To “Yanbaru”, not to mention the ocean but also where mountains and forests are rich in nature! I’m Umi the editor. Last time I went to Hentona area (the northernmost location that you can go by a route bus) by using the Okinawa Airport Shuttle and a local bus, and then enjoyed the mountains and the ocean by cycling.
In this trip, I am finally going to meet one of the representative creatures of Yanbaru, the natural treasure Yanbaru kuina.
In order to meet the Yanbaru kuina, you need to participate in a tour conducted by a nature guide. At Okinawa Rail Learning Center in Kunigami-son Ada, there is a Yanbaru kuina (called “Kyon Kyon”) that nurtured by human but it seems like not always you can meet her.
There are few places that conduct Yanbaru kuina observation tour. Michi-no-Eki Yuiyui Kunigami website also introduces some guide tours. I decided to ask the nature tour with “Kijimunaa”.
Let’s prepare during the daytime!
Go to Yambaru Wildlife Conservation Center "Ufugi Nature Museum" located in the Kunigami Village Hiji District. Admission is free.
For an additional information, there are only seven wildlife conservation centers (two of which are in Yanbaru and Iriomote of Okinawa prefecture) in Japan that run by the Japanese government (Ministry of the Environment) for the purpose of protecting rare wildlife.
It is a small facility but the exhibition itself is displayed in easy understandable way to know about the living creatures of Yanbaru. If you learn their looks, behaviors and voices of those creatures beforehand, it will definitely help you during the nature tour.
Visited Hiji Otaki and Okuma Beach during the day, so for the time being I went back to the hostel to rest.
Incidentally, the hostel I stayed was called “Yanbaru kuina Sou (Lodge)”. It feels like, there is no way that I won’t meet Yanbaru kuina.
The evening meal provided by the accommodation, delicious ingredients were all from this area. I have satisfied my appetite.
I went out when the night darkened deeply.
We drove the mountain road for a while. The tour guide was a super expert, knowing all the creatures of Yanbaru and seemed to be looking for certain creatures at certain locations.
“There it is!!” the guide said.
But for an amateur like me, I had no idea where they were…
The guide pointed out above my head, and what a surprise, there were 2 Yanbaru kuina sitting on the tree!!
Their eyes were open but apparently, they were sleeping.
Do not disturb them! They might wake up!
They looked like a stuffed animal because they didn’t move at all while sleeping.
These two are a couple!
Once Yanbaru kuina become a pair, they stay with the same partner for the whole life.
However, I went to the nature tour in September and according the guide conductor it is rare to see a couple sleeping next to each other at this time of the season.
While I was feeling so excited after seeing the main target, next I met a huge frog.
It’s a Holst's frog. The voice sound was the same as what I heard in Ufugi Nature Museum.
Anyways, it was very big. In Okinawa, Holst's frog and Namiye's frog are the top 2 for its size, and both lay eggs in the season of hot summer.
“Look! There is a Ryukyu Aobazuku! (Ryukyu brown hawk-owl)”
I turned the camera immediately to take a photo but it was too far away so I tried to take it again but it flew away while I was trying to focus on it. I think I was being too noisy.
Yanbaru kuina are diurnal animal whereas Ryukyu brown hawk-owls are nocturnal animal.
Moving onwards, I saw another pair of Yanbaru kuina. It was a special and rare night for me.
The one on the left is standing with one foot but it means it is sleeping in a relaxed state.
Found another one.
“He’s in a strange pose. Is he still half asleep?”
No no, according to the guide conductor, Yanbaru kuina are a very cautious animal so they often face towards the open space while sleeping, in case they have to escape quickly in any situation.
During the tour, I couldn’t take a picture of it but I saw some Curtos okinawanus (Okinawa firefly) flying. Unlike the usual fireflies, Curtos okinawanus don’t flash.
Next, I met Ryukyu Okonohazuku (Ryukyu collared scops owl). First, it was on the road but soon-after it flew up on the tree and seemed like he was cleaning his beak. Maybe he just has some delicious food.
Looking very cute with his orange eyes.
He flew away into the forest after preening.
The night of Yanbaru is overflowing with voices of many living creatures.
I felt like listening to a chorus of Ryukyu pine crickets and Ishikawa’s frogs. The tour guide can recognize their sounds and taught me which one is which.
When coming out to the big road from the woods, you will see many road signs similar to this. It means “Be careful of Yanbaru kuina”. The road signs are built at places where accidents happened in the past.
After hearing this, I felt heartbroken every time I saw those signs.
Unlike in the bush, pavements are easy to find prey so Yanbaru kuina often comes out on to the road to get some food. As a consequence, they get run over by vehicles…
Yanbaru kuina gets run over by cars because they are flightless but even frogs and Ryukyu rats native to Okinawa encounter road accidents too.
This one was probably Akamata (Ryukyu odd-tooth snake)… It’s a poison-less snake but it can be very aggressive. I chased Akamata in hurry so the photo ended up very blurry….
This one is Ryukyu Aohebi (Ryukyu green snake). Beautiful color.
I was able to take a good picture… because it seemed like it was dead from an accident.
So, the highlights of this day came to an end.
I found a sleeping Yanbaru kuina just in the reaching distance.
It was sleeping deeply and standing with one foot.
It was a peculiar feeling to experience seeing him with its eyes wide open but he doesn’t know we are looking at him.
On the way back, the tour guide said
“Mmm, we didn’t see many today.”
“REALLY?!” I replied.
To be honest, I was doubtful about meeting Yanbaru kuina so I was very satisfied with the tour. But I realized that there are many many more to see in Yanbaru.
The tour was about 3 hours. I was imitating the conductor, looking everywhere to find those animals so I was exhausted by then.
I have come to realize that Yanbaru’s nature is truly amazing! !
Next time, I am heading to northernmost of Okinawa main island.
◇Access to Kunigami village◇
Take Okinawa Airport Shuttle from Naha to Nago Shiyakusho Mae (Nago City Hall).
Once in Nago, take No. 67 Hentona Line of Ryukyu Bus/Okinawa Bus (joint operation) bound for Hentona Bus Terminal. The bus stop closest to Nago Shiyakusho Mae (Nago City Hall) is the bus stop called Hokubu Godo Chosha Mae (Northern Area Government Building).
If you’re going to stay in the Nago area the night before, you could also look up the bus stop closest to you on Busnavi Okinawa. The easiest way to catch a bus is to board the first bus of the day that departs Nago Bus Terminal. Buses come once or twice every hour, so it is recommended to check the schedule ahead of time.
Okinawa Airport Shuttle
An express route bus that connects Naha Airport and Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in 2.5 hours.
Going from Naha Airport to Nago Shiyakusho Mae (Nago City Hall) takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Reservations can be made from the website.
Go to their website or use their App to check routes, timetables, and location of bus stops for local bus services. Available in English, Chinese (simplified and traditional), and Korean.
Michi-no-Eki Yuiyui Kunigami (Available in other languages)
Kunigami Village Tourist Association
Yanbaru kuina Sou
Kijimunaa (Nature Tour)
※The content of the article is current as of late September 2018. It is subject to change without notice.