Okinawa has many tourist attractions but I think that if you want to see the real Okinawa, some of the best places are the out of the way holes in the wall you just can’t see from the main highway. Sure you’ll have to do a little research and hunt a little bit to find them but it really isn’t all that difficult if you take your time. One such place my wife and I visited recently is called Nakandakarihijya. Try to say that three times fast! It’s just one of many natural springs that are scattered all across this island. Perhaps the first thing people notice is the unique name which is just as difficult to pronounce as it looks. Trust me I had to work on this one for a while before I finally got it down. This spring is located only a few kilometers away from the Peace Prayer Park where the Battle of Okinawa came to its bloody end. The whole area was laid waste during the war and there is a large plaque next to a gnarled old banyan tree in both Japanese and English telling the history of the place.
Natural springs are very important on Okinawa and not just because they provide life giving water. They have an almost mystical religious importance associated with them. They represent one leg in the trinity of “heaven, earth and ocean” in the indigenous faith of the islanders. Many will have a small altar built right next to them and this one is no different. Usually located in the center of the village, they’re also gathering places for the local residents to pass the time away. Perhaps that is why they built a small playground on the hillside just above this one.
From the playground, the spring is almost invisible. You’ll have to follow an old rough hewn and very steep stone walkway down to the spring. This particular spring is one of only several on Okinawa that is still used by the locals in the community the old fashioned way. Depending on the time of day, it’s quite possible that you’ll see folks washing their clothes or cleaning freshly picked vegetables in preparation for the evening meal. Nothing here goes to waste and the excess flows on down stream to irrigate the many small gardens and postage stamp sized farmers fields located on the steep hillside below. But what makes this place different from many of the other springs we’ve visited over the years is that this one also includes a public bathing area equipped with a wood burning stove to heat the water. Though tempting, I wouldn’t advise stopping in for a quick dip to cool off on a hot summer’s day. For sightseers, this is an ideal spot to get off the road and enjoy an Obento, snack or to stretch your legs.
It’s accessible from highway 331 along the southeastern coast of the island. Just look for the signs directing you to the spring. Situated high on the bluffs, it also offers a fantastic panoramic view of the coast and a chance to take a peek at Okinawa the way it was before the war. It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time.