Discovering Higashi-son, Okinawa

A natural paradise in paradise

By Ryan Mannschreck    - 7 min read

An area of absolutely astounding beauty, Higashi-son village is a paradise in paradise. Higashi-son village is located in the northern regions of the tropical paradise of Okinawa. The village lies inside the almost untouched Yanbaru forest, a natural national treasure of Japan. Dive deep into the rich blues of the ocean and the Gesashi river. Bask in the green light filtering through the mangrove forests. Enjoy every natural color of this ecological tapestry that is Higashi-son village, which is ready to welcome visitors looking to connect with the local culture.

Sea of coral reef seen from Higashi Village
Sea of coral reef seen from Higashi Village

Delving Deep into Higashi-son

Over 72 percent of northern Okinawa is covered in forest. This area is lovingly called Yanbaru and has evolved some very unique flora and fauna. The forest section near Higashi-son is ribboned with a large river, the Gesashi river, that is home to many local species. Recently Yanbaru has been made a candidate for a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. Higashi-son village is also home to Hirugi Forest Of Gesashi Bay, hirugi trees being very rare the site has been deemed a natural treasure. The small village has a population of 1,900 people. Everyone of them is working on the preservation of this area as well as promoting its tourism.

Okinawa is well known for its traditional crafts passed down from the original inhabitants of the island. A particular favorite in Higashi-son village is the art of Bingata. Bingata is a form of resist dyeing for cloth utilizing natural inks, stencils, and hand painting. This particular art form has been used to make everything from clothing to patterns on sails. While visiting Higashi-son Village try out their Bingata class where you can make your own keepsake and purchase some professionally made local items.

Higashi-son village is a great producer of pineapples. Despite its small amount of flat land for the roaming crop, Higashi-son enjoys growing the sunny fruit. Enjoy fresh pineapple dishes such as refreshing pineapple juice, grilled pineapple slices, and seasoned pineapple over pork and rice.

Pineapple
Pineapple

If your ready for a caffeine pick-me-up check out Hiro Coffee Farm. Locally grown in small batches right there in Higashi-son, Hiro (the owner), learned the skills to cultivate such a blessing on his uncle’s farm in Hawaii. Enjoy a whole pot of fresh roasted, I mean as you order, coffee while you rest in the shade of his little getaway. You know you're there when you see the shops floors covered in coffee beans. Be ready for good smells.

Best Things to Do in Higashi-son

  • Higashi-son Fureai Hirugi Park (東村ふれあいヒルギ公園): A park made up of the large mangrove forests of Higashi-son. Canoe through the forest on the peaceful river. Walk the promenade winding through the hirugi trees. Then get up close and personal with the native wildlife at the petting park! Meet several species of adorable fiddler crabs, tiny mudskippers, and elegant egrets.
  • Fukujigawa Seaside Park (福地川海浜公園): Banana boat, canoe, snorkel, barbecue, camp, dive, and enjoy the soft white sands of this little beach park. A perfect place for families, small groups, and large events there is something for everyone. For more information you can refer to their English brochure.
  • Higashi-son Azalea Festival (東村つつじ祭り): March 1st till the 24th, Higashi-son celebrates the azalea flower. No small festival, the Azalea festival even has its own dedicated park. A large stretch of space chock full of expansive networks of bridges, towers, pavilions, viewpoints, and of course tons of azaleas. A picturesque stroll of multiple elevations affording you a majestic view of the coastline. When you need a rest there are many vendors selling festival treats of chocolate bananas, shaved ice, and more. A farmers market outside sells honey, fruits, and plants. Rest your feet and watch the Eisa drumming performances accompanied by traditional dances. Entrance fee is 300 yen.
Fukuchi River Seafront Park
Fukuchi River Seafront Park

Get to know the Higashi-son locals

The locals of Higashi-son Village invite you to participate and enjoy their three branched approach to tourism.

Green: Agricultural experiences

  • Enjoy the bounty of the forest with the freshest fruits, mangos, pineapples, and citrus depressa.
  • Learn to play the traditional Okinawan stringed instrument the sanshin.
  • Create your own bingata dyeing masterpieces with local artisans.
  • Try your hand at traditional Okinawan farming.
  • Enjoy living life like an Okinawan in one of Higashi-son’s guesthouses or become a part of a Japanese family with their homestay program.

Eco: Eco-friendly experiences

  • Trekking with local guides through the numerous ecosystems of Northern Okinawa.
  • Embrace nature and sleep out under the stars in one of several camping grounds.
  • Observe nature in all its forms by visiting the mangrove parks or Tsutsuji eco park.
Forest Yanbaru of Higashi Village
Forest Yanbaru of Higashi Village

Blue: marine, seaside experiences

  • Kayak down the Gesashi river or over the cresting waves of the ocean.
  • Bath in the warm sunlight on the white sandy shores.
  • See the fishes with snorkeling or diving experiences.
  • Get one of the best views of the ocean and island while paddle boarding (SUP).
  • BBQ fresh fish from natures grocery store that you fished up yourself from shore or boat.
Fukuchi Dam
Fukuchi Dam

Booking your Higashi-son experience

Higashi-son offers many different types of accommodations for its guests. Here are a few detailed suggestions and a couple of recommendations for your stay.

  • Stay at Matayoshi Coffee Farm: This cabin retreat features several 6-person capacity cottages with fabulous views. On the Matayoshi Coffee Farm premises, take part in harvesting or roasting coffee beans. enjoy their cafe and bakery or experience your own barbecue outside. https://www.matayoshicoffee.jp/stay.html

  • Canaan Slow Farm and Eco Stay: This is a large eco-friendly farm resort and a great stay for those who love the rustic lifestyle and farm fresh meals. They offer a cafe stocked by their very own crops and livestock. A true farm to table experience in sustainable living. Keiji Yoda the owner built the resort on the concept of humans living in harmony with nature. Accommodations and the fee varies depending on the season

  • Yambaru Lohas: A gorgeous villa on its own private beach. Enjoy a restful luxurious stay at this private resort that only takes two couples at a time. Relax in the hammock or swing adorning the front tropical garden. After taking in the gorgeous home walk down to the private beach to feel the true luxury of your own beach space. The home is split into two types of accommodations. The Private Villa from 13,500 yen per night per person, or the private Tamashida room from 5,400 yen a night per person (minimum two nights stay). The villa does have a full kitchen for longer stays or enjoy breakfast in the cafeteria for 1,080 yen. https://yanbaru-lohas.com/

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Ryan Mannschreck

Ryan Mannschreck @ryan.mannschreck

Oklahoma girl now living in Japan. Graduated Keio University with a Masters in Media Design. Current student of the art of Shodo. Going on 4th year in Japan but still so much to explore. Specialties include art, design, culture, psychology, and sciences. 

Join the discussion

Elizabeth Scally 5 months ago
This village has got everything! It looks like a great place for an active but still laid-back holiday.

I can’t recommend Okinawa snorkeling enough. It feels like you’re flying over a fantasy landscape.
Kim B 5 months ago
I never knew there were so many eco friendly experiences in the area - it certainly adds to the appeal!