Less Than a Beer: Exploring Hamahiga Island

  • Published
  • By Tim Flack
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of stories built on the challenge of "less than a beer." The goal is to provide the Kadena Air Base community with information on interesting places to explore on Okinawa that are cheaper to visit than buying one beer.)

Looking for another off-base adventure, my family and I decided to visit one of the many islands surrounding Okinawa.

Since we were hoping for the cheapest possible weekend trip, without any ferry or airplane fees, we chose Hamahiga Island. Hamahiga is only about a 25-minute drive from Kadena Air Base, and is reachable by a couple of bridges.

The tiny island is sparsely populated. About 600 fishermen and farmers live there year-round.

We wanted to visit three spots we heard about on the far east side of the island - a salt factory, a remote beach and a historic place of prayer - so as soon as we crossed the bridge to Hamahiga we turned left.

The road hugged the coast, twisting and winding along the bright blue water. We turned inland, navigated very narrow roads through a small village, and passed a couple of stands where farmers were selling garlic, onions and other vegetables.

Just up the road, we found a sign for Shirumichu - the sacred cave we hoped to visit.
We parked in a free lot, walked past a secluded beach with awesome coral rock formations and a family camping in a tent, and passed under a huge torii, the Japanese gate that symbolizes the transition to a sacred location. We climbed a steep set of stairs, passed under another torii, and found the cave.

According to my research, the cave is believed to be the original dwelling place of Amanmichu and Shirumichu, the gods who created the Okinawan Islands.

After a quick visit, we jumped back into the van, drove a few hundred yards away, and found the entrance to the Takaesu Salt Factory and nearby "hidden" beach. And when I say entrance, I mean the tiny, pot-holed road with heavy jungle overgrowth on both sides.

Those who only wish to visit the beach will see a sign where they should park along the side of the road. Those who also plan to visit the salt factory can drive up another hundred yards or so.

Masaru Takaesu runs the small salt factory. He doesn't speak much English, but he's more than happy to walk visitors through the process and do his best to explain it. He showed us where the water is pumped up from the ocean and through a series of bamboo shoots.

Takaesu explained that ocean water has a four percent salinity rate. By the time he runs it through the bamboo process four times, enough water evaporates and the salinity rate climbs to about 25 percent.  It's then pumped into the factory, where the water is cooked off, leaving an incredible tasting batch of salt.

After touring the factory, we walked across the small parking lot and entered a path through the jungle that exits onto a beautiful stretch of beach. The view is absolutely stunning, with small waves crashing onto the sand and green-topped cliffs in the distance.

Even though the water was still too chilly to go swimming, this hidden gem has jumped to the top of our list of favorite beaches on Okinawa.

Getting there:
- Exit Kadena Gate 3 and turn right at the light on Route 74. (This is the road that follows the perimeter of the base).
- At the second light, turn left. (Route 74).
- Continue straight about 17 kilometers, following the signs for Kaichu-doro and Hamahiga Island.
- Cross the Kaichu-doro bridge, then turn right and cross the bridge onto Hamahiga Island
- As soon as you arrive on Hamahiga Island, turn left and follow the coast for about a kilometer; turn right at the first road after the public restroom on the right side of the road
- At the next T-intersection, turn left. Turn left at the sign for Shirumichu or continue going straight for the Takaesu Salt Factory and beach.