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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Motobu Fuji 本部 富士"

On top of Motobu Fuji; Background, Ie Shima Island

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Motobu Fuji

     N 26 40.461E 127 54.738

        *GPS for east entrance parking lot

Motobu Fuji 本部 富士

The view you see above was taken from a very large hill top in Motobu Town. The island in the background is Ie Shima and the hill top – perhaps one of the best vantage points on Okinawa to see this beautiful island. Welcome to Motobu Fuji, Okinawa's own little Mt. Fuji. From a distance, Motobu Fuji blends in with the many large hills that already lace the Motobu Peninsula making it difficult to distinguish which hill is which. Nevertheless, the view from the top is remarkable. On a clear day you can see Minna Jima, Ie Shima, Izena & Iheya islands and to the east – Mt Yaedake and even the tip of Northern Okinawa (Hedo area). Though the elevation of Motobu Fuji is roughly 218 meters (715 feet), the climb is still a challenge and even a little treacherous. Motobu Fuji, like most large hill tops on the Motobu Peninsula, are covered with large jagged rocks known as karst. About ninty-five percent (95%) of the trail to the top of Motobu Fuji is covered in karst. Climbing to the top is a wonderful, small adventure and one you are sure to enjoy. Click here or click on the photo album above for more pictures from Motobu Fuji.

The Trail. There are two entrances leading you to Motobu Fuji, There is a 'west entrance' and an 'east entrance'. Directions below take you to the 'east entrance'. There is designated parking and restrooms available near the east entrance and it is a little easier to find. The GPS coordinate above is to the parking area of the east entrance.

From the east entrance parking lot, you just have to walk up the road and you will see a set of steps to your left (LandMark icon above). From here, you will walk about another 300 meters where you will see another trail on the right. You will see a wood sign with the kanji, '本部 富士' (Motobu Fuji) pointing you the way. A few feet away you will see a guide rope to help you ascend the hill. With the exception of a small chain rope near the top, this is the only guide rope you will see along the way. Please Note. Prior to arriving at the wood sign (coming from the east entrance), you may see red spray paint markings taking you to a trail on the left. This is not the trail to Motobu Fuji. This goes in the opposite direction and its use is not quite clear at the moment.

Taking Photographs. The best time to take photos of Ie Shima from Motobu Fuji is on a clear day before noon. The sun will still be behind you and you will not be affected by the glare. 

The Climb Up. The climb going up takes about hour and 30 minutes at a reasonable safe pace. This includes rest breaks, lunch breaks, water breaks, picture breaks, etc. You are gonna want to take pictures continuously. If you just want to go straight up without stopping it can take you about an hour.

The Dangers. The greatest danger here is tripping and falling. Karst stones are jagged and can easily cut through skin. A fall will lead to a very, very bad day. The greatest danger is on your descent trip. At this point, you are little more fatigued, in a rush to get home, and your momentum is going in the most dangerous direction – down! Take your time in both directions. Please read through all the recommended guidelines below.

Recommended Guidelines (PLEASE READ!!!).
1. Recommended climbing for young adults and above who have good agility and are physically fit.
2. Greatest dangers are tripping and falling. TAKE IT SLOW. Rocks here are not sturdy and some are very, very loose. Take nothing for granted. If you fall, you will get cut.
3. Tuck in all loose straps to include shoe laces to prevent getting snagged and tripping.
4. Keep low center of gravity (A MUST)...especially on your way down.
5. Highly recommend hiking gloves of some kind.
6. Highly recommend loose pants and long sleeves that allow for air circulation. This is to protect your skin from cuts from both the karst stones and snagging vines.
7. Snagging vines. Along the way you may run in to vines that have small thorns. These can cause you to trip and fall so you must take it very slow through some vegetated areas. Though wearing long sleeves and pants increases your chances for getting snagged by one of these vines, it is manageable.
8. Bring plenty of water and nourishments (A MUST)...particularly on a hot day.
9. Recommend a good hat for shade or cover up with a moist towel.
10. Mosquitoes. In the summer time, mosquitoes can be relentless on your way up. They can easily distract you and cause you to lose concentration as you are climbing. This can be dangerous. One wrong move and it will be more than just a minor mosquito bite that will sting. Recommend covering up as stated above and or use repellent to mitigate the distraction. You must really stay focused along the entire venture.

Summary Statistics.
Name: Motobu Fuji 本部 富士
Elevation: 218 Meters (715 feet)*.
GPS Coordinates of the Peak: N 26 40.618 E 127 54.537

Directions. The GPS coordinates, N 26 40.461 E 127 54.738, is to the 'east entrance' parking lot. Take Highway 58 to Highway 449 heading towards Motobu. Continue along 449 passing the bridge that takes you to Sesoko Island. From that point, about 1.5 km you will run into a T-intersection (Highway 449/84). Left continues on Highway 449. Right takes you on Highway 84. Take Highway 84 going east. About 2 km more go left on Highway 115 (you may see signs pointing you to Nakijin Castle). Shortly, along Highway 115 you will pass the Motobu Elementary School on your right. 

From here study the map carefully. At some point along Highway 115 you will be elevated (as if you are on a bridge). See Map Icon on the map. Once you cross over this elevated portion the road will bend to the left. Make the first left as soon as you crossover this elevated portion. This left hand turn will go down and to the left and then you have to make a right. This is the start of the blue designated route. Follow it to the 'east entrance' parking lot. It is easy to miss the parking area since it is elevated off the road. Here is a picture of what it would look like from the road. From this picture, go left and you will soon see a restroom on the right. You are there.

Other Hiking Trails on OkinawaAwa-dakeKatsuu-dakeFurushi-dakeYonaha-dake.

Places of interest nearby. Toto la BeBe - Hamburger.

* Elevation was computed at the following website:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"The Grave of Amamichu"

The Grave of Amamichu

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The Grave of Amamichu

     N 26 19.455E 127 57.982

The Grave of Amamichu

Before there were kings, there were gods – that according to Okinawan legends. The above grave or 'ohaka' houses the remains of Amamichu, the female deity that was one half responsible for creating the first inhabitants of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Her counterpart, Shirumichu – a male deity, was also responsible for establishing the first civilization here on Okinawa. Every year, particularly during the beginning of the New Year, people come here to pray for prosperity. It would not be uncommon to see a noro (priestess) here during special occasions. Women also come here to pray for fertility.

The Grave of Shirumichu? If there is a grave for Amamichu, is there a grave for Shirumichu? Or is that considered part of the Shirumichu Shrine? The name of this site is very specific – Amamichu no Haka, meaning Amamichu's grave (アマミチュー の 墓). The Shirumichu Shrine makes no mention that it is a grave, just that both Amamichu and Shirumichu lived there many, many years ago.

Accessibility. Amamichu's Grave is located at a coral rock pile just off the eastern shores of Hamahiga. There is a stone walkway leading you there, about a 75 meter walk. However, during high tide, the stone walkway disappears under the ocean. Please plan your trip according to tide information. The following link ( is tide information for Ikei Island which is a few kilometers to the north of Hamahiga. This will be the most accurate tide information for that area. Tide information at other parts of Okinawa will vary.

Directions. Hamahiga is accessible by vehicle. As soon as you cross the Kaichu-dori Bridge (on Highway 10 off the Katsuren Peninsula) you will see signs directing you to Hamahiga. The Amamichu Grave lies on the eastern shores of Hamahiga. Look for a very small rock island about 75 meters off the main shores of Hamahiga. Please see map above. You will see a sign board in Japanese at the entrance way to the grave. The grave also stands across from a small rest area.

Other places of interest nearby. Off The Beaten Path - Hamahiga, The Agari no Utaki, Hamahiga Beach, Shirumichu.

Source of information. Explanation sign on location in Japanese provided by Uruma City. Okinawa Diaspora (Okinawa's first creators), pg 145, Ronald Nakasone, University Hawaii Press 2002.

Note. Amamichu and Shirumichu are sometimes referred to as Amamikiyo and Shinerikiyo, respectively.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Gateway to the Other Side? Hamahiga Island"

Gateway to the 'Other Side'? A view of Hamahiga at low tide.

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'Gateway' to the Other Side? Hamahiga Island

     N 26 18.813E 127 57.594
       *GPS data is to the parking lot

Gateway to the 'Other Side'? Hamahiga Island

There are many, many beautiful places here on Okinawa, and Hamahiga Island ranks very high among them. But to understand the intrinsic beauty of Hamahiga, it's imperative to see it through its historical context. This is but a small prelude into the mysteries and legends of Hamahiga Island.

The Okinawans have a term that describes a world, far and beyond on the 'other side'. It is a world in which the gods and spirits live; a world connected and yet separated, only by the sea. In Okinawan dialect this is referred to as 'Nirai-kanai', and is steeped heavily in the Okinawan psyche...and on Hamahiga Island, this belief is very much alive, both in nature and in the people of Hamahiga. Along with Kudaka Jima, Hamahiga ranks as one of the most sacred islands in the Ryukyu Archipelago. It is believed that the first 'creators' of the Okinawan civilization, Amamichu and Shirumichu, settled here many, many years ago*. In fact, the final resting place of Amamichu is believed to be in a small crypt just off the eastern shores of Hamahiga. And further south, lies the Shirumichu Shrine, a cave elevated on a rocky hill honoring these deities. There are other places on Hamahiga that are mysterious and steeped in local legend, some very recent and soon to be discussed. But as you walk around the natural landscape of Hamahiga, one cannot help to imagine if there is a connection with Hamahiga and the 'other side'.

The 'Gateway'. The title is the just a metaphorical interpretation surrounding the breathtaking beauty and the 'laws of nature' at work throughout Hamahiga, juxtaposed with its history and the belief of 'Nirai-kanai' and animism. It is important to understand this link in order to understand how some Okinawans view and connect with the 'spiritual world'.

Just as you arrive at the Shirumichu Shrine parking area (marked by the Green Thumbtack in the map), you will see a natural corridor in-between two large rocky mounds as seen in the above picture. A gateway perhaps? Having a grasp of Hamahiga's history, one can be inspired to imagine many things. Nevertheless, it leaves you to wonder; what lies beyond the 'other side'? At high tide, it's too difficult to venture safely on foot. But at low tide, your curiosity can be set free. As you move further through the corridor, you will see (to the right) a 'natural' sidewalk made of coral that can only be used safely during low tide. Don't expect to see a miraculous statue or pot of gold on the other end...just a sense of peace and satisfaction.

If this is indeed a gateway, it does beg the question; does the doorway to 'Nirai-kanai' have a connection with the change of tides? Having observed some religious practices here on Okinawa, it wouldn't be all that surprising if some Okinawans share that view. Just make sure you return before the tide comes back... or you will be stuck on the other side.

Author's note. The natural corridor or 'Gateway', described above, is just an impression inspired by local legends of Hamahiga and not based on any specific beliefs held by the local Okinawans (that I know of). If you are in love with Okinawa's natural landscape, then the 'gateway' described above is a place you will want to venture out to at low tide.

Map Information. The Amamichu Grave, Shirumichu Shrine, and the 'Gateway' all have a placemarks at their respective locations in the map above. The natural corridor or 'Gateway' is marked by the Green Route marker. The Pink Route marker marks the walking route for the Shirumichu Shrine. The GPS information above is to the parking lot also designated by the Green Thumbtack.

Tide information. Low tide is the best time to venture out through the corridor safely (and to visit the Amamichu Grave site). The following link is tide information around Ikei Island which is the closest island to Hamahiga: Other tide information will vary around Okinawa Prefecture.

Directions. You can drive to Hamahiga from the Katsuren Peninsula via Highway 10. You will see signs directing you to Hamahiga Island. You will have to cross the another bridge to enter Hamahiga. Once you arrive on the island, you will turn left or veer east. The Amamichu Grave will just be off the road on a medium size coral mound next to the shore (see map for Pink Balloon icon). The most difficult place to find is the Shirumichu Shrine. Please use this LandMark as the turn-off point to the shrine also seen in the map above. This is where the designated Blue Route begins. The LandMark will be a small restroom facility. Along the way you will see these historical signs pointing you to the way. Once you arrive at the parking lot, it will not be immediate apparent that there is a shrine in the nearby area. You will see a path off to the woods straight ahead. See Pink Route in the above map. It will lead you to the first Torii Gate and then to a set of stairs.

Source. Okinawa Diaspora (Okinawa's first creators), pg 145, Ronald Nakasone, University Hawaii Press 2002. Grave of Amamichu, Definition, Nirai-kanai (also spelled nireekanee), Okinawan English Wordbook, Mitsuyu Sakihara, University Hawaii Press 2006.

Related articles. Azama Port: Gateway to Kudaka Island. In the Beginning...there was Kudaka.

Other places of interest nearby. Off The Beaten Path - Hamahiga, The Agari no Utaki, Hamahiga Beach, Amamichu's Grave, Shirumichu.

† Amamichu and Shirumichu are sometimes referred to as Amamikiyo and Shinerikiyo, respectively.
*Okinawa legends may vary about the origins of the first Ryukyu gods. It is widely believed that Kudaka is where the gods first descended upon. When asked about the relationship between Hamahiga and Kudaka, a tour guide offered one interpretation. She said some believe the gods first descended to Kudaka and then later settled at Hamahiga.