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Last week was an absolute whirlwind. And as much as I tried to get this blog post down as immediately as I could after the festival was over, now, nearly a week later, the whole thing is mostly a blur – but still an extremely positive experience that I am sure will stay with me for a long time to come. I am so lucky that the 6th Worldwide Uchinanchu Taikai, which happens only once every five years, happened to come around while I am here studying in Okinawa. Some 6000 people of Okinawan descent (=Uchinanchu) came from all around the world for a massive reunion party unlike any I have ever seen. The week included so many events it made my head spin – music and dance performances, talks & lectures, eisa, sumo, food booths, cultural lessons/workshops, all across the island (and on some of the other islands too) – but I think for most people the main thing was simply coming here with family and friends, and meeting up with other family and friends, visiting the ancestral homeland to explore or deepen one’s connections to one’s roots, but also to just go out and have a great vacation, with food and drink and partying..

A one-sheet extra edition, compiled and printed super fast, and handed out at the end of Wednesday’s participants’ parade, before the parade was even over!

For my part, both because I’m living here (and was therefore not quite in full-on mental vacation mode) and because I didn’t really have all that many people to hang out with, I’m not sure I had quite the full experience. But, still, I attended so many events, and had a really great time hanging out with the people I did know.

As of a few months ago, my friend Shari with the Hawaiʻi contingent thought it might be difficult for tiny Hawaiʻi to beat the 1100 or so registered attendees from the huge country of Brazil, but in the end, Hawaiʻi sent over 1800 people to the Taikai – and big thanks to Shari for helping me to be one of them. Groups from Peru and Argentina were big, too, and numerous groups from all different parts across the mainland US, of course. Germany, the UK, France, Australia. China, Taiwan, Korea, and Okinawan associations from different parts of mainland Japan, as well, of course. I think one of the surprising ones for me was New Caledonia – it makes sense, I suppose, that there’d be a lot of Okinawans there, just like in Hawaiʻi and Guam, but, still, it was a huge contingent. All of these Uchinanchu from all around the world coming together, not only were there some 6000 additional people visiting the island for the last week, but it was a majorly prominent big event, with newspapers putting out special editions reporting on the Festival, and a great many shops hanging signs and so forth. Everyone knew it was going on. It made for a really nice atmosphere – I didn’t end up talking to too many people who I just ran into on the street, but, having so many people here who you know are in a similar situation to yourself (well, not quite to myself, but I sort of adopted the identity of an Uchinanchu returning for the Festival) really creates such a wonderful open, friendly, sort of feeling.

Gov. Onaga of Okinawa, with the flags of some of the many countries & regions represented, welcoming everyone back home. I wish I had taken more photos of just generally seeing people on the street, or photos of small parties with friends. Drat.

And I think that was one of the main things that really struck me about the whole thing. It’s corny, but it’s real, that all of these people from all around the world, have come together in friendship – and more than that, really, as family – to celebrate their identity as Uchinanchu. Of course, with any such group so large, you’re going to have people acting like strangers – like the strangers they are – to a large extent; but, at the same time, while I generally try to avoid making generalizations about a whole people, I really do feel that the Okinawans are the most welcoming and inclusive people I know. Meeting fellow Uchinanchu, they share in that like they’re family. And with someone like myself, who is not Okinawan (and never can be), Okinawans here in Okinawa have been friendly as could be, and diaspora Okinawans have been just so welcoming, so accepting, inviting me into their group to go out for drinks, or whatever… Months ago, when I was first hearing about the Taikai, Shari was on Hawaiʻi Public Radio telling people about the Taikai, and about registering through the Hawaiʻi United Okinawa Association (HUOA). I sent her a message saying, basically, I’m not Okinawan, and I haven’t lived in Hawaiʻi in quite a few years, but should I register through HUOA? Is there a way to register just as a loner? And I am so glad to have registered with HUOA. Somehow, I didn’t get that same feeling this weekend as I did a few months ago in LA of feeling like I was back in Hawaiʻi, but still, it’s really something to feel a part of a community, a part of a group – to feel some connection to Hawaiian community, to Hawaiʻi as a cultural space. And I really can’t wait to go spend time in Hawaiʻi again, to maintain those connections.

My point is, attending the opening ceremonies at Onoyama Park Cellular Stadium, seeing thousands of Okinawans celebrating together, showing their pride in their individual cities or countries, but also in being Okinawan, and seeing Gov. Onaga and the prefecture of Okinawa more broadly welcoming them home in this way, it’s just so touching. Reminds me of the Olympics, in a sense, just that cheesy but nevertheless genuine heartwarming feeling of people coming together, in friendship, from all around the world, which puts tears in your eyes. Even before the official opening ceremonies on Thursday, on the day before, there was a participants’ parade in which everyone, in their respective national or regional contingents, marched down Kokusai-dôri (the main street of Naha). As Hawaiʻi was one of the first groups to walk, I got to finish walking the parade, and then turn around and become a spectator to watch all the other groups pass by – and seeing Okinawans from Texas, from Guam, from Bolivia.. even from Zambia, was just incredible. Most people had matching shirts, really “representing” their various countries or regions, and they waved flags, blasted music, performed dances. And, both at the parade and all through the week, local Okinawans would stop people, and hold their hand, and say “welcome home” (o-kaeri-nasai), often with tears in their eyes. I’m getting a little bit teary just writing about it.

Some of my friends have better photos than this; some experienced it rather directly. I, too, was greeted similarly on a number of occasions. It’s a really incredible feeling, for strangers, just anyone, people you meet on the street, to treat you like family, to welcome you home like this.

There were times during the week that I felt I wished we could all have what the Okinawans have. I mean, it comes from pain, from suffering, and I certainly do not wish that upon anyone, that anyone should have to go through what the Okinawans have. Their independent kingdom, so culturally rich and vibrant, was unilaterally abolished and annexed, and the islands’ economy allowed to flounder and collapse, leading a great many to emigrate to Hawaiʻi, the US, South America, and elsewhere right around 1900. This was followed in 1945 by Japan allowing Okinawa to become a battlefield, for a last stand for Imperial Japan, a battle which ended in the deaths of roughly 1/4 of Okinawa’s civilian population, and the utter destruction of much of the island. And indeed, that suffering or oppression is ongoing, as roughly 1/5th of Okinawa’s land continues to be occupied by US military bases today, with both Tokyo and Washington agreeing to essentially use the entire island as a strategic military position, rather than truly seeing it as an equal part of Japan, with equal rights to not have to put up with all the many repercussions of that.

But, my feeling is that through all of this, the Okinawan people have such an appreciation for one another, and for their diasporic relatives, addressing one another not as strangers who happen to have some commonality or similarity, but addressing one another as long-lost distant family. They speak of the Okinawan diaspora as being true Uchinanchu just as much, and as doing great things for Okinawa, or in the name of the Okinawan people. They speak of being linked by one heart, one soul, of being inseparably tied to this place as the homeland. We heard stories from members of the older generation, who speak of having lived overseas (in diaspora) for fifty or sixty years, but that when they dream of home, it is Okinawa they dream of. We heard from members of the younger generation, who have come here to Okinawa as exchange students in order to explore their roots. We heard from Gov. Onaga and other top people in Okinawa, who welcomed these thousands of Okinawans home, speaking of how proud Okinawa is of all of them out there in the world. Speaking of the special spirit, the strength, the power, of Uchinanchu. And at both the opening and closing ceremonies, we saw some of the real all-stars of Okinawan pop/rock/whatever music performing, not as distant, untouchable, impersonal celebrities who might happen to share some common ethnic designation, but rather, as people excited and emotional to be involved in such an event, welcoming all these people home. I wish we all could have such a strong feeling of identity, of togetherness, of ties to the land, of appreciation for our ancestors, of love for our culture, and without anyone else seeing our pride and our togetherness as a dangerous or ugly form of nationalism, or as illegitimate or inappropriate in whatever way. Maybe it’s just my perspective based on who *I* am, my own ethnic/cultural background, my own family’s history, but to me, this all feels “pure” in a way. A pure and wholly positive feeling, and display, of pride of identity, without any of the negative connotations that prevent us from demonstrating our pride in the same way in being American, Japanese, German, Jewish, or any number of other identities. I wish I could wave the Hawaiian flag and feel it was my own. I wish I could wave the Israeli flag and have people see it in that same light – as a long-oppressed minority, an indigenous people, regaining our homeland after centuries of occupation.

Ukwanshin Kabudan, performing in their own short play about the history and experiences of Okinawan immigrants to Hawaiʻi. The group is now working with an NPO called Okinawa Hands-On to produce a documentary on the importance of maintaining the Okinawan language. If you might be interested in contributing to this effort, and to the production of more plays like the one from which this photo was taken, see the Okinawa Hands-On website.

Hanging out with diaspora Okinawans, and studying Okinawan history and culture, has really helped me think about and understand and appreciate my own background as well. It’s all too easy to study history or culture (arts) as objects to be studied – as bodies of knowledge to simply read about, learn about, know, and then share. Names, dates, events, facts. And I do love that stuff. And I do think it’s important. But the ways in which we live our very real lives, the ways in which every individual person, every individual family, has their story, their experiences, their particular relationships with their identity; the way we struggle, as individuals, as families, as local communities, and as a people as a whole (e.g. the Okinawan people), to know the past and to keep those lessons with us, to have appreciation for our ancestors without whom we wouldn’t be here today, to hold onto some notion of our heritage while still living the more immediate, if mundane, priorities of everyday modern life… has really gotten me to think about my own Jewish identity, my relationship with my grandparents and their story, their identity, the heritage that I have inherited, what sort of life I want to live and what lessons I should want to pass down to my own children. How do we embody our ethnic or cultural identities and make that truly a part of who we are? How do we honor who our ancestors would have wanted us to be? How do we maintain traditions, and not lose them, while at the same time not preserving them in a sterile unchanging way like in a glass jar? And how do we maintain them while also dealing with the demands of regular, everyday, modern life?

Some people I would love to get to know, and who I suspect would actually be quite friendly and down-to-earth. Unlike the air or impression that I think is not uncommon within New York or Tokyo of unapproachability. You know, it’s funny, for a post all about making friends and feelings of friendship and family, I still can’t believe (still as in as I continue to write this, from however many paragraphs earlier) that I took no photos at all of new or old friends, or of hanging out with people this whole week. That’s what the whole damn thing was about (partially)!

Another thing that comes up when hanging out with Hawaiʻi folks is the sense I get that in Hawaiʻi, and in Okinawa, it’s not so much about knowing your way around the city/island, knowing cool places, in an impersonal way, nor is it about “who you know” (personal networks) in a high-powered, self-important way, but rather that it’s very much about just being friendly and making friends, and that’s something I have really grown to love and enjoy. I know my way around New York and Tokyo to a certain extent – I have my favorite restaurants, etc.; I know certain short-cuts or certain back ways or whatever. And I’d long aspired to develop that more for those two cities, and for everywhere I went. But, being knowledgeable in that sort of way can be rather impersonal – knowing the best restaurants in the city, being up on the latest trends, doesn’t mean you actually know anyone, or that they know you. And, like at that party I happened to be invited to that one time at the apartment of a curator for the Guggenheim, New York can feel like it’s all about moving in important circles. Who you know, as in who you can name drop, who you can get favors from. But in Hawaiʻi, and I think maybe in Okinawa too, it’s not about that stuff. It’s about being real, genuine friends with people who just happen to be guesthouse operators, restaurant owners, magazine editors, archivists… It’s maybe a little hard to put into words, I guess, what the difference is that I sense. But it’s about the easy, friendly, accessibility of making friends with people in all sorts of circles. Introductions go a long way here, and people are friendly and open and welcoming. They aren’t necessarily looking for what they can get out of you, or looking skeptically at this stranger wondering why should we really be friends. And I think that’s something I struggle with within myself – wanting to be on good, friendly, terms with more or less everyone in my life, but at the same time I have a hard time really accepting that someone else sees me as a friend until we’ve hung out many times and I feel a genuine sense of closeness. Anyway, I’m getting a little too personal, or self-psychoanalyzing or something. The point is, I’ve been here for all of six weeks, and by virtue of friends’ introductions, I already have connections, if not outright friendships, with quite a few grad students and professors, plus a guesthouse owner or manager, the editor of a major local magazine, an archivist… and in Hawaiʻi, through one means or another, I think I have friends or at least acquaintances, connections of some sort, with at least a few bars and restaurants, with multiple people at the Honolulu Museum of Arts, many on campus of course, but also with HUOA, the Japanese Cultural Center, the synagogue, and so on and so forth, after only three years of living there, by virtue of friendliness, aloha spirit, introductions, and the fact that it’s all in all a relatively small place. By contrast, I’ve lived in New York more or less my whole life (when I wasn’t in London or Tokyo or Hawaiʻi or Okinawa or California), and while I am fortunate to have a few friends in a few “high” places here and there, for the most part, I already feel more “connected” here in Okinawa, and in Hawaiʻi, than I ever have (and perhaps ever will) in New York – and not only in the professional networking “what can I get out of you” sort of way, but even in the sense of having social circles I feel I can rely upon to invite me out.

Here’s part of where the difference comes in: in Hawaiʻi and Okinawa, I never felt like I was walking with an elite crowd. I never felt like we were calling up a place to make a reservation and saying “do you know who I am?” “Oh, yes, of course, anything for you, Mr. so-and-so.” No. It was more like calling up and saying “Hey, [insert name]! How’s it going? Thanks again for such-and-such the other night. It was a really fun time. Listen, I have some friends coming into town. You think you have space?” “Oh, yeah, of course! It’s always great to see you! I can’t wait to meet your friends!” After the Taikai was over, just a few days ago, I went over to the guesthouse where one of my friends had been staying, to inquire about making a reservation myself. And, not only did the manager/owner immediately say,

“Travis! Yes, she told me you’d be coming. Great to meet you!”

and then talk to me excitedly about how wonderful that mutual friend is, a nice, fun, generous, warm, person, but then even in the middle of showing me around the guesthouse, she saw someone walking past on the street (a friend? a regular guest?) and called out to him “Oh! Takeo! I didn’t know you were back!” And then interrupted our little “tour” to go chat with him. I just love the idea of this kind of not-so-strictly-professional, friendly, attitude. Like I might also become not only a regular guest, but actually a friend, and might even get introduced to other friends, and, I dunno, just, feel happy and welcomed and feel a part of a real network of actual friends here, more so than just being an experienced, knowledgeable, cosmopolitan, visitor.

This weekend was incredible. So much fun, so exciting, but also emotional at times, very moving. It’s also given me a lot to think about; it’s refreshed my feeling of membership in a Hawaiʻi community, for which I could not be more grateful; and it’s helped me make some new friends and contacts here in Okinawa, which is sure to be fruitful going forward.

The above is all just one version of one attempt at organizing my thoughts and feelings on all of this… I still barely know how I think about all of this. My identity, my relationship to all of these things, remain a work in progress. I may at some point come back and write more about the Taikai, specifically about some of the many events I attended over the course of the Festival, which I barely touched upon at all in this post. But, feeling already so far behind (posting this so many days after the Taikai ended), I’m not sure I will get around to it. In the meantime, for those interested, please do feel free to check out my documentation of my experience of the Taikai, on Flickr, Tumblr, and YouTube.

Nakagusuku Biking Adventures

This past weekend I decided to take my bike out for its first long-distance “spin.” I had seen signs for “Gosamaru Matsuri,” a festival being held at Nakagusuku castle (or, Nakagusuku gusuku), and I thought, yeah, sure, here’s as good an excuse/opportunity as any to go visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site super famous castle that’s relatively close by – only an hour and a half walk, according to Google Maps, and presumably at least somewhat quicker by bicycle. The southernmost end of Nakagusuku Village lies immediately outside of campus, so I’m basically in the right town already, and, the one time I went up to Futenma Shrine (by bus), there were signs suggesting that Nakagusuku castle wasn’t that much further…

A large part of the reason I was eager to get a bike was precisely so that I might take trips like this. The bus lines are rather hit-or-miss around here, with many of the north-south bus lines (for example) running a good ways east or west of the campus, such that I’d have to walk 30-45 minutes just to get to a bus stop that would allow me to get on the right bus, only to ride it for only another 5-15 minutes to my actual destination. In short, if I’m going to have to walk that far to begin with, I might as well just walk (or bike) the whole way, making the bus more or less useless. And, judging from Google Maps walking directions, I can get to quite a lot of places in only about an hour’s walk. Which is a long way to go, but not entirely unreasonable, if it’s a nice day and I’ve set aside that this is my main activity, my main goal, of the day; and it should be all that much faster by bike, right?

Banners for the Gosamaru Matsuri, along the road leading up to the castle.

Well, after this journey to Nakagusuku, I’m still rather on the fence about the whole thing. On the one hand, the bike was an absolute pain in the ass, at times – or, at least, I should say, it was no help – as I lugged it up lengthy inclines. And, there’s my chief concern, which is that if I should discover there is a convenient bus line, or if I should get lost or stuck or just too tired and decide to just take the bus home, I can’t, because I’m stuck lugging this bike. But, then, on the other hand, there were so many sections where having the bike was so much faster, and easier. Once I finally got to Nakagusuku castle, for example, it was such an easy, pleasant ride the next few blocks to the Nakamura residence. .. And I can’t even imagine doing that whole trek on foot; even if it was only an hour or so, it would have felt like it took forever… Still, there were definitely sections where even though it was easier to have the bike, it was also more frightening and dangerous. Unbelievably lengthy downhill sections, where it just keeps going further and further downhill, and I’m screaming along, probably ruining my brakes in the process as I try to keep some semblance of control over my speed. Had I been on foot, it would have been long, and annoying, and on the bike it most certainly did go faster, but, the number of times I could have lost control and crashed into something…

Anyway, let’s go back and take it from the beginning. Leaving the University of the Ryukyus campus, there’s a road to the east side of the campus, just past the San-A mini-mall, that goes down, down, down, into the Ôkuma and Asato neighborhoods of Nakagusuku Village. It seems to be one of the only ways across to those neighborhoods; otherwise, one has to go way the way around whatever the hell this giant grey area to the east of campus is – it’s not a military base; I don’t know what it is. This was the route Google Maps said was fastest, and I believe it. Still, next time I think I’m going to stick to the surface roads, so to speak. The sidewalk on the side of this crazy downhill road isn’t much to speak of – it’s a rather narrow space between a wall and a set of metal barriers that are separating you from the road. There are heavy poles every few meters, and the whole thing is pretty overgrown. If I were on foot, I don’t know that I’d walk along this at all, amidst the weeds like that. But on a bike, well, I don’t know. I certainly didn’t feel it was the best choice to be trying to navigate around each of these poles, amidst these weeds, while screaming down the hill. But, what was the alternative? To be in the road, amidst the traffic? I don’t think I’m taking that road ever again. There’s also a higher path, a “historic road” with some plaques and stuff that’s explicitly supposed to be a nice walking/biking tourist path along a section of the old Hanta Michi “highway.” But I explored that a bit a week or two ago, and as nice as it was at first, it soon ended, and I couldn’t figure out where the next section was supposed to pick up. Maybe I’ll have to give that one another try…

So, now I’m at the bottom of this crazy hill. Finally. And I’m in the Ôkuma neighborhood of Nakagusuku. From here, the next lengthy stretch was quite nice – just riding along on wide, well-maintained sidewalks, along a major street. I stopped in at a convenience store for a little food and something to drink, and all was good for a little while. But, of course, Nakagusuku gusuku being a castle, of course it’s up atop a hill, so of course there’s going to be some uphill.

I don’t have any good photos of the hill up to the castle, because I was too busy (figuratively) dying from heat exhaustion and whatever. So, here’s a picture of the final destination.

But, as I started to push the bike uphill, I was feeling pretty terrible. Like I might genuinely pass out, or throw up. This was totally my fault, not being more well-fed and better hydrated, and so forth. And maybe also for picking a relatively hot and humid day. But, yeah, I was just desperate for somewhere air-conditioned to sit down. I did not happen to find that, but I found a tiny garden, associated I think with a temple that was under construction; just the tiniest little “pavilion” sort of think, like you might find in a public park, or as a bus shelter. And so, I sat there for a few minutes, and felt the cool sea breeze, and laid my head down on the table and closed my eyes. And enjoyed the shade. And gulped down a bottle of Pocari Sweat. And then I headed the rest of the way up the mountain. I don’t know if there was some other entry point into the castle grounds, but I found myself walking and walking and walking, far past where Google Maps had said my destination was, looking for some way in. By the time I finally found the main entrance to the grounds, I’d gone roughly half the way around.

From there, I realized the Nakamura residence was only a tiny bit further, so I went and did that. More on the house in another post, I suppose, as I’ll just focus on the trip itself. But, let me add in two small things – one, if you should ever happen to go visit the Nakamura residence yourself, note that there’s a small monument quite nearby to Ôyama Seiho, the man who discovered Minatogawa Man, one of the oldest finds of human remains anywhere in Japan, dating back to something like 15,000 BCE. So, get a picture of that. Also, Gosamaru’s grave is somewhere quite close by, but I was told it’s a bit of a hike, up a ton of stairs. Maybe I’ll go try to check that out another day. Maybe I won’t. But, yes, I was very pleasantly surprised with the Nakamura residence’s gift shop / visitor center. It’s a beautiful shop, and surprisingly large for such a small, out of the way, historical site. Tons of great Okinawan souvenirs. And it’s air conditioned, and the staff was so kind. And they provided free tea and snacks (black sugar jello), and encouraged me and other visitors to enjoy as much tea as we wanted, both before and after visiting the house itself. Very kind. And, really, just what I needed after such a trip.

Recovered from my bike trip by the tea and air conditioning, I enjoyed taking it easy for the next few hours, visiting the Nakamura house and the Nakagusuku castle ruins. Of course, festival food is festival food – corn dogs and stuff like that – so I didn’t eat too well; didn’t really properly catch up to prepare myself for the return journey. Whether because of the food, or more likely because I guess I still hadn’t managed to hydrate myself sufficiently, despite drinking quite a few bottles of various drinks over the course of the day, I developed a pretty major headache by the time I got back.

But, yeah, the journey back. I decided to go a different way, because I knew that climbing back up that insane hill by the San-A near campus – with a bike – would be the end of me. Surely there must be an easier way, even if Google Maps says it’ll take 15 minutes longer. Plotting it out first on Google Maps, I followed the route it suggested, and took a left to run just past the Nakamura house, going west along a road that looked, on the map, like a major road connecting this area straight across over to the Okinawa Expressway, which lies a bit to the west. Yikes. Holy crap. I guess I’m glad for the experience – certainly helps make it an adventure. But this road, while it was properly paved, was in pretty much every other respect the equivalent of a dirt path through the wilderness. Though not nearly as steep as the road over by the San-A, still this one too had me barrelling downhill at a quick pace, along a two-way road only wide enough for one car, with very little shoulder, a good number of twists and turns, and the occasional sign telling you to watch out for wild boars that might suddenly leap out into the road. Let me remind you, dear reader, that I am very much a city boy. I guess when people told me to get out of Naha and to see and experience “real Okinawa,” I guess this is what they meant.

I finally reached the bottom, worried for a good moment as I looked at my phone trying to figure out how it wanted me to go, following along the expressway but not actually getting on the expressway? I had Google Maps set to walking directions, so in theory it shouldn’t take me onto the freeway itself. But, still. I found myself, for just a very short stretch, but still a worrying one, literally walking my bike uphill right in the middle of (bumper to bumper, moving extremely slowly) traffic, and wondering what the drivers thought of this idiot foreigner. But, honestly, I’m not sure what the alternative was. For that very brief stretch, there really was no sidewalk. There was nowhere else for me to be. Getting past that part, I finally found myself back in a relatively normal-looking suburban sort of neighborhood, along a regular, busy but not too busy street. I stopped in to an Okinawa soba shop to get some food. Probably the most standard soba shop I’ve seen yet this whole trip. Dark wood decor, with half the shop taken up by small tables, and the other half a raised seating platform with tatami (in other words, sit on a chair, or take your shoes off and step up to sit on the floor). I took a seat at the bar and took a stab at what turned out to be a surprisingly large bowl of noodles. And then I found a nice road leading parallel to the highway, but not in any way riding right in/on the highway. Thank god. For a nice stretch, things were great.

Then I turned away from the highway, as I entered the last final “home stretch,” turning towards campus. Still, though, I wasn’t quite as close to home as I thought I was, and it would be a good number of very slight (but still just obnoxious enough) uphill inclines, and other stretches, before I finally got back. And, along the way, even though things were starting to look and feel more fully suburban, suddenly, what, I look to my left, and there’s a cow. A whole cow – yes, we all have some sense that cows are big animals, we’ve seen pictures. But in person, you really get a sense of just how big they are. And there was a cow, just there, across the street, in someone’s front yard, tied up to a post. I of course stopped to take a picture. But, then, just a few blocks later, suddenly there was a guy brushing his cow, much like you might brush a dog, or hose down a car, right in the middle of the sidewalk. I guess this, too, is the “real” Okinawa. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I was just surprised. It’s just not quite what you expect to see.

Long story not so short, in the end, I did finally make it back. I suppose, in the end, I am glad to have had the bike. Walking all of that distance would have been horrendous. There were definitely stretches where it was really nice to have the bike, in terms of just easy, breezy, riding, e.g. from the entrance of the castle grounds, over to the Nakamura residence a few blocks away. And I suppose I was better off being on a bike on that weird wilderness road, too, because walking along that road, where there’s no sidewalk or shoulder of any kind, where you’re genuinely truly on the road… I don’t know. Would that have been weird? Would it have been more dangerous? Less? And, as difficult as it was lugging the bike up all those hills – the big ones, and the really subtle but longer inclines too – would it have actually been all that much easier, less taxing, walking that without a bike? And what would the balance be, between not having to lug the bike up the hill, but then also not having the bike to cruise down the next stretch, and having to walk it?

I’m thinking at some point in the next week or two to make my way over to Urasoe – to see Urasoe yodore, the remains of Urasoe gusuku, and maybe while I’m at it the art museum, and on a different day also back up to Futenma, to see the Jingû-ji temple I missed when I visited the shrine. Each of these trips is also supposedly just about an hour according to the walking directions on Google Maps. Ginowan/Futenma shouldn’t be a big deal; I’ve taken the bus up there, and I’ve walked the full length back. Urasoe, well, I’m curious to see how it goes. Will there be crazy unexpected rural roads? Will there be unavoidable stretches of riding right in traffic on a busy road? Will there be massive inclines, up, or down? Will I, in total, on balance, be happier for having brought the bike, or not? We shall see.

And if anyone has thoughts or suggestions on this – on biking around Japan, or Okinawa in particular, I’d love to hear them!

All photos my own.

Continuing on from my last post

Right: Chinese folk deity Guan Yu, by Higa Kazan 比嘉崋山 (1868-1939), one of the premier Meiji period artists in the Okinawan equivalent of (mainland) Japan’s Nihonga movement. (Reproduction on display at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Photo my own.)

I find it really exciting to be seeing these exhibits at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. This is the history of Okinawan modern art, and the associated canon of works, being promulgated right here, right now. By which I don’t mean to say this is Okinawa’s equivalent of the Armory Show or the Salon des Beaux-Arts, events where the newest latest artworks made a great splash, receiving such positive or negative reactions that they later became famous, oft-cited – in other words, canonical – touchpoints in the history of modern art. But, still, these exhibits right now at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum are the ones pointing to those earlier events and telling a story about them, in perhaps the most coordinated effort yet, and thus in doing so are creating the standard story of Okinawan modern art, and the standard works featured within that story. Imagine being there the first time a major museum put works by Monet, Manet, van Gogh, Cezanne, Magritte, Picasso, Gaugin, Seurat, Matisse, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Pollock, and Rauschenberg in a room together and told you, the viewer, that this is the story of “modern art.” Imagine getting to see all of those works, which a decade or two later have – as a result of this exhibit – become known as some of the most important, most famous works in the world. At that later time, students and others see these paintings in textbooks, in lecture slides, in newspapers or magazines or websites, and dream of someday hopefully getting to see them – but you were there, at the exhibit that made them famous. Visiting the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, and seeing all of these works by Nadoyama Aijun, Higa Kazan, Nakasone Shôzan, Ômine Seikan, Adaniya Masayoshi, Yonaha Chôtai, Kawahira Keizô, and all the rest, is something like that, but for Okinawan art.

I may be mistaken, I may be reading this whole thing wrong, but it certainly feels to me, as I walk through these galleries, that these are the exhibits that are setting the story. These are the exhibits people within the field will be talking about for decades to come. I certainly will be. I don’t know what competition might be out there, other up&coming English-speaking specialists in Okinawan art, but I’m certainly hoping to be one of the first to put out some kind of comprehensive survey in English on the overall history of Okinawan art, and/or to teach classes on it, and I certainly will be looking back at exactly these exhibits, and at some of those I have already missed, but for which I at least got the catalog, such as the museum’s opening exhibit, back in 2007: “Okinawa bunka no kiseki, 1872-2007.”

I wrote in my last post about developments in Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as Western oil painting (yôga) came onto the scene, and as “traditional” Japanese painting transformed into something new (Nihonga) in order to adapt to the new modern age. Sadly, I missed the earlier rotations of this “Okinawa bijutsu no nagare” (“The Flow of Okinawan Art”) exhibit, and as I am not so well-read on any of this yet, I don’t know actually what was going on in Okinawa’s art world at that time, that might better parallel these developments.

“Yaeyama Landscape” 八重山風景, by Ômine Seikan 大嶺政寛, 1970.

But, despite leaping anachronistically straight to the postwar period, artists like Nadoyama Aijun (1906-1970) and Ômine Seikan (1910-1987) were still hugely influential and significant pioneers in their own ways, for that time. I wish I could say what the earlier history of oil painting, or other Western influences, in Okinawa were, and thus where exactly Nadoyama and Ômine fit into a longer story. I’ll learn that in time. But, even in the postwar period, they were creating works that depicted traditional Okinawan subjects in relatively realistic (if at times Impressionistic) styles, that far more closely resemble the styles of Paris-trained Meiji era artists, than those of abstract or conceptual artists of, say, the 1960s. Maybe a more trained eye would be able to look at these and know immediately that there’s something about their style that marks them as being no earlier than the 1940s-50s, but to me, they remind me of those Meiji developments, as artists like Kuroda Seiki and Yamamoto Hôsui worked to depict their own world – Japan, a Japan still very much filled with “traditional” sights – in a Western, “modern,” realistic mode. Also like the Meiji artists of a half-century or so earlier, Nadoyama and his contemporaries were founding artist communities, exhibitions, and journals, and exploring new (well, by the postwar maybe not so new) ways of being an artist in the modern world.

Nadoyama followed, really, somewhat, in the steps of the major Meiji period artists. Born in 1906, he began studying oil painting in 1924, at the Tokyo Art School (Tôkyô bijutsu gakkô), the very same school that is at the center of the standard narratives of the major developments of Meiji art. Twenty years later, he lost nearly all of his works in a major air raid on October 10, 1944.1 Two years later, after the end of the war, he created what’s now in the process of becoming one of the canonical works of 20th century Okinawan painting, a portrait of a woman in a white bingata robe, titled simply 「白地紅型を着る」 (lit. “Wearing Bingata with a White Ground”, Left.).

Meanwhile, in August 1945, within the very first weeks of the Occupation, US Navy officer Willard Hanna headed the establishment of what they called the Okinawa Exhibit Hall (沖縄陳列館). The US Military Government of the Ryukyus also established an Office of Culture & Art (文化美術課) and enacted some significant efforts to support and promote artists, actors, dancers, and the like. In 1948, Nadoyama, along with a number of others, successfully petitioned the mayor of Shuri for the creation of an artists’ community which they termed Nishimui; many of the artists who took up residency there worked for this Culture & Arts Office, either as “art officers” (美術技官) or in some other capacity. They established private studios at Nishimui, and many made a living by painting portraits for GIs, using that money and stability to pursue their art practice. Today, we are told, one of those studios remains in operation in the Gibo neighborhood of Shuri.

As early as the following year, in 1949, the artists of Nishimui organized the first “Okinawa Exposition,” or Okiten, an event meant to stand as the premier art exhibition in Okinawa, paralleling the national-level Ministry of Arts Exhibition, or “Bunten,” held annually in Tokyo, which had by then been renamed the “Japan Exhibition,” or Nitten.

Though it may be anachronistic to compare 1920s-40s Okinawa with 1870s-90s Japan, I cannot help but see Nadoyama’s story as connecting into the broader story of Okinawa’s art history, as a parallel to Japan’s. Just as we learn of the Tokyo Art School and the Bunten, and the various different art schools, artists’ groups, exhibitions, notable events, art/literary magazines, that took place, and the factions and tensions and rivalries, and the role of all of this in influencing the art itself in Meiji period Tokyo and Kyoto, so too does Okinawa have its stories, of the Nishimui artists’ village, created in 1948 in Shuri, and the relationship of these artists to the US military Occupation government; and of the Okiten, first held in 1949. And for me, that’s one of the things I love the most, is the stories. Stories that have yet to be told widely enough; stories that have yet to be incorporated into our mental vision, or understanding, of our infinitely complex, diverse, colorful world.

“Now… (3)” by Kawahira Keizô, 1988. Apologies for the skewed shape of the image here; I wish I would have been permitted to take my own photos in the exhibit, but since I wasn’t, and since I can’t find images of the work online, I had to fall back to taking a cellphone photo of an image out of a book.

The other major side of what I found so intriguing about this exhibition at the Prefectural Museum was how starkly obvious it is, just by glancing around the room, that Okinawa was right there, following right along with global art trends – that Okinawa is not only folk art; that they were not woefully behind the times; that while they may have been absent from the global art scene, and remain absent from our narratives of world art history, they were indeed producing modern art indicative of the styles current around the world in the 1930s, 1960s, 1980s. Looking around the room, one can immediately spot works that absolutely reflect those styles, and interests, in abstraction or whatever it may be, while at the same time reflecting the particulars of Okinawan culture, identity, history, politics, and experience.

“Now… (3)” (1988) by Kawahira Keizô, an oil painting depicting the Japanese and American flags flying together against a perfect cloudless blue sky, has a smoothness and starkness that, well, I don’t know what exactly was going on in the 1980s elsewhere in the world, but it’s certainly moved on past the obsessions with abstraction and conceptual art of the 1960s-70s, and with earlier decades’ trends in rejecting realism and embracing impressionism. This is one of the cleanest paintings in the place – bright colors, stark clear lines, nothing impressionistic or “stylized” about it.

“Koko ni iru watashi” (ここにいるわたし) by Gibo Katsuyuki 儀保克幸 (2009). Image from galleryokinawa.com.

Koko ni iru watashi” (“I, who am here”), a wooden sculpture of a schoolgirl by Gibo Katsuyuki, made in 2009, similarly, would not stand out at any contemporary art gallery. Put it in a US university’s art gallery and tell me it’s by one of the MFA students, or one of the professors, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all. But, look closer, and you find that the girl is hiding her hands behind her back, and that they are tattooed with designs which were typical on Okinawan women’s hands prior to the late 19th century, and which were banned as “uncivilized” practices for many decades.

These pieces are not only beautiful, masterful, inspiring, moving pieces of art, just as good, just as modern, as anything produced elsewhere in the world, but they also speak to the viewer of a particular story, a particular experience. They convey for us the emotions of that experience, and the issues and difficulties of that particular history, a history unique to Okinawa, and thus contributing to the diverse fabric of global understanding something that only they can provide – the uniquely Okinawan piece of the jigsaw. At the same time, these same issues parallel those shared by a great many indigenous and colonized peoples around the world – issues of suppressed, destroyed, lost traditions and efforts to revive and restore one’s identity; issues of stolen land and of suffering under occupation – issues which the vast majority of utterly mainstream (post)modernist, conceptual, abstract, thematic works by Japanese, American, or European artists won’t give you.

I can’t believe it; I wasn’t planning for this to be a whole series of posts. I think my first (lost) draft was actually much more concise. Oh well. I’m certainly not going to complain about having more content. Stay tuned for Part 3.


1) At least one of Nadoyama’s prewar works, long thought lost, was actually discovered in 2006.; as for the air raid, why am I not surprised that even despite the extensive interest among English-language Wikipedia writers, and English-language history enthusiasts more generally, in just about all aspects of World War II, there is no English-language Wikipedia page for the 10-10 Air Raid, an event cited regularly in Okinawan histories as a specific and extremely notable event?

I have been very much enjoying visiting the Okinawa Prefectural Museum several times these last few weeks. They have three exhibits up right now on different aspects of Okinawan modern art, which not only provide the opportunity for me to learn new things, to continue to work towards an ever-fuller (though never complete) vision, or understanding, of the infinite depth and breadth of all that is “Okinawa,” its people, and their history & culture, but they also remind me of who I want to be as a scholar. I feel in my element, in a way, in those galleries. I am not someone whose passion lies chiefly in wrestling with complex conceptual interpretive problems about how our society functions, or what anything “really” “means,” so much as I am someone who revels in learning new things – stories, images – and then sharing them with others.

I am not a specialist in modern art, and none of these exhibits really do much to inform my research in any direct way. They are addressing a different period, a different set of themes and questions: problems of modernity, of identity amid a particular context of 20th century political and cultural experience. But these are still Okinawan objects and images, Okinawan stories – stories that are only just now beginning to be told; stories I am glad to be learning, deepening and expanding my knowledge; and stories that I am eager to share with others, should I ever be fortunate enough to get the opportunity to teach a university course on Okinawan art history, or to curate an exhibit.

The museum’s exhibition calendar for 2016-17, which I’m putting here as a stand-in for the notion of Okinawa bijutsu no nagare, the “flow” of the history/development of Okinawan art.

The first of these exhibits is part of an ongoing, or at least quite frequent, series of rotations of objects from the museum’s permanent collection, constructing and conveying a standard narrative of the history of Okinawan art, as well as a canon for that art history. On those rare occasions when Okinawan art appears at all in museum exhibitions outside of Okinawa, or in textbooks or course syllabi, it almost always takes the form of folk arts or decorative artstextiles, lacquerwares, ceramics – or, if you’re really lucky, you just might see discussion of the aesthetic world of the Ryukyu Kingdom more broadly, one drawing heavily on Ming Dynasty Chinese styles, in terms of the bold colors of Shuri castle, and of the court costume of the Confucian scholar-officials who peopled its government; not to mention ships, paintings, traditional Okinawan architecture otherwise… Or, you might maybe see something of far more contemporary work, political art, speaking to contemporary indigenous identity struggles and/or the ongoing protest campaigns against the US military presence. And all of these are fantastic and wonderful in their own ways. But, what you won’t see at other institutions, and what therefore makes these exhibits at the Prefectural Museum so exciting, is the fuller narrative of how Okinawan art got from one to the other – and the fuller narrative of everything that happened in between.

Right: Nadoyama Aijun 名渡山愛順, one of the giants of Okinawa’s early postwar art scene.

Having studied Japanese art under John Szostak, a specialist in late 19th to early 20th century “modernist” movements in Japan, I have something of a basic knowledge of the vibrant and complex developments of that time. As Japanese artists began to engage with Western “modern” or “modernist” art, and with negotiating their own place in the “modern”/”modernist” art world, many took up European oil-painting (J: yôga, lit. “Western pictures”), creating works that drew heavily upon and emulated – sometimes more closely, sometimes less – the styles, approaches, and themes of French Academic painting, Impressionism, post-Impressionism, and so forth, albeit while still creating works distinctively Japanese in their subject matter, thematic concerns, or otherwise. Meanwhile, other artists worked to maintain “traditional” Japanese painting – in traditional media, i.e. ink and colors on paper or silk, depicting traditional subjects, motifs, themes – and to adapt it to the modern age, giving birth to a movement known as Nihonga (lit. “Japanese pictures”). Both of these movements were also closely tied into issues of inventing a national identity, a set of national arts and national traditions, the creation of a canon of “Japanese art history,” and issues of performing modernity, proving to the world that the Japanese (1) can do modern art, and modernity in general, just as well as anyone else; that they are fully modern people and ought to be treated as respected equals, and that the Japanese (2) possess a history and cultural traditions that are just as noble, as beautiful, as anyone else’s.

The stories of this time in Japanese art history, of these movements in painting, and of parallel developments in architecture, textiles, ceramics, and countless other aspects of visual & material culture (or, aesthetic life), are beginning to be shared in major art museums, university classrooms, and elsewhere in the US, though they remain woefully under-discussed, under-known. Giants of Japanese art history such as Asai Chû, Kuroda Seiki, and Leonard Foujita; Ernest Fenollosa, Okakura Kakuzô, Kanô Hôgai, Uemura Shôen, and Maeda Seison; among many, many, others, along with the stories of their competing art schools, the development of the salon-style Bunten national art exhibitions, and so forth, remain almost entirely unknown even among the most regular visitors to the Metropolitan (for the example), the most devoted, cultured, informed, passionate lovers of Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, or whatever. And I am most certainly eager to someday hopefully be granted the opportunity to share these stories with college students, museumgoers, or some other portion of the willing public.

But Okinawa has its art history story, too, and it is fascinating to see how these very same trends manifested in Okinawa at the very same time, in ways that sometimes closely parallel what was going on in Japan, and sometimes diverge, speaking to Okinawa’s unique, particular, cultural and historical experience. I sadly missed the earlier rotations of this Okinawa bijutsu no nagare (“the flow of Okinawan art”) set of exhibits, which would have covered precisely that period, from roughly the 1860s until the 1900s, as the Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished and absorbed into the newly-born modern nation-state of Japan, and as Okinawan artists first began to wrestle with the very same issues of tradition and modernity, Okinawanness/Japaneseness vs. the Western, and so forth, creating their own Okinawan version of the Nihonga movement, as well as oil paintings, and so forth. But, even in the rotation I did see, which begins around the 1930s and features artists and artworks up through the end of the 20th century, we see many of the same themes, and we see how they played out similarly, and differently, in Okinawa.

(More on this in my next post, coming up soon. Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Okinawan Art & History Part 2)

Thanks to the Ryukyu Cultural Archives for making the photo of Nadoyama, and so many other images easily accessible on the web, while the Prefectural Museum prevents one from right-clicking to either link to or save the images from their website. All images used here only for explanatory/educational fair use purposes.

Sueyoshi Shrine (Part Two)

The bike I had when I lived in Yokohama. I don’t think I paid much more than $100 for it (一万円), and it was *great*. Easily the best bike I’ve ever ridden. Handled like a dream. Now, if only I could find something like it here in Okinawa…

Continuing on from my previous postThe whole day I had been thinking about trying to find somewhere to buy a bike… because I’ve been having such shit luck finding anywhere closer to campus selling used bicycles in decent condition for a reasonable price. When I lived in Kyoto for a summer, I bought a used bike from a corner shop, “used” but in excellent condition, for something like $60. If I remember right, it had baskets on front and back, a built-in wheel lock and kickstand, and rode so smoothly! By contrast, when I came upon a used bike shop in Ginowan last week, the only such shop I’ve yet come across, he laughed when I said I was looking to spend less than $100 (less than ichi-man-yen), and showed me a couple of crappy, starting-to-rust bikes, with no baskets, no extra special features at all… Fuck. All I want is a decent bike, for a reasonable price. So, yeah, I thought maybe I’d have better luck finding one in the city. But, while the bike ride back to campus was supposed to take only an hour and a half, according to Google Maps – and that’s walking speed; should be significantly quicker on a bike – for some reason I was kind of anxious all day about having to actually do that ride. I don’t know, really, what the path was going to be, if it would be right along the side of the highway, or if there’d be really intense slopes, or what. Since it’s a walking path, there might even be stairs. Fortunately (?), I didn’t end up happening upon anywhere selling bicycles. So, in the end, I didn’t have to deal with that situation. Maybe hopefully someday in the near future I’ll find a bike in Urasoe or Ginowan or somewhere. Or even meet someone on campus who’s looking to sell theirs – quick and easy. I’m actually really kind of curious (and anxious) to see what it’s like having a bike here on Okinawa. On the one hand, it could be really freeing, and allow me to get places a lot faster and more easily – it’ll certainly expand my range as to where I can go for food, for bookstores, for basic everyday things. But, while I had been thinking about using it for day-trip adventures – what’s an hour or two bike ride? Not that big of a deal, right? – especially for places not so easily accessible by public transportation – I’m for some reason anxious about the bike turning out to be something of a burden. If there are serious slopes, if it does get difficult to ride, if I end up having to leave it somewhere and catch a bus or taxi back… The whole idea of a bike is that it’s supposed to be a good thing, a freeing thing. But, somehow, I’m anxious about it. I’d also rather not get caught riding long distances and/or along the highway or the like at night if I can avoid it, whereas if I’m on foot, I can just catch a bus and it’s no big deal.

And, for example, one of the trips I have been making on foot because I don’t know of any bus that goes there, is to Nishihara “town center” – to the Town Hall, and the San-A shopping mall next door. If I had a bike, would this 45-min walk (almost entirely along the side of the highway) be easier? Or harder? I’d probably end up riding in the street, because the sidewalks aren’t super even, and then I’d be riding really really right along the side of the highway. And, most of the trip is just straight up- or downhill. Super easy (or scarily fast..) one way, and really difficult the other way, if on a bike. Probably not the best idea, actually.

Anyway. Omoromachi. I hung out at Naha Main Place – one of the big shopping malls in the city – for a bit. Got some dinner at a cute Tokyu Hands Café (above). Bought a new pair of shoes (yay! Only $40. Which is pretty much the top end of my intended/desired budget, but pretty much every other pair of shoes I saw that I liked was nearing double that price. Ugh. I bought a pair of fake Converse/Chucks at Uniqlo once for literally $10. Not even marked down on clearance or anything – that was just the normal price. (roughly like these, except purple, and even more similar to Chucks.) Where are deals like that these days? For godssakes. Checked out the Okinawan-style shirts (Kariyushi wear), and confirmed that, yes, all the best styles are upwards of $100. Ugh. I hate you people. Some of the Goresu shirts – the ones with really the best designs, truly indicative of Okinawa, and not resembling something you could get at a half-dozen shops in Waikiki – were more than $400!! O_o Are you kidding me? Look, I understand that they’re locally designed, handmade, artisanal, whatever, by a local artist and all that. But, still, come on. I want to support local arts, but I can’t when the prices are so unbelievably excessive. I’ll give you 40 bucks, fifty maybe even, just because it’s so unique, so special, and because I know I’m supporting real local art. But $120 for a shirt? (let alone two or three or four hundred) You have got to be kidding me. What the fuck.

The main WEGO, or what I think of as the main one, along Meiji-dôri in Harajuku. For all I know, the real main store could be in Osaka or Nagoya or something…

Anyway, I then also discovered they have a WEGO. Easily one of my favorite fashion shops in Japan. Even if they are getting way out of hand within Harajuku, in terms of no longer being a hole in the wall, and now being like five or six different multi-floor establishments within just a three or four block radius…. In any case, I guess they’re on their autumn collection or something, paying no attention whatsoever to the specialty location of Okinawa (which has its pros and cons – I’m glad to see the same Tokyo fashions available here, rather than being unavailable), so pretty much the entire men’s section was all sweaters. Yeah, while I stand here schvitzing nearly to death. I don’t think so. I was kind of hoping for light shirts, maybe crop pants… But, things rotate, so, maybe next time? Certainly when I get back to Tokyo in the spring, there’ll be more fashion adventures.

So, that’s pretty much it for now. By the time I post this, Typhoon Chaba will have come and gone. Hopefully without too much incident. We shall see.

And Chaba did, indeed, thankfully, pass without too much incident. I’m not even sure it rained in the end. A day or so before it was supposed to hit, Chaba looked as though it was going to hit us quite directly, a Category 4, the strongest in several years at least. But at more or less the last minute, it turned west, like Malakas did a couple weeks earlier. Now, though, I’m worried about people on the East Coast of the US, getting hit by Hurricane Matthew. Here’s hoping they have similar luck to us here in Okinawa with this one.

Life on campus hasn’t been entirely uneventful – to the contrary, there was the Ryudai-gakusai (University Festival). Tons of booths with student groups selling food, or running other sorts of activities, to raise money for their clubs. Plus, eisa!

10/2

Today was another busy day of adventures down in Naha/Shuri. After staying on campus and just doing readings and otherwise “working” for most of the week, I felt it was about time for some new adventures. Plus, I just moved dorms yesterday, and while the previous place was a little more like a hotel, with most basic amenities provided, the new place is rather lacking in just a few certain basic things, a few of which I could not seem to find for sale anywhere in the immediate vicinity immediately around campus. Now that I’ve explored a little further, I’ve found a supermarket, more convenience stores, a few large drug stores, a kaiten-zushi place, a “family restaurant” with a nice (if basic) variety of both Western/Italian and Japanese dishes, and quite a few ramen places. Even found a store that sells almost nothing but Magic: the Gathering cards. But trying to buy a basic cooking pot (saucepan) – let alone a frying pan, rice cooker, electric tea kettle, or used bicycle (in decent condition, for a reasonable price) – was proving rather unsuccessful.

I considered that I could go almost anywhere today, and so long as I made sure to hit a home goods store (to pick up a cooking pot at the very least), I’d be good. There’s a typhoon on the way – they say it has the potential to be really quite bad; I really hope it isn’t… – but if I do have to hunker down and just survive through a storm, I need a cooking pot. So long as I have water and gas, even if I don’t have power, I can have ramen, spaghetti, etc. So, I was thinking of maybe going to Futenma (to hit the temple I missed that’s right next door to the Futenma Shrine), and then making my way the relatively short distance from there to Nakagusuku, to see Nakagusuku castle, and the Nakamura House (one of a handful of serious historical house-type establishments on the island). A second possibility was to take a bus way up to Katsuren, check out Katsuren Castle, and also the small Yonagusuku local history museum where they’re currently displaying the Roman & Ottoman coins that have so made the news this past week. And just make sure that before I catch a bus back down towards campus that I hit up a home goods store. The third possibility was to go out to Urasoe, a city just a little ways west of here, and just north of Naha, where I could visit Urasoe Yodore – the graves of several of the kings not buried in the royal mausolea in Shuri – and whatever else might happen to be in the area. In the end, I decided to put all of these off to instead just go into Naha.

The torii for Sueyoshi Shrine, leading the way into Sueyoshi Public Park.

The regular public bus (#97) from campus happens to let off at Gibo, so that was plenty convenient, to just get off there and hike up towards Sueyoshi Park. First, I thought I’d go looking for the grave of Haneji Choshu, aka Sho Shoken, an 18th century Confucian reformer who is easily one of the most prominent figures in the kingdom’s history. The grave is supposedly right outside the park somewhere… I didn’t manage to find it on my last visit, and spoiler alert, I didn’t actually find it today either, though I was certainly a lot closer. Following Google Maps, walking up the small residential side street that runs roughly along the northeast side of the park, you’ll see a small path to the right, hemmed in by a fence, leading upwards away from the homes. There’s a sign about it being a wildlife area. This is the path to follow – if you stay on the streets, you’ll just hit a cul-de-sac / dead end. Follow this path up a little ways, until you find a whole group of stone tombs. Haneji Choshu’s tomb is supposed to be somewhere in here. At least according to Google Maps, if you keep going deeper into the unpaved, woodsy path, you’ve gone too far. Though maybe you do need to go that way; maybe it doubles back eventually or something. Or maybe the pin-drop from the one website I got it from was mistaken. I dunno. But I explored that one group of tombs – carefully and respectfully – and according to the pin-drop was in precisely the right place, but still didn’t find it. I dunno.

(Now that I’m on the computer writing this up, I’ve zoomed into the map further, and realized it looks like its a bit deeper in the woods – maybe one needs to enter through the gate I found closed along the path. But I’m certainly not going to open a closed gate – not going to risk entering private property; in any case, it does look like it’s a bit of a ways into the woods, not immediately among that group of tombs, so no wonder I didn’t find it. And I’m certainly not climbing through the underbrush – which may be full of deadly venomous snakes – just to find some historical site.)

I’m a little annoyed and disappointed, especially after walking all that way, but at the same time, if I had found it, then what? Just to have a picture of it, just to be able to include on this here blog post, and on the Samurai-Wiki, and so forth? I mean, I still really like the idea of having been to a place myself, to have my own photos, to not just be using whatever I find on the internet. But, at the end of the day, what difference does it really make? And most especially, if by chance I had encountered a habu (pit viper) in there, or gotten in some other kind of trouble, then even if I had found the tomb, would it have been worth it? I dunno, maybe I’m just getting over-cautious, over-worried, un-adventurous in my old age. In any case, I found a way out of the cemetery area out a different side, right into a residential neighborhood. For anyone looking to find Haneji Choshu’s tomb yourself, I would suggest you might have an easier time of it this way, rather than going up that slightly (just slightly) worrying side-path up and up and up alongside that fence… but, then again, I never did find the exact right tomb, so who am I to say which path is the best one?

The main hall of Sueyoshi Shrine.

Giving up on that matter, I moved on to the next task. Fortunately, this one turned out to be quite easy. The last time I came to Sueyoshi Park, I had a hell of a time finding Sueyoshi Shrine. The park overall is far more densely forested than most parks I’m used to, and involves lots of narrow winding paths that are, well, they’re certainly maintained to some extent – they’re not wild and overgrown – but they’re not nicely, cleanly, manicured or whatever either. And signs pointing around the park are fairly minimal; or at least, that was my experience, entering the park from the south and not realizing the shrine is all the way at the northern end. I just wandered and wandered, sometimes not even knowing what was and wasn’t an official path… and never did find the shrine. This time, though, today, after leaving the cemetery via that small residential neighborhood on the north side of the park, I simply walked along that quiet suburban street, until only a block or so later I found a gateway indicating the way towards Sueyoshi Shrine!!

Well, that was easy. Follow the path in away from the street, and up a few steps, and there’s a beautiful plain wooden torii (above), followed by a rather steep stairway (with a nice red metal handrail) leading down into the park, as if descending into a cave or something. But, at the bottom of the stairs, bam, more or less right there, suddenly, is the stonework of the bottom of the Shadan (“shrine platform”). Steps lead up from there to the main shrine buildings, and there you have it, Sueyoshi Shrine. I’m not sure how much of this is original, and how much is postwar reconstruction – I’ll have to read into it; I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the stonework is original, or repaired, and if the slightly run-down looking shrine office building were a prewar survival, I would be surprised, but I could certainly believe it. The main shrine building, though, looks far too nice to be pre-war. Then again, it could be, just repaired and restored and repainted. In any case, it’s a gorgeous building. Really impressive. I’m so glad to have finally found it. I’ve now been to seven of the “Eight Shrines of Ryukyu.” The only ones outside of Naha/Shuri are Futenma Shrine, which I visited in the last blog post, and Kin Shrine, way up in Kin Town, which will have to be a day trip of its own one of these days. I don’t know the full story behind who chose those eight or when or why, but it’s certainly interesting to me that Kin Shrine, of all the provincial (so to speak) villages and towns on the island, got chosen. Returning to Sueyoshi, I’m also a little unclear as to whether it’s considered an active shrine today – the shrine office was labeled as such, and seemed to have protective charms (omamori) and other things stocked… but, then, why were they not open? And the shrine building itself, looks quite nice, restored & repainted and whatever, and there’s also a donation box out in front – and a sign explaining procedures for worshippers. So it would seem active enough – but, then, why do the signs leading into the park from the street say 「跡」, meaning “ruins of” or “former site of” the shrine, rather than just saying “this way to Sueyoshi Shrine” (without the “ato”)? Maybe it’s that even with the building restored, the spirit is not considered to reside there anymore? Maybe there are actual physical objects of worship that were lost, destroyed, or relocated? Or maybe even without physical objects of worship, there had been some ceremony of relocating or disbanding the shrine? Whatever the case may be, it’s a truly beautiful sight. I definitely recommend you to go check it out if you’re visiting Naha.

I then left the shrine to make my way to Shuri Tônokura-chô, for an exhibit of artworks by professors at the Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts. The exhibit closes next week already, so I’m glad I decided to go into Naha today, and caught it. Of course, they didn’t allow me to take any photos (*fist shake!*) but on the plus side, they did give out a nicely produced catalog of the exhibit for free, so that’s something? I still really would have preferred to take my own photos – I don’t know the precise ins and outs of copyright law, especially across Japan + US copyright law both, regarding posting my own photos online of someone else’s copyrighted work, but that’s still gotta be better, at least to some extent, than just scanning photos out of a catalog… Anyway, I wrote a comment card about it. (Also, see this great Tweet / post about photo policies at libraries/archives.)

I think I’ll write a whole separate post about this exhibit, but for now let me just say that I’m really looking forward to more engagement in future with local art events like this, by local artists, getting a sense of what’s really going on, right now. And maybe, just maybe, by the end of these six months, getting to be just regular enough an attendee at such things that some people might start to recognize me, to know me..

Leaving the University of the Arts, I decided to walk over to Omoromachi, seeking to stop at a home goods store which Google Maps said was along the way. Somehow it ended up being a much longer walk than it should have been – or at least it felt like it. Then again, a 30+ min walk maybe just feels that long…

The main hall of the Shuri Kannon-dô, aka Jigen-in.

But, along the way, I stumbled upon the Shuri Kannon-dô, a Buddhist temple I had seen on my first trip to Okinawa, some eight years ago, but which I decided to check out again. I don’t really remember that first time too well, but I feel like maybe I didn’t explore the grounds much at all (perhaps because it was raining) – as familiar as the gate looked, once inside nothing rang a bell. It’s a gorgeous little temple, clearly very well-maintained and/or recently restored. And while I don’t normally venture all the way inside, the doors were wide open and welcoming, so I went inside and actually saw the object of worship – the 1000-armed Kannon – and also bought a little protective charm (o-mamori) for safe travels.

This blog is named for the classical Ryukyuan song “Nubui kuduchi,” a song which tells of the journey from Ryukyu “up” (nobori, or nubui) to Kagoshima. The very first line of the song references exactly this temple, which is why it was particularly cool to visit. As the song says, 「旅の出立ちに、観音堂、千手観音。伏せ拝で、黄金尺取て、立ち別る」 (tabi nu njitachi ni, kwannun dou, shinti kwannun. Fushi wugadi, kugani shaku tuti, tachi wakaru). When departing on a journey, [first we visit] the Kannon Hall, the 1000-armed Kannon. And, while I have no doubt that the temple, and quite possibly the Kannon statue itself, were lost in the war, and that all of this is quite likely quite new, nevertheless, in name and in spirit it carries on as a rebuilding of that very same temple – the same one Ryukyuan scholar-aristocrats prayed at before leaving on their journeys to Kagoshima. I put my hands together, bowed my head, closed my eyes, and said a quick prayer to Kannon, for safety in my journeys here in Okinawa, and beyond, over the rest of the year.

I then finished walking to Omoromachi. I had been thinking of going to the Prefectural Museum to check out an exhibit on Okinawan “folk arts” (mingei), but I just wasn’t in the mood for more intense reading Japanese at this point.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, so far as history & culture are concerned. I found my way to the home goods store, and bought a pot (saucepan), frying pan, and a couple of other things. My kitchen is now much more well-equipped. Although I did realize later that night I still have no napkins, paper towels, dish towels / hand towels, or a sponge. No sponge to wash dishes with. Idiot.

There’s a bit more to say – not much – but as this post is getting quite long already, I’ll post a continuation another day.

Except where indicated otherwise, all photos are my own.

A Day in Futenma & Ginowan

Futenma Shrine 普天満宮, standing at the main hall, looking back towards the torii and temizuya at the entrance.

9/21/16

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).

The cave at Futenma Shrine. Photo courtesy of Chinese Wikipedia. We were instructed not to take photos inside the sacred space, and so I respectfully refrained.

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.)

The view from Futenma Shrine, back across the street. Sanshin no Matsuda on the left, and King Tacos on the right. This is pretty much what most of Ginowan looks like, in my experience thus far.

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.

So friendly and welcoming…

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.

The haul for the day.

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.