Today was fantastic. Cooler, less oppressively hot & humid, than the last few days – or maybe it just felt more comfortable because I finally had the intelligence to go out in shorts, and my brand-new athletic-style sweat-wicking-away Ryûdai t-shirt.
At some point, I really should just hunker down and spend more of my days indoors, on campus, making actual progress on reading and research. But, for today, just one more day of exploring couldn’t hurt, right?
I walked into Ginowan, just across the freeway from here, and then caught a bus way up to the other end of the Futenma Marines base, going all the way up there solely to check out the Futenma Shrine, one of the Eight Shrines of Ryukyu, of which I have now visited six. Of course, I forgot to check out the associated temple, Jingû-ji, which is right next door. So I’ll have to go back.
The shrine itself is pretty nice – I’m assuming it’s been rebuilt or renovated quite recently, as everything looked quite clean and bright. There’s something just really striking and beautiful about such fresh wood, and those orange terracotta roof tiles. Just being amidst that space – sharing so many of the features of a mainland Japanese Shinto shrine, but blatantly distinctively Okinawan in style and aesthetic – is just a wonderful feeling. And it’s just a very photogenic space, I think, overall. I took photos from quite a number of viewpoints, each looking just excellent (we’ll see how they actually came out – my digital photos often tend to be lighter or darker or grainier or flatter or.. something.. than how I thought they looked at the time).
But Futenma Shrine is also special in another way – the sacred space it’s associated with is a cave. I wasn’t sure if they only offer tours at certain times, or if maybe it’s only open to those who are serious worshippers – if the latter were the case, I would certainly understand. I found a sign that seemed to indicate there was some kind of application process. But, I figured, no harm in asking – so I asked at the window where one buys protective charms (o-mamori) and the like, and the shrine priestess stationed there quickly and kindly gave me a very brief form to fill out (name, address, number of people in your group) and then escorted me and one other woman into the cave. I felt a little awkward, to be sure, as this other woman was clearly there as a true devotee, and I hope she didn’t feel I was invading her people’s sacred space, or being disrespectful simply by being myself – a tourist, an outsider. I was sure to bow down and close my eyes and take a moment to meditate, to give my respects to the deity.
I’m sorry that we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the cave, though I totally understand why that should be restricted in such a sacred space. The cave was quite small – or at least the part easily publicly accessible – and the ceiling only extended so far, opening up to the sky beyond a certain point. But it was really something. I don’t even know how to describe it. Just stalactites and stalagmites, a naturally mysterious, intriguing, serene, spiritual space, with a small shrine building nestled into the center of it, marking and enhancing the spiritual feeling of the space. I love seeking out these sites just for the architecture, for the history, for the aesthetic & cultural experience of being there, but every now and then it really does genuinely feel spiritually moving or powerful as well. I’m very glad I bothered to ask about visiting the cave, and I would encourage you to take a look as well should you ever be in the area.
Wooden bodies for building sanshin. More than any sanshin shop I’ve seen before, this guy really sells all the parts you need to make your own – something that I should think takes an incredible amount of skill and experience.
As it happened, just across the street from the shrine stands the Sanshin no Matsuda store, a fairly large and pretty cool shop where they carry everything from complete instruments and books of music to basically everything you could possibly need to repair an instrument – not just bridges and picks and tuning pegs and strings, but even down to the wooden bodies and frightening lengths of real python skin (imported from Thailand). I went in to check it out, knowing I likely wouldn’t buy anything – thankfully my instrument is in good working order, so I just don’t really have a need for strings or picks or anything right now, and I already have plenty of books of music. But the guy was nice enough to show me the shop a little – showing me how he uses serious machines to cut the rough shape of the sanshin out of a block of wood, but then carves the finer details, the subtle curves, by hand. Beautiful. Amazing. Someday, when I do need such things, maybe I’ll head back up to Futenma, and buy from him. (If you’re interested in seeing more photos of the process of making or repairing sanshin, check out Joseph Kamiya’s Tumblr. He’s in the process of studying that craft.)
As per the plan, having taken the bus way up to Futenma, I was now going to take a leisurely walk back down – in comfortable weather, and with plenty of daylight left, it should take only an hour or so to get back to campus, which all things considered really isn’t that bad. Of course, in the end, it took far longer than that, but it was relaxed, and easy. I found a nice teishoku place for lunch – offering set meals (teishoku) of noodles and soup, or stir-fry (chanpuru) and rice and soup, and so forth. I went with the fu chanpuru, fu being basically a form of seitan (wheat gluten), baked to have a consistency sort of like chicken, sort of like bread… anyway, it’s good.
I also found a cool zakka shop, selling all kinds of random stuff from panda coffee mugs to wacky cookbooks, to wallets, keychains, bumper stickers, manga… I didn’t end up buying anything, but I loved seeing a fun, kooky store like that amongst the countless motorbike & car repair shops. I get it, that we’re not in the big city and everyone relies on bikes & cars, but, seriously, how can the economy support this many such shops? How many vehicles does each person own!?
Anyway, after much walking, I found myself back in the area of Ginowan I knew and remembered from my adventures two years ago – my first time in Ginowan, one of my first times outside of Naha, when I took the highway bus and the whole thing just felt like such an ordeal, traipsing out to this outer city… Now that I’m living just across the freeway from Ginowan, the whole thing feels quite different.
Walking further and further down, passing by the fences of Futenma Air Base, I found it surprisingly quiet. No protest signs of any kind hanging on the fence, no protesters staked out outside the base. Maybe they’re all up in Henoko or Takae? I probably follow this stuff more closely than most, but even so, not closely enough to really know the precise ins and outs of why there would or wouldn’t be protests on a given day… Also saw (and heard! omg, so loud!) some military helicopters flying overhead, but that was about it. So quiet I neglected to even get any photos of the base, at all.
Eventually, I found my way to the Ginowan BookOff, and then to Books Jinon, what to the best of my knowledge is surely one of the best Okinawa specialty bookstores there is. I cannot count the times that I have searched for a book on kosho.or.jp (an excellent site for searching used bookstores across Japan, and ordering books from them online) and it came up that Books Jinon was the place that had a copy. On my previous trips to Okinawa, I was always based in Naha, and Ginowan just seemed so far away, so inconvenient. But, I now know that at least some parts of Ginowan are in extremely reasonable walking distance from Ryûdai campus, and also that there are regular public buses (e.g. the 98, between Ryûdai and Naha) which stop only a block or so away from the bookstore. Plus, they take orders online, so as long as you have a Japanese address to ship to, there’s little need to traipse out there.
I came in with a particular list of books I was looking for, and am quite happy with my haul for the day. Had to resist buying up so much more stuff – I’ve gotten to the point that I think I have a much more realistic gut feeling about knowing, understanding, how little I’ll ever get around to actually reading, and so that makes it a ton easier to resist buying all the things. But, there is still certainly a part of me that is tempted to buy and read just about anything about Okinawa, and Books Jinon has such a selection, oh my god. Conference proceedings volumes I’ve only ever seen after ordering them from multiple different institutions from Inter-Library Loan (ILL). Boxes and boxes of magazines and other sorts of obscure serials. Shelves upon shelves of thick volumes of local village, town, and city histories (for example, Nishihara Town History 西原町史, or Naha City History 那覇市史), of Complete Works of such-and-such prominent scholar (e.g. Ifa Fuyu zenshû or Nakahara Zenchû zenshû), and of published transcriptions of premodern documents, such as the Ryûkyû-koku shi-ryaku 琉球国志略 or Chûzan seikan 中山世鑑. Not to mention great numbers of museum exhibit catalogs, many of them rather slim volumes from rather small provincial museums. And what makes the whole thing all the more exciting and impressive is that, at least in my very limited experience (combined with what my far more experienced advisor has said), real brick-and-mortar specialty bookstores like these are growing scarce in Japan, as many shift to online-only, or disappear entirely. I was only in Kagoshima for a few days (two years ago), so I may be totally mistaken, but from what I found on Google, and what I found in person, there is maybe one local history / local culture specialty bookstore in Kagoshima City, and it’s really not all that great. Books Jinon stands out all the more so as a result.
Finally, I left the bookstore with my small but happy haul, and poked my head into a nearby florist to ask where I might find the nearest bus stop. Pardon me if I’m spoiled or whatever, too much of a city boy, but compared to trains, I really find buses to be a pain in the ass. A train station is easy to find, for the most part. And once you’re inside, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out which side you need to be on; or, if it isn’t, at least there are generally only two options. Red Line this way, or Red Line that way. Or, if you know you need to be on the Blue Line, then it’s the Blue Line. But buses – the bus stop could be anywhere in the general vicinity of the specified intersection or landmark, and for Okinawa at least, the bus stops and bus routes don’t come up on Google Maps. So you stand at the intersection, and look around, and wonder, does the bus stop on this side of the street, or around the corner? Does it stop right here by the intersection, or halfway down the block in that direction? Or the other direction? And then when you finally find the bus stop, you have to be sure that it’s not only going in the right direction, but that it’s also the right bus line. A train station might have only one or two or three lines (or, admittedly, quite a lot more if you’re in Shinjuku or something, but that’s a different story), but even a relatively quiet, isolated, place like Maehara Crossing in Ginowan, Okinawa, has one stop for the 25 and 56 to Toyosaki, a different stop for the 24, 27, 52, 61, or 110 going north or southwest, another stop somewhere else slightly down the road in some other direction to find the 97 and 98 back to the University of the Ryukyus (where I was trying to go)… and then when you finally find the right bus stop for the bus line you want, you inevitably realize you’re on the wrong side of the street. Hopefully you realize this before you see your bus, on the opposite side of the street, go past.
Anyway, I still kind of can’t believe it, but I asked inside this random little florist shop, and the customer buying flowers at the time said, “oh, how about I just give you a ride? It’s not that far.” Oh my god. So kind!! Of course, I hesitated at first – oh, no, no, that’s quite alright. Thanks so much, but I don’t want you to go out of your way… But, in the end, she was so kind, and drove me the short distance back to campus – we had a very nice conversation, and then she just dropped me off right at the entrance to campus. A fantastic way to end the day.
Except where indicated otherwise, all photos my own.