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Posts Tagged ‘Naha City museum of history’

A typical scene in Nishihara. Just walking along the side of the highway, no shops at all in the immediate vicinity except for auto repair and the like…

As I wrote in my last post, Nishihara is… a new experience for me. Quite scattered and disparate in its layout. Just walking around the neighborhood immediately off-campus to the south, Uehara, I think I’ve counted at least five hair salons (for whatever reason), at least five car places (dealerships, garages, auto repair, motorbike shops, etc.), one fast food joint, plenty of real estate or apartment management places, a bunch of other random establishments, and zero bookstores. Zero cute cafés. Zero welcoming-looking restaurants. No supermarket that I’m aware of. Certainly no big box electronics store (or even a small one). I’m not even sure I’ve seen a cellphone store at all, in this particular neighborhood. On one day I popped off campus, thinking I would find, just something, whatever, to eat for lunch, and just make it quick and come back to my room to do more work. I wandered around for literally at least 30-40 minutes, getting further and further from campus, finding absolutely zero places that looked inviting – or even open – before I finally found myself at a supermarket (and still no appealing-looking restaurants), way off in another part of town entirely.

Now, granted, I do think that once I get a bit more settled in, and start to get more familiar with what’s available on each side of campus, in each part of the area, I’ll feel a bit better about all of this. After four years in Santa Barbara, I’m finally starting to feel that there’s really enough variety of dining, and enough to see and do otherwise – almost.

In the streets of Naha’s Tsuboya neighborhood. One shop after another, each inviting, each providing goods or services of real interest, like in a normal town.

But, still, I imagine you can understand why it was a major breath of fresh air to take the bus down to Naha, the prefectural capital, the other day. A city I’m familiar with, with lots of familiar sights, and just a real city, filled with things to see and do, all the resources you could possibly want. I was glad to discover that the bus runs relatively frequently, goes at least kind of late into the night (until 9:30 or so – thankfully not 6:30 or 7 as I’d feared), and takes only about half an hour. Looks like I’ll be able to get down into the city relatively easily and often. Thank god. Even so, I think next time around, the next time I find myself in Okinawa on a fellowship or a postdoc position or a sabbatical or whatever, I think next time it’d be super great to be based at the Okinawa University of the Arts – right below the castle, right in the city (more or less). I’m sure Ryûdai will be fantastic, in all sorts of ways, in terms of students and faculty and the library, and hopefully in terms of arts and events too. But, oh boy, how awesome would it be to live right there in Shuri? Next time.

This time, I took the bus to Omoromachi, and if I remember correctly went first straight to the big electronics store – Yamada Denki – and picked up a five-meter-long ethernet cable, so I can finally use my computer (with internet connection) in bed. Relax while I simultaneously get shit done – shit like blogging; or, maybe, actual reading/research work. With no stores around that I had yet found near campus, none at all really outside of basic convenience stores, even something as simple as this took a real adventure to get. Then I was pointed by the Yamada Denki folks across the street to San-e, the big department store / shopping mall, where I was able to get a prepaid data SIM card. Still no voice function (which means no phone number – hopefully I won’t need to have a number to put down on forms or anything), but, I’m all set on data for the next month – thank god. One more thing down.

As it turns out, we /do/ have such things here in Nishihara, too, just not immediately near campus (so far as I’ve seen thus far) – I would later discover a San-e way down near the town hall (about a 45 min walk from campus), which though still pretty basic compared to what’s available in the totality of Naha City, is just sizable enough to provide for much of what I’d feared was only available in the city. Namely, things like prepaid data SIM cards.

The main lobby of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Clean, sleek, bright. I wish I could share with you photos of the actual galleries, but they don’t allow photos…

In any case, errands accomplished, I poked over to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. Thought I was going to buy up some museum catalogs, maybe some other stuff. As it turns out, (1) the one catalog I was really looking for, from an exhibit only two years ago on Kumemura, is all sold out and gone, and (2) there weren’t really any exhibits up right now that I wanted to bother paying to see. So, I bought myself a little coin purse, to hold all the change that keeps otherwise falling through the holes in my pants pockets, and I moved along.

Before leaving the museum, though, I decided to go check out the rental galleries – outside of the paid areas of the museum, where groups or individuals can come in and rent out the space for their own use. The last time I was here, two years ago, these spaces were being used for an exhibition of college students’ artworks, from the Okinawa University of the Arts. Maybe like a BFA thesis / graduation show. I’m not 100% clear. This time, I happened to catch a one-day-only exhibition of Western Australian artists, organized by Peter Davidson. I feel like the name is really familiar – like maybe I’d come across his Okinawa work before already – but if I have, I still haven’t quite figured out why the name rang a bell. Maybe it’s just a really common name.

“Okinawa Study” by Peter Davidson. Image from Wild Swan Arts Group blog.

Spoke with Mr Davidson for a little while, and got to take a look at his paintings. They’re small, but wonderfully vivid and colorful. They really capture the richness of Okinawa, I think – the lush greenery, the orange of the roof tiles… It’s a shame that the photographs can’t capture the texture and vibrancy of these paintings. Makes them look so flat…

Skipping seeing any of the regular exhibits I’d have to pay for (and which I’ve already seen, and which they won’t let visitors photograph because they’re obnoxious jerks), I then went back to the monorail station and headed over to the Naha City Museum of History. I imagine I must have posted about this museum before – it’s a funny sort of place, very small, tucked away on the 4th floor of a shopping center in downtown Naha. But, despite its small publicly visible footprint, and small municipal sort of name (City Museum), the Naha City Museum actually holds numerous National Treasures in its collection, and is a major center of Historical activity, including not only extensive documentary archives & library, but also publications (e.g. city histories), and playing some major role in organizing the historical markers & explanatory plaques all around the city.

They have just two small gallery spaces, one where they show decorative arts, mainly – textiles, lacquerwares, and the like, often from royal collections, often including some National Treasures. I’ve seen the royal sword Chiyoganemaru in that space, and this time, they had a replica of the last surviving royal investiture crown on display. I was disappointed it was only a replica, but, what are you gonna do. In the other gallery, they started off with a bunch of various different things relating to the city’s history – maps and paintings of early modern Naha from the 19th century or so, and also a model of a section of downtown Naha as it looked in the 1930s. One of the few things in the gallery they explicitly said we could take pictures of.

And then, the rest of the gallery is what really rotates, thematically. Right now, 2016 is the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Basil Hall to Okinawa – his accounts of his journey remain one of the more canonical accounts in English. So, they had a very nice display detailing his trip, day by day, with copies of his journal, including the beautiful color illustrations, and so on and so forth.

Shuri Castle, lit up in the twilight.

Finally, after finding some food and poking around the Heiwa-dôri shopping arcade for a bit, I headed down to Shuri castle. I had been planning to get back to campus already by that point, as I was nervous about getting back after dark, and because I was already pretty tired, already feeling I’d had a long day. But, I saw a poster for a special Mid-Autumn Festival celebration at the castle, complete with lots of classical Ryukyuan dance and music, and this just wasn’t to be missed. So I steeled myself up, and lasted out the day, and finally headed down to the castle around 6pm, only to find that because of strong winds and potential of rain, the event had been canceled. Boo.

On the plus side, though, I’d never been to Shuri castle before so late at night. It was beautifully illuminated, and I managed to catch a few good photos. Plus, there were very few tourists around, inside the castle, so I got to get some closer photos than usual of things inside – and to just enjoy it and have a quieter, nicer. time of it, without so many crowds.

And then, when that was done, just very easily caught a bus back to campus. Great to know I can do that whenever, from now on. All in all, a really great day in the city. Looking forward to more such adventures – the next time there’s a concert or performance or museum exhibit, or whatever…

Except where indicated otherwise, all photos are my own.

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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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