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Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Fere Rock

The Fērē Rock (Fere), Onna Village

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The Fērē (Fere) Rock

     N 26 25.800E 127 46.344

The Fere Rock (Fērē), Onna Village

Along one of Onna Village's historical trails you will find a very large rock off to the side. If not for a sign, it would be inconspicuous to the regular traveler since large rocks are not uncommon to see on Okinawa. The rock you see above is called the Fērē Rock (フェーレー岩), which loosely translates to as 'The Bandit Rock'. The word Fērē (sometimes written as just Fere) is of the Okinawan language meaning an outlaw. You may not realize it either while you are there, but you are also on Mt Takō, or Takō-yama (多幸山).(1)

How it got its name. Long ago thieves would hide around this large rock waiting to rob ill-fated travelers. One method was to wait on top of the Fere Rock with a pole and a hook and snag belongings from above as travelers passed by. But heroes have also surfaced from such stories as well. In one case, a karate master by the name of Matsumora thwarted off the robbers with a sickle. Another story has it that a woman from Itoman by the name of Chiru successfully keep the robbers at bay.(1)

Author's note. It is not exactly certain by the author which karate master, Matsumora, the resource was referring to since only his last name was given. Additionally, the time frame surrounding the story of the bandits is also not certain since no dates were provided. It is the author's belief that it was several centuries ago, possibly in the 17th or 18th Century. This is pending further research. The Fere Rock sits along an extensive historical trail that covers the Yamada Castle Ruins and other notable historical areas soon to be mapped.

Source of Information. 1. Onna Village History and Culture Publication dated March 2000, published by the Onna Village Office.

Directions. Take Highway 58 and then get on Highway 6 as if you are going to Maeda Point. Your first LandMark is the tourist sign for Cape Maeda (designated by the LandMark pin in the map). The next LandMark is almost immediately after the Cape Maeda sign. It is designated by a small blue sign with the Katakana writing that as seen in this picture or looks like this when written 'フェーレー'岩' . This is where you turn off. Follow this road south for 1km. It may seem somewhat windy but eventually you will see the rock on the left-hand side with a historical sign written in Japanese.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Gohezu Cave

The Gohezu Cave

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The Gohezu Cave

     N 26 43.403E 127 46.898

The Gohezu Cave, Ie Jima

In 1975, explorers made a fascinating discovery on Ie Island in an area called Gohezu Yama (ゴヘズ山). It is here, inside a cave, that human remains were found dating back to the Paleolithic Era (between 2.5 million to 10,000 B.C). Specifically, these remains were thought to originate some time around 20,000 B.C. (1).

Deer Remains. It may be hard today to imagine deer ever existing on Okinawa, particularly on a small island such as Ie Jima. But in addition to the human remains, primitive tools made from deer bones were also excavated(1), suggesting that a species of deer either once thrived there or were later brought to the island. Today, you can find deer on the Kerema Islands of Okinawa, such as Aka Jima, where they are now protected under law(2). The question that obviously comes to mind is 'how did they get there?', and why were some islands inhabited while others were not. The mystery continues.

Interesting Semantics of the Kanji '山' (Yama). Most people have come to understand the Kanji and the word 'Yama', as a word meaning 'a mountain'. However, it is not clear why they refer this place as Gohezu-Yama (ゴヘズ山). When you arrive, clearly you will see no mountain that most people have come to conceptualize. The area is somewhat elevated if seen from a distance however. From its highest point, it sits above sea level at 82 meters(1). This confusion with the Kanji, '山', has come up before where local people's concept of the term 'Yama' varies. To some Okinawans it may be a piece of land that is elevated above the surrounding terrain, and not necessarily like a real 'tall' mountain like Mount Fuji in Japan. There may be a scientific reason that has dubbed this area as a mountain. Research brought us to a Japanese hiker's website in which the author set out to locate 'ultra-low mountains' (100 meters or less) that are identified in Japan's Yamana Encyclopedia (Japan's Mountain Encyclopedia). On the hiker's website, the Gohezu-Yama Mountain is listed as #26 of ultra-low mountains he has since located. (See website). Note. The Yaman Encyclopedia has yet to be reviewed for its contents on 'ultra-low mountains'.

Author's Notes.
1. The Gohezu Cave is barred from entry. Please do not attempt to enter.
2. The time period describing the Paleolithic Era may vary slightly depending on sources. It is sometimes referred to as the 'Old Stone Age', describing a period where the first humans made primitive tools out of stone. For more about the Paleolithic Time Period please visit

Getting to Ie Jima. The Gohezu Cave is on Ie Jima Island. Please referred to Map It! Okinawa's Travel Prep to Ie Jima Island.

Directions to the Cave. The Gohezu cave is in close proximity to the Ie Airport Facility, which is identified in the LandMark Icon in the map above. There will be a turn-off on the opposite side of the main road that sits along the airport facility. It will be a dirt road as seen in this picture. Follow that straight till you see the cave explanation sign

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Niya-Thiya Cave, Ahashagama Cave, Statue of Asato Gura, Yuri Matsuri (Late April to 1st Week of May).

Source of Information.
1. History of the Gohezu Cave, Japanese sign on location, provided by the Ie Jima Education Office.
2. Deer on Aka Jima, Japan National Tourism Organization website.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"Sefa Utaki"

A family posing for pictures at Sēfa Utaki

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Sēfa Utaki

     N 26 10.331E 127 49.599

Sefa Utaki

Today, Sefa Utaki (or Sēfa) is widely considered one of the most sacred sites in all of the Ryukyu Archipelago. It ranks up there with the islands, Kudaka and Hamahiga – soil where legends claim the first gods walked upon. Its triangular-like entrance captivates hundreds and hundreds of visitors daily to this special place. But its unique shape isn't what makes the sacred grove special. It's whats on the other side that gives Sefa Utaki its true intrinsic value, and once's not hard to understand why many Okinawans believe that the gods themselves had a say in its design; there you will find a viewpoint, like a window through the forest, and dead center...a lowly island known as Kudaka-Jima, Okinawa's claimed 'Garden of Eden'. If not for Kudaka, Sefa Utaki would not have the reputation it does today.

It is said, here and around Sefa Utaki, that the first Okinawan people settled on the main island. As legend would have it, Amamikiyo – one of the first Okinawa gods, created the area around Sefa Utaki for her people after leaving Kudaka. In subsequent years, the King and the Supreme High Priestess (kikoe ogimi) would come here to pay homage to their earlier ancestors as they faced towards Kudaka Island (1)(2)(3).

Yuinchi and Ufuguui. The relationship between Shuri and Sefa Utaki is not one by mere coincidence. You'll find similar areas at Sefa Utaki that mimic the names of special places at Shuri Castle. One is the Yuinchi, meaning “a place full of abundant harvest and catches of fish”(4). At Shuri Castle, this was the cooking quarters for the royal family and at Sefa Utaki, a place where fortunes were told(4). The other is Ufuguui, a place where ritual ceremonies were held at Shuri Castle and its meaning holds similar to that at Sefa Utaki(5). (Author speculation. Perhaps the similarity in names was to give legitimacy to the authority at Shuri Castle being that Sefa Utaki already had a strong appeal with the early Okinawan people. It would make sense for any ruler to blend its relationship with a site widely believed to be sacred).

The Two Stalactite Stones. Next to the great triangular-like entrance, you will find an area called the 'kifujinsama oyasumidokoro' where certain rituals were held during the turn of the New Year. Up on top you will see two stalactite stones with pots underneath. Water dripping from these stones is liken to be holy water and was once used to provide the fortune for the King and the high priestess(6).

The Agari Umaii & UNESCO Sponsorship. Sefa Utaki is one of many areas that are considered part of the Agari Umaai Pilgrimage (to be mapped in its entirety). The pilgrimage was used in the Old Kingdom to offer homage to sacred areas that have strong ties to the earlier ancestors, particularly to the goddess Amamikiyo. On May 15, 1972 Sefa Utaki was listed as a National Historical Site and on December 2, 2000, it received UNESCO sponsorship under the United Nations' World Heritage Program (7).

Hours. 9-1800 (Final Admission 1730)
Closed. December 29 – January 3
Admission Fee. 200 High School & above, 100 Elementary/Junior High, 150 Group (20 or more High School or above)
Phone Number. 098-949-1899
Website. For update information visit Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau website
Amenities. Public restrooms available. Because of its historical layout and unique nature, it is not wheel chair accessible, nor recommended for baby strollers. Please plan accordingly.
Parking. Free.

Directions. Sefa Utaki sits above Cape Chinen off of Highway 331. Though you will see signs directing you to Sefa Utaki it may not be so evident where you turn off on Highway 331. Look for the post office which sits across from the sign pointing you to Cape Chinen. This is the turn-off that takes you up to the parking lot and visiting center.

Source of Information. 1. Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau 2. Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education 3. Okinawa – A People and Their Gods, James Robinson, 1969, pg 42. 4. Reference to Yuinchi (sign on site in English) 5. Reference to Ufuguui (sign on site in English) 6. Reference to Kifujinsama oyasumidokoro (sign on site in English) 7. Reference to Agari Umaii & World Heritage Program (sign on site in English).

Related Articles. Azama: Gateway to Kudaka, In the Beginning...there was Kudaka-jima, Gateway to the Otherside? Hamahiga Island.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Cape Chinen.