Nature and monuments dominate nothernmost tip of Okinawa

Through the haze, Yoron Island is visible some 20 miles north of Cape Hedo. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes
Through the haze, Yoron Island is visible some 20 miles north of Cape Hedo. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes

Nature and monuments dominate nothernmost tip of Okinawa

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: January 12, 2016

Gertrude Stein, noted American writer, once wrote of her Oakland, Calif., hometown: “There is no there there.”

At first glance, one might say the same about Cape Hedo, the northernmost point on Okinawa, some 60 miles north of Camp Foster.

At once breathtakingly scenic and deafeningly silent and tranquil, you find no frills there. No fancy restaurant, not even a souvenir stand; just one lone vending machine. And statues, monuments and memorials with almost all inscriptions in Japanese.

But upon closer inspection of Okinawa Kaigan Quasi-National Park, you come upon a vast treasure trove of knowledge (hopefully with the help of somebody fluent in the local language): everything from the unique nature of the nearby Yanbaru Forest to a tutorial (in Japanese) about the occupation of the island by the U.S. after World War II and its reversion to Japanese control in 1972.

A memorial to a former Okinawa Prefecture chief executive during the occupation, Seisaku Ota, virtually greets visitors to the complex; he served that post from 1959-64 and aided efforts by the U.S. and Japanese governments toward reversion.

Monuments mark everything: from the opening of Okinawa’s east coastal road 70 in 1964 and the memory of Japanese poet Kinichi Sawaki to the torch run for the 42nd Japan national athletics meet and the kinship between nearby Kunigami and Yoron Island, 15 miles north.

Some 300 yards shy of Hedo Point is a cave, presumably a sacred site, for it’s guarded by the heads of 12 pigs, likely ritual offerings. A couple of miles east is an observation tower in the form of a Yanbaru Kuina, or Okinawa Rail; an endangered species of bird peculiar to north Okinawa.

Then, there’s a display case offering a solid background, in various languages including English, on the many species of fowl, flora and fauna in the forest. It’s quite educational, particularly the part about the endangered species that populate the forest, such as the flightless Yanbaru Kuina; the Tenaga Kogane, or gold beetle, Japan’s largest; and Myotis yanbarensis, or the Yanbaru whiskered bat.

You even see them, if you make the journey to or from Cape Hedo on Route 70, also known as the “back road.” It snakes through wooded areas so starkly thick you can barely see a foot or two into some of them. Yanbaru Kuina, in particular, are everywhere; one might have to stop or swerve suddenly to keep from hitting them.

That’s unquestionably the road less traveled, unless driving from northern locales such as Camps Schwab or Hansen.

The farther north one goes, the more one leaves behind the trappings of Western civilization. The last KFC, McDonald’s and Aeon Mall, 30 miles south of Hedo; the last convenience stores and gasoline stands, near Okuma Beach, 16 miles south of the cape.

The last part of the journey takes one past quaint houses, clusters of burial crypts, rugged mountains covered in green enhanced by the afternoon sun and seemingly endless waters of the East China Sea.

It was a hazy day on my visit, so one could only vaguely see the jagged outline of Iheya Island to the west and the flatter Yoron Island. A white post bearing the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” sits near a walkway.

All told, I spent about an hour on the roof of the island before journeying home via the “back road,” through the forests, up hills and into valleys with views of the rugged east coastline. Through little villages with correspondingly small names like Ada, Aha, Sosu, Oku and even one named Higashi, which means, simply, “East.”

After a quarter-tank of gasoline and just under five hours, it’s back to home sweet home after a relaxing, scenic and educational journey.

Most folks who journey to the cape might take Highway 58 all the way from Foster or Kadena, or via the Okinawa Expressway to its terminus and merge with 58 at Kyoda, Exit 10. The toll runs 810 yen (about $8) from Exit 3, Kitanakagusuku, which serves Camp Foster.

The early part of that journey is quick and slows markedly as one heads through northwest Nago, the island’s largest city that far north. Route 58 bends west, then the road divides, continuing straight ahead to Ocean Expo Park 14 miles ahead and to the right, continuing north on 58 to the cape.

Monuments and nature dominate the northernmost tip of Okinawa

Visitors come to Cape Hedo to stand at the northernmost point on Okinawa and gaze at the East China Sea.

A plea for peace on Earth appears on a pole at Cape Hedo park.