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Cape Hedo Okinawa: History and Scenery

Cape Hedo, a spectacular viewing point, is the northernmost point of land on Okinawa main island.

As far as awesome viewing places go, Cape Hedo is about as as good as it gets. Located at the very northern tip of Okinawa main island, it is a place of incredible natural beauty, great geological significance and remarkable historical import.

History of Cape Hedo

Cape Hedo is a place of great historical importance in Okinawa. The cape was part of a network of watchtowers set up to keep a lookout for ships from hostile powers, or from Chinese envoys, each of which would require their own sort of preparations. These towers were part of a signal fire network that involved Yoron, Izena, Ie and Sesoko islands, among other places.

Death of a Luckless King

Also, more than a few people have committed suicide by throwing themselves off the steep, craggy cliffs into the unforgiving sea beneath. Not the least of these unfortunate souls was King Gihon, who took the throne of Chuzan in the year 1248 after his father Shunbajunki (famous for building the original castle at Shuri) passed away. The luckless regent presided over years of drought, crop failure and famine and his land was beset with a plague thought to have killed up to half the population of the island at the time. Taking these multiple disasters as a sign that the Gods disapproved of him, it Gihon abdicated, placing young Eiso in charge of the kingdom, and took to the jungle to live a life of solitude as a hermit.

There are many stories about how and where King Gihon met his fate, but the version in which he throws himself off the cliffs at Cape Hedo is my favorite, if only because it is the most dramatic. There are a few places that claim to be Gihon’s final resting spot (one of them near the grave of Gion’s queen in Kitanakagusuku), and one not far from Cape Hedo.

Hedo monument commemorating Okinawa's reversion to Japan

Reversion to Japanese Rule

In more recent times, Cape Hedo was noted as an important place by the American seaman Commodore Perry, whose famed negotiations with the last Shogun opened Japan for trade. It became the site of a monument commemorating the reversion of Okinawa to Japan after the us Occupation formally ended in 1972.

What to See at Cape Hedo

Looking north from the observation point at Cape Hedo, the only thing to see is the ocean. To the east of the point is the East China Sea and to the west is the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day, it is possible to see Yoron Island (about 20 km away) from the observation deck with the naked eye, but it helps if you bring binoculars or a telephoto lens for your camera.

But the ocean is only the beginning of what makes Cape Hedo so interesting. It is also home to one of the great geological wonders of the island as well as an abundance of beautiful greenery.

Very Special Rocks

Cape Hedo is a point of geological interest, since it features two kinds of limestone, one grey and the other brown. Apparently, at over 200 million years old, the brown limestone, the texture of which one geologist refers to as “fluffy,” is much older than the kind of jagged grey limestone (known as karst) that forms most of the island. The grey karst is thought to be less than 500,000 years old, which is remarkably recent. The ancients must have had some awareness of this, since local legend declares Cape Hedo and the mountains nearby as the point of origin of the islands, which (versions seem to differ by region) were created by the goddesses Amamikiyo and Shinerikiyo at the behest of the king of gods, Kinmanmon.

Hedo features two types of limestone, some recent, some ancient.

Another curiosity is the crater near the cliffs, which the locals believe was made by a meteorite (geologists don’t seem so convinced). This crater created a natural reservoir from which waster was used to grow sugar cane and other crops. It is the subject of some local folklore and is thought to have brought prosperity to the region and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, as the population grew and the water ran out, Okinawa embarked on an ill-fated acquaduct project that effectively bankrupted the local farmers who invested in it, but that’s a story for another post.

The Peaks of Daisekirinzan

Technically, Cape Hedo is part of the same national park that includes Daisekirinzan, a set of mountain ridges very close to the northern tip of the island. Daisekirinzan is an absolute must-go place if you love treks through the jungle (most of them very easy and all of them well maintained). It has four trails, each of which can be walked in a little as half an hour if you’re in a rush… but why would you be in a rush when you’re surrounded by such impressive natural beauty? You could easily visit this park on the way to Cape Hedo, or the way back and you won’t regret the diversion. Of course, the one drawback of going to the park is that you can’t see the breathtaking view of the the park’s four prominent ridges while you’re standing on them. However, you can see them from Cape Hedo, and that is one more thing that makes a visit to the cape even more magical.

An Oasis of Green

Like at Cape Zanpa and other places in Okinawa, beautiful plants grow wild. Not far from there, around Mt. Patches of Beach Baupaka (Scaevola taccada) sprout thickly from the ground amid the rocks, their semi-succulent leaves adding to the plentiful greenery. The cool thing about these is that they are technically edible when cooked (but not very tasty) and have a long history of use in fold medicine. There are also rows upon rows sago palms (Sycas revolute) especially around the edges of the cliffs, framing the breathtaking views like a picture frame with their elaborate leaves. These are not edible and are, in fact, one of the more poisonous plants in Okinawa. There are patches of tall grass around too, which can easily conceal the extremely dangerous habu snakes common to the entire island, so if you go off the paths, take extreme care.

Beach baupaka at Cape Hedo
Beach baupaki is 'technically' edible

Amenities at Cape Hedo

There is ample parking, washrooms, a tourist centre with lots of info in English and, best of all a restaurant. The restaurant is named Fushikubu Cafe which, in the local dialect, means ‘the crater left behind by a meteorite,’ (an apt name given the locals’ beliefs about the origin of the crater). Nobody goes to a place like Hedo for the food, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, since the food was excellent. I had a gluten-free rice bowl, the girls had wraps and we all enjoyed our food while gazing out the panoramic windows with views of the cliffs and the ocean. It wasn’t cheap, but given the logistics of running a restaurant at that location, I’d say it’s a good value. Keep in mind that the servings are not large, but they seemed to be more than enough for the Okinawan girls we went with, and they were enough for me too.

Whether or not you eat at the restaurant, be sure to check out the viewing deck on the roof. This will give you an idea of how far Okinawans could have seen in the old days. On a clear day (as you can see it was quite hazy when the photos on this page were taken) you can even see to Yoron island.

What is Close to Cape Hedo?

If you’re going to drive all the way to Cape Hedo, the last thing you want to do is go straight there and back without taking in some of the sites on the route there and back. If you’re coming up the west coast, be sure to stop at Kayauchi Banta to experience the view looking south along the shoreline. The road passes through a craggy cliff which itself is a sight to behold, but the ocean view is worth the drive, even if you weren’t going to Cape Hedo.

The view from Kayauchi Banta
A road through rocky cliffs.

On the return journey, you can visit a lookout tower built in the shape of a Yanbaru Kuina, one of the rare and endangered birds native to Okinawa’s north. Tacky? Yes, but the view is awesome. An even better (and less obstructed) view of Cape Hedo can be seen from the wooden walkway down a set of steps from the Kuina structure.

On the way back, if you return along the eastern route, you can try one famous of the pineapple smoothies available at Yanbaru Pineapple Hill. While the smoothies live up to their reputation, this little roadside stop is better known for its rooftop swings that offer a view of the untouched jungle and the ocean beyond. You can even camp in a yurt nearby for a reasonable price, if you like. You should also check out Aha Dam Kohan Park (read our article about it), and be sure to leave yourself some time to walk around, especially if you like to take photos. If you’re up for a couple of hours in the forest (with lots of steps), you could also visit Hiji falls, but if you plan to see both Cape Hedo and Hiji Falls on the same day, leave early (and take lots to drink, particularly if you go in the summer).

Cape Hedo

Hedo, Kunigami, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-1421
Cape Hedo Website

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