It’s the dog days of summer here in Okinawa which means 90 degree temperatures with a “real feel” of 110, plus humidity constantly creeping past 90%, and a UV index of 11 (aka extreme) are the norm. Needless to say, being outside is not only unpleasant, but downright not an option (at least in my opinion). With that being said, Ben and I have found a haven in our base’s pool. It’s got bathrooms, zero sand, and plenty of shade. Although it’s easily the lamest place to go when we’ve got plenty of stunning beaches and cultural sites at our fingertips, it’s the only location where I can successfully convince myself to be outside for more than 15 minutes. Plus, it’s down the street from our house which is also a huge “win” considering the traffic is Okinawa consistently makes a 15 minute drive into a 30 minute one.
Ben and I shamelessly love being “pool people.” We’ve quickly realized that there is a crowd of regulars and we are slowly joining the group. However, it’s impossible not to feel a bit guilty for not enjoying all that Okinawa has to offer while we quickly approach the last half of our tour. When this past weekend finally gave us cloudy, albeit just as hot/humid weather, Ben and I knew we had to abandon our pool and go out for a mini adventure. We packed our car full of water and made plans for a day down South. Our destination? Seifa-Utaki, an ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most sacred place on Okinawa.
Before we made it to Seifa Utaki, we happened to come across a sign for Cape Chinen. Heeding the best advice we ever got on Oki, “the best way to explore the island is to pull off the road whenever you see a sightseeing sign” and we beelined for the cape to do some exploring.
Cape Chinen is quite similar to many other capes in Okinawa. It has gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean where you can clearly see reefs and coral through the aqua water. There were also a few islands in view; Okinawa is part of the Ryukyuan Island Chain so there are many smaller isles off our coasts. My favorite part of Cape Chinen were the laid back island cats taking their afternoon slumber.
After we were sufficiently covered with sweat from roaming around, it was time to head to the jungle to find Seifa Utaki. Like most Okinawa cultural sites, Seifa Utaki was unfortunately transformed into the ultimate tourist trap with plenty of cafes, a souvenir shop, and a ¥200 (around $2) fee to get in. I quickly became annoyed, foolishly I thought that Seifa Utaki was going to a quiet place to learn about Okinawa’s history while in reality it was crammed with tons of selfie taking tourists. It was definitely a bummer, but I’ve become somewhat used to the mobs of tourists at practically any and every cool site in Okinawa. Living on a popular Chinese/Japanese tourist destination definitely comes with a price!
The history behind Seifa Utaki is quite interesting. Sefa Utaki translates to “the purified place of Utaki” which made it a prime location for royals of the Ryukyuan Kingdom to hold rituals and official religious functions. The site is spread throughout the jungle, which was densely packed with oversized plants and insects, and is connected by winding stone paths. A very notable point-of-interest was a sacred area where several clay pots were placed directly below stalactites hanging from a cliff overhang. The stalactites slowly dripped water directly into the pots and it was believed that these filled pots could predict the future of the priestesses and the king’s son.
Most people come to Seifa Utaki to see the triangle-shaped stone slab tunnel which leads to the most holy altar in Okinawa. This location in undeniably beautiful and although there were many people around, it remained a very serene and lovely spot.
After Ben and I had our fill of ancient Ryukyuan religious ruins, we were on our way back to the car when Ben insisted that we stray from the smooth, clearly defined tourist trail to take a rugged, somewhat hidden pathway that lead deep into the jungle. We had no idea what could be down there, but when Ben’s curiosity is peaked I tend to feed off the excitement and tag right along.
At first glance of the trail, it was quite obvious why there were absolutely no other people interested in it. It was an extremely steep slope which was absurdly slick, uneven, and dotted with several large rocks appearing randomly throughout. I was quite thankful there was a railing because my flat sandals did not agree with this treacherous mountain climbing.
Once down the path, we were completely alone. It was a bit spooky and since we were in a very sacred place we had to remain very quiet and respectful in the already silent jungle. After a bit of walking we came across quite possibly one of the coolest WWII remnants we’ve ever seen on Okinawa. There were not one, but two Artillery Batteries that Japanese forces used during the Battle of Okinawa. The plaque marking these machine gun mounts read:
“Built by the Second Platoon (also known as the Yoshioka troops), Second Squadron of the Seventh Heavy Artillery Regiment during World War II, these artillery batteries served as a wing of the Nakagusuku Bay Provisional Fortress to defend against the U.S. forces landing on Okinawa. They were reportedly equipped with Type-38 field guns and other artillery.
The two artillery batteries, a 60 meter long concrete road connecting the two batteries, and small rooms have been discovered to date. The batteries were conical in shape, with a 1.6 meter gun emplacement at the top. Around the gun emplacement were four water drains and two small rooms to the left and right likely for ammunition storage. Part of the concrete was painted with black pigment, likely for camouflage.”
Although the entire southern region of Okinawa was involved in the battle, most of the battleground was built over once the fighting stopped. Discovering these artillery batteries was an uncommon and exciting find, especially for my history loving husband. While Ben and I quite enjoyed this interesting site, it was a somber reminder of the fierce fighting and lives lost during the Battle of Okinawa.
After a very long, sweaty, but educational day, Ben and I headed home with a newfound appreciation for the beauty and history of this island. We are always grateful for our “okilife” and are focused on enjoying this island as much as we can now that we are approaching the last half of our time here. Although, I can’t promise that you won’t find us at the pool at least one day next weekend…
We're Kara, Ben and baby Zoe also known as the Lesniaks. We’re a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Yorktown, Virginia after a three year tour in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together!
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