Sep 23, 2017
In Daisekirinzan (大石林山) park, near the northernmost tip of Okinawa Island, an area known as Ashimui, a set of craggy peaks poke through the subtropical forest to form a landscape of dramatic, nay, alien limestone karsts that date back some 200 million years. During the Ryukyu days, people used to worship here. Still, today, armed with knowledge of the sciences, visitors to Daisekirinzan can see why.
Whenever it was that man first set foot on Okinawa you can bet that they did one of two things when they laid eyes on what is now the Daisekirinzan: Yambaru National Park; soiled themselves or got all spiritual in that life-affirming way that humans are prone to when they see something amazing.
Without the knowledge of science and geography that we are now furnished with, the jagged spikes of rock that erupt from the earth at Daisekirinzan might have appeared as the precursor to some Biblical scale of destruction, or the seismic scars of creation, which is what they are. The landscape seen here is the result of the elevating of a layer of limestone, and if we remember much from geography class, we might recall being told that limestone is easily eroded. So, exposed to the elements, Daisekirinzan's limestone has been shaped into the kind of dramatic spikes that evoke the brute ruthlessness and otherworldly aura we might associate with a creation from cinematic world-builder Ridley Scott (there's even an alien head carved out of the rock for visitors to spot).
Humans have always turned to the spiritual when they don't understand something, so it is that Daisekirinzan is said to be the oldest place of worship in Okinawa with Ryukyu Dynasty royals coming here to pray for the usual kinds of things - prosperity, safety et al.
Today, most people come to Daisekirinzan for the views, something which might make the park an essential stop for anyone traveling in Okinawa. Occupying a lofty perch that overlooks the northern cape of Okinawa Honto the views from the park are indeed spectacular. Particularly those from the Churaumi Observation Deck. From up here it's easy to understand why a bunch of confused, ancient royals might have gotten all a bit whimsical; gazing out over the subtropical forest tumbling into cultivated fields brought to an abrupt end at the craggy finger of Cape Hedo poking into the Biblical scale of the ocean blue. It's enough for even the most cynical to take pause and contemplate the grander scheme of things.
Four well-established "courses" are available to take visitors around Daisekirinzan none of which are particularly taxing - Churaumi Ocean View Trail, Subtropical Forest Trail, Wonder of Rocks Trail, Wheelchair-Accessible Trail - although the Subtropical Forest Trail can get a bit rocky as you're lead through a colony of stunted cycad trees. It's on this trail that you can see the "Chinese Bamiyan of Worship," the largest Chinese Bamiyan in Japan - a veritable pergola of otherworldly, limb-like roots.
During the Ryukyu Dynasty brute practical necessity probably ruled out the need for spiritual assistance in matchmaking but in today's Japan, market forces quite demand it. On the Wonder of Rocks Trail then believers should look out for the "Enmusubi" rock formation - two lumps of limestone that appear to be cuddling.
The Churaumi Ocean View Trail, although one of the shorter courses, is the one to tackle for the views. Starting out from the park entrance and cafe area, a wooden walkway guides you through the jagged limestone before heading "off road" to scramble through the gaps in the larger rock clusters of the Stone Forest Wall, a "power spot", and eventually up to the panorama laid on at the Churaumi Observation Deck.
Whichever of the courses around Daisekirinzan one opts for there will be plenty of chances to try one's hand at spotting the, sometimes fanciful, likenesses that have been carved out of the limestone by the elements - a cat perched atop the rocks, the aforementioned alien head, and the stretching-it-a-bit Simba from The Lion King, among others.
However, to come to Daisekirinzan in the hopes of spotting Disney in rock from, or under the ancient illusion that you'll be reincarnated is to miss the point. These are really just distractions from what is ultimately a spectacular display of the natural world, in a beautiful part of Japan, something which should be reward enough, in and of itself.
Still, if it isn't, the "spiritual" theme of Daisekirinzan is pursued further at the start of the trails in the "Energy Cabin and Ashimui Cafe" which offer sheltered outdoor seating on a terrace looking out to the rocks as well as an indoor dining area. Ingredients used at the cafe are "natural", although we can't be sure what goes into making some of the garish flavors of Blue Seal ice cream. The cafe also offers a wide variety of "spiritual" gem stones, some of the prices of which might require a prayer to whatever deity it is than looks after your finances.
The main body of Daisekirinzan is some distance from the parking area. A shuttle bus runs every 15 mins between park entrance proper and the small cabin from where you purchase tickets. English-language pamphlets/maps are available from the ticket counter. When you’re ready to head back the car, listen out for staff as they announce the next departing shuttle bus.
Have you ever been to Daisekirinzan Yambaru National Park? Do you think it is an essential Okinawa experience? Let us know in the comment.
Daisekirinzan Yambaru National Park
Entrance: Adult 820 yen / Child 520 yen
Apr. - Sept: 9:00 - 18:00 (Final entry 17:00)
Oct. - Mar: 9:00 - 17:30（Final entry 16:00）
Open all year round
*NB - The longest courses are around 1km and will take about 30 mins to negotiate at a leisurely pace.
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