Slow down at Okinawa's Beach Rock Village
Several treehouses at Okinawa's Beach Rock Village, like this tatami room, offer one-in-a-million views of the jungle below and the sea, as well as a certain freedom that no amount of money can buy.
In today’s world, we rarely find time for ourselves, for our passions, as we hustle from one job to the next, commitment to commitment.
Life is a rat race.
Perhaps you have asked yourself — at one point or another — what would it be like to quit your job, stop paying bills and move into the jungle or onto a desolate, tropical beach.
What if the only things you had to worry about were survival, having fun and pursuing pleasure?
At Beach Rock Village in the forest of Yanbaru, one can observe a group of modern-day Thoreaus at their Walden Pond who did just that, and for a small fee, one can even become an active participant.
“For those who love nature. For those who love life,” Japanese travel author Ayumu Takahashi wrote about the beach community in his book “Island Story: A True Story of a Never-Ending Summer.” “Please keep Beach Rock Village alive forever.”
Takahashi and a group of friends founded Beach Rock Village after he returned from a two-year honeymoon that took him around the world and spawned the magnificent and poetic travelogue “Love & Free.”
With next to no money to his name and no job, he and his wife, Sayaka, moved to Okinawa from Yokohama in 2000. For the same reasons that saw him travel the world for two years, Takahashi refused to get a regular, mundane job. He had an idea for an artist’s community on the beach, inspired by the spirit of Bob Marley’s song “One Love,” a place where people could be one with nature and focus on whatever they wanted in their spare time, enjoying their lives instead of slaving away for some meaningless corporation.
“We could run an inn, a shop, have creative activities, and live in nature, surrounded by music and art,” he wrote. “We only needed enough money to get by. Getting by does not take much if every day is filled with words and phrases like ‘Delicious,’ ‘Fun!’ and ‘Feels great!’ ”
A year later, they had established the Beach Rock House, a bar and cafe in Yomitan. For the next three years, Takahashi looked for land for this community. He battled injuries from a serious motorcycle accident, local opposition to his proposed community, threats, and had several opportunities fall through — with deflating effect — before his dreams were finally realized.
In 2004, they had their land, rented from an old farmer in the northwest portion of Okinawa. They lived off of Takahashi’s book royalties, the modest money made at Beach Rock House, fundraisers and donations from its founders as they built their dream community. They recruited friends with special talents and assigned jobs, whether it was fishing and growing produce, building lodging and furniture for the community, or obtaining clean water, gas and energy.
Living completely off the grid was not as easy as they had thought it would be, and it tested their patience and relationships with one another, but they made it work.
In 2006, Beach Rock Village opened, complete with a cafe and bar, spectacular lookout points, a treetop beer garden built by Takashi Kobayashi, horses and access to pristine white sand beaches and waterfalls.
They were completely self-sufficient, and they offered tipis and a guest house for anyone who wished to come stay and be a part of their self-indulgent experiment.
Their parties became legendary, their homemade brick-oven pizza critically acclaimed, and the village became a must-visit for locals, backpackers and tourists.
While traveling across Okinawa in the week leading up to New Year’s Eve, I decided to check it out.
When I arrived at Beach Rock Village, I felt as though I had entered “Gilligan’s Island” meets “The Hobbit.” Everything had a certain handcrafted charm, from the bathrooms to the bar. We were waited on by a young kid named Jungle who had left the outside world behind and moved to be a part of the community only months before. I found the staff welcoming, the food delicious, and the beer cold.
I chose to stay in a tipi, overlooking a gorge and the sea. Dinner and breakfast — made from homegrown produce — was included.
I explored the grounds. This included a taste of local island liquor in the solitude of a small tree house tatami room, traversing wooden bridges illuminated by Christmas lights on the way to a tent village and a slide to enter the beer garden. I took a quiet look at Takahashi’s book about the community while sitting on a sofa in a small cafe annex with an open wall looking into the valley below.
Later that night, we met for dinner at the guest house. I was surrounded by the other guests from around Japan. We chatted and became fast friends, forced into the social experiment by the isolation of our community.
After showers heated by a fire, we met at the bar. We toasted to the new year while the village’s house band, Simap, serenaded us with an energetic, acoustic performance of the theme song of the village. We all sang.
“Go for it. We aren’t finished yet. Go for it. Let’s keep chasing the dream.”
Takahashi left in 2008 and handed the property over to its current caretaker, Aki. Soon after, his book was released, cementing Beach Rock Village in Okinawan lore.
During my visit, the Kobayashi tree house was in need of repair due to a particularly strong typhoon, but the village was largely as the author and poet had left it. After breakfast the next morning, I took one last look and said goodbye to my new friends as I made the journey through the jungle to civilization once again.
In a world where we are consumed by modern living, the relentless march of technology, and desecration of the planet on a global scale, I can smile knowing that Beach Rock Village is there if I ever need to escape for a while.
It was their dream, but it was inspirational to me.
From Kadena Air Base, travel north on 58 toward Nago. The trip is about 35 miles and takes about 45 minutes. From 58, turn left onto 84, and right onto 72 to get to Beach Rock Village at 1331 Jana Nakijin, Kunigami, Okinawa. You are getting close when you pass the Nago Pineapple Park at 1195 Bimata, Nago City. GPS works best, and the Beach Rock staff ask that you call when you are close for precise directions.
For a map, see www.shimapro.com/access/index.html.
Rates are per person, per night, and are inclusive of two meals and the consumption tax. They range from 690 yen in the Tent Village to 4,000-7,000 yen for a room, a tipa or a tipi, depending on the time of year.
Half rate prices are applied to children ages 6 to 12. Toilets, showers and laundry facilities are shared.
For reservations, call 0980-56-1126 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The menu at the site includes pizza, rice, curry, salads, coffee and beer.