8/5 (Mon) – Day three in Okinawa. Yet another wonderful adventure.
The view of Ôgimi Village from a tiny shrine I discovered at the top of a serious set of stairs, in a random corner of the village.
After spending the last two days on my own, today was the first of a few days tagging along with a pack of professors on a (slightly) more pre-planned, organized schedule. The main event of the day today was a drive up to Ôgimi-son (Ôgimi Village), in the somewhat more mountainous, remote/rural, northern part of the island known as Yanbaru 山原. Because of its somewhat more remote location, Ôgimi was spared much of the damage & destruction of 1945, and so, I am told, more pre-war documents survived. Whether they still survive today, I was a little unclear, since in the end, the professors ended up spending the day poring over piles of records from the 1940s-50s.
This was my first time going anywhere in Okinawa outside of Naha (I’m not counting my jaunt into Haebaru to go to the Archives on Saturday, since pretty much all I saw of anything there was the Archives themselves, and a brief stretch of highway with the Archives, a Lawson’s convenience store, and a public bus depot/terminus). So, I was pretty excited. Not that we got to really walk around and see anything much of Ginowan, Nago, Okinawa, Urasoe, or anywhere else, but, even so, just passing through them, and seeing the placenames on the signs, and getting some sense, in the process, of the geography and the look, the feel of the various areas, better than I had before… Not to mention, the beautiful views of the ocean.
Above: The view of the beach from near the archives building; the torii here is not, strictly speaking, for a Shinto shrine, but for a monument to those from Ôgimi lost in the wars of the 19th-20th centuries.
Below: The streets of Ôgimi-son.
This was also one of the most rural (inaka) places I’ve been in Japan – moreso than Sakura, by a longshot – and while Okinawa is most certainly a different atmosphere/feel than anywhere else in Japan, and, going back to my post from a few weeks ago, I will refrain from inferring any sort of generalizations about what rural Japan, or rural Okinawa, or “the real” Okinawa, is like… especially since, even in this small village, we saw two very different sides of it. First, arriving in the village, we simply drove up on the highway, with the ocean on one side, and the middle school, and then a soba shop, and then a tiny little road leading over to the town hall, making it seem, for the moment, like perhaps that was how most/all of the town was organized – somewhat scattered, and around the highway, i.e. along the beach, with very little walkable “community” sort of space. Later in the day, however, we drove around a little bit, going deep into residential neighborhoods, and I saw an Ôgimi that is spread out over a large geographical area, but that within that area, has at least some pockets (maybe many, I guess) of narrow, quiet, very local-feeling residential streets, lined with stone walls and banana plants, and filled with red-ceramic roof-tiled homes. It’s not quite Taketomi, but it definitely gives the impression of Okinawa – an Okinawa, one of the stereotypical images of Okinawa, though of course a place like Kokusai-dôri, with its touristy shops, bars, (some) neon lights, and live houses, is also a standard image of Okinawa.
The former village hall of Ôgimi, which today serves as a local archives, while a new building behind it has taken over the governmental/administrative functions. I am disappointed to discover that I have failed to take any good pictures of the inside of the office/archives room that would properly convey the size of the room, and its atmosphere/appearance. But, maybe you can kind of get some impression from these two images.
Returning to talking about the village archives, our chief destination for the day, where we’d come to look at documents, it’s housed in the former town hall, which is apparently the oldest still-standing reinforced concrete building in Okinawa Prefecture. Reinforced concrete, mind you, so not “traditional architecture,” and not all that old, but even so it was very much something to see. Completed in 1925, it looks and feels it. A particular style, a particular feel, that reminds one of the Taishô period (1912-1916). If it helps you imagine the period we’re talking about, think of the earliest movie theaters, jazz bars, flapper girls. Not that any of that was going on in Ôgimi-son, so far as I know, but, it’s that period…
The inside, on the ground floor, is just one large space, with bookshelves, looking quite quaint and cute, just like one might expect from a very small, very local village archives – but, actually, for researching those specific things, e.g. village history, Okinawa history, the bookshelves were actually quite well-stocked, a hell of a lot better (for certain topics) than you’d find in even, for example, the Univ. of Hawaii Library, let alone a place like UCSB that isn’t really all that strong in East Asian Studies at all (let alone Okinawan Studies). And, then, there’s the office, the one room with climate control, and I have to admit, in certain ways, it really looked/felt just like what I might have (but didn’t quite) imagined. A small room, with a single large table and piles of documents hand-written or carbon copied on browning paper; a minimum of office set-up or equipment; a light, airy, sunny atmosphere as created by a combination of the many windows, and the white concrete construction; and two very kind staff members, presumably volunteers, with (my apologies to say it, but I’m going to say it) wonderful accents, who were very gracious, and generous, and helpful, and maybe just a little, what’s the word, well, not at all used to entertaining professors from Tokyo, and from the National History Museum. The village mayor even came out to see what was up.
I feel bad for Orientalizing or romanticizing or whatever about the experience, and about how quaint the village is, or how it matched or didn’t match my romantic expectations. But, it really did, and that I cannot help but be aware of, and want to say something about.
In any case, we had lunch at a rest stop (michi no eki, 道の駅) on the side of the highway, where I enjoyed some very tasty yakisoba, Okinawan style, and shikuwasa soft serve. Apparently Ôgimi is particularly famous for its shikuwasa, which is a small green citrus fruit similar to but apparently completely separate and different from the sudachi and from the standard lime. Mmm, shikuwasa.
After finishing with the documents (I found some books on the shelves which I took note of, or photocopied relevant bits out of – the day still managed to be useful for my own research), we all piled into the cars – what a sight we must have been, ten or twelve researchers from the ‘mainland’ showing up in three cars, and then all leaving all at once a few hours later – and drove around the village a little bit, checking out some very local shops and community centers and such, and just generally getting a feeling for the village. I learned that kyôdôten 共同店, which we might translate as “co-op,” are quite common in Okinawa, though they operate somewhat differently from the coops we’re used to in some of the more student-heavy or hippie-dominated areas of the US. At the Isla Vista Coop, for example, people can choose to become ‘members,’ or, essentially, part-owners, and I don’t know all the ins and outs of how it works, but you get some kind of rights or powers in “owning” or controlling how the place is operated, or something, and you get discounts and deals whenever you shop there. The purpose of such coops, as I understand them, is to fight “the man” in some way, and to support local farmers and provide access to organic products. Something like that. At Okinawa’s kyôdôten, meanwhile, everyone in the immediate vicinity pays in, and helps support this non-profit local store, in order to help allow there to be a store at all in such a community which would otherwise be too small and too remote for any private business owner to hope to make enough of a profit for it to be worthwhile to open a shop there.
The next stop before returning to Naha was to go to Ginowan, and to attempt to get a peek at the Futenma Marines Air Base, which we did from the top of a hill in the public park at Kakazu 嘉数 – apparently itself the site of particularly fierce or particularly famous fighting during the Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa TV was stationed up there as well, today, with their satellite uplinks and large TV cameras, and I was surprised at just how starkly and easily one could see the airstrips, inside the US military base, from this Japanese (Okinawan, read: public, civilian) park. But, I’m not sure there was much to see.
I was kind of hoping to get a glimpse of one of the Ospreys – this, I think, was the main goal for the sensei as well – two of which were moved onto the base this past Saturday (Aug 3), and ten more of which were believed to be scheduled to be brought to the base today (Aug 5). Normally I don’t follow these things so closely – in terms of day-to-day developments – but, while I could hypothetically be keeping up with it all on the Internet if I so chose, being here and seeing it in the actual physical newspapers, feels quite different.
The Osprey is a model of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) military aircraft that has become a sort of tool or stepping point for those who oppose the military bases in Okinawa – it gives them something specific to point to, something specific to focus their rage at. This is a subject about which I am most certainly not an expert, but the general impression I get is this: The Ospreys have got a less than wonderful flight record, in other words, in terms of successfully flying without crashing, and this makes them a great target of ire and opposition, in order to highlight and draw attention to the more general problems of the Futenma base, which people have been opposing for years and years. The helicopter crashes into civilian buildings; the noise and general disruption; and the fact that, in violation of the US military’s own policies, the base is built right in the middle of a heavily populated residential/commercial municipality, whereas in the US (as I understand it), bases are mandated to be located a certain distance from any civilian homes or shops (or something roughly to that effect).
Case in point, a US military helicopter crashed just this same day, today (8/5), at Camp Hansen, one of the numerous other US bases on this tiny island. No civilians were hurt, nor their property affected, I don’t think, as I’m pretty sure the crash happened within the base. But, some of the professors were suggesting, with this in the news, the Marines would probably reschedule any kind of appearances or uses of the Ospreys, and try to keep a slightly lower profile for the rest of the day. A bit unfortunate, for me, I think, just since I was hoping to see them, and maybe even get some photos to share on Facebook or Twitter or whatever. But, I did manage to at least get some photos, blurry though they may be, of protesters just outside the base. A very different, but also very prominent, side or aspect of Okinawa from the 16th-19th century history I normally chiefly focus on. … And, to my mind, all the more reason that the bases need to go. Okinawa deserves, just like any other place deserves, to be defined by its own culture, its own history, and deserves to have its own path, rather than being defined by military bases, by protests, by accidents & incidents, and by the profound cultural influence or impact of an American military presence. Okinawa should be defined by rafute and shikuwasa and gurukun, not by spam and A&W; it should be defined by kariyushi wear, and not by military logos; it should be defined by eisa and sanshin and Shuri Castle, and not by protests and Futenma. It should be defined as a former island kingdom, not as “The Rock.” It should be defined as a place recovering from, or otherwise dealing with and moving on from, its history as a formerly independent kingdom that was conquered and annexed, as an island that was the site of some of the bloodiest fighting of WWII, with so much of its architecture and everything destroyed… Okinawa deserves to be recovering from that, dealing with that, moving forward, being or becoming whatever it is to be in and of itself, rather than to be trapped with this current situation imposed upon it, imposed upon its land, and its people, and their culture and lifestyle, despite their continuing opposition to it.
I don’t consider myself an activist, and I won’t get too much more into it here, but, just in terms of experiencing Okinawa, getting to know Okinawa, getting to know the issues and such, it really would have been great to get to see a bit more today, a bit more of the bases and of the protests. Maybe on my next trip, I’ll manage to meet some protesters, and get a closer look in some fashion.