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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mount Yonaha

The trail to Mt. Yonaha

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Mount Yonaha (Yonaha-dake)

     N 26 43.919E 128 12.545
       *GPS to parking area

Mount Yonaha, Kunigami Village

The highest mountain on the Okinawa main island is in Kunigami Village. It is Mt. Yonaha (Yonaha-dake) standing at 503 meters above sea level.(1)(i) The hike is about a 2 to 2 1/2 hour trip to the top. The trail is well beaten down with a mild grade towards the peak. It is a very easy climb for those who wish to bring their children. The scenic view at the top, however, is essentially non-existent since dense vegetation surrounds the entire peak as well as much of the trail along the way.

The Highest Point. As of November 21, 2013 there was no official sign designating the highest point of the mountain (503 meters). There was, however, a sign marking 498 meters (near the top). With recent amenities added (improved parking area, a toilet facility, new signs etc.), there is indication in the near future that the Kunigami Village Office may officially mark the highest point for tourism purposes.

So Where is the Highest Point? It is believed that the 503 meter point is the hill just before you reach the 498 meter marker. In fact you pass it without realizing it. As of November 21, 2013 there was a small tree right along the trail with three rings of red tape around it and the number 503 marked on it. The GPS of that location does seem to match the Google terrain map as the highest point, but this still remains unofficial till the Kunigami Village Office formally places the marker.

Summary of Information.
Name: Mt Yonaha, Yonaha-dake (与那覇岳)
Elevation of Highest Point: 503 Meters (1650.26 ft)
GPS Highest Point (503 Meters): N26 43.029 E128 13.118 (unconfirmed)
GPS 498 Meter Point: N26 42.974 E128 13.085
GPS Starting Point: N26 43.925 E128 12.546
Parking Area: 100 meters from the trail starting point
Estimated Time of Completion: Round Trip 4-5 hours
GPS Recommended Emergency Rendezvous Point: Same as parking area
Difficulty Level: Very Low.
Parking and Toilet Facility: Available near the trail starting point
Cellphone Reception. Signal received at the top (Au phone)

Recommended Guidelines. (PLEASE READ!!!)
1. Age. Climbing is suitable for young adults as well as children. The path is well beaten but there are areas where you can trip on tree roots and cut yourself on low lying branches, particularly broken bamboo. You may also find areas where trees have fallen along the path that you may have to negotiate. Parents must use their discretion on the ability of their children. Children must avoid running or playing along the trail. A good trip and you'll risk a good cut to the facial area.
2. Wear shoes or boots that have good traction. Tennis shoes should be okay.
3. IMPORTANT!!! Bring plenty of water. This is about a 4-5 hour excursion. Recommend bringing snacks or a light lunch. Pack out what you pack in.
4. Tuck in all loose straps to include shoe laces to prevent getting snagged and tripping.
5. Highly recommend hiking gloves of some kind. You may be required to climb using your hands in some areas to include fallen trees.
6. Base your clothing on the time of year and comfort level.
7. Bug repellent. Bring per your discretion. Mosquitoes are more prevalent in the hotter months.
8. Let someone know where you are going, and recommend a climbing buddy.
9. This is a wildlife protected area. Please do not take anything out of the forest; this includes plant life.

i. The highest mountain in Okinawa Prefecture is Mt. Omote in Ishigaki Island at 526 meters(2)

1. Mt. Yonaha, Highest Mountain on Okinawa main island,
2. Mt. Omote, the highest in mountain in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan National Tourism Organization

Directions. Take Highway 58 north to Kunigami Village. There will be a sign directing you to Hiji Falls (near the Family Mart). Take this same road. About 250 meters you will then turn left on the second paved road. You may see this sign on the left-hand sign. About 250 meters you will run into a main road (this sign will be to your front). Going left takes you to an elementary school. You will want to go right. Immediately, you will be moving up hill. Follow this road straight. About 5km (3 miles) later you will run into a T-intersection. You will see a Peace Pole to your front and a parking area to the right. You will also see a explanation sign about Mt. Yonoha. The beginning of the trail is about another 150 meters to the east. The vehicle route to the parking area is marked in blue in the map above.

Other Hiking Trails on Okinawa. Awa-dakeKatsuu-dakeFurushi-dake, Motobu Fuji.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. The Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum

The Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum

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The Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum

     N 26 44.002E 128 11.427

The Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum, Kunigami Village

On November 2, 2013, a very small art museum debuted in Hentona of Kunigami Village. This is no ordinary museum, however. Here, you can play with the artwork. It is the Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum and the artwork, of course, are the toys...all made from natural wood. The theme...introducing nature using a language that all children can understand; the language of 'play'.

All the toys are made of wood from trees found here in Japan. Since the museum is in Okinawa however, some toys are composed of wood from the Ryukyu Pine, trees native to the Okinawa islands.(1)(2)(3) The Ryukyu Pine is also Okinawa's prefectural tree, thereby making the pine very special. Hence, the material used for these toys only come from damaged trees, such as those destroyed during typhoons.(1,2,4) The museum is quite small, only occupying about 144 square meters (1600 square feet), and perhaps for good reason; any larger, you may find yourself out breath as you try to keep up with your children bouncing from one end to the other. To get a video preview inside the museum, click here

The museum is sponsored and organized by the Good Toy Association, a non-profit organization based in Mainland, Japan. They direct other natural toy museums throughout country. Their website is (click here for the sublink to the Okinawan museum).

Sai On Matsu, a Link to the Past. In Japanese, the Ryukyu Pine is pronounced as Ryukyu Matsu; matsu (松) meaning pine. Some Okinawans, however, may use the term shima matsu (island pine) to describe this type of tree. There is another name that is seldom used these days. It is the term Sai On Matsu (蔡温松).(5)  Sai On is actually a name belonging to a very famous political figure and scholar (1682-1763) during the reign of King Sho Kei (1713-1751).(6) In fact, he was one of the members belonging to the Council of Three (Sanshinkan, 三司官) that served as regents for the royal crown.(7) Sai On made many contributions with academic and scholarly writings ranging from personal conduct and behavior to policies governing land management. His writings and studies on forestry conservation would form the bulk of an 8 volume publication, Rinsei Hassho, (Eight Writings on Forestry Management) which was published posthumously in 1885, almost a century later.(6)(i) To many, he is considered the father of Okinawa's forestry conservation movement. The museum in many ways is a continuation of Sai On's work.

The term Sai On Matsu does not seem to describe just one pine tree, but a group of trees planted in a methodical or densely populated fashion; for example, trees planted along side a major road or on a tiny pocket of land such as a small forest.(ii) In Hedo of Kunigami Village, near the Tomb of King Gihon, there is a forest area named the Sai On Pine Tree Preservation Park, a name which gives tribute to the highly acclaimed scholar. 

The Kunigami Forest Park. The Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum is part of the Kunigami Forest Park. There you will find a network of trails and view points that highlight the beauty of the Kunigami forest.

Recommendations (Please Read Before You Go!). Because the toy museum is rather small (144 square meters), you may not want to make this your primary destination if you live 2 hours away. If you are however, in the neighborhood and looking for a 30 minute timeout with the kids or plan on staying at the Okuma Recreational Facility then this may be a good option for you. Please avoid if your children are sick or have a cold.

Name (English). The Yanbaru Forest Toy Museum
Name (Japanese). Yanbaru Mori Omocha Bijyutsukan (やんばる森おもちゃ美術館)
Entrance Fee. Free till April 2014. Prices have not been determine yet.
Hours. 10am-4pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Phone Number. 098 041 5421
Sponsor. The Good Toy Association
Sponsor Website.
Video. A Map It! Okinawa Video Short

1. Good Toy Organization (Sponsor)
2. Blog Article - Wall Street Journal 
3. Native Okinawan Village and Omoro Arboretum (Ryukyu Pine)
4. Okinawa's Prefectural Website
5. Ryukyu Cultural Archives Website, Sai On Matsu (Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education)
6. Sai On reference. Ryukyu: Bibliographical Guide to Okinawan Studies, Dr. Shunzo Sakamaki, University Hawaii Press 1963 Pg 49.
7. Sanshinkan meaning. Okinawa: History of an Island People, George Kerr, Revised Edition 2000, Tuttle Publishing, pg 123

i. Sai On originally wrote 7 volumes regarding forestry and conservation. An 8th publication, the Onsashizu Hikae (Copy of Instructions), was added in 1885, by the prefectural government. (6)
ii. A Okinawan view of the word forest may be different of that of a western viewpoint. Mui is the Okinwan word for forest and it could be a small pocket of densely populated trees and not necessarily acres and acres of land.  

Directions. Take Highway 58 north into Kunigami Village. You will continue on Highway 58 passing the turn-off that takes you to Hiji Falls. Look for a highway sign that says Forest Park just before you reach the Hentona Tunnel. There you will make a right turn (if heading north on Highway 58). As soon as you make the right turn immediately look for a wooden sign directing you to the Kunigami Forest Park. At the sign, make a left and continue to follow that road directly in the forest park. LandMark images have been added to the map.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Kouri Ocean Tower

The Kouri Ocean Tower

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Kouri Ocean Tower

     N 26 42.004E 128 01.462

The Kouri Ocean Tower, Kouri-jima

On November 23, 2013, Kouri-jima debuted its new attraction, the Kouri Ocean Tower.(1) It sits prominently high overlooking the oceanfront and from up-top, you can see the very visible Kouri Bridge, the longest toll-free bridge in Japan – stretching to 1,960 meters.(2,3,4) There are other attractions within the tower compound to make your visit more enjoyable. Please see information below for more details.

Hours: 9am-6pm, Daily (Restaurant Hours, 10am-6pm)
Phone Number: 098 056 1616
Entrance Fee: Adults: 800 ¥, Junior and High School: 600 ¥, Elementary School Students: 300 ¥, Between Ages 0 and Elementary School Students: FREE. 15% Off for Group Rates (20 people minimum). Price subject to change.
Currency. Yen Only
English Language. Currently, there are no guide pamphlets in English. However, it appears in the near future they will have publications in the English, Chinese, and the Korean languages. There is a 5 minute audio-guided tour in English on the golf cart ride to the main entrance, as well as some signs translated in English inside the Shell Museum.

Entering The Facility (Please Read!). After you purchase your ticket you have two options to enter the main facility. You can either ride a golf cart (automated) that seats four people or walk on a circular ramp. Both will take you up to the Shell Museum. The golf cart ride offers a 5 minute audio-guided tour in English (also in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese). Here you will learn a little about the island's history and of the facility itself. For those using wheel chairs or plan on bringing baby strollers, you can waive the cart ride and use the walk-ramp instead.

The Shell Museum. Inside the exhibit, there are approximately 1,500 kinds of seashells with over 10,000 on display.(5) You will find both the Japanese and Latin names displayed next to each shell. There are some explanation signs along the walls that are written in English, Japanese, Korean, and in Chinese.

Cake Factory. Here you will find an assortment of locally-made pastry products, and are more than welcome to take food samples to your liking. In the corner, there is a viewing window to the factory where you can watch staff members work as they prepare pastry items for that day.

The Ocean Blue Restaurant. The compound does have a two-story restaurant with an outdoor patio where you can dine and enjoy the ocean view. Their feature menu items include Green Curry and their own in-house pizza. Price Range: Main course meals: 700-2300 ¥  per meal. Sweets: 350-420 ¥ per item. Drinks/Coffee: 420-525 ¥ per drink. *Prices subject to change. Hours: 10am-6pm.

The Ocean Tower. The main attraction is the tower. The top floor sits 36 meters (118 ft) above ground and 82 meters (269 ft) above sea level.(5) You will notice that the white tower is designed much like a sail belonging to a boat. Its designers wanted to represent the island in such a way combining the beauty of the Okinawan ocean and the scenic landscape. Few places on Okinawa can rival the scenic panoramic view from this location.

Amenities/Parking. Parking is free. Restrooms available. An elevator is available to access parts of the tower.

1. Official Website.
2. Okinawa2Go, Kouri-jima Bridge, website (English)
3. Okinawa Story (Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau, OCVB), Kouri-jima Bridge, website (English)
4. Nakijin Village Official Website (Kouri-jima Bridge), Japanese Only
5. Audio Tour Guide produced by the Kouri Ocean Tower staff

Related Articles. Mike's Ryukyu Gallery: The Kouri Island Ocean Tower.

Direction. Kouri-jima is part of Nakijin Village. Take Highway 58 north to Highway 110. Highway 110 takes you across two islands, Oi-jima and Yagaji-jima. You will see signs directing you to Kouri-jima. At some point you will cross the Kouri Bridge to get to Kouri Island. The large white tower will be very visible from the bridge. As soon as you cross the bridge make the very first right. This will happen almost immediately. From there you will be able to easily navigate your way to the tower.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cape Manzamo

Cape Manzamo

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Cape Manzamo

     N 26 30.282E 127 51.014

Cape Manzamo, Onna Village

One of the most recognizable tourist destinations on Okinawa is Cape Manzamo (or Manzamō). Facing the East China Sea, its most distinguishing feature is its elephant trunk-like coral snout. Hundreds and hundreds of sightseers visit Cape Manzamo daily just to get a memorable photo of this large, natural sculpture. The name Manzamo is said to originate from words expressed by King Sho Kei in 1726 during a visit. Admiring the view he notes it “was worth letting 10,000 people sit and enjoy the area”.(1) The kanji designation for Manzamo (万座毛) summarizes the king's expression. The first character 万(man) means 10,000, while the second character 座 (za) gives reference to a seat or to sit as in "za suru".

The Third Kanji. There is, however, an interesting peculiarity to Manzamo's third kanji character, 毛. Together with the first two characters it is pronounced as mou (mō). But alone, the kanji means hair and when said by itself, it is pronounced as "ke". So how does hair fit in the equation of the definition? According to the Uchina Joho website it explains that is an Okinawan word that means an open field and was once denoted with the kanji, 毛.(2) This would seem to coincide with King Sho Kei's earlier expression. It would imply then that at some point the definition changed to mean hair, but the character, 毛, remained as a legacy to its former meaning. The word is also found in the Okinawan-English Wordbook (2006). In the book it describes as a field that is not cultivated or a wilderness.(3)

Sunset Viewing. Manzamo is beautiful during the day but it is also a great place to view the sunset. Please visit Map It! Okinawa's article, Sunset! Manzamo, for more information.

Amenities/Parking. At the parking location you will find many gift shops. Parking is also free.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. The Cave of Dances – Uduigama, Onna Gusuku.

1) Onna Village Historical Publicaion, dtd March 2000, Pg 14
2) Uchina Joho Website (Manzamo)
3) Okinawan-English Wordbook, University Hawai'i Press 2006, Pg 119

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.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


The peak of Mt. Katsuu

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     N 26 37.855E 127 56.346

       *GPS to starting point


Katsuu-dake, or Katsuu-yama, is one of the 'three sisters' of visible mountains that dominant the southeastern region of the Motobu Peninsula. The other being Yae-dake and Awa-dake; Katsuu being in the middle in regards to elevation. A forth, but less noticeable is Furushi-dake, which blends in just below Mt. Katsuu when viewed from a distance. Like many mountain ranges here on Okinawa, limestone dating back to the Mesozoic Era can be seen scattered throughout the terrain(1). The trail leading to the top of Mt. Katsuu is a relaxing 45 minute to an hour hike. If you love the outdoors and a place to enjoy the quiet serenity of nature, Mt. Katsuu will not disappoint you.

Katsuu Highlights.
-10 meter vertical cave-like drop midway along the trail. Roped off to mark danger area.
-Visible regions from the peak: Nago Bay, Yae-dake, Awa-dake, Furushi-dake, northwestern side of the Okinawan coastline.

Summary Information.
Name: Katsuu-dake (Katsuu-yama, Mt. Katsuu).
Elevation. 452 meters (1482.94 feet)(2)
Peak GPS Coordinate: N26 37.862 E127 56.105
Starting Point GPS Coordinate: GPS N26 37.855 E127 56.346
Estimated Time to Peak: 45minutes – 1 hour (one way)
Parking Area Area: Same as starting point.
Recommended Emergency Rendezvous Point: Same as starting point.

Recommended Guidelines (PLEASE READ!!!).
1. Age. Climbing is suitable for children (parental discretion on age) and adults who have good agility, mental awareness, and are physically fit.
2. Greatest dangers are tripping and falling. Wear shoes or boots that have good traction. Tennis shoes may be too slippery on some rock surfaces.
3. Tuck in all loose straps to include shoe laces to prevent getting snagged and tripping.
4. Highly recommend hiking gloves of some kind. You may be required to climb using your hands in some areas.
5. Base your clothing on the time of year and comfort level. For this particular trail there are no specifics for attire.
6. Bring plenty of water and nourishments.
7. Recommend a good hat for shade or cover up with a moist towel.
8. Bug repellent. Bring per your discretion.
9. Let someone know where you are going, and recommend a climbing buddy.

Notes/Source of Information
1. Limestone origin provided by a Nago City sign board.
2. Elevation taken from a Nago City sign board.

Directions/Parking. Take Highway 58 North and turn on to Highway 449 goings towards Motobu Town. About another 10 minutes later look for large street signs in English directing you to Mt. Katsuu. Parking will be at the very end of the route identified by the Green Thumbtack in the map.

Other Hiking Trails on OkinawaAwa-dakeFurushi-dakeMotobu Fuji, Yonaha-dake.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Legend of the Okukubi River

Mangrove roots. Like a million headless bodies crawling along the river...

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Legend of the Okukubi River

     N 26 27.391E 127 56.487

A River of a Hundred Million Necks?

One of Kin Town's most attractive natural habitats is the Okukubi River. It has become a sanctuary for wildlife and a playground for nature lovers. Everyday, thousands of vehicles drive over the Kin Bridge as the Okukubi River streams quietly underneath. What's most intriguing about the river is not so much its natural beauty, but the mystery behind its name. How did it get it?

Written in its kanji (億首川), the Okukubi River, could be interpreted as a River of a Hundred Million Necks; a somewhat gruesome description for such a benign place. Did something very dark happen here long ago?

As of yet, there is no official story to the name's origin, but there is one popular legend that has been documented in Kin. The story takes places at the time of the Satsuma invasion of the Ryukyus, some time between the 16th and 17th century. Could the legend unlock the secret to its name?

The story...
A long time ago, a samurai from Shuri had traveled to the village of Kin. During his travels he had met a peasant girl and fell in love. But marriage was unthinkable; for she was a simple peasant and he, a noble samurai. Shortly after, the samurai was called back to Shuri. Destiny would keep them apart.

But something was about to change forever. After he had left, the woman realized she was pregnant with his child. Nine months later, she gave birth to their son and named him,

Years later, Tetsu-o would grow up to be a man of super-human strength. It was also about the same time that soldiers from the Satsuma domain were constantly harassing the villagers of Kin. Using his natural powers, he defended the village and killed many, many Satsuma invaders. To the Satsuma soldiers, Tetsu-o was a man forged out of iron, a man impossible to kill. They needed to find someone to defeat him, the one person that could crush Tetsu-o once and for all.

They didn't have to look far... they found a man named Kochi Oyakata, a man very familiar with Tetsu-o.

Kochi, at one time, was the martial arts instructor for the village,... until he was promptly replaced by Tetsu-o. Now, only deep-seated, hatred fueled Kochi's blood for this so-called “iron man”. Sure enough, the Satsuma soldiers had found the enemy of their enemy.

But to kill a man of iron, one question still lingered...what made a mere peasant boy so powerful against the will of many?

After his samurai father had left, Tetsu-o's mother became shameful of her pregnancy. Out of desperation, she continuously digested small pieces of iron to kill her unborn child, but to no avail. She eventually accepted her destiny; gave birth to a son, and named him Tetsu-o, a name which means 'Iron Boy'. It was the iron in his veins, the very element that was once used to poison him, that had ironically become the source of his strength.

Still, every man has a weakness. Tetsu-o, a man skin-clothed in metal, could only be cut in one place; the one place made of flesh and not iron,... his neck.
Kochi knew.

And on that fateful day, Tetsu-o's body lied their slumped, slayed like an animal. Kochi had gotten his revenge. He had stabbed Tetsu-o in the neck, killing him instantly,...leaving his body for all to see.

Now with Tetsu-o out of the way, the Satsuma soldiers were sure to wreak havoc once again. Chasing the villagers, they stormed up a large, steep hill. As the soldiers reached the apex they saw a haunting figure, a ghost from the past. It was Tetsu-o!..standing there tall and fierce! Frighten and full of despair, the Satsuma soldiers fell to their doom. A resurrected Tetsu-o had returned to destroy his enemies once and for all!
Epilogue. The villagers of Kin had out smarted their foe. After Tetsu-o's untimely death, the villagers knew the invaders would soon return. They took Tetsu-o's dead body and erected him on a hill, next to a river; the same river where Tetsu-o had slayed many, many Satsuma soldiers... and which happen to be the final location of his triumph.

Thereafter, that river became known as the Okukubi River... a River of a Hundred Million Necks; a name giving tribute to a hero, and a monument of the number of soldiers he had slayed.

Today. The story is not considered to be historical fact by the Kin Town Board of Education, it is however, officially recorded as a historical legend of Kin and is documented in their Book of Folklore and Legends publication (1989). The Kin Town Historical Office did offer one other possible explanation for the river's name. Okukubi could also be loosely translated as a river's neck. Oku, in this case, would mean something to the back or the interior, thus making it the neck at the a back of the river (or the neck upstream). However, the way the kanji is currently written, the Okukubi River (億首川) could only be interpreted as a “river of a hundred million necks”.

Is the River Considered Haunted? In the same folklore publication, a separate story was written (pg 80) where villagers claimed to see spirits along the Okububi River, but does not go any further in describing the incident or if it had anything to do with the Okukubi Legend. By my estimation, I do not sense that most people of Kin view the river as haunted. But they are somewhat familiar with the legend because of its name. There is even a recreational nature facility at the mouth of the river and a dam not far upstream. Farmers, construction workers, nature enthusiast, photographers,...all travel along the river every day. For now, the Okububi River seems to be in good standing.

For now.

Reference. Kin Town's Book of Folklore and Legends dtd 1989, (Okukubi Legend, pg 132).

Acknowledgment. Much appreciation is owed to the Kin Town Historical Office for their cooperation in bringing this story about. In particular, Ms. Nakama deserves much gratitude for her invaluable assistance and patience with the story's development.

Photo caption. The caption to the photo above is the author's own metaphoric comparison based on the legend. The comparison has not been heard, nor stated by any village resident during the research of this story.

Directons. Please view the map for the most direct route to the Okukubi River. If traveling north on Highway 329, take the first immediate left just before the Kin Bridge (designated by a pink thumbtack). You will travel down a hill and see the Kin Dam shortly after (it will be on your left). Near the bottom of the hill you will see an improved road that takes you east under the Kin Bridge and then towards the ocean. The Okukubi River will be on your right. You will have to travel on a dirt road if you wish to continue parallel with the river. The Balloon Icon in the map marks the last river bridge before you get to Nature Mirai-kan, Kin's nature recreational facility. There are are several observation decks and boardwalks along the river should you wish to get a closer look of the river.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Joy and A Guinness World Record (Nature Mirai-kan).

Other Okinawan Ghost Stories. Haunted Ruins in Kyoda, The Legend of Nanga Bozu

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Cave of Dances


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Uduigama, Onna Village

     N 26 30.109E 127 50.676

Uduigama, Onna Village

Not far from Cape Manzamo, you will find a small seaside cave that is called Uduigama. The term udui (ウヅイ) is of the Okinawan language meaning to dance(i). The term gama is also Okinawan for the word cave. Loosely translated, Uduigama means the Cave of Dances. Long ago, nearby villagers would use this cave to practice kumiodori dances(ii) in preparation for the August Mura Ashibai Festival.(1)(iii) It is said from August 1st to August 10th of the Old Calendar (Chinese Calendar?) that the cave was used by the participants as a place for practice and preparation, and on the first day of the August Mura Ashibai, all the participants would start from this cave, led by their leader (a flag bearer), and take part in a michijune, (a street parade). (1)(2)

Today, formal practice sessions are no longer held inside the cave. However, on the actual day of a Mura Ashibai, an opening ceremony is still performed at the cave as a dedication offering.(2) From time to time, villagers may still use the cave as a place for prayer or to conduct traditional dance sessions for special occasions, and throughout Okinawa, you may find other caves that villagers have dubbed generically as an uduigama. If so, more than likely it gives reference to a special dance ceremony that once took (or currently takes) place inside the cave.

Cultural Sensitivity. Please show reverence as you enter the cave. If you happen to stumble upon a special ceremony please maintain a respectable distance unless given special permission to do otherwise. Please note that some Okinawans during spiritual ceremonies may not like their photographs being taken.

Author's Notes.
i. Udui is slightly similar in pronunciation to its Japanese counterpart, odori (おどり,踊り).
ii. Kumiodori is a Okinawan theatrical style of dance
iii. Mura (ムラ) is the Okinawan word for village, and Ashibai or Ashibi (アシバイ or アシビ) is Okinawan meaning 'gathering'. In translation, the August Mura Ashibai means the August Village Gathering.

1. Onna Village History and Culture Publication dated March 2000, published by the Onna Village Office
2. Onna Village historical sign on locations (translated in English)

Direction. Uduigama is in close proximity to Cape Manzamo. To get to Cape Manzamo take Highway 58 to Onna Village. You will see signs directing you to Cape Manzamo (Please view the map above). Once you arrive at the Cape Manzamo parking lot, look for a sign marker to your left as seen here. It will have the name Uduigama on it. You can take your vehicle all the way to the cave, though the lane will be somewhat narrow and parking will be tight. You will see an Onna Village Office sign off to the right that gives the cave's history. Note. On the map it appears you can take another road to the cave. This entrance is actual gated off.

Other places to visit nearby. The Onna Gusuku and the Hamasaki Utaki, Cape Manzamo (Sunset).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Onna Gusuku and the Hamasaki Utaki

A view of Onna Gusuku from Highway 58

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Onna Gusuku and the Hamasaki Utaki

     N 26 29.926E 127 51.492

Onna Gusuku and the Hamasaki Utaki

Along Highway 58, near the entrance to Cape Manzamo, sits a very large hill. Little information is known about this particular area, but it is the location of an old fortress called Onna Gusuku(i). You will find little of anything that resembles a man-made stronghold here. That is because the fortification relied mainly on the natural terrain as its walls and defenses. Artifacts, such as pottery and Chinese ceramics, have been found at this location.(1)(2)

Hamasaki Utaki. Onna Gusuku is considered a sacred site and is also known as the Hamasaki Utaki(ii). In 1713, it was recorded in the historical volumes, Ryukyu Koku Yurai Ki (Origins of the Ryukyu's), as a sacred site within the Ryukyu Kingdom.(2) The Origins of the Ryukyu's, are one of few historical documents remaining today that outline the history of the Old Ryukyu Kingdom.

Caution/Recommendation. Because Onna Gusuku is considered a sacred area, it is highly recommended that any geocaching activity (physical stashing of man-made objects) be avoided in the immediate area.

1. Onna Historical Guide, March 2000
2. Historical Sign produced by the Onna Village Office on site (translated in English)

i. The term gusuku is of the Okinawan language and could be interpreted as a castle or a fortress. Size is not a determining factor in the usage of the word; a fortress could be small or large.
ii. The term utaki is of the Okinawan language meaning a sacred area or site. It is sometimes loosely used to describe man-made structures built on sacred grounds that are the focal points of prayers and ceremonies, but those types of structures are more accurately referred to in the Okinawan language as an uganjyu (ウガンジュ). An utaki is usually associated with an area of land; it could be a waterfall location, a hill, a grove, a large rock or any such area deemed as sacred by the Okinawan people.

Directions. Onna Gusuku is a few hundreds meters (first traffic light) north of the Cape Manzamo turn-off on Highway 58. You will see a very large hill to the right (driving north) near this the traffic light T-intersection. There is also a two-story building adjacent to the hill. Look for a historic sign marker just in front of the hill. To get to the entrance you have to continue to drive around the back and you will see an entrance sign for the Hamasaki Utaki.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"The Awase Bijyuru Shrine"

Entrance into the Awase Shrine

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The Awase Shrine

    N 26 19.240E 127 49.991

The Awase Bijyuru Shrine

Origins of the Shrine. It is said that the shrine houses three special stones that washed on the ashore long, long time ago and when a woman found them they followed her home(1). The stones are said to represent the Fire Kami-sama or Fire god or spirit (1) and people to this day come here to pray for good health, good fortune, and for fertility. The shrine itself is referred to as the Bijyuru Shrine. The term bijyuru  (ビジュル)is of the Okinawan language. When there is a stone that is considered sacred or special, Okinawans refer to these kinds of stones as Bijyuru. Other Okinawans have said that the stones were able to float on the ocean which is what made them special and thus taken in by the villagers for worship.

Source of Information.
1. Okinawa; A People and Their Gods, James Robinson, 1969, pg 57

How to get there? The Shrine is in Awase just off Hwy 85. There are two good landmarks to help guide you in. If you see the map above, you will see a San-A store and the other is an AU cellphone shop.The shrine is not so visible off Hwy 85 cause it is surrounded by trees.

Parking. There wasn't any signs that I could tell that were designated parking areas. There was one for a big restaurant next door. Park at your own risk. There is a small kids park next to the Shrine, so if you want to stop there to have a lunch box feel free. Bring water, camera, and umbrella. Here We Go!!!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup (Sabani Race)

The Sabina Race (Nanjo's Mayor's Cup)

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The Nanjo City's Mayor's Cup

      N 26 07.743E 127 46.199

The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup (Sabani Race)

Update: The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup will not be held this year 2014

Every year, Nanjo City hosts the Mayor's Cup, a sailing race in which participants use Sabani Boats (traditional Okinawan sailing boats) to race around a small island called Oujima. It was in 2007, when Sabani enthusiasts first started an in-house tournament circling the tiny island. But in an effort to preserve Okinawan culture, an official tournament was declared in 2010 under the auspice of Nanjo City and since then has been called The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup.(1)

Part of the ethos of the Sabani community is to raise awareness of Okinawan culture among the Okinawan youth and to preserve the ocean ecosystem. Common activities during these type of events include a Sabani mixer where beginners  get a chance to ride Sabani boats, as well as a beach clean up of the nearby area for trash and debris.

The Race. The entire race involves circling Oujima Island 4 times.(1) One loop is roughly 1.5 miles long (apprx 1600 meters) totaling about 6 miles after completion. Depending on the skill level of the teams, the entire race can last from an 1hr 15 minutes to 2 hours. At the end, there is an awards ceremony, along with closing remarks from guest speakers. Note. The race course may change due to high winds and dangerous surf conditions. In the 2013 Mayor's Cup, hazardous sea conditions had forced the planning committee to cancel the scheduled race loop around the island and use a more safer course within the Oujima harbor. In a tournament-style setup, Sabani teams were placed in different race groups with winners in each group advancing to the finals.  

Epilogue. You will find a lot of camaraderie among Sabani enthusiast at any Sabani event. There is a push among like-minded people to promote more Sabani activities. One of the biggest Sabani races occurs in June where participants leave from Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island and finish at a Naha Port, a 3-4 hour excursion. To learn more about the Sabini Boats please visit Douglas Brooks' website.

Author's Notes. Where to watch. Since the race involves circling the island 4 times, most people pick one spot and watch the race from that location. Many spectators will be watching from the Oujima Bridge as the Sabani boats race underneath. Restrooms. It is recommended that you make all your restroom stops before you arrive on Oujima. Restrooms may not be easily accessible or available depending on your location around the island. 

Date: Sunday 22 September, 2013
Date (If inclement weather): Sunday 29 September, 2013
Spectator Admission: Free
Location: Oujima Island, Nanjo city, (by vehicle okay)
Website: (Japanese) (English section)

10:00〜10:30 Opening Ceremony
10:30〜10:40 Race Course and Rules Explanation
10:30〜11:00 Team Prep
11:00〜13:00 Nanjo City Mayor's Cup Sabani Race
12:30〜13:00 Beach Cleanup
13:00〜13:40 Sabani Mixer (have to have participated in the beach cleanup)
14:00〜15:00 Nanjo City Dragon Boat Race 2013 (NEW)
15:30〜16:30 Awards and Closing ceremony
16:30〜18:30 Finish/Cleanup

Related Articles. 2013 Sabani Race (Zamami to Naha), 2012 Nanjo City's Mayor's Cup, Japan Times (American Out to Save Boat-building Art)

Source of (Nanjo City's Mayor's Cup)

Directions. Take Highway 331 into Nanjo City. You will see signs directing you to Oujima. You can cross using Ou Bridge. Parking. There is no designated parking. You basically have to "do as the Romans do". Recommend get their little early for parking spaces.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ogatamanoki, The Welcome Spirit Tree

Ogatamanoki, the Welcome Spirit Tree

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Ogatamanoki, The Welcome Spirit Tree

     N 26 36.268E 128 07.236

Ogatamanoki, The Welcome Spirit Tree

In Arume of Higashi Village the local people have a special tree they call the Ogatamanoki (オガタマノキ), which happens to be the same Japanese name of this very type of tree (scientific name, Michelia compressa) found throughout Japan and the Ryukyu Islands.(1)(2) This particular tree, with a circumference of about 3 meters, is collocated next to the Shinzan Utaki.(3) The tree is believed to welcome good spirits.(3)

The Name and Background History. The kanji used to describe the Ogatamanoki is written as 招霊の木. The first two Kanji can be pronounced as Shōrei; Shō meaning 'inviting' or 'welcoming' and rei meaning 'spirit' and the last kanji, 木, means 'ki' or tree.  Hence, put together, the tree is known to be the Welcome Spirit Tree. (It is not certain if the first two kanji can also be read as Ogatama).

It said that when their flowers bloom it releases a strong fragrance and such trees are often planted near shrines (perhaps because it believed they welcome good spirits).(4) In Kyoto, at the Shiramine Shrine, there is a Ogatamanoki believed to be over 800 years old.(5), and here at the Kin Kannondo Temple and Shrine in Okinawa, you may also see some of these trees in the background.

Author's Notes. The tree itself appears to have sustained some damages long ago. The upper part seems to have broken off or was torn down.

Directions. Take Highway 331 North going towards Higashi Village, then take Highway 14 going west. About 300 meters later look for a white sign in English and Japanese on your left. You will see the Shinzan Utaki and a middle school next to it. There are wooden steps that take up to the Spirit Tree.

Source of Information.
2. (Japanese)
3. Higashi Village Guide Pamphlet.
4. (Japanese)
5. Official Kyoto Website (Japanese)

Other Places of interest nearby. Sakishima Sappanwood Tree, The Higashi Museum, The Azalea Festival (March Only), Meoto Falls.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Remnants of the Past...

Entrance of Nishihara's Underground Shelter

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The Nishihara Village Office Underground Shelter

     N 26 13.753E 127 45.048

The Nishihara Village Office Underground Shelter

Shelters like the one above serve as a reminder of the past. It was before the Great Okinawan War had come to fruition, that the local people had dug out this shelter off a hillside in Nishihara Village some time after June 1944. This shelter served as an air raid shelter, but also to keep safe important documents for the Nishihara Village Office. A sign (translated in English) sits next to the shelter states that there was a safe inside and in it “contain[ed] important documents such as family and land registers, public funds, office seals, account books, and wartime credits.” Village office workers would retrieve documents from the safe daily and return them before close of business.(1)

The safe was said to weigh about 1 ton.(1) Where that safe is today is not certain by the author. But could quite possibly be preserved in a museum or at the town office. The search continues.

The shelter entrance has gone through some cosmetic changes due to damages that occurred decades after the war and is barred from entry. A building contractor around 1980, was working near this area where damage was inadvertently done to the shelter.(1) Man-made shelters like the one in Nishihara are not uncommon to see on Okinawa. This one pictured here is on the Motobu Peninsula. Its history is not really clear at the moment.

Directions. The shelter is in Nishihara Town. Take Highway 329 south into Nishihara and then take Highway 38 (right before the big San-A Shopping Center). You will pass as Lawson convenience store (left-hand side). You will then pass a Family Mart convenience store (also left-hand side). The next traffic light make a left. About 300 meters you will see the underground shelter on the right.

Source of Information. 1. Sign (translated in English)  

Friday, August 9, 2013

"The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins"

The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins

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The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins

     N 26 29.648E 127 59.591

The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins

This article is being reposted with up-to-date information. The Matsuda Caves are now open for Guided Tours (Reservations only). Please read the entire article before going. A 'How-to Guide' on how to make reservations is linked below.

For many years, the villagers from the quiet town of Matsuda, Ginoza (long ago called Kocha) have known about one of its most precious natural wonders. Up to now, it has been one of the best kept secrets on Okinawa for a very long time. Everyday, hundreds and hundreds of transients drive along Highway 329 passing this very special and sacred place, unbeknownst to them that a very large cavern sits just 200 meters away from the main road. One shouldn't be surprised that even villagers from the adjacent districts of Nago City and Kin Town, (and from some areas of Ginoza Village outside of Matsuda) are aware of these mysterious undergrounds that have stayed hidden close to home for decades – possibly centuries. Welcome to the Matsuda Caves and the Mēgā Gama Ruins of Ginoza Village.

History. Local villagers have long regarded the Matsuda caves for its precious source of water. Even today, water streams through the intricate networks of tunnels that lie beneath the Matsuda underground. Researchers have found inside artifacts, such as pottery and shells, that date back to the Gusuku Era of the Ryukyu Kingdom. And like most caves during the Great Okinawan War, the Matsuda caves were a sanctuary for many during this very dreadful period. The caves were not only a safe haven for local villagers. Okinawans from other areas, to include the shimajiri region (southern part of the main Okinawan island), sought refuge here. A woman, now a Kin Town resident from the Namizato District, recalls seeking refuge in these caves when she was a child during the 1945 battle. Speaking with the official planners from the Ginoza Office, it is believed no one died in these caves during that time. However, there is no doubt that the elders of Matsuda have had series of long and dark memories surrounding the war and these caves – but there is one cave legend they are proud talk about.(1)

The Serpent & The Buddhist Monk. The main cave (picture above) is part of the Mēgā Gama Ruins. , according to the villagers, is of an Okinawan dialect that means before or in front. Ga means stream. Loosely translated, it means the river in front. In this case it is the river in front of Matsuda Village. Long ago, villagers feared going near this cave because of a very large serpent they believed that lived inside. Desperate, the villagers had asked a Buddhist monk from Shuri to help rid them of this menacing snake once and for all. Shortly after, the snake had mysteriously...vanished. The villagers have longed believed it was the monk's prayers and and his chants that 'exorcised' this slithering 'demon' from their midst. The monk would later go on to marry a local woman and spend the rest of his life in Matsuda village. His grave was put near the cave as a memorial to his contribution to the people of that town. His actual remains have since been relocated, but remains of his original tomb still sit near the cave. His remains are now located inside the worshiping house that sits up top.(2)(3)(4)

The Kushi Utaki. You may notice that behind the main worshiping area is a concrete utaki and behind that is a large hill. That entire hill is referred to as the Kushi Utaki. Villagers paid homage to this sacred hill for protecting Matsuda Village from strong winds during typhoons. The word 'Kushi' is also of the Okinawan language meaning 'behind'. In this case, it is referring to a sacred area behind Matsuda Village.(5)

The Cave Network. It is believed that throughout Matsuda Village there are other caves that have no cave openings. This has become a problem in the event new building are to be erected. A thorough land inspection has to be conducted before any new buildings are to be put up. It is said that during the war, there were 11 cave entrances where Okinawan hid for safety. Many of them have since collapsed.

Author's Notes.
(1)Gusuku Era can be considered as the 12 century but currently cannot cite an official reference that clearly defines the time period in question.
(2) No dates could be found when the 'Buddhist Monk' legend took place, but given that it involved a 'Buddhist' monk may shed some light on the time period when this legend occurred. The monk was also said to have traveled to the Kin Kannon-do Temple prior to coming to Matsuda Village, but was originally from Shuri.
(3) It wasn't clear if the bride was given to the monk as a sign of gratitude by the villagers. Some even say her residence was somewhere near or above the cave. This cannot be substantiated as of yet.
(4) Officials have said the remains of the Buddhist monk are now part main worshiping area.
(5) Sign near the Kushi Utaki in Japanese. Note that an Utaki which means sacred grove is also used to describe a small house-like structure where prayers are performed. But an Utaki could be a waterfall, large rock, and sacred grounds. Usually the house-like structure is just a focal point where prayers are offered, much like a crucifix might a focal point for prayer within a church for Christians.

Epilogue. For better or worse, the little town of Matsuda is about to change forever. When we first stumbled upon the cave over a year ago, it was agreed that it was something that could not be divulged to the public out of concern for public safety and that it would overwhelmingly alter the natural environment of the Matsuda town. Though the cave entrance sits 200 meters away from the main highway, there were no signs on the main road indicating its location, which lead us to believe that was done intentionally, and for understandable reasons. However, with the decision to make the Matsuda caves a public attraction, the decision was then made by the Ginoza Office to officially release the story; A Japanese magazine publication, called the Okinawa Graph, released its December issue on December 1st 2012 featuring the Matsuda caves and its location. Road signs are now being posted. Because of the safety restrictions that have been set in place and a previous released public announcement made, the planners said it was okay for us to release its location and to talk about the cave's history. To see 'before' pictures of the main cave, click on the photo album.

Guided Tours (Reservations Only). The Matsuda caves are now fenced up and safe for viewing from a distance. However,entering the cave is on a reservation basis only with the Ginoza Tourism Office. There are two main areas that will have guided tours. The boardwalk you see in the picture above goes in about 70 meters inside the cave. This is part of the Matsuda Village History Walking Tour (this is the only cave you enter for this tour). The other tunnel is about 240 meters long. The entire network, however, is believed to be about 800 meters in length, but many areas are too dangerous for passage due narrow channels and high water levels. 


Concerns and Recommended Areas for ParkingIMPORTANT! PLEASE READ. Keep in mind that this is a real village, and not a 'gated' attraction like 'Okinawa World'. Therefore, to help the people of Matsuda, it is highly recommended that you park away from anything that appears to be neighborhood road so as not to disrupt their daily life. Many still farm in this area. There is designated parking behind the 'Taiken Kouryu Center', (Green Thumbtack on the map) which will be the information hub and admission office for the caves. 

Furthermore, it will take some time for the people of Matsuda to get use to the number visitors it is about to have. The Matsuda people are a very proud and wonderful people, yet they are quiet about how they live their lives. Be respectful in mannerisms. A very quiet tone, a humble presence, a nice smile, and a 'konicihi wa' will go a long way.

Views on Caves. There is a stark difference on how non-Okinawans and Okinawans in general view caves. It is important to understand this. It is a difference between night and day. Please read Map It! Okinawa's Cave Disclosure Policy for background information.

Source of Information. Explanation signs on site (Japanese Only). Interview with Ginoza Tourism Office.

Directions. The turn-off to the Matsuda caves is about 500 meters south of the Highway 329 and Highway 234 T-Intersection in Ginoza Village. However, Highway 234 intersects twice with Highway 329. It intersects first in Kanna (south) and then again in Matsuda (north). Look for this large wood map board as seen in this picture for the turn-off. You will also see small white signs that say 'Taiken Kouryu Center' as seen in the same picture right hand-side.