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In my last post, I talked about visiting the Yonashiro History Museum, where they had on display some Roman coins uncovered in archaeological excavations at Katsuren castle.

After leaving the museum, I made my way to the castle itself, but first had to go find some lunch. This was my first time up to that part of the island, and walking around that section of Uruma City, I don’t know if I just was in the wrong part of town, or if I should have turned left when I instead turned right, but the stretch of road I ended up walking on was just amazingly devoid of any kind of café or restaurant that looked inviting at all. The local Uruma City tourist guide pamphlet I picked up at the castle listed all kinds of wonderful-looking vegetarian cafés and ice cream shops… looked very appealing. But these guides expected you to have a car. And while I certainly could have just taken another bus (still for free), I thought I’d just grab something quick, nearby. I found lots of “snack” bars – which might be just a sleazy townie dive bar, or might be a front for more illicit activities – and a few super-run-down-looking cafés or diners (shokudô), but nothing that looked at all welcoming or appealing. Finally, finally, after walking many blocks, I settled on eating at a Hotto Motto, a chain store selling premade bento boxes. *smh* One of the few days I’m off-campus, and out in a different town, really having the potential to be on vacation (kind of) for a day, to experience a nice local restaurant and maybe try some different foods, and instead I end up at a Hotto Motto.

Anyway, it was an interesting and valuable experience to see this one more corner, one more bit, of the kaleidoscope that is the “real” Okinawa. Really makes me wonder what the experience of everyday life is like there, and what it’s like to grow up there. And just how much of Okinawa prefecture (or even just of Uruma City) looks like this. Certainly, riding on the bus, looking out the window, things didn’t look so different from one city to the next. As we drove up into Okinawa City (formerly Koza), and then Uruma, I definitely had a feeling of excitement at visiting a different part of the island that I hadn’t been to before, and genuinely retained that excitement even despite the fact that everything looked pretty much the same…

The castle site itself was quite interesting, when considered in comparison to Nakagusuku, another major World-Heritage-Site-designated gusuku ruin from the same period, which I had just visited a couple weeks earlier. I was surprised at how small Katsuren was. I don’t know how big it is in terms of square hectares or whatever, or how tall; I have no doubt that it was a sizable and imposing compound in its time. But, while it may have simply been a result of entering via a side gate instead of a main gate, or something like that, Nakagusuku felt as though one had to double-back numerous times in order to make sure one had explored the entire compound. There were a lot of different areas, to put it quite simply. At Katsuren, by contrast, one simply entered at the fourth enclosure (or kuruwa), and walked up some stairs to a small area that constituted the third enclosure, then up a few more steps to the second enclosure, then up a few more steps to the first enclosure, and that was it. Done. You’ve seen the whole castle. And, each of the individual enclosures was also much larger at Nakagusuku.

That said, Katsuren provides I think a more direct, clearer understanding of the structure of a “standard” or “classic” gusuku, both in terms of the experience of the actual site, and because of the very nice model on display in the rest station across the street (right). I’m quite curious to visit Nakijin castle, as that’s the one that seems to get most often cited as emblematic of the standard form. But, this is seen at Katsuren as well.

A small first enclosure was the innermost part of the castle, the most well-protected by virtue of its location atop the hill, surrounded on all sides by either the second enclosure, or steep drop-offs. This would have contained the castle’s treasure houses, and at least one major sacred site. The second enclosure, a bit lower down the hill but still very well protected, was larger, and contained the main administrative buildings and lord’s residence. A narrow set of stairs connected the first and second enclosures, hindering invaders. The third enclosure, by contrast, is separated from the second by a series of very accessible, wide, steps, connecting the palace buildings in the second enclosure to plaza areas in the third, which would have been used for ceremonies and perhaps for other more “public” court events.

Stone foundations suggest the shape and scale of the structures that once stood in the second enclosure.

The third enclosure also included a number of water cisterns, and sacred sites. Following the fall of the castle in 1458, the third enclosure came to be frequented by noro and other local priestesses, who transformed the space into their own – a space for offerings, prayers, and rituals. The third enclosure is the last (or, I suppose the first, depending on how we’re counting) to be well above ground level and to have access protected by twisting and narrow stairways. The fourth is the “ground floor,” so to speak, of the castle compound, a wide extensive area, albeit still surrounded with stone walls, and guarded by heavy wooden gates which are no longer extant today. It was in this area, somewhere, that the Roman and Ottoman coins were found. Sections just outside the fourth enclosure would have included rice paddies and other farmland and swampland; as signs on-site explain, this not only helped supply the castle with food, but also served as a further defense against invaders, who would have had to plod through deep, wet, muddy ground.

Interestingly, unlike many Japanese castles we might visit, most of which took their well-known “Japanese castle” forms towards the very end, or even after, the period of warfare (Sengoku period, 1467-1600), and thus never actually saw serious siege or attack, Katsuren absolutely did. With all of these structural, geographical defenses, one can only imagine how the battle actually went, as the forces of the Ryukyu Kingdom took the castle in 1458.

The main gate of Jingû-ji, as it appears from within the temple grounds, looking out.

After taking a second look around to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I called my visit to Katsuren done and successful. I then took the bus down to Futenma, so I could quickly pay a visit to Jingû-ji, the temple immediately next door to Futenma Shrine, which I missed when I went to visit the shrine. Not too much to say about the temple, I suppose. But, I do love and am still not tired of seeing the distinctive Okinawan architectural style – lighter wood than in mainland Japan, and the distinctive red roof tiles. When we remind ourselves that Ryukyu was once an independent kingdom, and we start to think not simply about regional variation within Japan, but about the ways in which different schools of Buddhism took on different forms in different places all across Asia – when we start to think of Okinawan architecture not as a variation within Japanese styles but as something to be compared against Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese styles, there’s something very interesting and powerful there, I think.

Anyway, with that checked off my list, I then started to make my way home, and ended up walking quite some ways, maybe about half the length of the main center of Ginowan Town, along the outsides of the fences of the Futenma Air Base. An interesting contrast with that one neighborhood near Katsuren – for all its problems, and I’m not saying Ginowan is the most happening and exciting city either, Ginowan felt more lively, more welcoming/appealing, and more upscale (though it would hard to not be more upscale than what I saw in Katsuren). Despite the length of the walk, it was surprisingly enjoyable, easy, and refreshing. I passed by lots of shops that looked kind of appealing… many of them quite clearly aimed at military folks as their market. Second-hand shops for clothes and for furniture (specifically American-style furniture), some nice-looking bars, some nice restaurants… closer to campus, further from the base, I found a cute little bakery with scones in all sorts of flavors (banana, green tea, earl grey). I’m really tempted, though it’s maybe a little embarrassing to admit, to try out the California-style Diner. Though maybe try to figure out some time to go when there’s no military around? Actually, that particular moment as I passed by that night, the place was empty…

And once I got my bike back – oh yeah, I locked my bike to a barrier on the side of the sidewalk in Ginowan all day while I rode the bus up to Katsuren. Thankfully, the police or someone didn’t confiscate it, and it was still right where I’d left it :) – I got my bike back, and was thinking of going to BookOff, but was already most of the way back to campus and didn’t feel like backtracking… but I found a great little soba shop on the side of the road! Sometimes you really can’t tell from the outside how nice a place might be on the inside. And by nice, to be clear, I don’t mean fancy – I just mean, it had a pleasant atmosphere. Brightly lit, colorfully decorated, with very friendly staff…

So, yeah, all in all, a rather successful day, I would say.

All photos my own.

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While investigating something over the winter break, I came upon a question, or should I say a conundrum. I had thought, or assumed, or believed that I had read somewhere, that when the Kingdom of Ryukyu fell and the royal family and their entourage all moved to Tokyo at the end of the 1870s, they had taken just about all their royal treasures with them. Robes, lacquerware platters, whathaveyou. The royal family, the Shô family, though stripped at that time of their kingdom and “royal” status, were incorporated into a new Japanese aristocracy on the European model, alongside many former daimyô (samurai lords) and the like; they were no longer royals, but they were by no means commoners, and so I assumed that they continued to live a relatively lavish lifestyle, and kept much of their treasures with them, in Tokyo. The royal palace back on Okinawa had been transformed into an Imperial Japanese Army garrison even before the royal family left, and by 1883, a British visitor to the island noted in his diary how gutted and abandoned the whole palace looked. So, if the palace was more or less empty, and if the Shô brought so much to Tokyo, how come we’re always hearing about so many Ryukyuan treasures having been lost in the Battle of Okinawa?

As I began to investigate this question, I began to come across some very interesting stories. As it turns out, yes, a great many treasures were brought to Tokyo, but a great many others remained in Okinawa, housed (at least in part) at the former residence of the Crown Prince, the now no longer extant Nakagusuku udun, or Nakagusuku palace,1 and cared for by a team of (in 1945) eight stewards. In 1945, as the battle loomed, the stewards hid a number of these objects in a drainage ditch just outside the palace, hoping to come back for them after the battle was over. When they returned, however, they found the treasures gone. I do not know how many objects were in that ditch, what they all were, or how many have been recovered, but I have in the last couple weeks learned a little about two of them.

A photo of the Nakagusuku palace by Kamakura Yoshitarô, taken sometime in the 1920s. Public domain image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

One was a copy of the Omoro sôshi, said to have been at that time the last extant copy2 of the earliest known Okinawan text, a collection of poems which like Japan’s Kojiki and Man’yôshû reveal hints about Okinawa’s history, making the Omoro sôshi at the same time Okinawa’s earliest history. It turned up shortly afterwards, when a Commander Carl W. Sternfelt (d. 1976) brought his war loot to Langdon Warner, curator at the Harvard Museums, to see if Warner could help identify them. Warner is himself a rather interesting figure – I’ve begun a humble bio of him on the Samurai Archives Wiki. He figured out what these documents were, and it is said that Sternfelt, upon hearing just how important they were, agreed to relinquish them. The Omoro sôshi was returned to Okinawa in 1953, as part of exchanges relating to the 100th anniversary of Commodore Perry’s first visit to the islands. A number of other objects taken from Okinawa at one time or another have also been returned in recent decades. A Buddhist temple bell from Okinawa’s Gokoku-ji, taken by Perry in 1853 and hung at the Naval Academy at Annapolis until its return in 1987 may be among the most famous; a bell taken from the temple of Daishôzen-ji and hung for many years at Virginia’s Military Institute was likewise returned to Okinawa in 1991. But, I was interested to learn, there are those who believe that Commander Sternfelt, or someone else, had also taken from that drainage ditch a royal crown. Known in Japanese as a hibenkan, this crown, made of strips of gold ornamented with jewels and affixed to a cloth headpiece pierced by a massive golden hairpin, was used in investiture ceremonies, in which representatives of the Chinese Emperor came to Okinawa and formally “invested” the king, formally recognizing him as King, on behalf of the Emperor of China. A second such crown, which had been taken by the family to Tokyo, is the only such crown known to be extant. Today housed at the Naha City Museum of History in Okinawa, it has been designated as a National Treasure, alongside a considerable number of other objects as a single group, the so-called Historical Documents of the Shô Family Kings of Ryûkyû (Ryûkyû kokuô shô ke kankei shiryô).

Above: The one known extant crown, on display at the Naha City Museum of History. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Finding all of this terribly interesting, I began to poke through the New York Times archives, among other places, and came across an article on the website of the US consulate in Naha, which discusses much of these issues. Entitled “Provenance of Okinawan Artifacts in the United States,” it was written by Ms. TAKAYASU Fuji,3 who has also written an MA thesis on the subject, based on an extensive survey she conducted of collections of Okinawan objects in US museums. She catalogued 1,984 Okinawan objects in 37 US museums, including “569 ceramics, 501 written documents, 420 dyed fabrics, 289 pieces of lacquerware, 10 paintings, and 194 other pieces, including old coins.” I am not at all surprised to learn that these collections include so many ceramics, textiles, and lacquerwares – the kinds of works we see so often in exhibits or other discussions of Okinawan art. I am terribly curious, though, about the written documents, and especially the paintings. I would so love to see these objects someday, maybe even get to exhibit them myself, if/when I get to be a curator. I wonder how many more objects in private and museum collections across the country, and around the world, are not recognized as Ryukyuan, and are mistaken for being Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or just unknown unusual East Asian because, of course, we cannot reasonably expect all East Asia curators to have the sort of specialized expertise to recognize Okinawan works. Many may be lacquerwares, pottery, and the like, but what if there were some paintings, royal portraits even, or important historical documents, or even royal artifacts, just hiding in a museum collection somewhere, their true identity and significance unknown?

Skipping back to the issue of stolen, looted, artifacts for a moment, when President Clinton visited Okinawa in 2000 as part of the G-8 summit, it was hoped that some Ryukyuan object(s) might be able to be returned, as the Omoro sôshi was in 1953, as a display of friendship, reconciliation, and the like. In the end, no such arrangements were made, or at least not in time. However, we are told, eleven Ryukyuan royal treasures were added to the FBI’s official National Stolen Art File. I’m not sure exactly what search terms to use to find them all, or if all 11 remain on the list today, nearly 14 years later, but I was able to find two: the missing royal investiture crown which had been hidden in that drainage ditch in 1945, and an investiture robe which would have gone along with it.

Given such high-profile news stories, from Pres. Clinton adding objects to the FBI Stolen Art File, to the repatriation of the Omoro sôshi and Gokoku-ji and Daishôzen-ji temple bells, combined with various other sources of influence, it comes as no surprise that many people in Okinawa (and, I’d imagine, among the Okinawan community in Hawaii) imagine collections of Okinawan artifacts in the United States to derive chiefly from war booty. Takayasu’s research reveals, however, that the majority of these nearly 2,000 works in 37 museums were legally purchased either before or after the war, with roughly 400 obtained before World War II, 1200 during the extended US Occupation (1945-1972), and the remaining 400 or so acquired more recently. This is good news, of course, for those of us who wish to visit museums, work with museums, and/or work at museums with a relatively clear conscience. But, we must remember that much of what was taken from Okinawa during the war most likely never made it into any museum or other publicly visible collection, and instead remains hidden away in private homes and storage lockers. How many objects that might include, of what sort, and of what historical significance, remains unknown.

But, serious as the issue of missing, stolen, looted, or destroyed objects is, I find the stories themselves quite interesting and enjoyable, and am interested to learn more about the legal collections of Okinawan art in the United States – which objects exist, in which collections, and to hopefully eventually get to see some of them.

There is, of course, a lot more to be said about these works and their stories, and I expect I will either come back and edit this post, or create new posts on the subject and I continue to read about it. But, for now, I suppose I shall just leave it here.

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1) Located just across the way from Shuri Castle, and not to be confused with Nakagusuku Castle (Nakagusuku gusuku), located elsewhere on the island.
2) William Honan, “Hunt for Royal Treasure Leads Okinawan to a House in Massachusetts,” New York Times, 13 July 1997. I find it hard to believe that this was the only surviving copy, since it was surely copied numerous times in both manuscript, and later in cyanotype or the like. But, perhaps this was the only extant original copy?
3) 高安藤 Normally, I don’t follow the practice of putting surnames in all caps like this, but after myself mistaking Fuji for being the surname and struggling to find anything more about this “Ms. Fuji” (when I should have been looking for Ms. Takayasu), I figure I might as well try to be a little clearer here.

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8/9 Friday

Today was my last day in Okinawa :(

I started out by heading for Shikinaen, the one truly major sightseeing site in Naha that I’d missed on my previous trip to Okinawa, on account of them being unexpectedly closed on Wednesdays. (Many museums, around the world, are typically closed on Sundays or Mondays or Tuesdays, or even Fridays, I guess. But Wednesdays? Took me completely by surprise. And was not the most pleasant end to a rather long walk from Shuri castle.)

Ah, but first I headed back to Gekkôsô / Tsukinowa for breakfast. I skipped out on posting about them in my previous entries, but the short version is, it’s a rather ramshackle-looking youth hostel located at the end of a back-alley off Okiei-dôri near Miebashi (in central Naha). I was introduced to the place during my Naha Machima~i walking tour of the Miebashi neighborhood; I’m not sure I’d ever stay there, but it was a really fun place to hang out at night, and to go back to for breakfast. Very friendly, very real. The staff aren’t professional staff, like at a corporate hotel, who are there just to provide professional service, but, rather, are young people hanging out and enjoying living in Okinawa for a few years – they’re friendly and open and honest, and in short, just very real. And the guests as well, mostly college kids from mainland Japan, here to hang out and just have fun in Okinawa for a few days… I never did manage to get invited to join any locals in hanging out and singing folk songs or playing sanshin or whatever, like I did five years ago, but I did bring my sanshin to Gekkôsô late one night, and just hang out, sharing in their food and drink, and singing along and just generally having a good time, in that particular sort of youth hostel / beach house sort of way. Though it is a hostel, they welcome people who are not staying overnight to join them for dinner, or drinks, running a cash bar in the hostel’s common rooms, and they prepare breakfast too. A nice, cheap, filling breakfast, including an amazing banana milkshake (nothing but fresh bananas and local Okinawan milk, or so the menu says), and some nice conversation. Life in a normal hotel can be quite isolating and lonely, as you explore the city alone each day, and whatever – visiting Gekkôsô at night, and again in the morning for breakfast, brings in the social element. I’m not sure I’d ever stay there – it’s quite cheap, but also quite ramshackle (I didn’t actually see the guest rooms, but…), and, well, maybe if I were younger, but, I’d definitely recommend at least dropping by one evening, and/or in the morning for breakfast, for a taste of that backpackers / beach bums side of the Okinawan experience.

On my previous trip to Okinawa, five years ago, I walked to Shikinaen from Shuri castle – a pretty logical way to go, or so it seemed at the time, given that the Kinjô ishitatami (cobblestone) walking road suggested in all the tourist guidebooks seems to lead towards it. But, as it turns out, it’s still a really long walk beyond the end of the ishitatami road. Today, instead, I took a regular public city bus from right in front of Mitsukoshi (on Kokusai-dôri), and it dropped me off more or less right in front of the gardens.

Shikinaen was the bessô, or second residence, for the Ryukyuan royal family, a sort of relaxation pleasure garden. Is there a standard English-language term for this sort of thing? I see that the British royals have “London residences” and “country residences”… Shikinaen is only a couple hours walk from the main royal palace at Shuri, so I don’t know that I’d call it a “country residence,” but, then again, it’s certainly at a remove from the city proper, and a few hundred years ago, the urban areas would have been even smaller… In any case… In some respects, Shikinaen is quite similar to a lot of the other historical mansions I’ve visited elsewhere in Japan – such as castles, or the former Hotta clan residence in Sakura that I’ve yet to post about. You pay a small fee to get in, wander around along a set recommended path (順路), take lots of pictures, read the signs, learn a little something, maybe stop and sit for a bit and just enjoy the garden.. and maybe wonder what it was like in the time of the kings. Sure, it’s a pretty nice, pleasant, place, and a nice escape from the city, its own little self-enclosed green space, with a pond and a nice residence, but, god, what did people do for fun back then? Was it really so enjoyable just to have a garden, and sit there, and look out over the garden? .. Now that I think about it, it seems perhaps really not so different from our summer homes or country homes today. We escape from the city, and go spend the weekend, or a few weeks, in a rustic-looking home up in the mountains, surrounded by woods, maybe with some deer, and it’s all quiet and cozy, a very romantic getaway…

The residence at Shikinaen, similarly, is quite simple in comparison to the luxurious furnishings of Shuri castle – or, at least, those parts of Shuri castle that we most strongly associate and think of. Yet, it is still a royal space, and so I was surprised at its simplicity, and at the relatively unassuming scale of the gates, and of the house itself. While certainly larger than a typical vernacular home (such as the one on display at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum), like the Hotta mansion it’s basically just a larger version of a very standard basic form: wood construction, tatami flooring, red ceramic tile roof. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and it’s beautiful in its simplicity and craftsmanship, and the simplicity helps make it feel all the more relaxing and cool, breezy, like a vacation home should. But, still, this is a royal residence?

I wonder if our 20th-21st century American lifestyles, the large houses, the consumer culture, have perhaps skewed our (my) appreciation of what luxury looks like in other places and times. The house I grew up in, a three story Victorian (two floors plus attic and basement), with a front and back yard, total something like 3/4 of an acre, with a garage, two compact cars, no pool, no extra-fancy furnishings, no second vacation home, based on my upbringing, compared to the people around me, I thought (and still think) was pretty average, pretty typical middle-class. But, even putting aside that people in the past didn’t have electricity or cars or cable TV etc etc., and just talking about the size of the space, the comfort level, and the sheer amount of stuff we own (including things made of precious materials and/or fine craftsmanship) even our (my) notion of a typical, average size home is apparently pretty large, if not explicitly “luxurious,” compared to, for example, the middle-ranking samurai homes I saw in Sakura. Even at Shuri castle, despite the Seiden (main audience hall) being all done up in red and gold and everything, I wouldn’t be surprised if the royal residence was relatively plain, like this garden villa. It just goes back to what I was saying in previous posts about our assumptions about the past based on examples of the most lavish, the most luxurious clothes and architecture from that period or culture, and how this, apparently, skews our visualized understanding of what was typical/standard, very much.

Daimyô in audience with the shogun, as represented by mannequins, in the Ninomaru Palace at Nijô Castle in Kyoto. Sure, it’s a bit cheesy, and I am sure there are other very valid arguments against having such a display, but, these totally empty rooms (sometimes only largely empty) at so many historic houses only go so far to help us really imagine what the spaces looked like, and how they were used, in their time. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I think I’d like to see, one of these historical homes more fully set up, with all the furnishings, and other objects, maybe even mannequins showing how the space was used, how full and lively and formal or elegant these palaces were. And maybe include pleasure boats floating on the pond, palanquins, and mannequin horses in the stables, because otherwise the whole place just feels so plain, and empty. (The Shinsen-en in Kyoto includes a reconstruction pleasure boat, and it adds so much to the impression of the place as an Imperial/aristocratic pleasure garden.) Admittedly, Shikinaen does display quite a few old photos, allowing us to see how the space was furnished – and now that I’m looking at these, and seeing all the lacquered furniture and fancy plaques (扁額) hung on the walls, it’s certainly looking more luxurious than the empty rooms themselves attest. I suppose it would be difficult and expensive to obtain, and maintain such furniture (read: conservation issues, climate control, etc.). Still, it would be nice to see. Of course, all that said, I enjoyed Shikinaen very much and was very glad to have gone. It certainly helps provide an insight into the aesthetic or style, and lifestyle, of the Ryukyuan royalty.

Departing Shikinaen, I considered what to do with the rest of my day. I’d been thinking of doing more shopping – either for used books, or more Okinawan clothes – but my bags were already quite full, so I decided to pass on that point. Plaques and guide signs at Shikinaen indicated that many famous historical Ryukyuan officials – such as Tei Junsoku and Nomura Anchô – were buried nearby at Shikina-reien (Shikina Cemetery), but, as it turns out, unlike Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo, or Green-Wood in Brooklyn, there are no maps or guides to these famous graves. Guess they don’t get many tourists. And I absolutely was not going to go traipsing around in the hot sun across a cemetery with no idea of which section to look in, or where I was going. But! The office at Shikinaen sold these nice little pamphlets of guides to walking around Shuri & Naha. The maps inside aren’t the greatest, and the info about each site is in a separate pamphlet, but each one was only 100円, and they did include a number of sites I hadn’t been able to find, or hadn’t known about, previously.

So, I set out to fill in the gaps of some of the places I’d missed the first time around. First was Kume and the old town of Naha, known simply as Nishi and Higashi (West and East districts). The public bus from Shikinaen let off just near Fukushûen (“Fuzhou Gardens”), a Chinese-style garden built as a gift from the city of Fuzhou and as a replica of a garden located there. This was built in the 1990s, and so it’s not strictly speaking a historical site at all, but it’s representative of the long history of Kumemura as the center of classical Chinese learning & classical Chinese high culture in the kingdom. I saw the garden last time, so I didn’t bother visiting it again. But, I found to my surprise a Confucian temple behind it, looking quite shiny and brand new. Turns out it was built/opened this year.

A nice statue of Confucius now stands on the original site of the historical Kume Confucian temple. Meanwhile, two reconstructions, revivals or recreations, of that temple can now be found in Kume – one which I visited five years ago, in the Naminoue neighborhood, right near Naminoue Shrine and Gokoku-ji, and the other newly established here right behind Fukushûen – both with extremely similar names, layout, and appearance. Not that I’m complaining. I wonder if there’s some kind of political or sectarian divide between the two that would spark the construction of a second one…

I pulled out my map, and moseyed over to Nishi, from Kume, and found a plaque marking the former site of the zaiban bugyôsho, the office of the Satsuma samurai official who oversaw matters in Ryûkyû, on behalf of the daimyô. There’s nothing at all to see on the spot today, but this whole street would have, in the 17th-19th centuries, been all homes and offices of the small contingent of samurai stationed in Ryûkyû. Kind of like the earliest Japanese version of the US military bases now occupying so much of Okinawa’s land.

Speaking of which, my next destination was Omono-gusuku (O: Umungusuku), a storehouse located at the end of an earthen embankment, jutting out into Naha harbor. Like Mie gusuku, it survives, in a form, with more modern buildings established atop its ruins, for modern official purposes. I was a bit surprised to find the site completely inaccessible, but then realized that it’s not so unreasonable for major port shipping facilities to be closed off to general access, to people just wandering in amongst the trucks and shipping containers and all that. Not only would tourists be a major nuisance, and danger, but in this post-9/11 world, there is a need for a certain degree of security in and around shipping.

Ah, but, as it turns out this is no civilian shipping facility. Nope. A US Army Facility sign on the barbed wire fence – sadly, not an uncommon sight on Okinawa – means that no one, regardless of Japanese or American citizenship, is getting in there. Oh well. I got some good pictures from afar, and, in fact that’s better for depicting the site as a whole, and its location in the harbor, rather than taking pictures on/at the ruins themselves.

I then turned around and returned to Kume, in search of the former site of the Tenshikan, a sort of guesthouse maintained by the Ryûkyû Kingdom for housing and entertaining Chinese investiture envoys who came to the islands to formally invest the Ryukyuan king with the position of king, as officially recognized and acknowledged by the Emperor of China. According to my maps, it was right around the corner from the Tenpi Shrine site I’d found a few days earlier, but, in the end, I didn’t manage to find it. I imagine there’s likely nothing there but a marker or a plaque anyway, unlike the Tenpi Shrine itself, of which only one gate survives today, but that gate is sure a lot more than nothing.


I then returned to the Tomari Foreign Cemetery, as the maps I obtained at Shikinaen now indicated that had I simply gone the other way around the cemetery, I would have found Ameku Shrine right quick, rather than wasting an hour or two wandering pointlessly all the way around that stupid “Ameku Greenspace” in the hot sun unsuccessfully looking for any kind of indication as to the direction to the shrine. Following my new maps, I found the shrine very quickly and easily, along with the small temple Seigen-ji associated with it, and then returned to the cemetery. Still very tempting to just hop the wall. A sign in the cemetery said something to the effect of “if you’re interested in cleaning up your ancestor’s grave, please notify the City Board of Cultural Affairs ahead of time,” and gave a phone number. So, thinking that the Board of Cultural Affairs had some kind of authority over the site, I decided to call them. I don’t think my Japanese has gotten any better since my last time in Japan – if anything, it’s gotten worse – but, somehow, I just never really thought of using the phone before. I guess I was nervous it would be too difficult, navigating the formal Japanese used by any kind of customer service phone-answerer, dealing with trying to understand someone based on sound alone (no facial or bodily indicators of meaning), and, I guess, just being nervous that I was bothering people who were much too busy to deal with a foreigner who can’t express himself perfectly. But, actually, numerous times this summer, whether it was something like this, calling up the Naha City Board of Cultural Affairs, or whether it was calling a museum to ask about ordering an exhibit catalog from them, it all went really smoothly, and was so effective compared to not calling at all; I obtained a number of museum catalogs this way that would have been very difficult to obtain otherwise. Anyway, I called the Board of Cultural Affairs, and explained simply, “I’m here as a tourist, and I thought I’d visit the cemetery, just as an interesting historical site, no real serious reason or serious business, but the gates are closed, and is there a given day or time that they’d be open?” He told me, “oh, the gates are closed, but they’re not locked, so let yourself in, and just be sure to close the gates again when you’re done.” … Really? Okay. Thanks. So, now bearing official permission, I let myself in, and poked around the cemetery, finding the graves of a number of members of Commodore Perry’s crew, as well as a few of missionaries from various European countries, and other foreigners resident in 1840s-50s Ryûkyû for a variety of other reasons.

What a way to leave Okinawa. Look at that sky. Just gorgeous.

And that was it. Time was up. I made my way back to the hotel, collected my bags, and set off for the airport. Flying the budget airline Air Asia was a bit of an adventure, as they’re located not in the Domestic Terminal, nor in the International Terminal, but in a converted cargo shipping terminal space. lol. And I was afraid for a moment that they might not allow me on with as many bags as I had – it’s only a 2 hour flight from Okinawa to Tokyo, and if they were using a smaller plane, then my sanshin case might be too much. Thankfully, in the end, that wasn’t a problem, and the flight itself went just fine as well.

Back to Sakura for just a few days, and then, my summer adventure in Japan was all over. Back to CA for the school year. Cannot wait to go back to Japan again.

For more of my adventures in Okinawa, check out my Flickr page, Tumblr, or the Samurai-Archives Wiki, where I will continue to add content from my trip.

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8/8

After a rather productive and fun day yesterday, today I decided I needed to try to take it easier. My legs are sore from all that walking, and while I fortunately haven’t gotten sunburned at all (woo!), it’s probably better to give that a bit of a break too.


So, of course, what did I do but start the day by walking around in the hot sun. Went to Tomari, checked out the Foreign Cemetery, which was unfortunately closed. Boo. I asked in one of the shops next door, and he said that people often just hop the admittedly extremely low wall. I was tempted, but if I did hop the fence, then the entire time in the cemetery, I would have been quite visible to absolutely anybody passing by, and the gate was quite clearly closed. So, I decided to pass. I got a good shot of the monument noting the landing of Commodore Perry, and while there may be some individuals from that era buried there, the only graves I could see or read from outside the wall were all from the post-war era. So, I’m not going to bother hopping the fence only to find little or nothing of note…


Instead, I pressed on in hopes of finding Ameku Shrine, one of the Eight Shrines of Ryukyu (as designated as such by the Meiji government, so we can forget about that having any real historical/traditional significance in terms of the Ryukyu Kingdom). I thought this would be as easy as finding the shrines/temples in Onoyama Park. How wrong I was. Instead, I spent the next I don’t know how long traipsing around more or less the full perimeter of Ameku Park and seeing not only no way in, but also no signs mentioning the park or the shrine or pointing the way, at all. As it turns out, as I discovered the following day, the location of Seigen-ji (its associated temple) on Google Maps is mistaken, showing up on the wrong side of the Park (and Ameku Shrine doesn’t show up at all). Google Maps is a wonderful thing, but it cannot always be trusted to be perfectly accurate, so, sometimes it pays to back up your Googling with some more local expertise.


Spent most of the rest of the day at the Prefectural Museum, and shopping. Mostly for books, which was fairly successful, and for kariyushi wear (the Okinawa equivalent of aloha shirts), which was not so successful. I found a few shirts I absolutely fell in love with, but the prices were beyond unreasonable. I’m talking literally in the 10-30,000 yen (US$100-300) range. And when you’re a cheapo like me, who really would rather not spend more than $30 on any article of clothing if I can avoid it, that’s just absurd. Of course, in comparison to those very uniquely Okinawan designs, all the $20-30 shirts, with their very standard aloha patterns, just didn’t appeal any more, at all (if they even had to begin with). Fortunately, I did find one nice shirt, with a shisa pattern, that was extremely reasonably priced, and fits quite well. All my other aloha shirts have strangely developed giant holes in them, so I was in need of replacements… (I feel like I’ve talked about this already… sorry. To let you in on a little secret, these posts were all written out of order, and I’m being lazy and not taking the time to rewrite them based on what else I might have said elsewhere…)

I did make off with tons of books, though, including some bought at the museum, and some – new, full cover price, unfortunately – from various bookstores around town. Lots of good stuff for my research. Now I just need to find the time to read them…

And then, in the evening, I made my way to the Makishi area, which I thought I’d remembered as a good place to get original design T-shirts and such. The one store in particular that I knew of is now gone, which was a shame, but, that’s to be expected, I suppose, after five years; and meanwhile, the area immediately around the station looks quite developed up, with a new public square, with water features and a giant ceramic Shisa, and a new shopping center. It all looks really nice and new and shiny. That said, though, the shopping center itself feels kind of half-empty and sad…

Finally, I grabbed dinner at one of the live houses on Kokusai-dôri. I considered going to one of the numerous places with live sanshin music (folk songs, pop songs, etc.), but decided to change it up and go to the one featuring classical Ryukyu odori (Ryukyuan dance). The show was shorter than I expected, but quite nice, and the decor of the restaurant itself was incredible, with all the walls painted with scenes relating the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. In fact, one of the header bars which I’ve been using on this site here, which I basically just found on the internet (yeah, I know. sorry!), turns out to be one of the works from the walls of this restaurant. Pretty incredible. And, if you’re interested, all the artworks can be found in a nice paperback book called 「絵で解る 琉球王国 歴史と人物」 (“Understand history and historical figures of the Ryukyu Kingdom through pictures”), available at the restaurant, or indeed at any of the major bookstores in town, or on Amazon, for about 1500 yen.

And that, basically, was my day. Not the most exciting entry this time around, I suppose. In my next entry, I’ll talk about my final day in Okinawa: Shikinaen, and playing catch-up!

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After my adventures in Onoyama Park, I made it back to Miebashi in time to catch a guided tour I’d signed up for. Naha Machima~i is an organization that runs small tours (up to five people or so) walking around the streets of Naha, being introduced to lots of great back-street stuff you might never find on your own. I wish I’d had time to take more of these tours – such as to see the backstreets of Oroku that I’d tried looking for earlier in the day – but, unfortunately, most of the tours are only offered once or twice a week.

A typical Okinawan kame-kô-baka (亀甲墓, “turtle shell tomb”), in Midori-ga-oka Park, near Miebashi, in Naha. Okinawan tombs are quite different from funerary practices in Japan, but I am told are quite similar to those in southern China (esp. Fuzhou).

A sign/plaque outside Miebashi Station names a number of historical sites in the area, which I tried to find on my own but never did manage to locate; I was hoping this tour would point them out. In the end, it didn’t, but that’s okay. She took us past a bunch of old graves, hidden in the backstreets of the Miebashi neighborhood, but none, apparently, that are known to belong to particular (known) historical figures. Even so, it was pretty fun. The volunteer tour guide took us down some seriously narrow back-alleys, giving an introduction to a different side of Naha from the main streets I would have otherwise stuck to. I went back, in any case, later, and finally found one of the historical graves I was hoping the tour would cover – that of Tokashiki Sanra – though I never did quite manage to find the grave of Chô Kenkô, both of whom were potters from mainland Asia who came to Ryûkyû in the late 16th century and apparently played a significant role in spreading pottery techniques in the island kingdom. Admittedly, I’d never heard of either of them before this trip, but, there was a plaque outside the station that said these two graves were sites in the area, so I thought I’d go look for them… and in the end, managed to find one!

In any case, the tour ended on Kokusai-dôri, probably the most “main” street in Naha, and easily the most famous. From there, I decided to take off in a different direction, in search of other stuff. Incidentally, I learned on the tour that many of Naha’s major streets are named after prominent establishments (e.g. restaurants, movie theaters, dance halls) located on those streets. Makes sense when you think about it, given that the Japanese (and, I suppose, the Okinawans too) traditionally didn’t name the majority of their streets – when the Americans came and occupied Okinawa for nearly thirty years after WWII, being Americans, they’d want to have something to call the streets, so it makes sense they might have referred to streets by prominent establishments located there, informally at first, and then the name stuck afterwards. In this way, Kokusai-dôri (lit. “International Street”) is not literally directly named after the general concept of being “international,” but rather is named after the Ernie Pyle International Theatre, or ”Ernie Pyle kokusai gekijo”, that once stood where the Mitsukoshi Department Store stands today. Similarly, Okiei-dôri, which intersects with Kokusai-dôri and runs past Miebashi Station, is named after the ”Okinawa eigakan”, or “Okinawa Cinema,” which used to stand on that street and showed Okinawan and Japanese films. Finally, New Paradise dôri, which sounds like something invented purely for the touristy aspect of it, is similarly named after a New Paradise restaurant & dance hall which was popular during the Occupation period.

Meandering away from Kokusai-dôri, and now armed with a much better map (where did I get that from? from the tour guide, maybe?), I happened first upon a sanshin store… I’ve been practicing sanshin for about two years now, and though I wasn’t really looking for anything particular to buy – new strings, replacement pegs, or anything – I kind of wanted to stop in, anyway, share my interest, I dunno. Hope that someone might invite me to stay and hang out and play sanshin with them? I think maybe I was hoping too much. But, anyway, this particular shop, god, I don’t know how to say this without it seeming judgmental or Orientalist/racist or something, but, there was a white guy there who seemed to either run the shop, or maybe his girlfriend (or her family) runs the shop, I wasn’t sure, but, to see a guy like him (a guy like me) seeming so “at home” in a sanshin shop in Okinawa is just very encouraging. And stuff. I don’t know when, or how, or in what capacity I might ever get to live in Japan or Okinawa for any real serious extended length of time, but, on a romantic/idealizing level, boy does it seem great.

Moving on, since this post is bound to be quite long… We chatted a bit, in Japanese, and I poked around in the hopes of maybe buying something, and then I left. Made my way to Jôgaku Park, one of the sites featured in Hokusai’sEight Views of Ryûkyû” (1832; based on a 1757 Chinese set of eight views, based on a 1719-1721 set). Unsurprisingly, there was nothing much to see there. Just a cute little public park, with a view out over the city.

My wanderings eventually brought me back to Kenchômae (that is, the area right around the Prefectural Government offices, the State Capitol, if you will), so I decided this was as good a time as any to escape from the heat and check out the Naha City Museum of History. It’s a rather small museum, but, for the niche topic of Okinawan history, it’s quite good. The museum owns several National Treasures, and had a number of them on display, along with many famous/major/important artworks or artifacts of relevance to Ryukyuan history (some of them reproductions of objects held in mainland collections). One highlight of the regular exhibits, I guess, was to get to see Chiyoganemaru, the only named Ryukyuan sword I’ve ever heard of, and I’m assuming the only one that’s a National Treasure. The museum also owns a crown used in the Ryukyuan king’s investiture ceremonies, though this is only on display twice a year, for conservation reasons, though this summer they’ve been rotating through National Treasures. I’m glad I got to see Chiyoganemaru, not that I’m a swords person at all, and they also had a few bingata robes (also National Treasures) on display. I don’t know why, but I’ve always found it difficult to get interested in textiles… I should have been interested, excited, impressed. I wanted to be. I wish I was…

If there’s one big takeaway, though, it’s very interesting to see just how plain and simple (to my eyes, at least) some of these royal garments were. It would seem that on an everyday basis, outside of ceremonial circumstances, the royalty was wearing clothes that really didn’t differ all that much from what commoners might be wearing. That is, I suppose it’s unlikely that a peasant on a farm in some remote rural area would be wearing things in red and yellow – blue is a much cheaper dye. But, the fact that royals wore bashôfu (banana-fiber), and not only silks, and that all classes, from royals down to the peasantry, wore kasuri (ikat, a particular style/mode of dyeing), is very interesting. The museum also had on display reproductions of a series of paintings owned by the Tokyo National Museum, depicting Ryukyuan people of a variety of social classes, and even the Naha and Shuri aristocrats in these images wear what appear to me to be rather basic garments, in blue or (undyed) browns, wrapped simply around the body with a simple sash. Sure, their hairpins might be gold or silver, marking them as being of elite status, but, since, for Ryukyu as much as for Japan, China, or elsewhere, we tend to imagine the most lavish, luxurious, ceremonial mode of dress, or architecture, associating that with a given class, or with the whole culture, it is not only fascinating, but also really important, to be brought down to earth and to begin to get a better understanding of what was actually more typical. I’m glad, then, for that reason, that the museum showed some not so lavish materials, rather than only showing the most beautiful, most luxurious examples they might own (also interesting that these not-so-lavish objects should be designated National Treasures. Is that an indication, perhaps, of just how few Ryukyuan royal garments survive?).

I don’t want to go on too long here as to my experience of the museum, but, suffice it to say that they do a good job of summarizing Okinawan history, and showing some great objects, and there were definitely a few points that I learned that were quite useful for my research.

After the museum, there were still several hours of daylight left, so I headed out for Mie gusuku. This was one of two fortresses which were built to guard the entrance to Naha Harbor; its partner, Yarazamori gusuku, is no more, and frankly, I was surprised that there’d be anything to see of Mie gusuku, given the extent of the destruction in 1945, and the dramatic reshaping of the city (e.g. landfill, etc.) over the course of the entire 20th century. As it turns out, Mie gusuku remains strategically valuable just as it did hundreds of years ago, due to its location and such, and the Japanese government has built watchtowers and such on the site.

It’s a pretty small space, though fully accessible – one can walk right up on top of the bluff, amidst the ruins, though of course the modern watchtower is off-limits – and one can easily imagine it couldn’t have been much larger when the fortress was fully up and running. The above-ground walls, that is, the fortress itself, are pretty much no more, but the stone foundation walls are still somewhat intact, and there’s rubble and such everywhere. In short, there’s not much to see, I suppose, but it’s still a hell of a lot more than half the sites I’ve visited, where there’s, for example, a plaque or a stone marker indicating what used to stand there, and flat-out no surviving indications whatsoever of the site itself. Now, historically, Mie is described as being at the end of a long, thin, earthen embankment built jutting out into the harbor, and it’s depicted as such in various paintings and such as well. To what extent that was actually true, I don’t know, but, while to my surprise it does still sit on the water’s edge and look over the harbor today, the walk leading up to it is very much integrated with the city, and doesn’t jut out very far – there’s no long, thin, embankment.

Beyond that, I’m afraid I’m not sure what else there is to be said about Mie. I gradually made my way back to the hotel, walking through Tsuji (the historical, and current, red-light district) and Kume (the historical center of Chinese high culture & classical learning), as well as the Naminoue area, where several shrines and temples are gathered up together, overlooking the beach. I’d been to Naminoue on my previous trip to Okinawa, but I’m glad I went again; even though there wasn’t much need, I guess, to see those shrines and temples again, I discovered a number of smaller historical markers, memorial stelae, and the like that were certainly of interest, including a gravesite for the Ryukyuan fishermen killed by Taiwanese aborigines in 1871, an incident which nearly sparked all-out war between China and Japan over control of the Ryukyus & of Taiwan; also, a stone dedicated to the founders of the Nomura-ryû school/style of classical sanshin music (the style I was trained in, in Hawaii); and a small park that’s supposedly the site of a series of meetings between Tei Junsoku, Sai On, and Yamada peekumi, some of the most famous scholar-officials in Ryukyuan history. I was hoping, too, that I might manage to get a better picture of Naminoue Shrine, not from within the shrine, but of the shrine, overlooking the water, but, unfortunately, that section of beach was closed for construction.

Me and my very tired feet (and very tanned, but thankfully not sunburned body) then ended the night at a small, backalley hostel called Gekkôsô, which I guess I’ll have to write about another time, as this entry has gotten way too long already.

Tomorrow, Tomari, Kenpaku, and shopping!

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8/7

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 shrinesOki 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.

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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 destroyedOkinawa 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.

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