A place known to the net simply as Okinawa Cactus Park was one of the haikyo I really wanted to see when *Michael Gakuran* and I went to Okinawa earlier this year. The official name of the park was Mexico Cactus Park Sarabanda. It was opened in 1993 and closed in September of 1999, its big Mayan style head becoming an Okinawa urbex icon. The park wasn’t a super spectacular place (although there were 150.000 plants of more than 800 kinds) or a very popular one, but it was unique. I’ve never been to a cactus park before and for sure not to an abandoned one.
When Michael and I drove up to the place I had a very bad feeling – the road and the parking lot were in way too good condition and not blocked at all. As soon as we saw the main building it was pretty clear that we were either at the wrong location or the place had been refurbished / converted. Luckily Michael is a chatty guy fluent in Japanese, so he walked up to the next best person and found out that we were at the right spot at the wrong time. The cactus park, abandoned for more than 10 years, had been reconverted about 1.5 years prior to our visit, unnoticed by the Japanese urbex scene (where I borrowed the term haikyo (ruin) from, just in case you are a rather new reader).
“Cactus Park – Rest in Peace” would have been a more appropriate headline for this article than you might have expected, because the former theme park was actually converted into a graveyard. A gorgeous graveyard I might add. Located at the southern coast of Okinawa the whole area is just beautiful (I marked it on my *Map of Demolished Places in Japan*). And instead of leveling the whole cactus park the architectural office responsible for the new design did a great job using existing structures. All the old roads and paths of the former cactus park were still there, so was the main building at the entrance and a smaller building close to the cliffs, offering a stunning view and a place to rest. The cacti were all removed, except for maybe a dozen on a big rock close to the entrance – traces of the former theme park were there, but we had to look closely to find them.
The new name of the huge area is Okinawa Seimeinooka Park (沖縄清明の丘公園) and it’s a non-profit cemetery not only for all confessions, but for all religions. The barrier-free area has the size of 68830 square meters and offers space for a total of 1.740 graves which strangely correlates to the parking lot with 174 spaces (I assume those 1.740 graves include the spaces of the “joint enshrinement grave”). Each grave has a size between 2 and 15 square meters and costs 140.000 Yen per square meter (one-off) plus 10.000 Yen per year.
Michael and I were both a bit disappointed not to be able to explore an abandoned cactus park, but we agreed that they did a wonderful job converting it. We didn’t spend too much time on the premises, but before we left Michael talked to one of the employees at the beautiful Roman style main building. To my total surprise he found out that there were two cactus parks in the area in the late 90s. This one, the Mexiko Cactus Park Sarabanda, and another one called Himeyuri Park – not to be confused with the Peace Memorial Park and the Himeyuri no To monument. The Himeyuri Park was also closed and abandoned, but not destroyed and reconverted. So off we went to our next adventure on our *trip to Okinawa*…