here, located about a 100 meters from Yunahan Hill. Both are pinpointed on the map above. According to a local official, the Wakamatsu hinukan was removed from its original place when the park was created and resettled at the current location.(iv)

The Niidukuru Hinukan. The third and the most significant hinukan is the Niidukuru Hinukan. This monument, made of Ryukyu limestome, belongs to the village of Adaniya and is considered the center piece to the Adaniya Village. Religious rituals are held here during significant spiritual events.(2)

The Cave. Near the Niidukuru Hinukan is a path that skirts the treeline and takes you to a small cave. Local villagers call this the Kuganijiga. Typically, the term gama, an Okinawan word for cave, is affixed to the name of a cave. However, this cave is not revered for its cavity. The suffix -ga refers to a spring and at one time a spring existed at this location. Residents offer prayers near the entrance of this cave.(4) Advisory. Please show religious sensitives as local villagers often pray at this location.

Wakamatsu's Residence and his Descendents. The location of Lord Wakamatsu's residence now stands across the street (Highway 146) just below Yunahan Hill. See map above. The home is no longer in existence. All that remains now is a very large hinpun (spiritual wall protector), an old spring, and a kamiya house (spirit house). During the month of April, Okinawans (said to be descendants of the Wakamatsu lineage) visit during the month of April for shimi, an Okinawan custom of visiting one's grave/ancestors. A religious ceremony is held at the kamiya house.(5)

i. The Adaniya areas is(was) sometimes referred to as Asatobaru.(2)
ii. Lord Wakamatsu is sometimes referred to as Wakamatsu of Adaniya.(1)
iii. Shushin Kane Iri (Passion and the Bell), was a famous Ryukyu musical drama (kumiodori) created by the founder of kumiodori, Chokun Tamagusuku in 1719.(1)(3)
iv. No date was obtain on when Wakamatsu's family hinukan was relocated.
v. A timeline of Wakamatsu life was not provided by the Kitanakagusuku Village Office. If the legend of Wakamatsu being the son of King Shō En (1469) were true then that would put Wakamatsu 's existence some time during the 15th through the early 16th century.
vi. The Noro Adaniya(1), believed by the author to mean the noro of Adaniya, meaning the priestess of Adaniya.
vii. In George Kerr's History of an Island People, Kanamaru is spelled as Kanamaro. Additionally, George Kerr seems to imply that the birth place of Kanamaru was Iheya Island.(6)
viii. After King Shō En's death, his brother Shō Seni took over but abdicated the throne 6 months later(6)(9)

1. Kitanakagusuku Historical Sign, The Tomb of Wakamatsu
2. Kitanakagusuku Historical Sign, Niidukuru Hinukan
3. Kumiodori /Chokun Tamagusku, Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education website
4. Kitanakagusuku Historical Office, interview
5. Kitanakagusuku, Adaniya Community Center, interview
6. History of an Island People, by George Kerr, Charles Tuttle Publishing Co, 1958, pg 101-104
7. Izena Island's Official Travel Website
8. Okinawa Tour Guide, Bank of the Ryukyus 1998 Edition, pg 175
9. Ryukyu Cultural Archives, website, Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education

Directions. Wakamatsu Park is in Kitanakagusuku Village near the intersection of Highway 81 and Highway 146. The entrances to the parking lot however, lie along Highway 81. You can only access the parking lots on the westbound lane. See Map above for LandMark icon to the main parking lot.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"The Yohena Ajisai (Hydrangea) Gardens"

Ajisai or Hydrangea Flowers at the Yohena Ajisai Garden

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Yohena Ajisai Garden, Motobu

     N 26 38.831E 127 56.707

The Yohena Ajisai (Hydrangea) Gardens, Izumi

You can never fall short of seeing beautiful flowers here on Okinawa. Around mid-May to the end of June marks the season for Ajisai's, or better known in English as Hydrangea Flowers. In Izumi of Motobu Town, and elderly woman named Mrs. Uto Yohena, turned her home landscape into beautiful flora display of Hydrangea Flowers. She first opened her garden to the public in 2001 (Mrs. Yohena turns 96 in 2013). Since then she has greeted visitors from all over the island as they come and gaze over her purple beauties. In October of 2010, Mrs. Yohena was formally recognized for her deeds and received the “Regional Contribution Award” by the Okinawa Times Newspaper. She is one of the friendliest 'Oba-chans' you will ever meet. Though Hydrangea Flowers make up most of the scenery (mainly purple), you will see various other flowers of different colors and species.

Visitor Information.
Time Period. Mid-May to end of June (May 17, 2014 - 30 June 2014)
Admission Fee. Adults: 300 Yen, Children Ages 7 – 18: 100 Yen, Children 6 and Under:  Free
Hours. Open Daily during viewing season 9am to 6pm (till June 30)
Parking. Available and Free.
Website (In English).
Website (In Japanese)
Phone Number. 098 047 2183
Restrooms. Available
Baby Strollers. Though there are some areas that will facilitate the use of baby strollers, there are other areas that can only be accessed by the use of stairs. Plan accordingly.

Considerations. Consider visiting the garden before the first Typhoon hits Okinawa. June marks the beginning of Typhoon season.

Related Articles. For past photos visit Mike's Ryukyu Gallery at

Directions. From Highway 58, take Highway 84 going towards Motobu. You will see signs for Highway 123. Continue on Highway 84 passing the Highway 123/Highway 84 T-intersection. Shortly after, you will pass an ENEOS gas station (on the right). As soon as you pass this Gas Station, you will turn left. Look for this Orange-shape structure on the left-hand side. The turn-off will be before this structure. From here look at the Google Map and follow the Blue and Green Route. The Green Route takes you to the Yohena Ajisai Gardens. Look for this sign off the main road which directs you to the Yohena Garden parking lot. (Note: The entire Blue Route takes you to the Natural Stone Garden).

Source of Information. Interview with Mrs. Yohena's daughter, Yohena Ajisai Garden Website.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Shizen Sekitei (The Natural Stone) Garden.