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Posts Tagged ‘Naha’

Eisa performance at Ryûdai Campus Festival (daigakusai).

I’ve been in Tokyo for just over two months now, and I’ve suddenly this week found myself thinking about my life in Okinawa. While I was there, it felt (of course) so totally immediate and real, but now that I’m gone, only two months later, and even after being there for nearly a full six months, the whole thing feels like a dream, or like another life. This happens every time I go from one place to another, so I should be used to it by now, but I’m still not. Who am I? Am I the person I was in Okinawa? Am I the person I am now, here in Tokyo? I *love* my life here in Tokyo, though I sort of dreaded it and knew that in a lot of ways I didn’t want to let go of my life in Okinawa. And I look forward eagerly to spending time in Okinawa again, sometime, but still it feels like a dream, like another life. Getting the Prefectural Museum newsletter in the mail made it feel more real, and also more distant, at the same time. Every new exhibit, every new event, in Okinawa, that I wish I were there on-island for…

Tôdai’s famous Yasuda Auditorium.

I dunno. It’s weird. As I’m writing this, more and more comes back to my memory, and in a certain way it feels real again, in a very normal sort of way – not necessarily like an adventure, an incredible experience of some other world, but like, yes, a place that I lived. The café, the university library, the dorm room. Real and yet unreal. I dunno.

At the Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum.

Part of me feels like I should be able to just hop on a bus and go there again, to the bookstore, to the museum, to Kokusai-dôri, just like I did for months. But then I have to remind myself that not only is that a whole plane flight away, but that I most likely will not be going back at all for at least a year, maybe two or three.

And now my life here in Tokyo feels so real. And I don’t want it to end. I’ve been so fortunate in my life to come here so many times, and also to stay here for so long this time. And I know I’ll be back, and it’ll be wonderful all over again. But it’ll never be the same as it was this time. And that’s an odd feeling, too, because what do I really have here in Tokyo, other than the general greatness of this city (which I’ll have the next time and the next time)? I have affiliation with the Shiryôhensanjo, which is fucking amazing – getting to take out books from about half the places on Tôdai campus, and getting to walk the stacks at the Hensanjo and take books out and bring them back to my office where I can scan them or whatever rather than having to pay for expensive copies. And I have this really nice apartment. I mean, it’s not the most lavish amazing wonderful place ever, and I feel weird actually to like any apartment so much (plus, I learned that it’s actually not all that inexpensive for the area) – but, really, it’s just such a nice place. Everything is basically brand new (or at least extremely well-maintained), from the hardwood floors to the totally not moldy or creepy at all shower/toilet room, to the desk and the A/C-slash-heater. It’s not a super big place, but it’s more than big enough for my needs, and close enough to campus, and all of those good things… and I’m going to be sad to have to say goodbye to it. And, since it’s a visiting researcher dorm, I don’t know whether to say that makes it easier, or harder, to think about getting to live here again, in the future… What do I really have that makes this time so special, so desirable to hold onto, to continue or to repeat? The Hensanjo, and the apartment, yes, but the city will be here next time, too, and whichever neighborhood I end up living in, will be a new and pleasant experience in its own way.

I wrote up all of the above in the spur of the moment, as I was thinking about it, and left it kind of incomplete. Coming back to it now to add links and pictures and just a little bit of editing, I find I’m really not sure what more to say, or how to conclude. But, I guess it’s just something that’s going to continue to be on my mind, in different variations, as I continue my time here in Tokyo, and after it comes to an end in August. It’s such a privilege and such a pleasure to get to spend so much time in these two cities. Like everywhere I’ve been, I know that each different stay has a very different feel, a different energy to it. It’ll never be the same again, and there’s something very sad about that. And, as I said at the beginning of this post, no matter how real, firm, and concrete, life in Okinawa (or Tokyo or Hawaiʻi or anywhere) might feel at the time, it always inevitably turns to a mirage, a dream, a vague memory. Photos are great, and I’ll keep taking far more of them than I know what to do with; but looking at photos will never be the same as actually being there. I look at photos, and often I remember what else I did that day, or what brought me there, or other associated/affiliated thoughts, but rarely do I remember how I felt that day, or what it really felt like to be there in that place. But, what are you going to do? Shôgannai, as they say in Japanese. We have to just enjoy ourselves while we can, and keep moving forward, and just make peace with the fact that life goes on. It’ll never be everything you might dream it will be, and it’ll never be the same as it was before, but it’ll be good, in whatever new and different ways it will be. Just have to take it as it comes.

Another beautiful, sunny day in Naha, looking out over the city from the monorail station.

All photos my own.

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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.

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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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Flew from Tokyo to Okinawa on Thursday, the 15th. My flight landed at 5:30 or so, and even though I didn’t wait long for my bags, nor wait long for a monorail train out of the airport, nor wait long for a bus to campus at the bus terminal, somehow in total I severely underestimated how long it would take to actually get out of the airport. So, I only finally got to campus around 8pm. But, I’m here now, and all is swell.

Right: Sunset over the Tsubogawa, in Naha.

Just taking the monorail out of the airport, being back in Okinawa put such a smile on my face. And the moon was so beautiful that night (even though it didn’t really come out in the photos)! I suppose that makes sense, given it was Moon-Watching Festival (月見, tsukimi, aka 十五夜, jûgoya), though I didn’t realize it at the time.

As I was saying in the previous post about seeing how Tokyo changes each time I come by, I quite enjoy seeing the same in Okinawa. In order to get out to the University of the Ryukyus campus, I had to take the monorail from the airport to the main Naha Bus Terminal, then catch a different bus.

(They do have buses that go straight from the airport to campus, but they stop all the way at the other end of campus, and I was told this might be easier, esp. with all my luggage. In the end, I think I might have been better off with the other option – just take a bus to the wrong end of campus, then suffer a short walk, or catch a cab… Still, I made it in the end!)

The Naha Bus Terminal at Asahibashi/Izumisaki, as it appeared in 2013. Not much to look at, but it was what it was.

As I got off the monorail at Asahibashi, though, something felt wrong. Then I realized what it was – they had torn down the entire bus terminal, for renovation!! I’m sorry I didn’t get any pictures of the construction (I still might, on a later day), but, yeah, it’s these small things – having been someone who saw the old one, and not someone who’s only familiar with the new one – that make me feel just that tiniest bit more “insider”, more experienced, more worldly/cosmopolitan, more well-traveled, in the extent of my familiarity/experience with Okinawa.

The 50 Year Anniversary Hall 50周年記念館 at Ryûdai.

Met up with my professor, who helped me get situated in the temporary lodgings – he had my key card, and all that. And then the next morning, we met up again to just get some paperwork stuff done. Had to pay for the hotel-like place I’m staying in now, and then also formally apply for a room in the International House (国際交流会館) next door, where I’ll be staying from October onward.

I then headed into town, in the hopes of getting some various things done – formally registering my residence with the town hall (町役場), so I could then have a formal address on my resident alien card (在留カード), so I could then open a bank account and get a cellphone plan. As it turns out, none of that was destined to happen – I need to wait until I’m actually living in the International House before I can claim that as my residence. I suppose it makes sense to some extent. And, I don’t know why, maybe I was just in a better mood myself, or maybe it’s because everyone here in Nishihara was so kind and understanding and authentically apologetic about it, but I’m not so worked up about it. I have a place to live, and a temporary cellphone plan that’ll last me through the end of the month, so I’m safe – nothing is going to run out on me, or leave me in the lurch, before October.

Most of the walk to the town office looked like this. Some beautiful views of Nakagusuku Bay at times, but mostly just greenery and walking along the side of a road, passing by small clusters of shops, just a few at a time, looking somewhat rundown and not entirely welcoming…

Anyway, the walk down to the Nishihara Town Office (西原町役場) was about 45 minutes from campus. A bit of a trek. My first time getting a feel for the town. We’ll see how things go as the year goes on, whether I discover some other part of town that’s different, but for now, it all just seems terribly disparate. If there is a dense, lively, walkable, town center, I haven’t found it yet. Which is weird for me; I’m a city boy, both by upbringing and by experience since then, and I’m just not used to this sort of thing. Even in small cities like Honolulu, Naha, and Kagoshima, it’s still a city – a whole complex grid of streets, one building after another, conglomerated into busy shopping districts or residential areas, or whatever, without these vast areas of just emptiness (unless they’re public parks or the like). Even in the town I grew up in, which is officially designated a “hamlet,” you’re not walking along freeways past fields or just empty natural spaces – you’re mostly walking past homes and shops, a thoroughly suburban environment. Even in Goleta, CA, a town which I constantly complain is comprised primarily of freeways, office parks, and strip malls, there are good sections of walkable shopping & residential areas, in Isla Vista and Old Town. I don’t mean to go on and on about this point for too long, but anyway it’s just interesting to me that as soon as you leave campus here in Nishihara, there’s like one fast food restaurant, and like a car dealership(?), and just not much of use immediately right there. Where’s the “college town” of bars, restaurants, cafés, shops? And, all along that 45 minute walk, I feel like I passed by very very few establishments of any interest. Which isn’t to say there weren’t establishments – it wasn’t all fields or pure void – but, whatever it was, it wasn’t anything that caught my eye at all as somewhere to check out. No cute cafés. No inviting-looking restaurants. No bookstores. Only one or two grocery stores. Certainly no big-box electronics store where I might hope to get a visitors’ SIM card plan (no address required), or a longer ethernet cable (can you believe there’s no wifi here? what?).

But, again, maybe it’ll just take some time before I settle in to a better appreciation of what’s around. I’m hoping to get a bicycle soon, so that’ll make exploring a lot easier. I hope. If there aren’t too many hills or freeways or whatever.

Cheesy, but, whatever.

After my unsuccessful trip to the town hall (I really do need to be living at the International House before I can get my address registered), I did at least order a hanko (a personal stamp) for the first time. I can’t wait to have my very own seal, so I can stamp documents all official-like, rather than signing by hand (Japanese bureaucracy generally prefers the seal). And, to my pleasant surprise, I checked with the bank, and they’re cool with me using whatever design I want – it doesn’t have to be my legal name (in English letters). So, while I’ve long thought about doing something with the character for “tiger” (虎 – since the Japanese word for “tiger,” tora, sounds like the first half of my name – Travis->Torabisu->Tora), in the end I’m just going to go with a hiragana version of my surname.

My hopes of getting anything real done dashed, I decided that at least while I’m down in town, I should maybe check out some historical sites. The one main one in the area, which Google Maps told me was amazingly close by – like a 10 min walk, maybe 15, from the town hall – is Uchima Udun, the ruins / former site of the 15th c. mansion of Kanamaru, lord of Uchima, who in 1469 staged a coup, overthrowing Ryukyu’s First Shô Dynasty and installing himself as the founder of the Second Shô Dynasty. As it was this Second Shô Dynasty which then continued down until the fall of the kingdom some 400 years later, Kanamaru (aka King Shô En) is a pretty major guy, and thus his mansion definitely something worth seeing.

I don’t know if it’s preparations to safeguard the site against the impending typhoon (Typhoon 1616 Malakas), or if it’s repairs from a previous recent event, or more normal (non-disaster-related) restoration / conservation efforts, but I was surprised and disappointed to find Uchima Udun all covered in construction fences, nets, tarps, and so forth. I guess in a certain way I feel kind of special to have gotten to see it in this unusual state. But, I’m definitely hoping that the work is completed soon enough, that I can go back and see it in a more proper, cleaned-up, visitable and photogenic state.

It then began raining. Pouring, really. So I dashed into a small community center that was right there. Thanks so much to the people hanging out in the Kadekaru Kôminkan that day, who welcomed me in. I don’t know if we have quite the same sort of institution in the States. A kôminkan is basically just a single space that I guess is free and open for people to hang out in, and to use for special events. A sort of open auditorium space, with a stage, folding tables and chairs so you can rearrange the room for whatever purpose, and then also a small kitchen, and that’s about it. Pictures and documents hanging on the walls relating to prominent local civic figures. And a small bookcase of books of local history. If these books weren’t available elsewhere (e.g. in the university library), it’d be kind of neat (if inconvenient) to get to work in such a space, and to feel like I’m using really local materials, getting a really local perspective…

Anyway, the rain stopped quite quickly, and though the people warned me otherwise, I decided to risk it and to head out on the walk back to campus. I got totally soaked. Through and through. But, while the walk was thoroughly unpleasant for a good 20 mins or so of it, all in all the 40-45 min walk back went quite quickly. Walking along the side of the highway was certainly less ideal than if this were a normal walkable town, with cafés and shops on every block, but, on the plus side it means I had a very direct way of walking back, that took me straight right to campus.

Anyway, that’s about it, I guess, for now. I ended up staying right around campus the following day – just sitting in the library getting some work done, and so forth. A nice, quiet, and fairly productive day. The university library is quite sleek and clean and new-looking, making for a very pleasant environment to study in. And they have a separate room set aside for Okinawan Studies, which makes me feel like I have my own special space, which is very cool. Even in this relatively small room, though, the extent of the books is kind of overwhelming. I want to read them all! But it would take multiple lifetimes.

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In the process of writing up these last few posts on my wanderings around Naha and Shuri, I came across a few really shiny, sleek, websites which I’d never seen before. I wouldn’t say they’re an absolute /wealth/ of information on the historical sites of these two cities, but they’re certainly examples of beautiful web design, and a hell of a lot more than I’d expected to find. Both, I’m afraid, are mostly in Japanese, though.

First is the official website of the Naha City Museum of History. I don’t know if this site is new… in the past, whenever I tried to find a website for the museum, all I found was this rather basic page within the website of the Palette Kumoji shopping center where the museum is housed.

But, this new site includes not just information about the museum (map, hours, exhibit schedule, publications, brief summary of the history of the kingdom), but also features an extensive online database of the museum’s collections, including beautiful treatments of some of the treasures of the collection. Then, not only that, but it also has this beautiful page of historical sites in and around Naha, which can be browsed using an embedded Google Map, or by categories of lists. Click on the name of a site, and it’ll give you the address, some very brief information about it, photo of the site, and map.



Above: National Treasures listed on the Naha City Museum of History’s Digital Museum site; details about the Ryukyuan royal investiture crown in the museum’s collection; the museum’s page for the historical site of the former site of the Chûzanmon outer castle gate.

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The other site I’d like to introduce today is Shuri Aruki (“Walking Shuri”). This beautiful website, with very sleek navigation and graphics, and tons of photos, includes three main sections: About Shuri (首里について), Exploring Historical Sites (史跡をめぐる), and Exploring Breweries (蔵元めぐり). Clicking through into the “Exploring Historical Sites” section, we find three ways of exploring: by map, by list, and by model walking course.

On the map page, you can select from five different neighborhoods, and a whole bunch of different categories (gates, utaki, temples & shrines, etc.), to populate or depopulate the map with those wonderful pink Google pin drops. Unfortunately, at the moment, I’m finding that clicking on one of the pin drops doesn’t do anything… hopefully this is something which is just a glitch, or will be fixed soon. But in the meantime, there’s the “list” page, where headers for each neighborhood are followed by nice squares for each site, complete with photos. They range from the extremely famous and iconic, such as the Shureimon gate of Shuri castle, to the much more obscure, such as sacred springs (called ”gaa” in Okinawan). Click on one of these, and you /do/ get taken somewhere – to a nicely arranged page with a photo of the site in the background, and a brief text description overlaid, along with links for other photos, and for the map, as well as little warning icons, telling you that when visiting the site to be careful for snakes, be careful not to slip, and be courteous to people who might come to pray or pay respects at the site.

After my own Shuri adventures a few weeks ago, in which I managed to find a lot of sites, but failed to find or didn’t even know about a bunch of others, this site seems like it’ll be a great guide for my next such town-wandering exploratory adventure.




Above: The main menu for 「史跡をめぐる」 (“exploring historical sites”) at Shuri Aruki; the list of sites for the Haenohira / Feenufira area; the description page for the grave of 17th century court official Haneji Chôshû.

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8/9 Friday

Today was my last day in Okinawa :(

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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A continuation from my last post – today, a quick rundown of some of the many things I would love to see and do on Okinawa Island and its small neighboring islands; I hope that some of you might share similar interests, or might, after visiting Okinawa yourself, develop an interest.

(Click map to embiggen.)

*Okinawa Island
I went to Okinawa once before, just for a few days, exploring the capital city of Naha, which has grown to contain the historical capital of Shuri. The city is as modern as any provincial city in Japan, and parts of it in fact feel not all that different. There are apartment buildings, shopping malls, all the things you’d expect to find in a modern city.

The Okinawa Monorail, or Yui Rail, runs from Naha Airport to Shuri, and there are plans underway to extend it further; in my limited experience, I think it should be able to take you to pretty much anywhere in Naha City that you’d want to go.

The main attraction in Shuri, not immediately outside the last stop on the monorail, but a short walk away, is Shuri Castle, the former royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, utterly destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in the post-war. The famous Shureimon, one of the most famous symbols of Okinawa, is part of the palace complex. Perhaps not as extensive as some Japanese castles, Shuri castle is nevertheless a fairly large set of grounds, with many baileys or sections, as well as several halls you can enter and walk through, plus the Engakuji, Benten-dô, Ryûtan Pond, and a few other historical sites and the like in the immediate vicinity. Tamaudun, the royal mausoleum, is a short walk to the west.

The Kinjô-machi Stone “Tatami” Road is a cobblestone walking path with leads from the area around the castle, through a residential neighborhood with a somewhat more quaint, traditional sort of feeling, down to the Shikina-en Royal Gardens. The gardens were closed the day I went, so watch out for that, but the walk was still quite enjoyable.

In contrast to the historical adventures of Shuri, Kokusai-dôri, the main road running through the center of town, is the chief place for shopping and nightlife. Starting at Kenchômae Station, and walking east, this is where you’ll find aloha shirts and all sorts of other tourist goods (souvenirs), and shimauta (lit. “island songs”) live bars. Kokusai-dôri also connects into the Heiwa-dôri and Makishi Markets, a huge sprawl of alleys and lanes lined with street stalls selling fresh fruits & veges, fish, meat, noodles, etc., as well as saké & awamori, and other goods, along with some noodle shops & other small “luncheonette” style restaurants and the like.

Walk north from Kenchômae Station, and you’ll be moving towards Kume and Naha Port. As you get closer, it’ll start to seem even more and more like a beach town sort of neighborhood. Kume was, historically, the center of Classical Chinese learning in the Ryukyu Kingdom, and the home of the aristocrat-scholar-bureaucrat class from which most government officials came. Today, a beautiful Chinese garden called Fukushûen (built in the 1990s) reminds us of the neighborhood’s historical cultural identity. Keep moving towards the beach, and you’ll find Naminoue (lit. “Above-the-Waves”) Shrine, perched atop a cliff overlooking the only public beach in Naha City. (Maybe it was a bad day, but I was severely underwhelmed by Naminoue Beach.) A small handful of other temples and such can be found in the area here, along with, somewhere, a plaque that I never managed to find, commemorating Commodore Perry’s time in Ryukyu.

Finally, one more neighborhood of Naha worth mentioning is Omoromachi, also known as Shintoshin (lit. “new city center”), an area which has recently come to be developed, with high-class shopping malls, a very nice public park, and most importantly the new prefectural museum which opened in 2007.

I’m sure there is plenty more to see and do in Naha, but I think it’s about time we moved on to talking about the rest of the island, which I myself have yet to visit, but would very much like to.


The main sites in Southern Okinawa seem to be Sefa-Utaki, the most sacred place in the traditional indigenous Ryukyuan religion, and a variety of sites associated with the Battle of Okinawa. You can visit an underground Imperial Japanese Navy Headquarters, as well as several memorials, including the chief Battle of Okinawa Memorial & Peace Park & Memorial Hall. The Navy HQ is apparently only a five-minute taxi ride from the Onoyama-kôen monorail stop; the Peace Park / Memorial Hall, and the Himeyuri Monument & Museum, in Itoman City, are a bit more difficult to get to, but it seems the public buses will get you there. The public buses can also take you to Sefa-Utaki.

Good to know – when I went to Okinawa, I was given the impression (I don’t really remember where, or by whom) that the public buses didn’t really go to most of the sites I’d want to visit, and that really the only way to see Okinawa is by taxi or rental car. Since I don’t drive, it’s good news to read that the buses, in fact, can take you to many of the major sites. Though, considering my more obscure historical interests, I’m sure there’s still plenty I won’t be able to get to so easily.

The main attractions in Central Okinawa, judging from the Tourist Bureau pamphlets, seem to be the gusuku. Gusuku are Okinawa’s distinctive form of castle or fortress; the only one in any state close to being intact is the rebuilt Shuri Castle I mentioned above; all that remains of the rest, so far as I know, is the winding stone walls, although given that these castles would have been built in wood, with tile roofs, and given the extent of the shelling and battle on Okinawa in 1945, this comes as no surprise. Three of the more famous/major gusuku sites – Nakagusuku, Katsuren, and Zakimi – can be found in Central Okinawa. The latter two seem to be accessible by bus, but the pamphlet suggests taking a taxi to Nakagusuku from the bus stop. The Nakamura House, a traditional 18th century nobleman’s house (seemingly intact, having survived 1945?) is quite near to Nakagusuku castle.

The other Central Okinawan site highlighted in the pamphlet is Ryukyumura, a sort of theme park of traditional Ryukyu culture. Could be pretty cool, especially if you don’t have the time or money to visit the other islands, but I wonder if the experience at Ryukyumura isn’t something that can be had on some of the more remote Sakishima Islands. I’d be interested to check this out, for sure, if I happen to be in that part of the island; but I think I’d be more inclined to visit a historical theme park in mainland Japan, where I think it’s valid to make the blanket statement that there are likely extremely few neighborhoods or towns that are really as traditional as the experience of the theme park; by contrast, while I’m sure that even the most remote of the Ryukyuan Islands have modernized to an extent, I imagine that a relatively “authentic” “traditional” experience can still be had.

Northern Okinawa has the Churaumi Aquarium – one of the largest aquariums (aquaria?) in the world, and a definite must-see. The pamphlet doesn’t list it, but Nakijin gusuku is up here in the north, too. It was once the “capital”, so to speak, of the kingdom of Hokuzan, before the central Okinawan kingdom of Chûzan conquered it. Which reminds me, somewhere further south, maybe just north of Naha, in the city of Urasoe, is Urasoe yodore, a site where several Ryukyuan kings (prior to the construction of the mausoleum at Tamaudun) are buried. Northern Okinawa is also the home to America-mura, a USA-themed theme park, which I’d love to check out just for yuks.

I’d be remiss if I did like the pamphlets and just ignored the US military bases which occupy something like 20% of the land area of the island. Having only stayed in Naha during my one visit, I have no experience with how difficult it is to get around the bases in traveling to other parts of the island, or how much certain neighborhoods may be really dominated by the military (or anti-military) atmosphere… In my three days in Naha, I didn’t run into any of it. But, it’s something to be aware of when visiting. I really hate the idea of equating Okinawa with the military, as I am sure so many do, and I really want to push the idea that there is so much else to Okinawa other than the US military presence – namely, the local contemporary and traditional Okinawan culture – but, it does have to be acknowledged. Can’t just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m sure the Okinawans have tried that already, and it didn’t make the bases go away.

Tonaki Island

The Outer Islands immediately surrounding Okinawa Island have plenty to see as well. Izena and Iheya, in particular, two small islands off the northwest coast of Okinawa, are the birthplaces of the founders of Ryukyuan dynasties, and feature statues or steles, at the very least, which I’d love to see.

Iejima, or Ie Island, boasts the tallest mountain in the prefecture, though it’s not much taller, I’m sure, than most of the most humble mountains in mainland Japan. Because of its geological origins as coral (limestone) islands, the Ryukyus are, on average, far closer to sea level than Taiwan or Japan, which boast actual mountains born of tectonic activity. Iejima also features a memorial to Ernie Pyle, the famous American wartime journalist who died there.

Aguni Island, 2hrs by boat from Naha, and one of the more distant islands in the “Okinawa Islands” vicinity, was the filming location for “Nabbie no koi“, a very touching Okinawan film directed by Nakae Yuji.

Tonaki Island, a similar distance from Naha, is known for its traditional architecture, according to the pamphlet. Makes me wonder what kind of architecture we would find on Aguni or Iejima or any of these other remote islands, or the extent to which those islands are more “traditional” or not, if this one is selected out as being especially known for this.

And that is that for the pamphlets. As I come across references to other historical sites, or other places of interest, in the islands, if I remember, I may come back here and edit these entries to turn them into more complete compilations of what to see in each area / each island.

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