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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Akainko Shrine

The Akainko Shrine

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Akainko Shrine

     N 26 23.142E 127 44.432

The Legend of Akainko, the Father of the Sanshin

The story behind the Akainko Shrine is both a sad and happy one. The story dates back to the 15th and 16th century in an area now known as Sobe of Yomitan Village. It deals with hardship of a village life, a tale of love and death, and the triumph of one man’s legacy that would ultimately change Okinawa forever. The following tale is derived from the Yomitan Village Folklore and Legends publication.
The villagers were clinging to hope, but the drought showed no signs of ending any time soon. Fresh water had become scarce, and the townspeople where in much need of a miracle. It so happened that in the village there was a beautiful young woman by the name of Chira who had a pet dog. The two were always together and the dog was known for his brilliant red hair. One day, the dog disappeared, and when he returned, Chira had noticed something odd; the dog was soaked with water! “How could this be?”, she wondered, for there hasn’t been any rain for such a long time. The dog tugged on her clothes pleading with her. He obviously wanted to show her something; and so she followed him. He led her to a nearby cave and inside, she discovered the reason why the dog was wet. There was a spring inside! Chira ran back and told the villagers, and upon hearing the great news they extolled both Chira and her pet dog.

However, happiness was short-lived for the young woman. Chira had found herself in a vicious love triangle, and the situation was about to escalate; for she had made it known who she wanted, and this did not sit well with the defeated lover. He would eventually murder the man Chira loved, but it would not stop there. This was just the beginning of her troubles.(ii)

Devastated and heartbroken, Chira was now facing another reality: she was pregnant with her now deceased lover’s child. What was she going to do? She wasn’t married; and how was she going to explain this to her parents? Time went on, and it became obvious that she was bearing a child in her womb. Villagers began to question the ordeal and rumors circulated. It turned out, the man who killed Chira’s true love was the one spreading these rumors. To lay one more knife in Chira’s heart, he planted the idea that Chira had done the unthinkable. The father of her baby wasn’t a man. It was her dog.

If her dignity wasn’t destroyed then, it was now hanging by a thread. Humiliated and emotionally isolated, Chira had no choice but to leave the village. She fled to Ikei Island to live out the rest of her days.(i) There, she gave birth to a son and found some hope of a peaceful life, but that too was short lived. A few years later, her parents had found out where she was staying and decided to go see her. But after learning the news of their arrival, she became stricken with guilt for she had caused them so much pain. Ashamed and unable to face them again, Chira had taken her own life.

She left behind her parents, broken-hearted, and a son with an uncertain future.

Years later…

He was sitting around when it began to rain. Drops, one-by-one, fell to the earth making a nice thump-like sound. So pleased with the rhythm, the young man wanted to mimic what he had heard. He then took a branch from a Kuba Tree and took three strands from a horse’s tail and put them together to make a banjo-like instrument.(iii) The young man liked what he had heard and took his new invention and played it wherever he went.

One day, a servant of the king had heard the young man’s music. He was so pleased that he asked him if he would go to Shuri to play for his majesty. The young man agreed and together they set off to see the king. And so the young man played and played to his heart’s content. The king wasn’t just amazed. He was enthralled by its beauty and power; so much that he immediately directed the young man to travel throughout the island to spread his music. And so off he went spreading his love in musical form.

His adventures would eventually take him to China and on his journey back, he brought with him various types of grains and apparel he had found in his travels. The villagers of Yomitan took the grains, cultivated them, and spread them throughout village yielding many, many crops. It was from this day forward that Yomitan would become known as the 'King of Vegetables' throughout the kingdom.
Epilogue. Every year Yomitan Village celebrates the Akainko Festival typically held around 20 September of the Lunar Calendar to honor the young man’s legacy and the new staples he introduced centuries before.

Sanshin and Sanshi-no-hi (三線の日).The banjo-like instrument he created became known as the Sanshin, named for the three strings used to make the beautiful sound; and henceforth the young man became known as the ‘Father of the Sanshin’. Sanshin, in Japanese literally means ‘three strings’. Every year on March 4th, a special musical ceremony (mainly comprised of sanshin players) is performed in front of the Akainko Shrine to honor his musical contribution to Okinawa and to the world. This is no ordinary date. March 4th has become known as the ‘Day of the Sanshin’ or in Japanese, Sanshi-no-hi (三線の日). The reason March 4th was chosen is because numerically the date can be written as 3/4. The special date is based on a Japanese pun, where 'san', means 3, and 'shi', means 4 – the two syllables found in the word sanshin. It is not uncommon to see students of the sanshin praying at the shrine. It is believed it will help them master the art.

The Shrine and the Meaning of his Name. The location of the shrine is believed to be where the young man ascended into heaven.(2) His true name given at the time of his birth remains to be a mystery however. It appears that any knowledge of that went to his mother’s grave all those years ago on Ikei Island. So he decided to take on another name. In the Okinawan language he called himself Akanukuu (アカヌクー). In Japanese this translate to Akainko (赤犬子).(iv) If one where to analyze its kanji form, the meaning becomes clear. Put together it means 'Child of the Red Dog'.

Author’s Notes.
i. The above account was derived from Yomitan’s Folklore and Legends Publication, dated 2005. An older source mentions that Chira fled to Katsuren and lived inside a cave near the ocean. It made no mention of Ikei Island. The source was from a 1990 version of Yomitan’s History Chronicles #11, beginning on pg 220.
ii. Other sources describe a more chilling version of the love triangle that occurred between Chira and the two men involved. This is pending further research and investigation as this version was not mentioned in either of the above sources.
iii. The Kuba Tree is the Okinawan name for the Chinese Fan Palm, (Livistona chinensis). For images, visit
iv. The first kanji (赤) means red (Aka); the second kanji (犬) means dog (Inu); and last kanji (子) means child (Ko). When the kanji’s are put together the ‘u’ is subtracted from inu.

1. The Akainko Story, The Yomitan Folklore and Legends Publication, dated 2005, pg 39
2. Akainko's ascension, Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education. Website.

Directions/Parking. The Akainko Shrine is about 250 meters in front of the US Army Base Torii Station main gate. It is the turn-off immediate west of the Family Mart. Take Highway 58 into Yomitan and then take Highway 6 going west towards Torii Station. Torii Station will be on your left, the Family Mart to your right. Parking is very confined. Please do not block any gates belonging to any residential areas.

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Tsutsuji Matsuri - The Azalea Festival"

Admiring the Azaleas 

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Tsutsuji Matsuri (The Azalea Festival)

     N 26 38.235E 128 09.413

Tsutsuji Matsuri (Azalea Festival), Higashi Village

Every March, Higashi Village hosts the Azalea Festival, or better known to the Okinawans as 'Tsutsuji Matsuri'. The Azaleas are part of the genus Rhododendron, with these particular flowers being part of the subgenus 'Tsutsuji' (or 'Tsutsusi'), which are evergreen Azaleas versus their North American counterparts that are deciduous in nature (leaves fall off in the fall). The festival occurs at the Azalea park about 500 meters away from Highway 70. The festival itself last about 3 weeks long with various events and entertainment spread out during this period. However, you can still view the Azaleas for the entire month of March. Please visit the Higashi Village website for more information (Japanese only). They will have a schedule of major events and entertainment during the festival period.

The park itself is a nice walk on both high and low ground. Down below are small nature walk areas where you can see the Higashi greenery and some of the streams that flow between the hills. High up on the hills are several areas where you can view down and out toward the Higashi landscape. If you love nature and especially flowers, then this is great place to bring the family.

Time Frame: Entire Month of March (2015 Festival Period March 1-22, Flowering Viewing March 1-31)
Time: 9am-6pm
Entrance Fee. 300 Yen for High School Students and above, free for Middle School and below, and free admission for people with a disability
(For update and current information please visit website below)
Phone number for festival information.  098 043 2265
Food stands. Hot foods starnds are available during the festival period
Stroller Friendly. For the most part, the park is baby stroller friendly

For related articles on the Tsutsuji Matsuri see, 
2012 Azalea Festival Photo Essay by Michael Lynch (Mike's Ryukyu Gallery)

For information about Azaleas, please visit,

Directions. Take Highway 329 into Nago City. Then take Highway 331 going north on the eastern side of Okinawa. From Highway 331 take Highway 70. Look for the road signs off of Highway 70 that point to the Azalea Park. During the festival period you may see numerous banner flags along the road side that lead you to the Park. See map for other landmarks of the area.

Other places of interest nearby: The Sakishima Sappanwood Tree (Higashi), The Higashi Museum, Meoto Waterfall.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Himawari Matsuri (Sunflower Festival), Kitanakagusuku"

Sunflowers standing strong

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Himawari Matsuri (Sunflower Festival), Kitanakagusuku Village

    N 26 17.843E 127 48.622

Himawari Matsuri (Sunflower Festival), Kitanakagusuku 

Update, February 26, 2015 (Spoiler Alert. Please Read!!!!). Before you attend please click on the following image. This was taken on February 26, 2015. It appears that this year's sunflower festival will not live up to its normal expectation. Most flowers have not exceeded a foot in height, and it's not anticipated it will improve. The festival is still scheduled to begin on February 28th. This new location for this year's event is mapped above. (See also website). 

The start of the new year marks the beginning of a whole host of flower festivals here on Okinawa. Traditionally, it begins with Cherry Blossoms. But in late January to early February starts another special flower occasion,...the Himawari Matsuri, or Sunflower Festival, in Kitanakagusuku Village (北中城村のひまわり祭り). This is relatively a recent installment of flower festivals here on the main island first starting in 2008. About 10,000 square meters of farmland are dedicated to these yellow beauties. At full capacity, they can hold up to 400,000 sunflowers. Special events during the festival period will vary from year to year. You will also see booths along the main street selling arts and crafts, vegetables, and other gifts for your enjoyment.

Basic Information.
When: Late January early February (varies annually) (2015 – February 28 to March 15)
Time: 1000 - 1600 (this is a non-gated area, you can come and go as you please)
Fee: Admission Free
Website: or
Phone Number: 098 935-2233 (Industrial Promotion Division )
YouTube Video: Click this VIDEO to see a past sunflower festival

Amenities/Facilities. Normally, portable toilets are dispersed near the parking lot areas. Be prepared to improvise if need be. Baby Strollers/Wheel Chairs: Around the sunflower fields are paved roads for ease of movement. However, it will be difficult to go inside the flower field itself with any kind of transport.

Directions/Parking (new location). The new field is in Waniya of Kitanakagusuku Village. Take Highway 329 south into Kitanakagusuku Village. The field is south of the Highway 81/Highway 227/Highway 329 intersection. There will be three (3) landmarks to the west side of Highway 329 to guide you in: Building with "Caleb" written on it, Family Mart, the ESSO Gas Station. At the next traffic light signal south of the ESSO Gas Station turn east (towards the ocean). You will be guided by signs. You will also see a large apartment complex. The sunflower field is walking distance to the west and across from this complex.

Directions/Parking (old location). Take Highway 81 from either Highway 329 (from the east) or Highway 330 (from the west). On the map above you will see a LandMark Pin. This is a JA-SS Gas station on the south side of Highway 81. On the opposite side is a Cocos Convenience Store. If you are coming from Highway 330 you will turn right just before the JA-SS Gas Station. If you are coming from Highway 329, you will turn left just after the JA-SS Gas Station. After you make this turn, you will see flag banners and road guards (during the day hours of the festival period) directing you to parking areas. Parking will be in close proximity of the sunflower fields (normally at the middle school nearby).

Source of information. Okinawa Times (Japanese Only),, Official Website (outdated) (Japanese Only)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zatsungawa River (ザツンガワ / 座津武川)

The Zatsungawa River (ザツンガワ / 座津武川)

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     N 26 49.434E 128 14.784
      *GPS to starting point

The Zatsungawa River, ザツンガワ / 座津武川

The Zatsungawa River of Uka, Kunigami Village is one of many beautiful rivers in the northern part of Okinawa. For the outdoor enthusiast, this offers an escape into the wild and a good taste of nature. See Trekking Data below. There are some moderate to high risk areas so please read the recommended guidelines below.

Trekking Data & Information
River Name. Zatsungawa (ザツンガワ / 座津武川)
River Location. Uka, Kunigami Village (宇嘉, 国頭村)
Trek Starting Point. GPS N26 49.434 E128 14.784
Recommended Emergency Rally Point (For Emergency Vehicles). GPS N26 49.468 E128 14.632
1st Stopping Point. GPS N26 49.386 E128 14.906 (image, video)
2nd Stopping Point. GPS N26 49.384 E128 14.955 (image, video)
3rd Stopping Point. GPS N26 49.249 E128 15.037 (image, video)
Turn-Around Point. GPS N26 49.246 E128 15.130 (image, video)
Trek Time from Starting Point to Turn-Around Point. Approx 3 hrs
Total Time. 7 hrs
Video Overview.  Map It! Okinawa Video Short, Zatsungawa River.

Tip. Start your trek near the water station. Look for a metallic ladder taking you down to the river. Climb down and cross to the other side. You will see a trail and it will take you to a launch point on your trek.

Note. At the time of this river trek, the turn-around-point could not be surpassed due to the semi steep outer-terrain and the depth of water. Under warmer conditions this may be feasible. It is not recommended to submerge into water above the waist during the colder months. Please read below. The post will be updated after future attempts have been completed.

Recommended Guidelines (MUST READ!)
1. VERY IMPORTANT! This particular river trek is recommended only for those who have fairly good physical agility, coordination skills, and upper body strength. Negotiating steep inclines may be required. Recommended only for young adults and above. Though most of the trek is manageable, it does have some moderate to high risk areas.
2. VERY IMPORTANT! Plan on getting wet up to your knees. It is sometimes safer to walk in the river, rather than hopping and balancing yourself on the rocks just to keep dry. On a normal good weather day, the river current at most areas is not enough to push you off balance. Though this rule may seem trivial, it is a very important thing to remember. The biggest risk to this trek is falling and slipping on the rocks.
3. VERY IMPORTANT! In the colder months you do not want to get wet above your waist. You will run the risk of hypothermia if you continue further. Your upper body will not provide you enough heat for you to keep warm. Ideally, try to keep the water below the knees.
4. VERY IMPORTANT! It is recommended that you do not trek during the rain or after a recent rain shower. The ideal time is on an average good weather day (no rain or drizzle). During good weather the rocks above the river will be dry. This is important for grip. There are some high risk areas that will require good surface grip (feet, hands, and body) to get from point A to point B. This rule is unique to this river. Surface grip will be required to negotiate difficult terrain.
5. DO NOT WEAR TENNIS SHOES!!! Tennis shoes offer no traction and will slip on these rocks. Wear something that has hard soles and has great traction on these kinds of surfaces. If you do not have hard soles you will 'feel' every step you take. And since you will be getting wet, thick heavy boots will only get heavier when soaked. You should wear something that is lighter, has good traction, but still gives you flexibility of movement.
6. GUIDE STICK. Having a guide stick is recommended. Sometimes it will be safer to skirt the terrain just to avoid danger areas. If at some point it seems impossible to continue, look for red or yellow tape markers around the trees. Trekkers have left guide marks to assist with negotiating terrain (though on this particular river, it has not always been helpful). You will need a guide stick to probe these areas for snakes and to knock down spider webs. When you are negotiating boulders however, you will have to set your guide stick aside to free your hands for climbing. This is very important. When it comes to negotiating boulders and rocky terrain, your hands will be your best assets. This is for safety.
7. Never go alone. Have a buddy. For this particular river trek, the 'ideal' number is to have at least three (3) hiking buddies, but optimally try to have more than 3 due to the level of difficulty. If one gets hurt, then you have the option of leaving at least one with the injured while the other(s) go retrieve help. Cell phone reception is very difficult, if not non-existent in these areas. If you are a US Service Member, your nearest US Military Facility will be the Okuma Recreational Facility. It is recommended that everyone should have the number to this location should an emergency arise.
8. Tell someone (or few others), where you will be river trekking to and leave them at a minimum: the GPS coordinate of the starting point, the name of the river, and this website URL (see Trek Data Information above).
9. Wear a light long-sleeve top (depending on the weather) for protection against the elements and bugs. Whether you trek on the river or skirt the landscape, you will hit spider web after spider web (summer or winter).
10. Wear a hat or beanie to keep warm and to protect yourself against the elements and bugs. You may run into many spider webs along the way (Do a 'spider check' with your buddy every now and then). A beanie does offer some bit of head protection in the event of a fall.
11. VERY IMPORTANT! Bring some light hiking gloves for grip and protection. You may be required to grab roots, tree limbs, trees, rocks, dirt, etc. in order to negotiate terrain.
12. DO NOT WEAR SHORTS! Find something that you don't mind getting wet in and that offers protection against the elements. There 'will' be a few times you will be on your knees or on your rear end as you negotiate some of the terrain. Also you need to protect your legs from critters and abrasions. You may want to bring some shorts if you want to take a dip in the water. There are some areas that are over 7 feet deep. Swimming not recommend in the colder months.
13. VERY IMPORTANT! Apply the '3-Points of Contact Rule' when going over difficult terrain.
14. VERY IMPORTANT! Maintain a low center of gravity when going over difficult terrain.
15. If something looks unsafe, then avoid. Find another way to negotiate the terrain or SIMPLY, DON'T DO IT. Don't try to be brave. You do not have to travel far to enjoy the natural scenery.
16. Give yourself plenty of time AND TAKE YOUR TIME. NO NEED TO RUSH. But remember you have to add time to get back (before dark!). Recommend you leave early morning time frame. The rule of thumb is travel far enough so that have the same amount of time to get back. However, add an extra hour as a buffer on your return trip. (For example, if you travel 3 hours, ensure you have 4 hours of sunlight left to get back). Note. From experience, it is more dangerous on your return trip. There are two reasons; on your return trip your are more fatigued and therefore less alert; and second, gravity and descending elevation. It is usually a lot easier to climb up then it is to climb down.
17. Bring a light backpack for food, water, toilet paper, flash light, survival kit, first aid kit, light rain coat, warming layers, etc. and water proof them as needed.
18. USE THE BATHROOM BEFORE YOU GO! Making natural deposits of certain kind in the wild may not be fun for some.
19. You will get dirty. Bring a towel, extra socks, extra pair of shoes, shirt, pants, and warming layers (Can leave in the car).
20. Tuck in your shoe laces to prevent tripping.
21. Protect & secure items such as your wallet and cell phone from moisture and from getting soaked.
22. Don't try to be brave. Respect your limits and respect nature.
23. You do not have to go all the way to any of the stopping points or to the Turn-Around Point. You don't have to go far to enjoy some of the beauty along the river. Never feel pressured to continue on if you are fatigued or if it becomes too hazardous.

Directions/Parking. Take Highway 58 into Kunigami Village (to the town of Uka, 宇嘉). You will have to navigate by Landmarks annotated in the map. The turn-off point is just a few hundred meters south of the Uka Tunnel (click here for Japanese writing above the tunnel). Additionally, the Uka Tunnel is a newer tunnel. The older tunnel is fenced off to the side. It is the old Zatsun Tunnel. If you wish to park near the water station, please do not block the entrance gate as maintenance crews utilize this station.

Other Rivers in Okinawa. Takazato River, Fukugawa II, Taa Water. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Okinawa International Orchid Show

An Orchid Flower on display at the Okinawa International Orchid Show

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Okinawa International Orchid Show

     N 26 41.244E 127 52.567

The Okinawa International Orchid Show - Expo Park

The beginning of the year marks the flower season here on Okinawa. First there are the Cherry Blossoms, then Sunflowers, and then in February, the annual Okinawa International Orchid Show takes place at Expo Park in Motobu. It is here that orchids from around the world are put on display in an array of beauty to be judged for competition. If you are a flower lover, then this is one event you don't want to miss. According to their website, there are at least 10,000 entries from around the world.

About the Competition. There are two divisions for competition: the 'Certification Division' and the 'Competition Division'. The Certification Division covers new hybrids species not yet certified by other organizations and the Competition Division is broken into five sub-categories which include: Potted, Cut Flower, Flower Display, Flower Design (small-large arrangement), and International Entrants. First, second, and third cash prizes are awarded per respective Division/category and a then an overall Grand Champion is selected.

Please go to photo album above, or click here to see other photos of orchids.

Show Period. February (normally about 9-10 days) (2015 February 7 - February 15).
Information. For exact dates, times, entrance fees etc., please go to their website (in english):

Directions. The Orchid Show is at Expo Park in Motobu Town off of Highway 114. To get close to the Orchid Show look for the landmark sign, Parking Area 8, (see map above) and several signs for the Okinawa International Orchid Show. You can also use the swirly tower as a navigating landmark.

Genus Categories: Some of the genus categories of the orchid family found on display include, but not all: Paphiopedilums, Brassavola, Broughtonia, Cattleya, Epidendrum, Lealia, Encyclia, Phragmipedium, Calanthe, Lycaste, Bulbophyllum, Maxillaria, Zygopetalum, Habenaria, Odontoglossum, Cochlioda, Dendrobium.

Other places of interest nearby: Fukugi Trees of Bise Village, Bise Village Shell Shop.