Exploring Okinawa: Cape Hedo offers amazing views, Ryuku legends, good luck

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Exploring Okinawa: Cape Hedo offers amazing views, Ryuku legends, good luck

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Only a two-hour drive away from Camp Foster, Cape Hedo is a good road trip destination. The cape is on the northernmost end of the island and promises stunning coastal views. When the weather is nice, even Yoron Island of Kagoshima Prefecture can be seen from there.

On a sunny day in early March, I hit the road to go there for the first time in seven years. The last time I visited the area was on my way back from Daisekirinzan, a rocky hill that overlooks the coast. After spending several hours enjoying the rocks in curious shapes or great views from the elevations on my last visit, I did not get a chance to spend much time at the cape. For this trip, I had the cape in mind.

Driving along the west coast for a couple of hours, I found myself in the parking lot adjacent to “Head Line,” a tourist information office. In addition to a tourist reception desk on the first floor, there’s also a café on the second floor. I was looking forward to having a gelato and coffee, but it was unfortunately closed on the day of my visit. So, I went up to an observatory on the rooftop of the two-story building. Although it did not give an elevation like Daisekirinzan, it still provided a nice lay of the land.

From Head Line, I could see Asumi, a 248.3 meter tall mountain. Asumi is the most sacred site in the Ryukyu Kingdom as it served the kingdom’s (1429-1879) origin story. The four crests at the peak of Asumi are known by their Ryukyu names “Shinukushi,” “Afuri,” “Chizara (Shichara or Shijara),” and “Iheya.” According to “Okinawa no Seichi”, a book that illustrates sacred sites in the prefecture, “Afuri” refers to god’s parasol and “Shijara” means female breast. “Iheya” is thought to have come from the fact that “Iheya-jima,” a remote island can be seen from the top of the crest.

After taking in Head Line’s surroundings, I made my way toward Cape Hedo’s coast, where several tourists were gathering around the monument commemorating Okinawa’s fight for reversion (to Japan). The spot is on a higher ground than the other parts of the coast, providing a good view of Yoron Island in the north. As I was hesitating to join the crowd around the monument, I noticed a path running down a slope toward the ocean. Intrigued by its mysterious mood, I followed the path surrounded by light vegetation.

Eventually, the path took me to a rock wall running along the coastline. The rock wall was labyrinth-like with small openings leading to other paths. I felt like a role-playing game character as I navigated the route. After 15 seconds or so, the path ended. There was a couple praying there. I joined them and looked around the rocky walls surrounding the spot. There I found a monument with the letters “Hedo Ryujin Ryuou Shin,” which roughly translates to “God of Hedo Dragon King.” At the foot of the monument were many coins, which led me to believe that this is where visitors make wishes.

As I lay my five-yen coin and made my wish, I could hear the waves crashing close by. Later, I learned that this spot has thought to have been a place of worship for hundreds of years. Some believe that this spot is tied to Tensonshi, a child of the gods who created Okinawa. Although I did not have the knowledge at the time, the geography did seem quite out of the ordinary.

My next stop was the Okinawa Rail Observation Deck, about a 5-minute drive from the cape. Located on a steep slope to the south of the cape, this observatory is in the shape of “Yanbaru Kuina,” an indigenous species of bird that cannot fly. The bird is also known as a symbol of Kunigami Village. The idea of modeling an observatory after this unique feathered bird sounded odd and funny to me. What I wasn’t expecting was to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of this structure. Its huge red feet reminded me of Jurassic Park. On one side of the humongous bird, I climbed stairs leading to a room in its chest where windows allowed visitors to look out over Cape Hedo. Enjoying this view is free and is definitely a peculiar spot for a view and some photos.

On my way back, I swung by Kayauchi Banta, another observation deck about 10 minutes from the cape. Kayauchi Banta is on a coastal cliff 80 meters above sea level. The name is thought to come from the fact that a bundle of kaya (thatches) came loose and dispersed when it was thrown off the cliff. Banta means cliff in Okinawan dialect.

To get there required a careful drive on a steep slope surrounded by rock walls. Despite the somewhat tiring drive, the waters I saw from the deck were beautiful. Even from as high up as I was, I could see the coral reefs shining below in the emerald green water.

I ended my day trip there as I wanted to avoid traffic on my way back home, but the mesmerizing views I saw at Cape Hedo and Kayauchi Banta made it hard to leave.

Hedo Ryujin Ryuou Shin
GPS Coordinates: N 26.873829, E 128.263614

Yanbaru Kuina Tenbodai (observatory)
GPS Coordinates: N 26.862450, E 128.264923
* To get to this location, you need to drive on a narrow road, which is only wide enough for a car to drive. Watch out for other cars when you go there.

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