Cape Hedo: Northern Okinawan Beach of Hope
Cape Hedo is the Northernmost point of Okinawa, Japans Southernmost prefecture. It resides in the Kunigami Village, and overlooks both the South China Sea to the west, and the Pacific Ocean to the east. It is a great vantage point for being where these two bodies of water collide in a harmony of azures and beryl.
If you can, a visit on a clear day will afford you an extra treat. Yoronjima, located approximately 23km (14 miles) north and located in the Kagoshima Prefecture, Yoronjima (jima means island in Japanese) sits on the horizon, complimenting the already picturesque view nicely.
Cape Hedo belongs to Okinawa Dai Sekirinzan Quasi-National Park, a prefectural park first established in 1965 and subsequently re-established in 1972 when Okinawa was handed back to Japanese rule post war. In the Edo Period, a series of Shoohoo Kuniezu (provincial land maps) show Cape Hedo as “Heto Misaki” (Cape Heto). During Commodore Perry’s expedition between 1794-1858, a visit to Hedo had it recorded as “Cape Hope”. The Nihon Suiroshi, a pilot guide first published in 1892, records the Cape as “Cape Kunigami”, and denotes it as an important landmark in nautical navigation.
Today, Cape Hedo is a hugely popular tourist destination. As well as the outstanding natural beauty, it’s also home to several monuments. The main one was erected to commemorate Okinawa’s return to Japanese sovereignty, built in 1972. Another popular statue is the Kariyushi. Kariyushi is an animal of legendary status in the area, with the head of a rooster and the body of a fish. It represents the friendship between Kunigami Village and Yoronjima. On the east side of the cape, close to a cliff edge, is a small, calf-height statue of an angry looking fellow engulfed in flames. Say hello to Fudo Myoo Sama, a Buddhist fire deity. Also known as Acala, he is one of the five Wisdom Kings of the Womb Realm. His name means “immovable protector”, and he is a powerful numen. Information on his relation to Cape Hedo is difficult to come by, but nonetheless he’s worth a sliver of your time. Another thing you may notice in the distance (also on the east side, south of the Cape), is what appears to be a large statue of a black and white bird. This isn’t a statue, it’s an observatory! It’s a Yanbaru Kuina, or Okinawa rail, a species of flightless bird indigenous to the region. If you see one, count your blessings; they are quite rare and hard to spot. Read more about the endangered rail here.
Prepare to see a lot of insects. This close to the ocean, and contained within a National Park, it’s inevitable. The area is also heavily scrubbed, so is teeming with life. Most of the insects keep themselves to themselves, and some are stunning. I particularly like the iridescent bugs you can see scattered over the railings. They shimmer and change colour in the light. A quick word of caution. Keep to the paths and don’t wander into the thickets. Habu also reside here. Habu is a venomous species of snake native to the Ryukyu chain, a bite can be deadly. Stay safe!
All this is well and good, but what’s it actually like to visit? If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d choose serene. It’s very tranquil. The sounds of the ocean, the cicadas chirping (at least in summer), sea air, cooling breezes...wonderful! Park up in the generous car park, and you’ll find there is a cafe and toilet facilities close by. There’s a path snaking through the grounds up to the Cape, it’s an easy walk. To the west is a path running down into an area covered by rocks. I recommend you take a diversion and check it out. Nestled between this is a small shrine, accessed across a large puddle on stepping stones. It’s not deep, but tread carefully unless you want wet feet! Back up to the main attraction, you can get right up to the edge thanks to a nice, sturdy railing. This is only at sections, other parts just have sheer drops and nothing else, so be careful! Watching the ocean change colour, crash against the cliff face, and glitter under the sun, is hard to put into words. It’s just bewitching.
It’s a fair drive, but a pretty one. Coastal roads wind round, affording a grand overlook for most of the journey. Ready for an adventure? Find Cape Hedo here: