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Aha Dam Kohan Park

Aha Dam (and Kouhan Park) in Kunigami is a little-known spot that offers world-class views of jungle covered mountains.

Unless we’re talking about the Hoover Dam or some other equally impressive marvel of engineering, most people don’t think about dams as travel destinations to take in beautiful scenery. But, in Okinawa, dams are often built in combination with parks, and some of them are truly beautiful places.

One of my favorite dam/park combinations is little-known spot in Okinawa’s north known as Aha Dam in Kunigami region. It isn’t too far away (nothing really is in on the island of Okinawa) and it can be accessed via Route 70. If you’re into architecture or human engineering, it’s an impressive structure and probably worth the trip. However, the freshwater reservoir it holds, which is reminiscent of a natural lake, possesses a beauty all its own. There’s also a whole park to explore if you’ve got the time. The dam and the park are impressive enough to warrant a trip all on their own, but with so many other attractions to see in Okinawa’s north, it’s better to plan a visit it part of a longer trip.

History of Aha Dam

Beyond Aha Dam: a rugged natural river

Aha Dam was completed in 1982. Started in 1971, it took more than ten years to build. It holds up to 18.6 million cubic meters of water and occupies 83 hectares of land when it’s full. Its catchment area is 36 square km.

It provides drinking water for the surrounding townships and, according to the government, controls flooding in the lower river.

Photography at Aha Dam

If you like to take photos as much as I do, then Aha Dam should be on your bucket list when you visit Okinawa. If you’re only here for a few days, then maybe it doesn’t belong on the short list, but if you’re here for a while (or you’ve gone native), it’s a genuine treasure waiting to be discovered.

The cover photo was taken on a trip there with my wife. When I saw the steps going all the way down to the water with the railings at the sides, I knew it was photography gold. The gentle late-day sun diffused by cottony clouds made for the perfect light and the rugged trees along the shoreline gave the scene the ambience of a secluded mountain lake.

Aha Dam looks just like a natural lake.

It isn’t hard at all to compose a shot that would make the viewer think you’d trekked through thick jungle to find the perfect shot of unspoiled wilderness. The dam itself is quite impressive so if you like to take architectural photos, this is a place. If you go in the rainy season, you might be able to get some long exposure shots of the water spilling from the outlets. These would best be taken early in the morning or at blue hour after sunset.

What is near Aha Dam?

If you like beautiful views in out-of-the-way places, check out the observation tower known as Igimi Hakinzo. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it offers an underrated place to take in the steep jungle-covered mountains and the ocean beyond. And if you’re going to visit the north of Okinawa, you might as well continue up to Cape Hedo at the very north tip of Okinawa. It’s place of incredible natural beauty, but it’s easy to reach and is very civilized with lots of parking, washrooms and even a surprisingly good restaurant.

The Swings at Yanbaru Pineapple Hill

You could also try one of the famous pineapple smoothies at nearby Yanbaru Pineapple Hill in Aha (and be sure to play on the swing set atop the roof overlooking the ocean). They have lots of other goodies to buy, as well as baked goods, but they close at 5 PM and the kitchen shuts down earlier, so if you go, plan to get their early. I should stress that this place isn’t special enough to warrant a trip for its own sake (or even an article in Okinawa Heartbeat), but if you’re in the neighborhood, why not try it out?

Aha Dam Kouhan Park

Aha, Kunigami, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-1504

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