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Gyokusendo Kingdom Village

By: Chris Wilson

Date Posted: 2001-04-28

My geography textbooks at school never really managed to make limestone caves sound all that exciting. Chemical equations involving carbonic acids and calcium carbonate along with a few gloomy slides did little to inspire my classmates and I. I understand that there are some potholers and spelunkers who love to spend their free time crawling about in dark underground tunnels. I however prefer to spend my days off out in the open air or at least in the open water. I was therefore less than enthusiastic when a friend suggested going to visit the Gyokusendo Cave, even the thought of stalactites and stalagmites started flashbacks of mustachioed geography teachers.

The Gyokusendo Kingdom village is more than just the cave system. Many traditional Okinawan houses has been restored and relocated to make a traditional craft village inside the theme park. You can watch artisans weaving cloth on looms, the bingata dying methods and the production of the Sanshin, the Okinawan three string, guitars. For a more hands on approach you can try pottery and have you creations fired in the kiln so that you can take them home and impress the neighbors. The Ryukyu glass blowing was impressive; you can watch a blob of molten glass get transformed into a red-hot bubble. After just a few minutes of skillful shaping you have a wineglass, vase or bowl ready to be checked for imperfections, cooled and then sent off to the glassware shop.

If you are tired and thirsty from watching, potting or shopping then relief can be found in several places. Head over to the brewery and treat yourself to some Awamori along with a taste of a pickled Habu snake that sat in the bottom of the bottle like a giant tequila worm. Another option is to stop by the tropical orchards where you can order a fruit salad or ice cream made with some of the hundred various fruits grown at the village. It is however best that you check the prices before you start your shopping.

An optional part of the Kingdom is the Habu Park where for an extra 400 yen you can learn about the infamous Okinawan snake and see a “Habu and Mongoose Fun Show.”

At the entrance to the cave you are met by a pair of ladies in traditional Okinawan costume, you have your photo taken and are then directed on into the tunnel. Although the cave system is dimly lit the absence of spiders webs, clouds of bats or snakes means that you don’t feel like you are walking into an Indiana Jones movie set. The only real concern is that if you are around six-foot tall you will occasionally feel your hair being parted by stalactites hanging down from the roof of the cave. If you are taller than six-foot then you need to watch where you are going so that you don’t find yourself impaled on one of the million rocky spikes just above your head. Moving through the tunnels you see the Asia Grand Hall and the “Bell of the Rising Dragon,” stalagmite. You pass by bottles of Awamori which are stored underground to age for ten or fifteen years in order to give the drink a smoother flavor. Halfway through you arrive at the “Golden Cup” and the “Fountain of Happiness.” The stalagmite here has a circumference of over 30 meters and sits in a pool of crystal clear green blue water. By now I was beginning to understand why my geography teacher was so excited by the fact these things were created over thousands of years by the continual drip drip drip of water. I was in fact a little disappointed when the tunnel finally finished and I found myself out in the open air again.

The Gyokusendo Kingdom Village is located between Tamagusku and Gushikami Villages in the very South of the Okinawan main island. It’s on route 17, about 30 minutes from the center of Naha or about 15 minutes from the new Haeberu Minami Interchange exit.

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