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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Sunset! Manzamo"

Cape Manzamo; a fisherman's boat passing underneath a setting sun

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Sunset!!! Manzamo

     N 26 30.300E 127 51.001

Sunset! Manzamo, Onna Village

Summer time in Okinawa offers clear blue skies with large blooming white clouds that decorate the daytime abyss. But as the Okinawa sun descends into a blaze of evening glory, a 'magical' transition occurs to the west – the Ryukyu Island Sunset. And what is a sunset without the view point its admired from? The picture you see above was taken from Onna Village at Cape Manzamo which is better known for its unique looking cliff, shaped like an elephant's trunk. And because you can get right up on the ocean, Cape Manzamo offers great composition of terrain, people, and the blazing sun in the viewfinder of your camera. It also offers fond moments with friends and love well time for the individual soul. But the show doesn't end when the sun is gone! If you love taking photographs and are savvy with a camera you can capture the radiating sky during it twilight formation as seen here in this photograph. To see other photos taken before, during, and after the sunset click on the photo album above or click here. This is Sunset! at Manzamo.

Parking. Parking is available on location. 
Directions. To get to Cape Manzamo, you have to take Highway 58 into Onna-son (Onna Village). You will have to take the 58 By-pass (skirts the shore). Signs will be posted directing you 'Cape Manzamo' along the 58. 

Other great places to view sunsets. The Goddess Sunset, Nago City, Zakimi-jo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Hira Falls ひら滝, Nago City"

Teniya's Hira Falls, Nago City

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Hira Falls

     N 26 34.927E 128 06.279

Hira Falls, Nago City

A very photogenic waterfall lies on the east side of Okinawa along the Aritsugawa River in a small town called Teniya of Nago City. She is another one of the least known waterfalls here on Okinawa, but she is not shy on displaying her thundering beauty. She is the very proud and commanding, Hira Falls (ひら滝). In Japanese she is referred to as Hira-Taki and in Okinawan dialect, Hira-Tachi. Both suffixes, 'taki' and 'tachi', mean waterfall in their respective languages. 

When you first arrive at the base of the falls, a sense of deja vu will hit you. Hira is very reminiscent of her sister, Taa, who lives in Ogimi Village on the west side of Okinawa. Their vertical heights are approximately the same – roughly 50 meters. What makes Hira Falls special however, is that the layout of the land makes for great photographic moments at different angles that you couldn't easily achieve at other waterfalls here on Okinawa. Please see photo album above or click here to see other photos.

An Okinawan, familiar with the waterfall, was asked if there was a special shrine or sacred grove around this waterfall where Okinawans pray. His answer was yes. We just happen to be looking at her the whole time.

Physical Ability. Recommended for young adults and above with good physical agility and coordination skills. I do not recommend bringing children on your first trip to this waterfall. After the first go-around, parents can gauge the safeness for their children. It is not a difficult trek, however, it is not a flat path either and there are narrow areas where you can trip or fall, and the vegetation along the trail may be too overgrown where snakes can hide. Hopefully, over time, the trail may get beaten down enough where this becomes less of a concern. The level of difficulty of this trek is between that of Taa and Fukugawa II, but more closer to Taa's level. 

The Starting Point. The most difficult part of this river trek is finding the starting point. This is really an off-the-beaten path waterfall. Vehicle directions to the starting point are at the very bottom. Please study them carefully. There are NO official markers or signs pointing you to this waterfall. You have to study the Landmarks provided. The trail starts at a small creek, near a road, that connects to the main river (Aritsugawa) which feeds the Hira Falls.

The Trail/River Trek. The trail weaves in and out of a small creek that connects to the main river. Sometimes you are in the water. Sometimes you are on land. It is about a 20 minute river trek. You will see 'red tape' or 'red spray paint' on trees along the trail leading you the way. However, they are sometimes easy to miss. As long as you let the creek guide you, you will reunite with the marked trail again at some point. The trail may be at times narrow, or not as beaten down, so please watch your step looking for possible snakes. At one point at a difficulty pass in the creek, you will see a guide rope to left.

The 'Y' and the First Waterfall. Near the end, you will come across a noticeable 'Y' fork on the creek. If you go right, you will come to a dead end about 3 minutes later, however there is small waterfall tucked around the corner with a decent size pool of water. THIS IS NOT HIRA FALLS. Continue to the left of the 'Y'. Hira Falls will be around the corner 100 meters away on the left hand side.

The Dangers. Potentially the most dangerous part is a run-in with the Habu. Because the path weaves in and out of the creek, you are sometimes forced to go on narrow vegetated paths. Recommend bringing a guide stick to brush away the trail and to remove spider webs.

Wildlife in the Area.
Spider Webs. You will see many spider webs along the way. Just be aware. Wear appropriate clothing and highly recommend wearing gloves.
Fresh Water Eel. At times along the way, you may see a fresh water eel. This is just for your awareness and to not get overly excited and fall when confusing it with a snake. It is not certain what species/subspecies they are, but they may be the Giant Mottled Eel (See the Churami Aquarium website Several were seen in this area.
Snakes. Always be vigilant for snakes when in the wild. Wear appropriate footwear/protective gear and bring a guide stick to remove brush. Take your time. There is no need to rush.
Mosquitoes/Critters. Recommend using bug repellant and wear appropriate clothing to protect your skin.

The Horse Fly. This is one pest worth mentioning and writing an entire paragraph on. If you get bit by one, you will understand. For some reason, they are frequent in this area of Okinawa and probably just during the hot season. They are tremendously annoying – to the point you will be rooting for Okinawa's legendary 'Banana Spider'. Their bite can be very painful – even through clothing, and possibly leave an infection if left long enough on your skin. The Okinawans refer to these flies as 'Abu'. Do not be surprised if 'one' seemly 'stalks' you along the way to the waterfall. You will find yourself constantly swatting the air around you. This is another reason to avoid bringing small children on your first trip, or at all. 

Solutions. There is no 100% solution to this problem during the hotter months. There may be less or none during the colder months. If you can tolerate the heat, you can wear clothing that covers your entire body along the way to the waterfall and then change when you get there. This may mitigate the sharp pain you will feel if they bite you. A can of 'Off' Spray or equivalent may or may not work. Cover, the back of your neck with a wet towel. Cover, your head with either a hat or wet towel. You will know when they approach you. They make an unforgettable sound. To temporarily get them away from you, try swinging a towel violently in a helicopter manner as if you are swatting them. You may at least get 5 minutes of peace. According to the Orkin Pest Control website, horse flies are attracted to dark objects so wear clothing accordingly. may also have some house-hold remedies that may be of help. Thankfully, they usually harass you one at a time.

Getting to the Top of the Waterfall. The terrain is too steep and densely vegetated to get to the top safely, and there is no trail up there. Highly recommend making no attempt to go up. This is very, very unsafe from the base of the waterfall. A safer route is currently being reconnoitered, however, it is no where near the trail of this waterfall. This post will be updated once a safer route has been verified.

Going away from the Waterfall. Once you meet the Aritsugawa River, Hira Falls will be immediately on your left and the river continues on to the right. It flatten outs tremendously but then ultimately gets little deeper making it tremendously difficult to continue.

Other Guidelines.
1. Plan on getting wet up to your knees. Wear good shoes/boots with traction (not tennis shoes).
2. Sometimes, it best to walk in the water than on land or balancing yourself on the rocks.
3. Nearest Medical Facility. For U.S. Services members the nearest medical facility will be at Camp Scwhab about 30-40 minutes away to the south. 4. GPS for the trail's starting point is N26 34.927, E128 6.279. Recommended GPS Rally Point for emergency vehicles is N 26 34.393 E 128 07.328. It will be a large tree clearly visible near Highway 331 and is one of the Landmarks designated in the map above. GPS to the Hira Falls is N26 35.121, E128 6.340.
5. Recommend a small backpack of snacks, a bathing suit to go swimming (optional), bug spray, towel. And don't forget your camera. There are nice areas already for natural shade. Pack out what you pack in. Leave no trace behind.
6. Leave an extra set of clothes and shoes in the car to change into later. More than likely you will get wet and dirty. If it's summer, you will be sweating.
7. Bring a hiking buddy with you.

Parking. There is only one area near the starting point that you can park your car. It's big enough to park maybe 2 cars. If this is full you have to park further down the road but off to the side. This is somewhat a narrow road. Please leave plenty of space for truck-size vehicles and please do not park in such away that would block farmers access to their farms.

Directions. (Please Read carefully). Your venture starts from Highway 329 in Nago. Then get on the Highway 331 turn-off, heading north. You will now be on the east side of Okinawa (The Highway 329/331 turn-off is about 10 minutes north of Camp Schwab by car). Another 8km you will past the Kanucha Resort. Travel another 7.5 km and you will be arriving in Teniya. At some point you will be traveling around a sharp 'bend' in the road. To your right of this 'bend' will be a very noticeable old and large pine tree. On the left side and on the opposite side of the road will be a small elementary school buildingThese are Map Landmarks provided in the above map. Once you pass the elementary school, look for a second through-road on the left. It will be a 'Y-like' fork intersection with signs. This is where you turn left as you leave the 331. This is the beginning of the blue designated route in the map above.

From there, go at a very moderate and safe speed. Farmers and delivery trucks still travel these areas at high speeds. The roads are medium size in width and are curvy. The next landmark to look for will be on the left hand side 2km later. It is a small pull-out area where you can park your car. Please look at this picture. There is only one like it in that area. If you get to here then you known you are in the right spot. (Eventually, if you go past this, you will see a sign down the road that looks like this on the left. If you get here, you gone too far!!!) Park your car at this pull-out area or in the immediate area off to the side. Do not block any roads that leads to farm land.

From the pull-out area, you have to backtrack on foot down the road for about 100m as if you are going back to the 331. As you are headed in that direction, look for 3 small 'red dot's sprayed painted on the white guard rail. This marks the entry point to the path. From there you will see a small trail that leads you down and connects you to a small creek. You will also see 'Red Tape' and 'Red Spray Paint' along the way. If you look at this picture you will see the car parked in the background (at the Landmark). You will also see those '3 Red Dots' to the right on the guard rail.

Enjoy and Have a Great Trip!

Other waterfalls in OkinawaAzaka Falls (Ogimi Village), Fukugawa Falls (Nago City), Kijoka Falls (Ogimi Village), Meoto Falls (Higashi Village), Ogimi Waterfall (Ogimi Village), River Trekking to a Nameless Waterfall (Fukugawa II) (Nago City), Taa Waterfall (Ogimi Village), Todoroki Waterfall (Nago City), Nameless Waterfall (Kunigami), (Aha and Hiji Falls not listed yet).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"The Hakugin-do Shrine - Itoman City"

The Hakugin-do Shrine, Itoman City

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Hakugin-do Shrine - Itoman City

     N 26 08.014E 127 40.202

The Hakugin-do Shrine - Itoman City

The Hakugin-do Shrine (or Hakugindo) in Itoman City is a very special shrine to the people of Itoman and its fishermen. A god referred to as Shirogane-no-oibe (God of the Sea) is enshrined here and it is to whom the Itoman residence pay homage to for a prosperous yield of fish, as well for a safe return from the sea. The shrine is also referred to as "Yoriage-utaki" and the area around the shrine is said to house graves of local fishermen that once lived in the area long ago. 

The exact date of the shrine's origin is not exactly certain. If local legends are true then it could possibly date back for centuries. But an “impressive” structure was later built in 1933, according to the book, Okinawa; A People and Their Gods, published in 1969. However, it was later destroyed in the aftermath of the Okinawan Battle. Travel writer, Michael R Lynch, shows Then-and-Now photos of the post-war structure taken around 1958 and a more recent photo taken in 2012. The author of the aforementioned book also tells of a story that long ago a young wife of a king (name & date not mentioned) once came to this shrine to pray for a son. Her wishes had come true, and subsequently, it became a custom for new wives wishing for a son to come here to make their wishes known.

Legend of Hakugin-doPerhaps a more intriguing legend is now being circulated. This folklore is referred to as the “Legend of Hakugin-do” in which the story tells of act of mercy shown by a Samurai towards an Itoman fishermen. The enshrined cave had became the focal point throughout the story and later, a symbol of their friendship. A YouTube video taken by a blogger, Tom Corrao, shares this video posted on his blog, Okinawaology. In the video, a tour guide describes the details and circumstances surrounding this legend.

Author's Note. According to the Itoman City Official Website, a large rock, referred to as the 'God Rock' sits at the south end of the shrine, however it wasn't certain which actual rock the website was referring to.

Directions. The Shrine is in Itoman City. It sits along Highway 331 (left if you are going south). Look for the Torii Gate to the side. Note. There is Highway 331 and there is the 331 Bypass that split near the Naha Airport. Study the map carefully. If you are going south, take the Bypass by continuing straight rather than turning right as if you are going to Senega Jima. You will then come to a traffic intersection where 3 Highways begin (Highway 231, 68, & 331). Take the 331 south. About another 4.5 km the shrine will be to your left. You will cross over a very noticeable river stream about 400m before you reach the shrine.

Parking. Parking is available. The parking entrance is just before the Torii Gate (north of the gate). See picture for details. Note: The Shrine will mostly likely sneak up on you, since the Torii is tucked in from the road.

Book: Okinawa, A People and Their Gods, James C. Robinson, Tuttle Publishing Company, 1969.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Hamahiga Beach"

Hamahiga Island Beach

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Hamahiga Public Beach

     N 26 19.501E 127 57.080

Hamahiga Beach

On the quiet little island of Hamahiga you will find a nice sandy beach that faces the Katsuren Peninsula. Its white sand and clear blue water gives it a great touch for summer time fun as well as a nice place to unwind with the family throughout the year. Because of its remote location you will likely find it less populated than some of the beaches that are near the more densely populated towns in Okinawa. Grab a towel, cause this is one of the nicest beaches to visit during your stay here on Okinawa. Below are guidelines posted on site (translated in English).

Posted Rules & Guidelines.
1. Lifeguards are not present. Use caution and proper supervision of your children.
2. No diving off the rock jetties.
3. Please clean up after yourself.
4. No fireworks, camp fires, charcoal grills etc.
5. Generators are not allowed (Gasoline, Hazardous Materials etc.)
6. Pets must be on a leash. Please pick up any droppings left by your pets.
7. Because the beach is near a neighborhood, please maintain reasonable noise discipline in the area.

Public Parking. Available.
Bathroom Facilities. Available.
Swim nets. Not Available.

Recommendations. There are very few shaded areas on site. Highly recommend bringing your own equipment for shading.

Directions. Take Highway 10 east (Kaichu-douru Bridge) from the Katsuren Pennisula. You will see visible signs directing you to Hamahiga Island. The route to the beach is straightforward once you arrive on Hamahiga Island. Please see map above.

Other places of interest nearby. Starting point – Off The Beaten Path, Hamahiga, Agari no Utaki, Amamichu's Grave, Shirumichu, The Gateway.