“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ~William Shakespeare
“I think you understand what I say,” started our favorite part of our tour blanketed in the dank darkness of a tunnel as our guide spoke to us in very broken English. While she spoke for the following few minutes in overly-dramatized Japanese whispers, it soon became apparent that she was telling a ghost story.
And in a voice quite mousy, she started slowly in a whisper, “(gan…………gala).” Then, with a fastening crescendo, she forcefully muttered, “Gan……Gala.” And finally, in a full booming declarative spectacle (taking advantage of the tunnel’s acoustics, mind you), she exclaimed, “GAN…GALA!!!” And like kids anywhere in the world, they both listen to scary stories and don’t…at the same time.
The Valley of Gangala is an ancient and ornate forest that is probably better served as the backdrop for perhaps yet another movie in the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Soki Soba Sorcerer, for instance. But we only discovered it when we visited the area for our spelunking adventures into Gyokusendo cave.
It is literally across the street from its more famous and popular parent attraction, Okinawa World, but it’s every bit as enjoyable…and dispenses with the cave-themed amusement park and commercial shopping arcade that the former offers. Being more hidden and garnering much less attention, the Valley of Gangala is much more natural in experience and personably rustic. A pleasant surprise, it also seems to be the center of the ancient history of mankind on Okinawa.
Be forewarned: there are a lot of spiders!
You reach the starting point by descending into a cave that’s been transformed into a café. Although you can still find menus online which offer lunch-type fare, only coffees, teas, juices and snacks/desserts are offered now. It is an amazing setting, and it’s unfortunate that more can’t be done with such a fabulous ambiance. This sore point isn’t to detract from tea-time under the stalactites, though, before or after your tour.
While the only way to explore the Valley is through a Japanese guide, the Japanese know how to do tours RIGHT. The seating area where our visit started conveniently had bug repellent available for every two people, and insulted metal bottles of cold jasmine tea were handed out for us to sip as we sauntered through the flora and fauna of the excursion. Although it was the middle of summer and the middle of a hot summer day when we toured, I don’t really think the bug lotion was actually needed. The cold and refreshing tea, however, was!
The tour was entirely in Japanese, but our Japanese host offered us iPod-like receivers and ear buds that provided us with some English explanations along the way. It was an unexpected and further nice touch. It turns out that the Valley has been inhabited for over 10,000 years, and may have served as home for what is considered the forerunners of all the Japanese peoples (migrating from the south to the north through the Ryukyu chain), although there are competing theories and the vote is still out.
There are two sacred areas in the Valley, both in caves, one large and one small. Both center on anatomical-like configurations of rock, male and female (use your imagination). Women would attend to the female parts to pray for family and good childbirth, while males would enter the large dark cave to pray for things more male-centered. It’s amazing how many ladies in the group seemed like they needed to go up and touch the rather phallic symbol! The Japanese are not as conservative as they appear.
One of the other highlights of the tour is the huge banyan tree “Ufushu Gajumaru” which grows up and inside a huge natural arch of rock, just down the path from a family burial vault over 300 years old. But for those of you still wandering about the ghostly story that so enthralled our young and somewhat frightened explorer, the Valley is named for the spooky sound that stones would make when thrown down into the deepest, most haunted caves. Apparently, no matter the nature of kinship, no one – not even spirits – likes rocks thrown at them!
The Valley of Gangala
Address: Japan Okinawa Nanjo City Tamagusuku Maegawa; parking and the valley is located directly opposite of Okinawa world.
Phone (for required reservations): 098-948-4192
Times: 9:00-18:00, but tours are conducted only 4 times a day @ 10:00, 12:00, 14:00 and 16:00; tour time is approximately 80 minutes
To get to Okinawa World and the Valley of Gangala, drive south on the expressway to Haebana Miniami 1C, Take 507 South, turn left on 331 and another left on the 17. Follow the signs to Okinawa World Cave Park. You’ll see Okinawa World on the right side and the Valley of Gangala on the left; park in the free Okinawa World parking lot.