Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘shuri’

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.

Read Full Post »

A model of the unaa (central plaza) at Shuri castle, showing the officials of the Ryukyuan court scholar-aristocracy lined up, facing east, for their New Year’s audience with the king, who faces west out of the second story of the Seiden (Main Hall). Photo my own.

Reading lots about Ming & Qing court ritual, the construction of kingship & emperorship, the significance of particular directions, and so forth, and I got to thinking… actually, I’ve been thinking for a while, why is Shuri Castle arranged facing west?

Any introductory course of East Asian art & architecture, and indeed most survey courses in History of East Asia, will touch upon the organization of the Chinese Imperial Palace. It is situated according to strict geomantic notions, relating to the significance of the cardinal directions, and in some important respects, as a model or microcosm of the cosmic order itself. In Beijing, as in Chang’an, the whole palace, and particularly the audience hall, is arranged on a north-south axis, with the Emperor sitting in the north, facing south. Officials gather to his south, lining up on the east and west sides of the hall, or of the courtyard, lined up with the highest-ranking officials to the north, closer to the emperor, and the lowest-ranking ones at the southern end of the line, furthest from His Majesty. When they kneel and prostrate, they do so to the north. This is all probably even more complex than I know, but at least one of the notions that may be connected into this is one mentioned in the Analects, attributed to Confucius himself, that the Emperor is like the North Star, sitting at the northernmost point of the cosmos, facing south towards all the other stars, and remaining still while all the other stars move about the North Star as central axis. Thus, both North and Center are the most elite directions in court ritual.

The rooftops of the various buildings in the Forbidden City, Beijing, all aligned to a north-south axis. Image from Translate.com.

This is emulated in the Honmaru Palace of Edo castle, the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate. While the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tàihédiàn), the main audience hall at Beijing, is organized lengthwise, longer from east to west, the main audience hall at the shogun’s palace, the Ôhiroma, is much longer from north to south. Still, in Edo, in emulation of Chinese norms, the shogun sits at the northern end of the hall, his officials lined up along the eastern and western walls, from highest (north) to lowest (south) in rank (among those in the hall, of course – most of those of middling and low rank can’t even enter the hall), and the figure(s) being received in audience sit towards the south end. When all bowed and prostrated, they do so to the north, towards the shogun.

The main audience hall at Nijô Castle in Kyoto, of similar design to that no longer extant at Edo castle, which would have also been oriented along a north-south axis. Photo from Marked Post.

So, why is Shuri castle, royal palace of a kingdom strongly modeled on the Ming Confucian mode, and with the palace’s architecture and layout in many other respects an emulation of the Forbidden City in miniature, oriented to the west, and not to the south?

It has been suggested(Though I am an idiot and did not note down the citation…) that the palace may have been arranged in this manner so as to face China, and thus to show the kingdom’s deference and admiration for the greatness of Ming civilization. However, within the traditional Chinese architectural schema, the emperor sits at north and looks ”down” upon his people, his realm, to his south. Thus, this arrangement would seem to have the King of Ryûkyû sitting in the east and looking ”down” upon not only his people, but also ”down” towards China, which is clearly not the intention. On the other hand, east is traditionally a more elite direction than west within the Chinese Imperial Palace, so situating the king in the east, facing west, makes some sense. I wonder what can be said for the fact that, by facing west, the king is, yes, looking upon his people insofar as he is facing the courtyard filled with officials, and beyond it, Kumemura and Naha, but, actually most of the people and land of his realm would be behind him, and to the left and right (north, and south). Maybe that’s irrelevant. No symbol can do everything.

The Seiden of Shuri castle, as it looks today, with the photographer (myself) facing south, and the Seiden facing west.

I wonder if perhaps this is connected to the distinctly Ryukyuan notions of the king as Tedako (太陽の子, son of the Sun), in contrast to the Chinese Emperor, who is the Son of Heaven (天子), but not necessarily associated with the Sun. The Japanese Emperor is also fashioned as descended from the Sun Goddess, but while he still sits in the north and faces south in the Chinese manner, that doesn’t mean the Ryukyuan king has to do the same. Yingkit Chan, in his brilliant 2010 MA thesis, in fact emphasizes that while Ryukyu is generally seen as having been heavily Sinicized, in truth, the Ryukyu court showed considerable agency in incorporating its adoption of Chinese elements into a court culture which remained distinctly Ryukyuan in many important ways. This would certainly seem to be one of them. In Ryukyu, unlike in China or Japan, there is also an association of the east with Nirai Kanai, the mythical home of the gods across the sea.

I have by no means “read up” on this issue – just read whatever I happen to have already been reading this week anyway, and sort of writing “stream of thought.” Who knows, maybe I’ll come across something in my further readings which actually explains it. In the meantime, what do you think? Any ideas? Have you maybe come across anything explaining the reasoning behind this?

Both Shuri photos my own, taken 18 Sept 2014.

Read Full Post »

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.

—-

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.

Read Full Post »


In my last post, I shared this same picture of the construction at the original site of Nakagusuku udun, the mansion of the Crown Prince of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and wrote that I don’t know what kind of construction they may be doing, but that sadly, I doubt that it’s archaeological excavation or reconstruction of the site. Well, I still don’t know what’s going on at that site, but as it turns out, there may be plans to reconstruct the mansion at its later historical site, where it was relocated in the Meiji Period, following the fall of the kingdom. While the original, pre-Meiji, site where I took that above photograph is immediately adjacent to Shuri High School, and for all I know, they may be expanding the high school, or they may be building condominiums, the Meiji era site of the Nakagusuku Palace, which was for many years in the postwar period the site of the Prefectural Museum, is just a few blocks away, directly north of the Ryûtan Pond, and very much within the range of where a tourist who’s come to see the castle is likely to walk, and to see. If all of this does come to fruition, I really can’t wait to see the reconstructed mansion myself.

According to a 2012 article in the Ryukyu Shimpo, the prefectural government made a basic plan in 2012, with the intention of in 2013 beginning further investigations and considerations of the possibilities, and the hope of possibly beginning construction as soon as 2015. There was discussion as well of the possibility of including a local community center, and small archive/museum (shiryôkan) on the site.

The Meiji era blueprints, which still survive, show that the mansion had two parts: a front section (表御殿), where men’s activity was centered, and a rear section (御内原, O-uchibaru) which was the women’s area. The reconstruction planning document divides these into three sections: the entire palace will be reconstructed back to its historical appearance on the outside, but while the eastern half of the “front palace” will also be restored on the inside, as a “historical house” much like sections of Shuri Castle have been, the western half of the “front palace” will house a community center, such as local people have been requesting, and the women’s quarters, the rear half, will house the archive/museum/gallery.

Personally, this sounds great to me. Depending on exactly how they do it, it could be that the whole thing, the entire city block, will look just like it did historically (more or less), really contributing to the restoration of the historical / cultural / aesthetic feel of the neighborhood, a neighborhood which only 150 years ago was the home of Ryukyu’s scholar-aristocracy, the very center of Ryukyuan high culture. And, while having that appearance on the outside, the reconstructed mansion will have a nice balance of restored historical architectural areas, where you can to one extent or another really experience the site as if it had survived straight through from the pre-war era, combined with areas where those running it can hold other sorts of exhibits and displays.

Takara Kurayoshi, a very prominent scholar of Okinawan history and as of 2013 (and I think still today) Vice Governor of Okinawa prefecture, is quoted in the 2012 Ryukyu Shimpo article as saying (in my own rough translation),

This representative building of Shuri’s distinctive appearance, as a city lined with udun and dunchi, the mansions of the elite, is being resurrected. This is one piece of the long process of resurrecting what was lost in the Battle of Okinawa.

(「エリートの屋敷が立ち並ぶ御殿、殿内(どぅんち)と呼ばれた首里独特の景観の代表的な建物がよみがえる。沖縄戦で失ったものをよみがえらせる長い過程の一つだ。」)

I have not come across any newer articles indicating anything about the progress of this project, but at least we can say that this summer, when I visited, the site looked much as it did when I saw it for the first time in 2008. Pretty much empty space, surrounded by nice traditional-looking stone walls. So, whether the plan is going forward or not, at least they haven’t build condominiums or anything. Here’s hoping.

The outer walls of the Nakagusuku udun site as they appeared in 2013, and as they still do as of summer 2014.

All color photos my own. Public domain pre-war black & white photographs by Kamakura Yoshitarô courtesy Japanese Wikipedia.

Read Full Post »

Looking back, I’m not sure I ever posted about my first trip to Shuri. In fact, it would seem I barely posted about my first trip to Okinawa at all. Granted, it took place a month or two before I ever started this blog, but even so…

As for Shuri, yes, I had been before, but it was raining that day, and so I was quite glad to go back on a nicer day, and to get some better photos. And, more than that, they’ve done quite a bit of work since I was there in 2008, and there are entirely new sections to visit. Now, granted, these new areas seem just a bit too new – the fact that it’s a reconstruction is just way too obvious, too in your face. I wish they’d done more to evoke the idea of what it actually looked like, actually felt like, historically, rather than a sort of far too neat, too clean post-modern reconstruction of it, with glass windows and even automatic sliding doors, though I do appreciate the need for climate control when certain galleries are featuring actual historical artifacts.

These newly reconstructed areas include the Kuganiudun, that is, private residence areas of the king and queen, and the Ouchibara, the Ôoku, essentially, of Shuri palace – that is, the harem, if you will, the women’s areas where the queen and the various secondary wives, concubines. and other women lived. I don’t know too much, actually, about the shogun’s Ôoku at Edo castle, but I imagine some similarities, esp. in that no men were allowed into the Ouchibara save the king, princes, or other royals. The Ouchibara is a major setting of the action in the recent TV drama “Tempest,” which was largely filmed here at the actual castle; though, just how accurately the show portrays the life and activities of the Ouchibara, I have no idea. And, despite my best efforts, I seem completely unable to find any good clips of the show to link to, let alone any clips (or even stills!) that really show the Ouchibara. Grrr. In any case, I suppose that’s all I have to say about the palace…

Above: The Shureimon, the main gate to Shuri Castle, and a prominent/famous symbol of Okinawa, seen on countless tourist brochures, souvenirs, and the like.

I was glad to go back a few days later, to walk around Shuri and see a few other sites. Of the vast majority of them, nothing at all survives any more, and so all there is to see is a sign indicating their former location. But, even so, it is interesting to begin to get a sense – directly, by walking it – of just where these things were located in relation to one another. The previous time I had been to Shuri Castle, whether because of the rain, or who knows why, I had a certain impression of Tamaudun, Ankoku-zenji, and certain other sites being fairly distant from the castle, along a road that just kept taking me deeper and deeper into the neighborhoods, away from the monorail station, away from the castle. But now that I’ve done it again, I have a feeling this time around of them all being quite close by. In point of fact, as I wandered around the neighborhood looking for this and that site, I actually ended up right in the castle grounds, and at Engaku-ji, Ryûtan, and the Benten-dô all over again, these major sites that are just as adjacent, as nearby as could be to the castle. We learn that the Uchakuya (J: O-kyaku-ya, E:, roughly, “guest house”), where the chief Satsuma official stationed in Ryukyu, and his men, would prepare for visits to the castle, was located immediately adjacent to the Buddhist temple of Ankoku-zenji. (Incidentally, the Satsuma office was located downtown, so to speak, in Naha, in the Nishi neighborhood; a historical plaque stands there today as well.)

A map at the castle (was that there back in ’08?) even shows quite nicely where each of these things were in relation to one another, with the full extent of each building or compound outlined. Thus we can see how the temple Tenkaiji stood just down the road from the Shureimon – the main gate to the castle grounds – and just beyond Tenkaiji, immediately adjacent, remains Tamaudun, the royal mausoleum, with the Ufumi udun and Nakagusuku udun (the crown prince’s palace) just a little further down, across the street from Ankoku-zenji and the Satsuma guest house. The Nakagusuku udun was relocated in the Meiji period a little further away, to a site in front of the Ryûtan pond, labeled on this map as the prefectural museum, which really makes me wonder just how old this map is… then again, the new prefectural museum only just opened in 2008, so I guess the map might be only a little out of date, as jarring as it looks to me.

There’s construction going on today at the original Nakagusuku udun site; somehow I doubt it’s any kind of archaeological excavation, or reconstruction of the palace to serve as a historical site – probably just construction, in the standard sense. Might be they’re expanding the high school. Still, to see it laid bare that way, at least for the moment, even with no actual historical buildings standing, does help one imagine the site, a little bit, better than having new buildings actually there on top of it.

Digressing even further, incidentally, the “new”, later location of the Nakagusuku udun, by Ryûtan pond, was where many of the greatest royal treasures were kept before and during the war. I recently read about (and I think posted about) how the caretakers of the royal collections hid a number of the most precious objects in storm drains or the like, right outside the Nakagusuku udun, in the hopes that they could come back after the Battle of Okinawa had ended, and retrieve them. They did retrieve some items, but an original copy of the Omoro soshi had been taken to Boston – it was then returned, but a royal crown, one of only two surviving crowns, if it does even survive, has not been seen since. The one now at the Naha City Museum, designated a National Treasure, had been taken by the royal family to Tokyo back in the 1870s or so, and thus survived the war in that manner.

While there is almost nothing left to see of the Tenkaiji temple today (a well survives), the plaque marking the site tells us of its importance as one of the main Buddhist temples associated with and patronized by the royal family.

The royal mausolea at Tamaudun, in 1955, showing the damage from the Battle of Okinawa.

I also revisited Tamaudun, getting some new photos in better weather (better lighting and such), and just reacquainting myself with the site. Though I thought I remembered signs saying No Photos the previous time I was here back in 2008, there were no such signs today, or none that I noticed, so I made off with some good information, and with some photos of photos (even if it’s not fair use, or whatever the Japanese equivalent may be, I’m pretty sure pre-war photos are public domain, or non-copyrighted, though I also appreciate the complexities of the potential copyright of modern reproductions of old photos. Anyway, whatever. Much thanks to Tamaudun for allowing photographs of your gallery labels.) Tamaudun’s been expanded a bit, too, I think – a red-tile-roofed and wooden guardhouse stands where I really don’t remember seeing any such thing six years ago.

Glad to have gotten to go back, and explore some more sites. The Naha Machima~i people, and whatever other groups, have been expanding the number of sites that have nice formal plaques around town, with many of these being erected as recently as this year (so I wouldn’t have even seen them last year, even if I had been more diligent in my explorations), so it was great to get a renewed sense of the space of the former royal capital city of Shuri.

As always, except where indicated otherwise, all photos are my own.

Read Full Post »

8/4

What wonderful fortune to get to be here in Okinawa for the annual 10,000 person Eisa Festival! I’d long thought about eventually getting to see such festivals in Okinawa – along with the Naha Tug-of-War and the Dragon Boat races – but, really, what luck that it should happen to land within the one week that I’m scheduled to be in Okinawa this summer.

Unlike the time I nearly missed Gion Matsuri by waking up “late” at 10 or 11am (in my defense, it was a weekend, and I was out until 4 or 5am doing karaoke ^_^), this festival didn’t start until quite later in the day, and I’d been in the habit of getting up at 7 or 8 anyway. So I had the whole morning to poke around Shuri in search of obscure historical sites. I had certain ones in mind, such as the home of this or that famous courtier, but in my attempts to find them, I got quite turned around, and spit out again just outside the castle, which is not where I was trying to be… But, then, with the kind help of a friendly local fellow who called out “Hello! Good morning!” to me as he washed his dogs in his garage, I was pointed down a little side street loaded with wonderful little historical sites, including some I’d been having some serious difficulty finding on my own.

Right: These sections of stone walls are all that survive of the residence of Sai On (1682-1761), one of the most celebrated, and arguably one of the most influential government officials in the history of the Ryûkyû Kingdom. But, that anything survives at all is, I think, pretty impressive. Whether the plot is a parking lot because people aren’t rebuilding on it out of respect (or ‘orphaned’ property ownership issues) or something, I don’t know, but it certainly does help one to clearly see the size of the plot.

Some, disappointingly, consisted of nothing more than a sign, plaque, or marker, meaning I have nothing really to show (e.g. on this blog, or on a Wiki article about the site) for it. But, even so, it was great to get a little bit more of a feel for the layout of Shuri as a town/city. After all, if you visit only the castle, only the big-name sites, and temples and such, it becomes easy to forget to think about basic questions, such as, where did the nobles/aristocrats live? And in what sort of homes? Even if nothing survives of the homes themselves, there’s still something pretty cool, pretty impressive, about being able to find/know, roughly, the historical location of a given aristocrat’s home. And while it’s very difficult to really get a good sense of the feel, the atmosphere, the patterns of aristocratic life at that time, given how much the streets have changed, even so, there is still something to be gained from seeing the size of the residential plots, the arrangements of the streets, how far even prominent officials’ homes were from the castle, and how they’re interspersed with natural springs1, shrines, temples, and the like.

Adani-gaa-daki, an utaki – a shrine of the native Ryukyuan religion, neither Shinto nor Buddhist – in Shuri.

My adventures in Shuri worked out wonderfully, ending just in time for me to grab a delicious lunch of Okinawa soba and then make my way back to Kokusai-dôri for the festival. I missed perhaps the most exciting and photogenic part, as all the different eisa groups parade down the street, looking like a just incredible crowd, all in brilliant colored costumes and such. Not because of time, so much as simply because I didn’t understand how this all worked, or where the best place to stand would be. But, so it goes. I’ll know better for next time.

This was followed by the main event of the festival, performances by a series of eisa groups, simultaneously in a number of locations, mostly along Kokusai-dôri. I was quite confused at first, as one group would perform, and then a whole bunch of other groups would pass right by, without performing for our particular space, leaving huge gaps of 10-20 minutes during which, if you just stayed in that one spot, it looked/felt like the whole parade, the whole event, had just dissipated, ended, fallen apart. So I walked up to another spot, and caught another performance, but then things would dissipate in that spot, and a whole bunch of other groups would walk right past, while yet another group would start performing where I had been to begin with. I had asked one of the staff how it all worked, and whether I should stay in one place or if I should walk up, or if there were any better or best place to try to watch from – he’d said to just stay in one place and I’d get to see everything. As it turns out, I finally figured out after a few hours, it is impossible to see all the groups, all the performances. If you stand at Spot 1 (just outside the Mitsukoshi, let’s say, at a certain point along the street), you’ll see groups A, C, D, and F, but not B or E. Groups B and E don’t perform at Spot 1 – they just walk right past, skipping it, to perform instead at Spot 2. And if you walk from Spot 1, to Spot 2, in order to catch them, well, now you’re missing Group C or D, back at your original spot.

As a result, I spent most of the day hearing really exciting-sounding performances from down the street, only to miss out on actually seeing them as they skipped over my spot and walked right on past. Of course, by the time I knew their performance sounded exciting, it was already begun, and too late to walk over there and check it out – and, by the time I saw them pass by my spot, rather than stopping, it was already crowded enough at the next spot that I couldn’t simply walk over there to see them. Oh well.

Somehow this post has gotten terribly negative and kvetchy. But in truth, it was a great time, a really incredible show, and a wonderful experience. As I first began walking up Kokusai-dôri, just as the festival was starting, and I heard & saw the last group in line performing, tens of them all in matching costumes and with (nearly) perfectly matching choreography, performing to a lively Okinawan song I liked (though, lol, I actually can’t remember what it was at all), I have to admit, I nearly cried, I was so excited to get to be there to see this. And, yeah, sure, most of the groups performing songs I know and love were the groups whose performances I missed, and yeah, the one group I’d actually heard of and would have gone out of my way to see – Ryûkyû-koku Matsuri Daiko – I didn’t realize that’s who it was until it was too late, and so I missed their performance too.

But, oh my god, were the kids cute, and the teens and grown-ups passionate and talented and clearly having a ton of fun. And I think the really key part that I enjoyed the most is that this is not a professional performance – it’s people being people, having fun, supporting one another, coming out to see their friends’ groups, cheering on groups from other towns who they don’t know, chatting with other groups and sort of connecting within that common bond of being eisa performers, and sometimes even joining in dancing with one another’s other groups. I saw parents cheering on their kids, a man spraying kids with a hose to help them cool off… In some groups, you could see those in their teens or 20s actively helping and guiding and encouraging the little ones, and while many of the groups were really quite excellent, well-practiced and well-prepared, there were a lot that were also just having fun and doing their best – a lot of groups from elementary or middle schools, and at least one from some kind of home for those with mental disabilities.

And the groups came from all over the island (some maybe from other islands? I’m not sure), all with different colors and costumes, and different styles. Some played relatively traditional eisa music, some danced to more popular songs – some even used mainland Japanese mainstream J-pop songs; some had more of a powerful, strong, martial arts element to their style; and some had live sanshin playing, though most had it piped in.

All in all, it was just wonderful to get to see eisa performed here in Okinawa, at the 10,000 Person Eisa Festival, along the Kokusai-dôri. I’ve been fortunate to see and enjoy many eisa-style performances at the Hawaii Okinawa Festival, which of course only whet my appetite for more, and made it all the more fun to recognize songs or dances… seeing this really added to my experience of yet another side of Okinawan life and culture. Not just the historical sites and museums, the restaurants (food, cuisine), and the very much aimed-at-tourists live performances at shimauta bars and the like, and most certainly not only the US military bases issue, but, this too. People practicing two or three times a week with their neighbors or their classmates, at middle schools and temples and community centers, and getting together to parade and dance and perform for one another, all together, in an annual, “traditional” festival celebrating Okinawan culture and identity.

PS I somehow suspected that, at such a big-deal event, I just might run into someone from East-West Center, or Akisamiyo! (the EWC/UHM Okinawan students group). I’d heard stories of EWC people running into one another, unexpectedly, halfway across the globe, and I figured just maybe it would happen to me. And what do you know, it did. Ran into one of the guys from the Akisamiyo! group, here for a term or two as an exchange student at Ryûdai. Small world. Or something.



(1) If you’re not just talking about the castle, and big sites like that, but are looking for smaller, backstreets sorts of historical sites like I was, about half the sites you’ll find on a map, or in wandering, are springs. Personally, with apologies, I find it difficult to get too interested about this. But, they clearly played a major role in both the practical lifestyle and spiritual geography of the city.

Once again, all photos and videos are my own. You can see all my Okinawa photos from this trip on Flickr.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »