Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

A stop on Henza Island

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

On the road to Miyagi Island, Henza Island takes only six minutes to travel through, often making it more of a passing point than a destination. But, make no mistake, you will not regret making a longer stop to enjoy the wonders of this small island.

On the side of a hill and overlooking the southern coast, Ippukuya is a café housed in a red-roofed cottage. To get there, take a small detour off the Kaichu Doro Causeway, which leads drivers on through the island.

Located in a quiet community, the café is decorated with sea-inspired curios and cacti, with a terrace presenting a superb view of Hamahiga Island beyond the bridge of the same name.

Here, try some reimen, or cold noodles, for 950 yen (about $8.76), presented in the style of Morioka, a city in Iwate prefecture. The noodles are made of potato starch and wheat and are served up in cold and savory ox tail soup. Thin like Japanese soba noodles, and yellow in color similar to Okinawan soba noodles, Iwate’s reimen, however, have a chewy and smooth texture. And the taste is completely different than both the mainland and Okinawan noodles.

In addition to standard toppings such as kimchi pickles and a boiled egg, at Ippukuya, reimen noodles are topped with pickled goya (bitter melon) and pork ribs to add a touch of Okinawa to the specialty dish. I found the chewiness of the noodles very enjoyable. Although I see myself as a die-hard Okinawan soba fan, the reimen was hard to resist.

For extra Okinawa flavor, pair your noodles with juice made from shiikwaasa, a tangy citrus fruit native to Okinawa and Taiwan (350 yen). The combo of the two is a refreshing way to cool down in the hot Okinawan summer.

After lunch, I headed back to the coastal road to check out a 984-foot seawall featuring a number of colorful paintings. They were drawn by local children for an art competition called “Hiramiya Gogan Art Concour.” The artwork depicts various scenes from local culture and life, livening up the huge canvas.

Past the colorful seawall, just before the road transitions to Miyagi Island, one of Henza’s most symbolic landmarks will come into view – a group of many large tanks. These 45 oil tanks contain more than 1.1 billion gallons of oil and form the southmost petroleum terminal of Japan, according to the Okinawa Central Terminal Station.

The tanks were originally constructed in the 1970s by Gulf Oil, which at the time was known as one of the “Seven Sisters” along with Mobile, Texaco, Chevron and others. The then-major oil company was behind the construction of Kaichu Doro Causeway, which in 1973 finally connected Henza and the Okinawa main island, according to Okinawa OCTS’ website.

Before, locals either crossed the ocean at low-tide or took a boat at full-tide to the main island. In the 1950s, a truck would transport locals at low tide, but accidents would raise Henza residents’ desire for a bridge.

Once a lifeline for locals, today the causeway brings many tourists not only to the island, but also further to other surrounding islands, and the tanks are a reminder of that history.

With 1314.6 acres of land and a 4.3-mile circumference, Henza Island may not be big, but the views and history are a nice reason to pause and enjoy it over a cold bowl of reimen.

Ippukuya


GPS Coordinates: N 26.339907, E 127.960491
Hours: noon to around sunset

kudaka.shoji@stripes.com

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