Wow. Day Five already? Almost done :(
You’ll notice there is no post for Day 4. This is because, while the day was certainly eventful and successful in certain respects, for the most part it consisted of just being dragged around by the sensei from one thing to another… so I don’t really have stories or photos to share. Today, on the other hand, Day 5, was quite busy.
After several days of following the sensei around, and operating on their schedule, I was once more free to go out and do my own thing. Not that I’m complaining – the sensei did so much for me, bringing me places I might not have been able to go/see otherwise, and helping me get access to all kinds of resources.
The objectives for the day were to see sites, to buy books, and to buy some clothes. I started out by visiting Tsuboya, the famous pottery center of Okinawa. In 1682, the royal government ordered several pottery centers from across the island to be relocated here, making Tsuboya – a neighborhood just beyond what is today the Kokusai-dôri / Heiwa-dôri shopping arcades – the chief center of pottery production in the islands. Of course, I am sure they must produce cups and bowls and other standard pottery products, but, this being Okinawa, shisa (guardian lions) are a major portion of the area’s output, along with ceramic funerary urns.
I’ve never been nearly as interested in pottery as in paintings & prints, so Tsuboya was pretty low on my list, but, after walking over to the Tourist Info Center at the corner of Kokusai-dôri & Oki-ei-dôri, I was pretty much already there, so I decided to check it out. And I’m glad that I did. I don’t know how touristy it might feel later in the day, but at that early hour, it felt very quaint and nice, with lots of traditional architecture and cute shops. The downside of getting an early start on the day, though, is that most of the establishments were closed. Even so, in the end it was actually a pretty nice street, with lots of little shops and cute quaint architectural atmosphere; I didn’t end up going inside anywhere, but still I’m glad I went.
My next stop was BookOff. One of the major goals of this trip, for me, was to get more books about Okinawa, and to hopefully get them cheaply. There are some scholarly books out there that have a cover price of as much as ￥12,600 (roughly, US$126) for no goddamned reason, and if I could just get lucky, maybe I could get it for a more reasonable price. Besides, BookOff is wonderfully cheap, and so even for the more reasonably priced $15-20 books, if I can get them for $5-10 instead, it’s a win. Unfortunately, to my surprise, the two BookOffs I visited (at Akamine & Azato) – the only two easily accessible by monorail – had astonishingly few books of interest or relevance to my research. On the one hand, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they had a whole separate section set aside for Okinawan topics, meaning I didn’t have to scour through the History, Art History, etc. sections each individually, but it also meant that whatever was not in that set-aside section, was most likely not in the store at all. If I recall correctly, I left with nothing at all. Strange and surprising, given that when I visited Fukuoka a few years ago, their BookOff had a great selection of books about Okinawa…
In any case, the second half of my shopping aims was to obtain some kariyushi wear, since all but one of my aloha shirts have mysteriously developed giant holes in them. Kariyushi wear is like aloha wear on a basic level, insofar as that in both Hawaii and Okinawa, rather than wearing proper dress shirts, neckties, and business suit jackets, people wear short-sleeved shirts in flowery patterns, sometimes on an extra-light / summery material, and this counts as formal enough. However, while aloha shirts are certainly popular enough and common enough in Okinawa, worn in place of kariyushi wear, I discovered that the true kariyushi wear – the ones with more distinctly Okinawan patterns and/or materials – are disgustingly overpriced.
Right: A kariyushi shirt with a wonderful original design based on traditional bingata designs. I tried it on, and it looked, and felt, great! Shame it was $250. Are you kidding me?
Everywhere I went, I found plenty of really standard aloha shirts – the kinds of things you could get from a random street vendor in Waikiki for $15, or could probably even find at WalMart or something; really standard – for $30-40, which of course I’m not paying, and then the ones with the really nice, really distinctively Okinawan styles, for upwards of $100 or even $200. Whoever pays these prices, and therefore allows the supply side to continue to get away with charging such prices, should be shot. These weren’t fancy boutique stores, either – these were mom & pop booths in a shopping arcade, and “discount sale” sections in the mall. In the end, I did manage to find one shirt I really liked, for a very reasonable price, and I’m very happy with it, but I really kind of expected to be buying more, and I’m still quite annoyed at the entirely unreasonable prices for some of the other things. I know it’s Made in Okinawa, and that it’s a unique design by a named designer, and so from the supply side, there are some arguments to be made for why it’s so expensive, but, frankly, at some point, on some level, a shirt is a shirt, and I generally try not to spend more than $30 on a shirt.
Asahibashi Station, on the Okinawa Monorail line.
I’d heard that Oroku – the neighborhood where this BookOff and shopping mall were located – was also known for having some relatively intact traditional-style cobblestone-paved sidestreets. There’s even a walking tour that one can take that’ll show you around these streets. But, not being on a tour, and just being on my own, I couldn’t find them, so I skipped over to Onoyama kôen, two stations away. The 600円 all day pass was definitely worth it on these wandering/exploring days. It costs anywhere from 220円 to 320円 to go from one station to another (depending on distance), so, in just two to three rides you recoup your costs. Anyway, I don’t remember what I thought was at Onoyama Park – I’m not sure I knew there was anything at all in particular there, and was just going to check it out, and find out. But, once I arrived and looked around a little, I very quickly found that I was very glad to have gone.
The city of Naha was, historically, up until the late 19th or early 20th century, made up primarily of a series of islands, and was not the relatively integrated “mainland” city it is today. Much of the core residential and commercial parts of the city – Kume, Wakasa, Nishi and Higashi – were located on a large island called Ukishima, while many temples, fortresses, shrines, and warehouses were located each on their own separate, tiny, islands in the harbor. Over the years, the harbor gradually silted up, and in the late 19th and early 20th century large-scale public works projects used landfill to dramatically alter the shape of the city, erasing the separate islands and the waterways that separated them, and creating the Naha we know today. Onoyama was the largest of these islands, and, to make a long story short, it today includes two major shrines – Oki Shrine, or Oki-gû, one of the Eight Shrines of Ryûkyû, and Gokoku Jinja, or “Protection of the Nation Shrine,” a Meiji era creation – alongside baseball parks, an archery range, and all sorts of other rather shiny, new, well-maintained-looking athletics facilities.
The archery range, or kyûdôjô, at Onoyama Park.
The concept, the grouping, of the “Eight Shrines of Ryûkyû” is itself a Meiji era creation, and so I’m not so sure I care that much about the grouping itself. However, most if not all of the shrines in the group were of some considerable significance during the era of the Ryûkyû Kingdom (prior to Japan’s takeover and annexation of the islands in the 1870s), and Oki-gû is no exception. After finding and exploring Oki Shrine, I thought I might divert my efforts to making sure I found all eight, but, some are quite far outside of Naha, and in the end I managed to see four, which isn’t too bad, I think. There are some other sites, such as the temple of Rinkai-ji, which I kind of regret not going out of my way to find, but, there will be a next time.
Oki Shrine, as it exists today, is a rather interesting site. It strikes me as very much a mixture of Okinawan and Japanese architectural elements (and other elements), the very representation of what a Shinto shrine adapted to Okinawa could, would, should look like. Shinto is not, was not, native to Ryukyu, but was for the most part introduced/imposed in the Meiji period (in fact, much of what Shinto looks like today, even in mainland Japan, is owed to its reinvention in the Meiji period), so I’d be very curious what these major shrines, like Oki-gû and Naminoue, looked like in the previous centuries.
Today, Oki Shrine incorporates Japanese torii, the criss-crossing roofbeams of a Shinto shrine, and much of the forms and practices otherwise of a Japanese Shinto shrine – including a Shinto priest in standard white Shinto priest’s robes, performing what I can only assume were standard Shinto rituals (I didn’t get that close) – combining these with very Okinawan elements, from the lush greenery growing on the rocks and surrounding elements of the shrine, to the red-tiled roof and otherwise generally Okinawan style of the main hall. And, higher up the hill, several utaki – sacred spaces in the traditional Ryukyuan (not Japanese/Shinto) fashion, essentially just stone markers marking a rock or tree or space as being sacred.
I don’t know much, in depth, about either Ryukyuan religion or Shinto, but from what I do know, it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences – both are founded on very similar principles, the identification of natural spaces or objects of spiritual power, and the construction of a named or designated “shrine” space around it. Yet, in the execution, it is quite different. Whereas Ryukyuan utaki, for the most part, it is my impression, consist of little more than stone markers identifying the space, and sometimes stone walls marking off, or closing off, the space, even the smallest Shinto shrines generally consist of a wooden shrine building – sometimes far too small for human entrance, but no less architecturally complex – and at least one torii gate. By no means do I wish to enter into the fallacy of an argument that Ryukyu represents precisely what Japan used to be – and, indeed, in this case I’m not sure it could hold true anyway, given that Japan has been building Shinto shrines, i.e. with actual, sometimes quite large, shrine buildings, for over a millennium. But, there is certainly something interesting in the intersection between the ways the two belief systems identify, designate, and maintain sacred spaces, and in the objects of the worship themselves – generally, a worship of the sacred found in nature itself.
Adani-ga-daki, an utaki in Shuri, consists at its core of a small inner sacred space with a small stone marker, like every other utaki I’ve seen. But, unlike those, this one has a stone wall and stone-paved outer area, plus a red gate. Is this typical? I don’t know. Is it so different from the basic concept/layout of a Shinto shrine?
Wow. It was a busy day… I guess I’ll have to leave the rest of Day 5 for the next post.