Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cape Hedo and a King's Grave/辺戸岬と国王のお墓/邊戶岬和國王的墓穴

For this trip to Okinawa, I stayed in the northern part of the island.  The map below (click it to see a bigger version) doesn't have the borders of the various towns drawn in, but it does have their names, so you can get a general idea of where they are.  The big peninsula on the north-eastern part of the island is often called "Yambaru", and it's split up into three towns: Ogimi in the south-west, Higashi in the south-east, and Kunigami covering the northern part of the peninsula.  If you go to Okinawa and you have a car, going around this peninsula is one of the best things you can do.  The area is mountainous and very rural.  It's beautiful and shows you a totally different side of Okinawa from what you see in the urban southern part of the island.


I stayed in Kunigami, on the west side of the peninsula, so I started by driving up the west coast.  The main road, 58, goes all the way down to Naha, the main city in the south of the island.  This road was built by the US military originally to connect the various bases on the island.  Up in this part of the island, the road travels right next to the coast, so you have the blue sea to the west, the mountains to the right, and not much else.  There are also period places to stop so that you can get out of your car and experience unbridled, scenery-induced bliss while not in your car.  (Experiencing such bliss while in your car will often lead to accidents.)



As in most of Okinawa, the sea around the island is filled with coral reefs, and therefore very shallow close to the island.



A diagram and explanation of how they built this coastal road to replace the old one, which used to pass more inland.



Yambaru is very mountainous, so there are a number of dams and lakes.  Okinawa gets a lot of rain, but it's a small island, and the southern part is mostly flat and made of formal coral reef, so it's very pourous and doesn't hold a lot of water.  The water that they store up here in Yambaru helps supply the entire island.  Here's one of the dams (I think it's Henoki):



More bliss!  Oh god, the bliss!

Some sort of bird.
The Japanese government/construction industry/yakuza love laying concrete everywhere they can.  When they run out of roads to build, they plop down some concrete along the coast, or up a mountainside.


I'm almost at Cape Hedo, the northernmost point of the island...
This gaudy structure is a giant statue of a Yambaru Kuina (Okinawan Rail), a bird endemic to the Yambaru region.  It's a lookout point, but it was closed for construction when I went by.



And here we are at Cape Hedo!



There were a lot of butterflies.


Another gaudy bird statue.  I'm not sure what this is supposed to be.


After leaving Cape Hedo, I passed by the local elementary school.  They had a sign up out front saying that they were looking for students.  Like most rural areas in Japan, this area is suffering from a shrinking and aging population.  The school is making an appeal to people who have jobs that can be done remotely to consider moving here and enrolling their kids in the school.  The school currently only has 6 kids, and the community I'm sure doesn't want the school to have to close.


I'm still up in the Hedo/Oku area at this point.  There's a grave here for a former king, Gihon.


Gihon was an unfortunate king.  He was the third and last in a short line of kings (the Shunten line).  It's said that because his reign was filled with natural disasters, this was taken as a sign that he should resign, and he appointed a capable lord, Eiso, to be the next king.  (You can see the influence of the Chinese idea of the mandate from heaven here in the way the situation is described.)  He then retired to the northern part of the island, where he was eventually buried.
However, this was all back in the 1200's, so the details are not all clear.  It may be that Eiso violently overthrew Gihon and killed him or had him exiled and that the story of Gihon abdicating his throne was later created by supporters of Eiso to legitimize his rule.  It's also unclear how much territory this King Gihon controlled to.  Later Ryukyu dynasties typically claimed that the Shunten lineage controlled the whole island of Okinawa, but this may have also been fabricated in order to legitimize their own rule over the whole island.  It's possible Gihon may have only controlled one territory on the island of Okinawa.  We don't really know.  (Click the photo to enlarge and read it.  Well worth the effort of a click.)


The grave is very cool though.  It's designed like a traditional Okinawan house.  There is a surrounding wall, and just inside the entrance is a second small wall so that you can't walk straight in.


The stonework is the usual Okinawan style.  The stones may be in all sorts of random shapes, but they fit right together.
It's obvious that people still come here to pay their respects.  You can see the small offerings in front of the grave.



I don't know what these huge leaves are for sure, but they look like Taro potatoes.  They're everywhere in Okinawa.


Colorful bug carcas

And some weird plant-thing


More next time!




  1. How cool! I would love to go see Gihon's grave, and other sites like that. Don't know if I'll make it up to Yanbaru this summer, but hopefully some day.

  2. Just catching up with your blog and the trip to Okinawa. Bliss indeed!