Okinawa's Kin Town offers look into the past
Kin Town, the host municipality of Camp Hansen, is sometimes talked about in the past tense. It is true that the town’s prosperity as a “military town” peaked in the 60s and 70s, during the time of the Vietnam War. Now, the shine of the town may no longer be what it once was.
However, the town continues to rally and attract people, if not in the same way as it once did.
Visiting the town offers opportunities to see the town’s attractions both burgeoning and passed down from the past.
It was in 1957 that Camp Hansen was installed in Kin Town. Right across a street from Gate 1, Shinkaichi was developed as an amusement area catering to the military community.
Restaurants, bars, clubs, and tattoo shops housed in old buildings line the streets, providing a glimpse into the past. When visited at night, colorful neon signs welcome visitors, hence the “sleepless town” moniker.
During daytime, colorful graffiti-clad buildings present a pop-art like view from the past. Although doors are closed for many bars while the sun is still up, people come looking for food such as tacos, hamburgers and hotdogs. The smell of BBQ hangs in the air, tickling people’s appetites.
Long-running restaurants like King Tacos and Gate 1 continue to be popular. The taco rice, fried rice, or cheeseburgers that they serve up to exceptional volumes attract many hungry minds.
Kin Town is especially known as a town of taco rice. In 2010, a Guinness Record was set when a giant taco rice which weighed more than 1,600 pounds was made. The extra-large foods mentioned well represent the taste of the town.
There are also new places like Ricamocha Café. This cozy looking café on Route 329 is crowded Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings, according to Kazumi Shigehisa, a staffer. Their featured menu item is murutaam, a cold sweet served up with taimo or taamu, a type of potato, along with milk-flavored shaved ice and tapioca.
The unique streets inspired creative minds as well. Movies and music videos have been shot there. In “A Sign Days/Via Okinawa”, a movie from 1989, the town played a background to depict the rise and fall of a local rock band. In “Boling Point”, a movie by decorated director Takeshi Kitano, protagonists visit the town before their last stand against gangs. Or in a music video titled “Kata Omoi Diary”, a Japanese girls’ band ran around and shot fireworks in the old streets.
East Side of Camp Hansen
Located about a five-minute walk to the east from Gate 1 of Camp Hansen is a temple called Kannonji. According to the town’s website, the temple was first built in the 16th century by a prestigious monk from mainland Japan. At one corner of the site, there is a limestone cave called Nisshuudo. This is thought to be a sacred site. Legend has it that the monk persuaded a giant snake to pay penance in the cave for damages it caused to locals. Although the deepest part of cave is now off-limits, visitors can take stairs and see spots for worship such as a large limestone called “Buddha’s Big Parasol.”
The easiest way to get to Camp Hansen is to take the expressway and get off at exit No. 8. Heading north on Route 329 with Kin Bay to the right takes drivers to neighboring areas of the military facility. Along the way, a unique collection of shacks and tents come into view on the left. One of them is a farmer’s market called Ishija Yuntaku Ichiba. This local market has all sorts of items. Starting with local produce and canned foods, items range from used books and clothes, to military items such as MREs.
Route 329 has a bypass that runs along the coast. If drivers take the bypass and head north, they will come by a fishing port called Hamada Gyokou, which presents a good view of the Kin Bay. This port is known as a good fishing spot. Anglers can be seen seeking rabbitfish and black sea bream according to Okinawa Tsuri, a website dedicated to fishing in Okinawa. The Kin Fishery Association noted that fishing is prohibited on a dock, but it is OK to do so on tetrapod, holding fishing rods toward outside of the port.
There are a couple of beaches along the coast that can be accessed by going south on Route 329. Igei Kaihinkouen (Seaside Park) and Yaka Beach have a long stretch of sandy shore and peaceful water, that presents a nice secluded atmosphere.
Going further north on the coastal road leads to a vast flatland where paddy fields of taimo spread wide. The view presents a look much different from other parts of the island where sugarcane fields or hilly jungles are most typically seen.
Located at the east end of the land is Nature Mirai Kan, a facility with cottages, camping ground, and pavilions for grilling. On Okukubi Gawa, a river that runs by the facility, people can enjoy kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. According to manager Kenji Nakama, the facility is popular among tourists, Okinawans, and Americans. Reservations are highly recommended, especially over the weekend.
A five-minute walk from the facility, a boardwalk runs along the river, providing a good view of people on kayaks or surfboards. There’s also a cattle shed by the river where buffaloes are kept.
About a five-minute drive further north is Kin-cho Baseball Stadium and Kin-cho Football Center. Pro teams from mainland Japan and South Korea hold spring training here, drawing people to this normally quiet area.
Located near the sports complex, Kin Dam offers a nice spot to take a break. From an observatory, which is located right by the facility, water can be seen splashing down its huge wall. The dam is connected to the Okukubi Gawa at the bottom.
Kin Town may look humble compared to locations with large resorts or commercial facilities on the west coast. Clearly, the times have changed here.
However, tourists, Okinawans, and Americans keep coming looking for something that only this town has to offer. The town’s attractions, both old and new, don’t stop tickling people’s curiosity.