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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Yuri Matsuri - The Lily Festival, Ie Island"

Easter Lilies sitting in formation


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Yuri Matsuri ( ゆり まつり)

     GPS
     LatitudeLongitude
     N 26 44.309E 127 48.541





Yuri Matsuri (ゆり まつり), Ie Island


From late April to the first week of May, Ie Island (Ie Jima – sometimes written as Ie Shima) host the Yuri Matsuri (ゆり まつり), also known as the Lily Festival. Here you will see arrays and arrays of white trumpets along an entire field in a small section of Ie Jima's northeastern corner. The area couldn't be any more perfect with the open ocean in the immediate background accompanied by the nice ocean breeze. It is one of the more scenic flower festivals you will find here on Okinawa Prefecture. These flowers (Lilium longiflorum) are better known by their common name, the 'Easter Lily', which are actually native to the Ryukyu Islands. If you are looking for a small off-island adventure to another small island then this will be the perfect trip. Ie Jima has many beautiful areas that can be seen during a one-day-stay such as Wajee Viewpoint, Mt. Gusuku, and the Niyathiya Cave.

Festival Information.
Time Period. Late April to 1st Week of May (2015, April 18 to May 6)
Admission Fee. Free
Phone Number (Festival Infomation). 098 049 2906
Official Festival Bloghttp://lilyboo2009.ti-da.net/
Download Flyer (Japanese). http://lilyboo2009.ti-da.net/e7380436.html
Parking. Available at the Lily Field
Shuttle Transportation (Festival Period only). Shuttle transportation is available from Ie Port to the Lily Field. Shuttle fee (may vary over time). As of 2013, 12 years to Adults, 250 Yen / Children between 5 and 12, 100 Yen. Kids 5 and under are free. Each price is one way.
Bike Rentals. Generally, 1000 Yen rental fee for the entire day. The bike rental facility is at the port. It is an estimated 25-30 minute bike ride to the Lily field from Ie Port.
Bringing Your Own Bicycle. You can bring your own bicyle on the ferry. A surcharge will be added. See website below under Motobu Port/Ferry Transportation Information for pricing.

Motobu Port/Ferry Transportation Information.  In order to get to Ie Island you can depart from either Naha or Motobu Port. The following information is for Motobu only.
Motobu Port Directions. To get to Motobu Port take Highway 58 going north towards Nago City and then turn onto Highway 449 going towards the Motobu Peninsula. The port will be just before the Sesoko Bridge. Scroll downward on the map above. There will be a balloon icon designating Motobu Port. GPS coordinates for Motobu Port are N26 38.442, E127 52.803
Motobu Port Phone Number. 098 047 3940 (although not fluent in English, staff members are accustom to English speaking travelers)
Ferry Schedule. See website below.
Individual Ticket/Vehicle Prices. See website below.
Vehicle Reservations. Reservations in advance are required in order to bring your vehicle to and back from Ie Island. Make reservations at the phone number above. See website below for fee prices. You will have to provide your name, make of vehicle and vehicle length in meters to the Motobu Port Office.
Vehicle check-in. When you check in at the ticket office in person, they will give you a ticket stub and instruct you which lane you have to line up your car (the lane numbers will be visible. They are near the ferry loading ramp). Please check in at the ticket office about 30 to 40 minutes before the ferry departs.
Vehicle Loading. Only the driver is required to be in the vehicle during loading. All other passengers can walk on the ferry. When ready, a port personnel with a whistle will direct vehicles one by one. Once he directs you, you will have to position your vehicle so as to back it in. Once you have your car in position he will take your ticket stub. Port personnel will direct you all the way in. You are not required to stay in the vehicle during the ferry ride. Just ensure your car is turned off, doors locked, and parking breaks engaged. Just ensure you return back to your car 10 minutes before the ferry arrives at Ie Port. The process is the same on your return trip. Do not lose the other half of your round trip ticket stub. You will need it in order to return to the main island. Caution. Once the ferry ramp drops down there is tremendous amount of loading and off-loading activity at an amazing speed. Please watch your children at all times in this area.

Website.  http://www.iejima.org

Directions to the Lily Field from Ie Port. You will have to navigate to Highway 225 which is relatively close to Ie Port. Once you are on Highway 225, travel initially in an easterly direction (going in a counter-clockwise direction). You will see tourism signs directing you the way, as well as festival banners that guide you in.

Travel Tips. 1) Golden Week. The last week of the festival coincides with Golden Week, A Major Tourism Period for Japanese Citizens. It will be crowded. Consider making vehicle reservations as early as possible. 2) ATM. Bring plenty of Yen to cover your entire stay. The Japanese Post Office on Ie Jima does have an ATM that accepts the Plus© System. You can withdraw Yen there (additional service fees will be applied). 

Easter Lily Informationhttp://www.the-genus-lilium.com/longiflorum.htmhttp://easterlily.org/History.shtm

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Traveling to Ie Jima"

Ie Jima as seen from Sesoko Island (Mt. Tachu in the background)


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Ie Jima Highlights

     GPS 
     LatitudeLongitude
     N 26 38.442E 127 52.803
        *GPS to Motobu Port




Traveling to Ie Jima (伊江島)

Maybe one of the most noticeable islands seen from the Okinawa main island is Ie Jima (伊江島) which sits off the coast of the Motobu Peninsula just north of Sesoko Island. Its hallmark feature is a large rock hill that appears to sit dead center on this good size isle. In the modern era, this little mountain is referred to as Mt. Gusuku. However, to many Okinawans of yesteryear, and even today, she is called Mt. Tachu (タチュ). Ie Jima, like others islands of Okinawa witnessed its moments of wartime dread. But today, she is one of the more touristy islands one can travel to during your time here on Okinawa Prefecture. You can spend one day or just a few days depending on what you are looking for. This article is dedicated on getting to Ie Jima and some of the amenities that are provided to make your stay enjoyable. Future articles will cover in more detail on specific areas, with the stories and history behind each location. The Google map above identifies most areas that have historical significance. Your adventure begins at Motobo Port.

Travel Information to Ie Jima.
To get to Ie Jima, you have to use a ferry which is about a 30 minute ride from Motobu Port. Ie Jima also has a tiny airport that is not frequently used, however, small commuter planes travel there from time to time. If you fly, there will be more logistical considerations that must be taken into account once you arrive such as your on-island transportation, and all this will have to be coordinated by you the traveler. There are no accommodations at the airport. The following information is from leaving Motobu Port only.

Motobu Port Directions. To get to Motobu Port take Highway 58 going north towards Nago City and then turn onto Highway 449 going towards the Motobu Peninsula. The port will be just before the Sesoko Bridge. Scroll downward on the map above. There will be a balloon icon designating Motobu Port. GPS coordinates for Motobu Port are N26 38.442, E127 52.803.

Motobu Port Phone Number. 098 047 3940 (although not fluent in English, staff members are accustom to English speaking travelers).

Website/Ferry Schedule.  http://iekanko.jp/modules/pico/index.php?content_id=15 (Japanese only) or click here for Google Translated Version in English.

Website/Individual Ticket/Vehicle Prices.  http://iekanko.jp/modules/pico/index.php?content_id=15 (Japanese only) or click here for Google Translated Version in English.

On-Island Transportation. You have several options when traveling to Ie Island. The most convenient options are to go as yourself, bring a bicycle, or bring some kind of vehicle transportation with you. If you want to see most of the island in one day it is recommended that you have some kind of vehicle transportation with you. They do have bike rentals as well as vehicle rentals at Ie Port (inventory may be limited).
Bike Rentals. Generally, 1000 Yen rental fee for the entire day. The bike rental facility is at Ie Port. Mitsuba Rental Bicycle 090 9781-3063.
Vehicle Rental. Tama Rental, 098 049 5208.
Bringing Your Own Bicycle. You can bring your own bicycle on the ferry, but an added fee will be added when you pay for your ticket at Motobu Port. See website above for prices.

Personal Recommendations. If you just want to get to the Island and immediately explore, then bringing your own personal transportation is recommended but you will need to make vehicle reservations in advance to ensure that there is space available.
How to Make Reservations. Reservations in advance are required in order to bring your vehicle to and back from Ie Island. Make reservations at the Motobu Port Office, phone number (098) 047 3940. See website above for fee information. You will have to provide your name, make of vehicle and vehicle length in meters to the Motobu Port Office. Generally, the larger the car the more you have to pay.
Vehicle check-in. When you check in at the ticket office in person, they will give you a ticket stub and instruct you which lane you have to line up your car (the lane numbers will be visible. They are near the ferry loading ramp). Please check in at the ticket office about 30 to 40 minutes before the ferry departs.
Vehicle Loading. Only the driver is required to be in the vehicle during loading. All other passengers can walk on the ferry. When ready, a port personnel with a whistle will direct vehicles one by one. Once he directs you, you will have to position your vehicle so as to back it in. Once you have your car in position he will take your ticket stub. Port personnel will direct you all the way in. You are not required to stay in the vehicle during the ferry ride. Just ensure your car is turned off, doors locked, and parking breaks engaged. Just ensure you return back to your car 10 minutes before the ferry arrives at Ie Port. The process is the same on your return trip. Do not lose the other half of your round trip ticket stub. You will need it in order to return to the main island. Caution. Once the ferry ramp drops down there is tremendous amount of loading and off-loading activity at an amazing speed. Please watch your children at all times in this area.

English Friendly. If you are concerned about the English/Japanese language barrier, you will find that Ie Jima is one of your more English friendly tourist areas to travel to. Travel Tip: At Motobu Port they have tourist handouts in English as well as in other languages. The travel staff are accustom to English speaking people. You can pick up more English pamphlets at Ie Port, at the Information Office. 

Convenience Stores. Ie Jima has two main convenience stores (Family Mart and Cocos) that are designated by the Green Balloon Icons in the map. They are in the vicinity of the main town area next to the port. You will also see many 'Obaa-san' stores on the island.

Gas Stations. There are a few gas stations in the vicinity of the main town area near Ie Port. Travel Tip: recommend you fill up gas prior to departing to Ie Island.

Cash/ATM/Credit. The main medium for payment is done in Yen. Few areas may accept credit card. The Japanese Post Office does offer an ATM service that uses the Plus System which is compatible with some American Banking/Credit Union institutions. ATM hours are based on Post Office hours. Travel Tip: Bring plenty of YEN! The post office is located near the Coco Convenience Store (marked by the Green Balloon Icon).

Places for Overnight Stay. There are a variety of minshuku's (private host homes/lodging) that you can stay at overnight. The English Tourism Handout at the Motobu Port will have a list of minshuku's available.
YYY Club Resort (English Friendly). If you looking for great hotel accommodations then you may want to look into the YYY Club Resort. Website in English at http://www.ie-resort.com/english/ . Location: southeast of Ie Island. Street Signs in English will be available directing you to the YYY.
Overnight Camping. You can also camp at the Ie Village Youth Excursion Village (Generally, 300 Yen and 200 Yen per adult and child, respectively, per night for camping). On the same premises you will see public showers near the public cooking and beach area. Location of the Youth Excursion Village: Southeast of Ie Island (marked by a Pink Balloon Icon).

Shower Facilities. If you just want to use the shower then you have to enter the Ie Village Youth Excursion Village (Entrance fee only is 100 Yen Adult, 50 Yen Child/The staff may wave you on through if you let them know you just want to use the shower). The shower facility will be near the public cooking area and convenience stores. The cost to use the shower per person is 200 Yen. You have to pay the staff at the convenience store (closest to the shower room). Shower Hours are 0900-1800.

US Military Compound. There is a US Marine Compound on Ie Jima if Service Members require emergency assistance.

What to Bring. What you bring is dependent on the type of transportation you bring with you and how long you plan on staying on Ie Island. At a minimum, you may consider bringing proper attire for shade and sun protection, a neck towel, mosquito repellent, water and snacks for nourishment, hiking gloves for protection. You will definitely want to bring a camera.

Places to See. The following links are major highlights of Ie Jima to see. (All places are marked in the above map). Please click links above for other places to visit. Mt Tachu (Mt. Gusuku) (photo), Niyathiya Cave (Senin Gama), Wajee View Point (photo), Ahasha Cave (photo).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"The Purple Iris Fields of Kijoka"

Standing Watch! A purple iris stands tall


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The Purple Iris Fields of Kijoka

     GPS
     LatitudeLongitude
     N 26 42.402E 128 08.944





The Purple Iris Fields of Kijoka


Aside from the Kijoka Falls, the town of Kijoka also hosts a very beautiful green field full of purple irises. The general blooming time for these flowers here in Okinawa is between the late month of March through early to mid-April. Just like the Cherry Blossoms, timing is critical if you want to see these flowers in their best performance. The roughly 1 square km field of lush green iris stems and leaves highlight these purple wonders under the morning sun.

The exact scientific classification of these simple flowers, however, has proven to be somewhat more complex. Conflicting scientific terms have surfaced. They are part of the Iridaceae Family, but the exact specie type is left to question. Research sources, such as The Society for Japanese Irises, The Iris Encyclopedia, and The American Iris Society were reviewed, but an exact classification could not yet be determined with 100% accuracy (This post will be updated upon new findings).

One thing is for certain however, is that the Okinawans refer to this particular iris as 'Okurareruka' (written in Katakana as オクラレルカ). There is a species called 'Iris ochroleuca' with the second half of the name mimicking the pronunciation 'Okurareruka' in Japanese. However, conflicting images have surfaced depicting the flower as all white instead of purple. It is quite possible that these purple irises of Kijoka were initially given the classification of 'Iris ochroleuca' and later found to be of a different kind, while the name, 'Okurareruka', had taken root among the Okinawans.

Kijoka is found in Ogimi Village and they have provided a website link displaying the blooming phases of the Kijoka Iris Fields. Please visit link http://www.vill.ogimi.okinawa.jp (Japanese).

Blooming Season. Late March to early to mid-April. Best time to view is 7-10 days after first bloom. 

Related Articles. For other related images of the Kijoka Purple Iris Field, see Mike's Ryukyu Gallery at: http://blog.mikesryukyugallery.com/2012/03/2012-okinawa-iris-flowers-are-starting.html.

Directions. The directions is the same as if you were going to the Kijoka Falls. If you are going north on Highway 58, look for the 'Bashofu Weaving Workshop' sign to know where to turn off (start of the blue route in the map above). After the turn make the first right. Follow this road and continue straight. Instead of turning right at the LandMark Building that takes you to the Kijoka Falls, continue straight. Once you pass this LandMark, you will want to look to your left and look for the lush green fields. It's not difficult to find. Navigate your way through and park in some of the open areas provided. Avoid parking in areas that might disrupt traffic.

Other places of interest nearby. The Kijoka Falls.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Akainko Shrine

The Akainko Shrine


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Akainko Shrine

      GPS
     LatitudeLongitude
     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 Floridata.com.
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.

Reference.
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)


     GPS
     LatitudeLongitude
     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)
Website. http://www.vill.higashi.okinawa.jp
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, http://www.okinawastory.jp/en/special/festivals_hotels/special/f_festivals.html 
http://www.okinawa-information.com/blog/azela-festivaltsutsuji-matsuri 
2012 Azalea Festival Photo Essay by Michael Lynch (Mike's Ryukyu Gallery)

For information about Azaleas, please visit, 
http://www.pbase.com/azaleasociety/evergreen
http://www.azaleas.org

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.