Connecting the foreign community in Okinawa

Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park

With a beach, surprisingly abundant nature and lots of room to play, Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park is an oasis of green at the edge of Okinawa City.

Okinawa is full of awesome parks. Some, like Daisekirinzan up near Cape Hedo are so awesome that they’re registered as national and even international treasures. The problem with places like that is that they’re often really far away hard to get to. On the other hand, the kind of parks you find in the middle of the city, like Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park, may not be nearly as exotic, but they provide a nice break from the ‘urban jungle’ and make for really nice, relaxing half-day trips for people who are just looking for a peaceful place to hang out.

Okinawa Comprehsneive Athletic Park it’s not a major tourist attraction, and it’s not the kind of place people drive for miles and miles to see for its own sake, but, like I said, if you’re not to far away, it’s not a bad place to go and meditate at sunrise chill on a lazy afternoon.The park also may not be a mecca for nature lovers, but there’s lots to see if you take the time to look. The photos of the grasshopper on the hibiscus flower, the hornet’s nest and the crab tracks in the sand were all taken in this park on different days (and all by Yours Truly, if I may add).

Pleasant Seaside

The park is located right on the waterfront and there is quite a long stretch of beach. It’s not a great place to go swimming since it’s so shallow there, and the waters of the east coast can be a bit murky. However I have seen a few snorkelers there from time to time. At hight tide the ocean laps the beach, which spans from the roadway (Route 227 just east of Awase) almost all the way around the park.

The view from the beach is rather impressive. On a clear day, you can see all the way down the east coast to Nanjo City and, if you’re an early riser, this is a great place to go and see the sunrise. In Japan, watching the sunrise on New Year’s Day is a popular tradition and this park hosts visitors from all over the island who line up on the shore to welcome the first rays.

You can’t see the sunset over the ocean from the park, but from the south end of the park, you can watch it set over the hills to the west. What’s really cool about the ocean in this spot is that it’s home to an expensive mozuku farm.

The mozuku farm at the south end of the park

Mozuku, for the uninitiated, is the green seaweed you see not far from the fresh fish section in most grocery stores. Whoever says it’s not tasty just doesn’t know how to eat it right, but that’s the subject of another post. If you go to the southernmost part of the park on the ocean side of 227, you’ll see rows and rows of sticks emerging vertically from the water. Between those sticks are thick ropes on which the mozuku grows. It’s harvested by means of what some would describe as a massive vacuum cleaner and if you go on the right day (don’t ask me what that day is), you’ll be able to watch them collecting it.

Wetlands and Mangroves

Another cool aspect of this park is that it’s not just a beach. The park is actually linked ecologically with the Hiyagon Wetlands, which are mangrove forests. The mangrove wetland runs all the way along the west of Route 227 to the San-A just north of the northern entrances of the park. You can actually stand in the grocery store parking lot and look into the wetland, but you’ll get a better view if you walk along the path along the south side of the lot.

Hyagon Wetland viewed from the path south of San-A supermarket

Fun for the Family

On the side of the park that’s west of Route 227, there is a big stadium with bright lights. Near that is a running track and a man-made pond with lots of gazebos. It’s a very peaceful spot on a quiet evening and, even if you don’t live nearby, it might be worth a visit if you want a restful place to meditate alone at night.

At the pond you can sometimes rent pedal boats and, if you keep your eyes open, you might see a little turtle or two in the water. In the summer, the water park on the east side of the road (connected via a bridge across 227) is open for kids to go and splash around. Older kids and adults can play in the tennis courts or shoot hoops.

The park is also home to a campground where you can pitch a tent and stay over night year-round (for a small fee). Most weekends, the air near the beach is filled with the scent of sausages and ‘yakiniku’ being roasted on campers’ grills. If you’ve got kids, or family members who don’t like to be far away from a toilet, this is actually a really nice place to camp for a night. Only, I wouldn’t really call it camping. ‘Glamping’ is probably a better word.

A Leisurely Walk along the Seawall

There is lots of parking available, but be advised that the park does close and if you’re not out by closing time, you’ll get locked in for the night (check Google Maps for hours). If you want to go after hours and you’re going by car, you can park at the San-A and walk. Remember to buy something there if you use their parking (and don’t tell them I told you to park there).

If you don’t mind a longer walk, you can park at the other end of the seawall that runs from the San-A to the military installation with the big antenna and walk to the park. There are spots where fishermen park their cars right where the seawall meets the fence. It’s about a 20-minute ocean-front hike on flat cement. Be sure to appreciate the (city-approved) graffiti on the concrete seawall itself and, if you go at the right time, you can meet some of the volunteers who feed (and often help neuter) the local stray cats.

I should say that the little seawall nice destination all to itself. It’s a great thing to do after visiting one of the little restaurants just down the street from the San-A (I recommend BB Coffee if you go there in the daytime). If you want, you can even walk out along the paved mini-path that runs from the north end of the seawall along the length of the military barbed-wire fence. There is a little shrine there and if you go at the right time, you might see Okinawan families making offerings to the gods.

The little shrine on on the seawall in Awase

There is a gate along the path designed to stop vehicles, but it’s easy for pedestrians to get around if you don’t mind climbing up on the wall. This path runs for a surprisingly long distance and ends at a little bay with a nice view of the ocean. This is another great spot to see the sunrise, or jut hang out. Where the seawall meets the fence, there is a tiny little beach where some people like to do yoga or talk a walk way out on the wet sand at low tide.

If you go at night, it’s as safe as anywhere in Okinawa, but be prepared to garner looks from the lovers who sit on the wall to find some alone time. You might also run into some Japanese rappers doing their thing or a bunch of giggling of school kids lighting fireworks. This spot is not in any guidebook, but it’s a place I’d recommend checking out at least once while you’re here.

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