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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sagaribana Garden, Nago City

A Sagaribana Flower at bloom

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Sagaribana Garden

     N 26 37.754E 128 02.270

NOTE: It's estimated that the 4th of July, 2015 will be the last day the flowers will bloom

The Sagaribana Garden, Nago City

From late June to early July flowers from the tree, Barringtonia racemosa (also referred to as a Powder Puff Tree), bloom long into the night. In Okinawa these flowers (and the tree) are called Sagaribana (サガリバナ) or sometimes, Moukabana (モーカバナ). By the next day, these flowers will be gone as they die off and fall onto the ground in the early morning; these flowers only have a one night lifespan. This particular Sagaribana garden is on private property belonging to a Mr. Kinjo. He opens it up to the public during the season (late June/early July). For more information see below.

When: Late June/ early July. Early July the best (highly recommend to see before the first typhoon makes landfall during the season).
Time. 1900-1100. Flowers begin to open around 730pm. (It is recommended to arrive between 830pm-9pm. This is when they fully bloom).
Entrance fee: 200 ¥ per adults. Middle-school and below: free. Normally, Mr. Kinjo is on site. Please deposit the fee to him.

Recommendations. There will be a lot of mosquitoes during this time of the year. Please plan accordingly.

Parking. There is designated parking about 100 meters away from Mr. Kinjo’s property. You may see a sign in an open field just before you get to his property. You will arrive to the parking lot before you arrive to his property.

Directions. Take Highway 58 north into Nago City to the Highway 110/Highway 58 intersection. There will be a FamilyMart on the corner. Going left takes you to Kouri Island. Do not go left. Instead take a right (going west). You will reach another traffic light. You will have to cross it. (Do not veer left on the main road). Look for signs on each corner that have the words “サガリバナ” as posted here. Continue straight until you reach the designated parking lot (a sign may be posted and you may see other cars there). You will have to continue on foot and walk little further around the corner. You will see the garden lit up at night. Here is a picture taken during daylight.

Reference. National Taiwan University

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kouki Beach, Nago City

Kouki Beach, Nago City

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Kouki Beach

     N 26 32.298E 127 56.848

Kouki Beach, Nago City (幸喜 ビーチ, 名護市)

Kouki Beach is on the southern end of Nago City. It’s a nice beach with easily accessible accommoda-tions. This is a resort-free beach with no swim nets and few man-made structures on location. If you prefer the more natural scenery then Kouki Beach is an ideal place for friends and families. Below is park information.

General Information: See Kouki Beach Information Flyer
Hours, Summer season: 0900-2000 (April 1 – September 30)
Hours, Off-season: 0900-1800 (October 1 – March 31)
Entrance Fee: Free
Parking: Free (see image)
Swim nets: not available
Rental Space (Camping lot/Barbecue lot): 2000 ¥ ~ 2500 ¥  per day / till 11 am the next morning. See Kouki Beach Flyer (For reservations call number below) or visit the Kouki Beach Office on location. Camping/Barbecue lots are designated by numbered sections.
Camping lot locations: See Kouki Beach Camping Flyer
Kouki Beach Office (On location): 098 054 2567.

Facility Accommodations:
Wash stations (for feet): Free
Showers (for body): 100 ¥ / 3 Minutes
Coin Locker: 200 ¥ / Non-refundable
Toilet (Available): IMPORTANT! Toilet Paper is NOT FREE. You have to purchase toilet paper via machine for 100 ¥ / Must purchase before you enter the stall. They are not inside the stalls themselves. (Highly Recommend you bring your own toilet paper).
- A FamilyMart Convenience Store is within walking distance (200 meters)

General Rules:
- Barbecue using gas grills only (no charcoal). Barbecue at designated camping locations. Must reserve and pay daily fee.
- Please do not leave garbage behind, to include cigarette butts (Recommend bring your own garbage bags)
- Dogs and pets must be on the leash at all times. Please clean up their excrements
- Playing golf or riding motor bikes on the beach is not authorized
- Rude behavior and drunkenness towards others is not acceptable
- The staff at Kouki Beach are not responsible for lost or stolen items or damage to personal property.
- Camping Tents/Barbeque activities/fireworks are not permitted on the beach. Camping tents and barbecue activities are permitted on reserved lots (must pay daily fee)

Recommendations. At Kouki Beach there are no shaded areas on the actual beach. It is recommended that you bring your own equipment for shading. To use several accommodations, bring ample enough of 100 ¥ coins.

Direction/Parking. Kouki Beach is right off of Highway 58. There are no visible road signs pointing you to Kouki Beach. Take Highway 58 north into Nago City. Kouki Beach is about 1 km north of the Busena Resort and 200 meters south of the AJ Koki Resort. The AJ Koki Resort will have a FamilyMart on the first floor. The FamilyMart will be a noticeable landmark. Parking is free (see image).

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Chasing the Shark's Fin"

The Shark's Fin of Teniya, Nago City

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Chasing the Shark's Fin

     N 26 33.016E 128 06.484
       *GPS data is to the starting point

Chasing the Shark's Fin (Nago City)

At different points along Highway 330 off the northeastern shores of Okinawa you may notice several shark fin-like rocky mounds near the coastline. One in particular stands prominently among them. This is the 'Shark's Fin' of Teniya near the northern border of Nago City. Naturally, some will be curious to know how they can get there for a closer view. To do either have to travel by boat, kayak, charter a small plane, ride a glider, or by the most affordable means – on foot.

As you get closer to the Shark's Fin you have to scale small rocky cliffs or walk in waist high water to continue on the other side. Waters in these areas are somewhat shallow to a few hundred meters out. However, the closer you get to the Shark's Fin the rougher the water gets. But the Shark's Fin is not the only thing to see along the way, and you don't have to go all the way to have a good time. The scenery itself is breath taking.

Author's note. In fairness, the entire trek was not completed...meaning I did not go the Shark's Fin and then go all the way back where I started. I continued further to see what was on the other side in the next town. After 4 hours of the being in the relentless Okinawan summer heat, dehydrated, and exhausted from the journey, the thought of going all the way back was not exactly greeted with open arms. I was fortunate enough to meet a kind fisherman who would give me ride back. He laughed at the idea that I would walk this far in the first place.

Since I did not travel back the same way I came in I cannot give you a first hand account if the change in tides will have an effect on your return trip. As a precaution I would base your travels based on the tide information. The furthest you have to walk in the water is about 50-75 meters at about waist height in relatively calm waters.

Starting point. Your starting point begins at the beach parking area in Kayo designated by a Green Thumbtack in the map above. GPS coordinate above is to this area.

Timeline. Plan on 1hr and half to 2 hours getting to the Shark's Fin. Included in this time are your water breaks, photo breaks, bathroom breaks etc. Again you don't have to go all the way to the Shark's Fin to have a good time.

Places of interest along the way.
-Kayo Beach. If you are not interested in beach trekking, the beach at Kayo is just a nice and relaxing place to visit all together. The scenery is relaxing and peaceful since the waters here tend to be very, very calm. You will still be able to view the fin from a distance.
-Bonsai style tree. About 500 meters north from the starting point you will see a large mound with a very beautiful bonsai style-like tree on top. The tree from a distance looks like one big tree, but up close you will see that it is actually two large pine(?) trees next to each other. Being so exposed to the elements, it is a wonder how they survived through years and years of severe weather.
-Small Waterfall. The second estuary will lead you to a small waterfall. It is about a 20 minute hike along the stream. This can be a culminating point for your journey should you wish. The waterfall is small about 15 feet high with low volume of water gushing through it (depending on the season). The pool of water is nice if you just want to sit and cool off and can easily fit 6 people. You will see many spider webs along the way. The waterfall is at GPS N26 33.330 E128 7.466 and is marked by a Pink Balloon Icon on the map. Note. The creek bed leading away from the 1st and 3rd estuaries were not investigated.
-Unusual rock formations. Once you reach the Shark's Fin you will notice unusual rock patterns on the cliff-side. This was the only area along the trek with these unusual rock patterns of this nature (that I could tell) and it may say something of the unique geological history of this particular area.
-The Shark's Fin. At last, the Shark's Fin. At this point you have just traveled 3.5 Kilometers (2.12 miles). Congratulations!

Can you get to the Shark's Fin from the north? The answer is yes, and considerably takes a lot less (maybe 40 minutes) to get to your destination. However, the scenery along the way is not as impressive and there is one place you have no choice but to walk in the water up to middle-chest to shoulder height of water for about 30 meters depending on the tide as you are clinging to the rock side. The waters here are little stronger than the southern starting point.

Other Photos. Click here or the above photo album to see pictures taken up to the Shark's Fin.

Recommended Guidelines.
Fitness. Getting to the Shark's Fin requires a good level of physical fitness and physical agility. As mentioned above, the closer you get to the Shark's Fin you will have to scale over rocky terrain. Sometimes the safest way is to cling to the side and walk in the water. For the most part it should be knee to waist high water but this may vary depending on the tide. You can pretty much walk 90% of the way on the beach alone. Most of the climbing is manageable, but one slip can lead to a bad day.
Bring plenty of water. Having plenty of water is a must, even if it is not too hot outside.
Nourishments. Recommend a small backpack with snacks (waterproofed of course).
Plan on getting wet. Waterproofing certain valuables is highly highly recommended (i.e. cell phone, camera).
Shade. Cover up with a hat or towel particularly if you are going to be in the hot sun. There are very few areas along the way for shade.
Slipping. Rocks along the coral cliffs can be very, very slippery. Recommend something other than tennis shoes that have good traction and you don't might getting wet. Recommend hiking gloves.
Bring a few buddies with you.
Center of gravity. Use three points of contact and keep low center of gravity. Take nothing for granted on these rocks.

Mapping Points. Other LandMarks you will see during your trek have been posted on the map above.

Directions. The starting point (Kayo Beach) is right off Highway 330. Look for this Landmark on the right-hand side as you are traveling north. It will be next to an old school. It is about 30 minutes from the time you leave Highway 329 onto Highway 330.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"The Yohena Ajisai (Hydrangea) Gardens"

Ajisai or Hydrangea Flowers at the Yohena Ajisai Garden

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Yohena Ajisai Garden, Motobu

     N 26 38.831E 127 56.707

The Yohena Ajisai (Hydrangea) Gardens, Izumi

You can never fall short of seeing beautiful flowers here on Okinawa. Around mid-May to the end of June marks the season for Ajisai's, or better known in English as Hydrangea Flowers. In Izumi of Motobu Town, and elderly woman named Mrs. Uto Yohena, turned her home landscape into beautiful flora display of Hydrangea Flowers. She first opened her garden to the public in 2001 (Mrs. Yohena turns 96 in 2013). Since then she has greeted visitors from all over the island as they come and gaze over her purple beauties. In October of 2010, Mrs. Yohena was formally recognized for her deeds and received the “Regional Contribution Award” by the Okinawa Times Newspaper. She is one of the friendliest 'Oba-chans' you will ever meet. Though Hydrangea Flowers make up most of the scenery (mainly purple), you will see various other flowers of different colors and species.

Visitor Information.
Time Period. Mid-May to end of June (2015, May 17 - 30 June)
Admission Fee. Adults: 300 Yen, Children Ages 7 – 18: 100 Yen, Children 6 and Under:  Free
Hours. Open Daily during viewing season 9am to 6pm (till June 30)
Parking. Available and Free.
Website (In English).
Website (In Japanese)
Phone Number. 098 047 2183
Restrooms. Available
Baby Strollers. Though there are some areas that will facilitate the use of baby strollers, there are other areas that can only be accessed by the use of stairs. Plan accordingly.

Considerations. Consider visiting the garden before the first Typhoon hits Okinawa. June marks the beginning of Typhoon season.

Related Articles. Other photos visit

Directions. From Highway 58, take Highway 84 going towards Motobu. You will see signs for Highway 123. Continue on Highway 84 passing the Highway 123/Highway 84 T-intersection. Shortly after, you will pass an ENEOS gas station (on the right). As soon as you pass this Gas Station, you will turn left. Look for this Orange-shape structure on the left-hand side. The turn-off will be before this structure. From here look at the Google Map and follow the Blue and Green Route. The Green Route takes you to the Yohena Ajisai Gardens. Look for this sign off the main road which directs you to the Yohena Garden parking lot. (Note: The entire Blue Route takes you to the Natural Stone Garden).

Source of Information. Interview with Mrs. Yohena's daughter, Yohena Ajisai Garden Website.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Shizen Sekitei (The Natural Stone) Garden.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Minna Jima

Minna Beach, Minna Jima

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Minna Jima
     N 26 39.560E 127 53.367
     * GPS is to Toguchi Port

Minna Jima

Off the coast of the Motobu Peninsula sits a small, sparsely populated island called Minna Jima. So small that as of July 2013, there were only 4 students at the Elementary/Junior High School. During the summer season, vacationers flock here in droves,...and for good reason, it has one of prettiest sandy beaches here on Okinawa. Only 15-20 minute ride from the main island, you can easily get away for a one day excursion at a reasonable price. 

Minna Beach. You will find most of your vacationers on Minna Beach which is on the eastern side of the island (it is the beach you see as you enter Minna Port). You will find most of the beach goers on the north end as most of the gear rental stations are on that side as well. If you are looking for more privacy you can head towards the southern end. The beach is just as beautiful. 

The Cove. From an aerial view, the cove on the western side of the island may have the appearance of a beautiful lagoon. However, it can be one of the least attractive areas on Minna Jima, particularly at low tide. More of a marshland than a paradise of tide pools, you will not find too many tourist at this location. The north and south sides of the islands you will find more coral tide pools and jagged coral reefs. Click on the different icons on the map to see photos taken of that particular area. Please also click on the photo album above to see other photos of Minna-jima.

Minna Jima Boat Schedule / Boat Fare / One-DayTrip Travel Packet.
Please download the following PDF for the Boat Schedule, Boat Ticket Prices, and Other Information for your One-Day Trip. Note. Because there were no official sponsored websites for the Minna-jima boat schedule and ticket prices, the PDF was reproduced for the internet for your convenience. Information is subject to change without notice by the Motobu Port Authority. For an updated schedule you can call the Toguchi Port office at 098-047-5179. >>>>> DOWNLOAD PDF.

Weather Cancellation (IMPORTANT!). Please be advised that boat trips are subject to cancellation due to severe weather. This includes severe wind conditions. Please call before you go! The Toguchi Port Office can be reached at 098-047-5179.

Directions. The following directions is for Toguchi Port on Motobu. (Note. Please do not confuse Toguchi Port with Motobu Port which is just a little further south). Go north on Highway 58 and then take Highway 449 along the Motobu Peninsula. You will continue and pass the Sesoko Bridge (which will be on your left as you are going north). The following directions is little out of the way, but you will get a better visual sense of where the port is if this is your first time. As you continue on Highway 449 you will cross over on another major bridge (you will then see a harbor to your right. The Toguchi Port is on the southern end of this harbor as identified by a balloon icon. You must scroll to the right one map). Once you cross the bridge you will run into the Highway 449/Highway 84 T-Intersection. Left takes you to the Churaumi Aquarium. You will want to go right. You will momentarily travel along side of the north end of the harbor, but you will want to navigate your way to the southern side. The port office is very recognizable. GPS coordinates above are for Toguchi Port. There are easier ways to get there, but if it's your first time it may seem like traveling through a maze. 

Author's Note. There will be a follow up post for overnight trips on Minna-jima.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Traveling to Ie Jima"

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

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Ie Jima Highlights

     N 26 38.442E 127 52.803
        *GPS to Motobu Port

Traveling to Ie Jima (伊江島)

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

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

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

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

Website/Ferry Schedule. (Japanese only) or click here for Google Translated Version in English.

Website/Individual Ticket/Vehicle Prices. (Japanese only) or click here for Google Translated Version in English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"The Purple Iris Fields of Kijoka"

Standing Watch! A purple iris stands tall

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The Purple Iris Fields of Kijoka

     N 26 42.402E 128 08.944

The Purple Iris Fields of Kijoka

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

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

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

Kijoka is found in Ogimi Village and they have provided a website link displaying the blooming phases of the Kijoka Iris Fields. Please visit link (Japanese).

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

Related Articles. For other related images of the Kijoka Purple Iris Field, see Mike's Ryukyu Gallery at:

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

Other places of interest nearby. The Kijoka Falls.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Akainko Shrine

The Akainko Shrine

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Akainko Shrine

     N 26 23.142E 127 44.432

The Legend of Akainko, the Father of the Sanshin

The story behind the Akainko Shrine is both a sad and happy one. The story dates back to the 15th and 16th century in an area now known as Sobe of Yomitan Village. It deals with hardship of a village life, a tale of love and death, and the triumph of one man’s legacy that would ultimately change Okinawa forever. The following tale is derived from the Yomitan Village Folklore and Legends publication.
The villagers were clinging to hope, but the drought showed no signs of ending any time soon. Fresh water had become scarce, and the townspeople where in much need of a miracle. It so happened that in the village there was a beautiful young woman by the name of Chira who had a pet dog. The two were always together and the dog was known for his brilliant red hair. One day, the dog disappeared, and when he returned, Chira had noticed something odd; the dog was soaked with water! “How could this be?”, she wondered, for there hasn’t been any rain for such a long time. The dog tugged on her clothes pleading with her. He obviously wanted to show her something; and so she followed him. He led her to a nearby cave and inside, she discovered the reason why the dog was wet. There was a spring inside! Chira ran back and told the villagers, and upon hearing the great news they extolled both Chira and her pet dog.

However, happiness was short-lived for the young woman. Chira had found herself in a vicious love triangle, and the situation was about to escalate; for she had made it known who she wanted, and this did not sit well with the defeated lover. He would eventually murder the man Chira loved, but it would not stop there. This was just the beginning of her troubles.(ii)

Devastated and heartbroken, Chira was now facing another reality: she was pregnant with her now deceased lover’s child. What was she going to do? She wasn’t married; and how was she going to explain this to her parents? Time went on, and it became obvious that she was bearing a child in her womb. Villagers began to question the ordeal and rumors circulated. It turned out, the man who killed Chira’s true love was the one spreading these rumors. To lay one more knife in Chira’s heart, he planted the idea that Chira had done the unthinkable. The father of her baby wasn’t a man. It was her dog.

If her dignity wasn’t destroyed then, it was now hanging by a thread. Humiliated and emotionally isolated, Chira had no choice but to leave the village. She fled to Ikei Island to live out the rest of her days.(i) There, she gave birth to a son and found some hope of a peaceful life, but that too was short lived. A few years later, her parents had found out where she was staying and decided to go see her. But after learning the news of their arrival, she became stricken with guilt for she had caused them so much pain. Ashamed and unable to face them again, Chira had taken her own life.

She left behind her parents, broken-hearted, and a son with an uncertain future.

Years later…

He was sitting around when it began to rain. Drops, one-by-one, fell to the earth making a nice thump-like sound. So pleased with the rhythm, the young man wanted to mimic what he had heard. He then took a branch from a Kuba Tree and took three strands from a horse’s tail and put them together to make a banjo-like instrument.(iii) The young man liked what he had heard and took his new invention and played it wherever he went.

One day, a servant of the king had heard the young man’s music. He was so pleased that he asked him if he would go to Shuri to play for his majesty. The young man agreed and together they set off to see the king. And so the young man played and played to his heart’s content. The king wasn’t just amazed. He was enthralled by its beauty and power; so much that he immediately directed the young man to travel throughout the island to spread his music. And so off he went spreading his love in musical form.

His adventures would eventually take him to China and on his journey back, he brought with him various types of grains and apparel he had found in his travels. The villagers of Yomitan took the grains, cultivated them, and spread them throughout village yielding many, many crops. It was from this day forward that Yomitan would become known as the 'King of Vegetables' throughout the kingdom.
Epilogue. Every year Yomitan Village celebrates the Akainko Festival typically held around 20 September of the Lunar Calendar to honor the young man’s legacy and the new staples he introduced centuries before.

Sanshin and Sanshi-no-hi (三線の日).The banjo-like instrument he created became known as the Sanshin, named for the three strings used to make the beautiful sound; and henceforth the young man became known as the ‘Father of the Sanshin’. Sanshin, in Japanese literally means ‘three strings’. Every year on March 4th, a special musical ceremony (mainly comprised of sanshin players) is performed in front of the Akainko Shrine to honor his musical contribution to Okinawa and to the world. This is no ordinary date. March 4th has become known as the ‘Day of the Sanshin’ or in Japanese, Sanshi-no-hi (三線の日). The reason March 4th was chosen is because numerically the date can be written as 3/4. The special date is based on a Japanese pun, where 'san', means 3, and 'shi', means 4 – the two syllables found in the word sanshin. It is not uncommon to see students of the sanshin praying at the shrine. It is believed it will help them master the art.

The Shrine and the Meaning of his Name. The location of the shrine is believed to be where the young man ascended into heaven.(2) His true name given at the time of his birth remains to be a mystery however. It appears that any knowledge of that went to his mother’s grave all those years ago on Ikei Island. So he decided to take on another name. In the Okinawan language he called himself Akanukuu (アカヌクー). In Japanese this translate to Akainko (赤犬子).(iv) If one where to analyze its kanji form, the meaning becomes clear. Put together it means 'Child of the Red Dog'.

Author’s Notes.
i. The above account was derived from Yomitan’s Folklore and Legends Publication, dated 2005. An older source mentions that Chira fled to Katsuren and lived inside a cave near the ocean. It made no mention of Ikei Island. The source was from a 1990 version of Yomitan’s History Chronicles #11, beginning on pg 220.
ii. Other sources describe a more chilling version of the love triangle that occurred between Chira and the two men involved. This is pending further research and investigation as this version was not mentioned in either of the above sources.
iii. The Kuba Tree is the Okinawan name for the Chinese Fan Palm, (Livistona chinensis). For images, visit
iv. The first kanji (赤) means red (Aka); the second kanji (犬) means dog (Inu); and last kanji (子) means child (Ko). When the kanji’s are put together the ‘u’ is subtracted from inu.

1. The Akainko Story, The Yomitan Folklore and Legends Publication, dated 2005, pg 39
2. Akainko's ascension, Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education. Website.

Directions/Parking. The Akainko Shrine is about 250 meters in front of the US Army Base Torii Station main gate. It is the turn-off immediate west of the Family Mart. Take Highway 58 into Yomitan and then take Highway 6 going west towards Torii Station. Torii Station will be on your left, the Family Mart to your right. Parking is very confined. Please do not block any gates belonging to any residential areas.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zatsungawa River (ザツンガワ / 座津武川)

The Zatsungawa River (ザツンガワ / 座津武川)

View Map It! Okinawa in a larger map

     N 26 49.434E 128 14.784
      *GPS to starting point

The Zatsungawa River, ザツンガワ / 座津武川

The Zatsungawa River of Uka, Kunigami Village is one of many beautiful rivers in the northern part of Okinawa. For the outdoor enthusiast, this offers an escape into the wild and a good taste of nature. See Trekking Data below. There are some moderate to high risk areas so please read the recommended guidelines below.

Trekking Data & Information
River Name. Zatsungawa (ザツンガワ / 座津武川)
River Location. Uka, Kunigami Village (宇嘉, 国頭村)
Trek Starting Point. GPS N26 49.434 E128 14.784
Recommended Emergency Rally Point (For Emergency Vehicles). GPS N26 49.468 E128 14.632
1st Stopping Point. GPS N26 49.386 E128 14.906 (image, video)
2nd Stopping Point. GPS N26 49.384 E128 14.955 (image, video)
3rd Stopping Point. GPS N26 49.249 E128 15.037 (image, video)
Turn-Around Point. GPS N26 49.246 E128 15.130 (image, video)
Trek Time from Starting Point to Turn-Around Point. Approx 3 hrs
Total Time. 7 hrs
Video Overview.  Map It! Okinawa Video Short, Zatsungawa River.

Tip. Start your trek near the water station. Look for a metallic ladder taking you down to the river. Climb down and cross to the other side. You will see a trail and it will take you to a launch point on your trek.

Note. At the time of this river trek, the turn-around-point could not be surpassed due to the semi steep outer-terrain and the depth of water. Under warmer conditions this may be feasible. It is not recommended to submerge into water above the waist during the colder months. Please read below. The post will be updated after future attempts have been completed.

Recommended Guidelines (MUST READ!)
1. VERY IMPORTANT! This particular river trek is recommended only for those who have fairly good physical agility, coordination skills, and upper body strength. Negotiating steep inclines may be required. Recommended only for young adults and above. Though most of the trek is manageable, it does have some moderate to high risk areas.
2. VERY IMPORTANT! Plan on getting wet up to your knees. It is sometimes safer to walk in the river, rather than hopping and balancing yourself on the rocks just to keep dry. On a normal good weather day, the river current at most areas is not enough to push you off balance. Though this rule may seem trivial, it is a very important thing to remember. The biggest risk to this trek is falling and slipping on the rocks.
3. VERY IMPORTANT! In the colder months you do not want to get wet above your waist. You will run the risk of hypothermia if you continue further. Your upper body will not provide you enough heat for you to keep warm. Ideally, try to keep the water below the knees.
4. VERY IMPORTANT! It is recommended that you do not trek during the rain or after a recent rain shower. The ideal time is on an average good weather day (no rain or drizzle). During good weather the rocks above the river will be dry. This is important for grip. There are some high risk areas that will require good surface grip (feet, hands, and body) to get from point A to point B. This rule is unique to this river. Surface grip will be required to negotiate difficult terrain.
5. DO NOT WEAR TENNIS SHOES!!! Tennis shoes offer no traction and will slip on these rocks. Wear something that has hard soles and has great traction on these kinds of surfaces. If you do not have hard soles you will 'feel' every step you take. And since you will be getting wet, thick heavy boots will only get heavier when soaked. You should wear something that is lighter, has good traction, but still gives you flexibility of movement.
6. GUIDE STICK. Having a guide stick is recommended. Sometimes it will be safer to skirt the terrain just to avoid danger areas. If at some point it seems impossible to continue, look for red or yellow tape markers around the trees. Trekkers have left guide marks to assist with negotiating terrain (though on this particular river, it has not always been helpful). You will need a guide stick to probe these areas for snakes and to knock down spider webs. When you are negotiating boulders however, you will have to set your guide stick aside to free your hands for climbing. This is very important. When it comes to negotiating boulders and rocky terrain, your hands will be your best assets. This is for safety.
7. Never go alone. Have a buddy. For this particular river trek, the 'ideal' number is to have at least three (3) hiking buddies, but optimally try to have more than 3 due to the level of difficulty. If one gets hurt, then you have the option of leaving at least one with the injured while the other(s) go retrieve help. Cell phone reception is very difficult, if not non-existent in these areas. If you are a US Service Member, your nearest US Military Facility will be the Okuma Recreational Facility. It is recommended that everyone should have the number to this location should an emergency arise.
8. Tell someone (or few others), where you will be river trekking to and leave them at a minimum: the GPS coordinate of the starting point, the name of the river, and this website URL (see Trek Data Information above).
9. Wear a light long-sleeve top (depending on the weather) for protection against the elements and bugs. Whether you trek on the river or skirt the landscape, you will hit spider web after spider web (summer or winter).
10. Wear a hat or beanie to keep warm and to protect yourself against the elements and bugs. You may run into many spider webs along the way (Do a 'spider check' with your buddy every now and then). A beanie does offer some bit of head protection in the event of a fall.
11. VERY IMPORTANT! Bring some light hiking gloves for grip and protection. You may be required to grab roots, tree limbs, trees, rocks, dirt, etc. in order to negotiate terrain.
12. DO NOT WEAR SHORTS! Find something that you don't mind getting wet in and that offers protection against the elements. There 'will' be a few times you will be on your knees or on your rear end as you negotiate some of the terrain. Also you need to protect your legs from critters and abrasions. You may want to bring some shorts if you want to take a dip in the water. There are some areas that are over 7 feet deep. Swimming not recommend in the colder months.
13. VERY IMPORTANT! Apply the '3-Points of Contact Rule' when going over difficult terrain.
14. VERY IMPORTANT! Maintain a low center of gravity when going over difficult terrain.
15. If something looks unsafe, then avoid. Find another way to negotiate the terrain or SIMPLY, DON'T DO IT. Don't try to be brave. You do not have to travel far to enjoy the natural scenery.
16. Give yourself plenty of time AND TAKE YOUR TIME. NO NEED TO RUSH. But remember you have to add time to get back (before dark!). Recommend you leave early morning time frame. The rule of thumb is travel far enough so that have the same amount of time to get back. However, add an extra hour as a buffer on your return trip. (For example, if you travel 3 hours, ensure you have 4 hours of sunlight left to get back). Note. From experience, it is more dangerous on your return trip. There are two reasons; on your return trip your are more fatigued and therefore less alert; and second, gravity and descending elevation. It is usually a lot easier to climb up then it is to climb down.
17. Bring a light backpack for food, water, toilet paper, flash light, survival kit, first aid kit, light rain coat, warming layers, etc. and water proof them as needed.
18. USE THE BATHROOM BEFORE YOU GO! Making natural deposits of certain kind in the wild may not be fun for some.
19. You will get dirty. Bring a towel, extra socks, extra pair of shoes, shirt, pants, and warming layers (Can leave in the car).
20. Tuck in your shoe laces to prevent tripping.
21. Protect & secure items such as your wallet and cell phone from moisture and from getting soaked.
22. Don't try to be brave. Respect your limits and respect nature.
23. You do not have to go all the way to any of the stopping points or to the Turn-Around Point. You don't have to go far to enjoy some of the beauty along the river. Never feel pressured to continue on if you are fatigued or if it becomes too hazardous.

Directions/Parking. Take Highway 58 into Kunigami Village (to the town of Uka, 宇嘉). You will have to navigate by Landmarks annotated in the map. The turn-off point is just a few hundred meters south of the Uka Tunnel (click here for Japanese writing above the tunnel). Additionally, the Uka Tunnel is a newer tunnel. The older tunnel is fenced off to the side. It is the old Zatsun Tunnel. If you wish to park near the water station, please do not block the entrance gate as maintenance crews utilize this station.

Other Rivers in Okinawa. Takazato River, Fukugawa II, Taa Water.