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Monday, September 29, 2014

"The Naha Tug-of-War"

Read, Set, Go! Spectators rushing to get near the rope.

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Naha Tug of War

     N 26 12.950E 127 40.709

The Naha Tug-of-War 那覇の大綱引き

UPDATE: Due to the recent typhoon, the Naha Tug-of-War Festival has been postponed to SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19th. The Hatagashira Parade 1130-1400 Kokusai Street. Tug-of-War 1430-1700 Kumoji Crossing. RBC's Citizen Festival CANCELLED.

Every year in October, thousands of people flood to the streets of Naha City to see the annual Naha Tug-of-War (Naha O-tsunahiki). This is the 'mother' of all tug-of-wars held throughout Okinawa. The tug-of-war (tsunahiki) is a common event that happens in many small villages throughout Okinawa to help promote prosperity, but the annual Naha Tug-of-War has one 'big' distinction. It holds the Guinness World Record for the largest rope made by 'rice straw'. It was first recognized in 1995 with the rope weighing just over 31 metric tons (31 tons 730kg) at a length of 172m, and a rope diameter of 1m 54 cm. It was renewed for the 3rd time in 1997, with new record weighing in at 40 metric tons & 220kg at a length of 186 meters with a rope diameter 1m 58cm, and an estimated attendance of 275,000 people.

Early History. According to the Office of Conservation Society of the Naha Giant Tug of War, Naha at one time consisted of four towns (Nishi-Machi, Higashi-Machi, Wakasa-Machi, and Izumizaki) and they were simply divided into two sections, East and West, and thus the tug-of-war has become an East versus West kind of rivalry. The tug-of-war event was only held for special occasions of celebration before it started to become an annual event beginning in 1971. The first annual Naha Tug-of-War was held to commemorate Naha's 50th Anniversary as a municipal government. Since its debut, the number of towns have grown, and the grand event is now held on a Sunday before the second Monday of October (the second Monday being Health and Sports Day).

Today. The event is actually a three day spectacle with the first day (Saturday) consisting of fork art performances along Kokusai Street (Kokusai Dori). The second day is the Parade of Flags (Ufunnasunei), also along Kokusai Street, which then leads up to the Naha Tug-of-War at Kumoji Crossing (along Highway 58), and the final day (Monday) is the Naha Tug-of-War Festival which occurs at Onoyama Park.

General Timeline*.
Saturday – Folk Art Performances, 1430-1830 . Location Kokusai Street.
Sunday – Parade of Flags, 1130-1400. Location Kokusai Street.
               The Giant Naha Tug-of-War, 1430-1700. Location. Kumoji Crossing. (The actually pulling of the                    rope is 30 Minutes, starting about 1630).
Sat, Sun, Mon – Naha Tug-of-War Festival, 1100-2030. Location Onoyama Park.

*The schedule of events are generally the same year to year. To check for changes or updates visit

Location. GPS coordinates above is the location the actual tug of war event.(Kumoji Crossing in Naha along Highway 58).

Current Schedule of Events (Available in English)

Recommendations. Because the actually tug-of-war event draws a large crowd, recommend getting their early to find parking and to position yourself early for viewing. Traffic along Highway 58 (at Kumoji Crossing) halts at around 1400. Recommend taking your pictures of the rope before 1400. Once they allow people near the rope (around 1430), the rope will not be visible at all.

Source of Information. (English) (Available in English - translation machine)

Related Articles.
Past photos.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sukumichi Road and the Old Okukubi Bridge

Ruins of the Old Okukubi Bridge

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The Old Okukubi Bridge

     N 26 27.877E 127 55.977

The Sukumichi Road and the Old Okukubi Bridge

In the days of the Old Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawans developed an early road system to help them travel from one end of the island to the other. One major road was called Sukumichi which had passed through the village of Kin (present-day Kin Town). The route closed in at a very narrow portion of a major river within the village. This location was called ukukubi, an Okinawan word meaning 'the neck towards the back'. In this case, it is referring to the river's neck up the stream (the narrowest part of the river). The present term for ukukubi is okukubi (奥首), which is the Japanese pronunciation. It was in 1931 at this narrow channel that an arch-shaped bridge constructed of concrete was erected to aid travelers crossing the river. However, the bridge was later demolished by a Japanese garrison before the US invasion took place during the battle of Okinawa.

The bridge became known as the Okukubi-bashi, (bashi - a term meaning bridge). An image of the bridge intact can be seen on location on a historical sign (see image here). Intriguingly, the major river that flowed underneath this bridge became known as the Okukubi River, however the current kanji representation for the river's name (億首川) leads to a different story of how the river's name came to life. See the Legend of the Okukubi River.

Directions/Parking/Amenities. Take Highway 329 till you reach the south end of the Kin Bridge (see Blue Route on map). Turn towards the direction of the dam. You will travel down a hill and see the Kin Dam shortly after (it will be on your left). Near the bottom of the hill you will see small parking area with a toilet facility. The Okukubi Bridge ruin is about a 75 meters in front of the dam spillway.

Author's Notes
1. It is not certain by the author where exactly Sukumichi begins and ends

1. Historical Sign on location, Kin Town Board of Education

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Iha Nuru Tomb

The Iha Nuru Tomb

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The Iha Nuru Tomb

     N 26 25.376E 127 48.924

     *GPS is to the LandMark

The Iha Nuru Tomb, Uruma City

Directly above the Ishikawa Tunnel is an Ohaka (grave) that scholars believe house the remains of a Noro, a female priestess assigned by the royal government during the Old Ryukyu Kingdom. It is believed that this particular Noro was responsible for the areas belonging to Iha, Yamashiro, Kadekaru, and Ishikawa. (1)

Contents. Inside the grave are said to be 15 urns with each urn containing the remains of 2 individuals (a total of 30 people). However, none of the urns had names inscribed on it. It is not certain how the then-Ishikawa City Board of Education (Now Uruma City) made the conclusion that the remains belonged to the Noro of that region. Other source documents (chronological records, etc.) are being pursued that may unravel the history behind the tomb's contents. The grave sits in the Iha District of Uruma City.(1)

Author's Speculation (Conjecture). The style of the urns may be indicative of the status of each individual. It cannot be assumed that every Okinawan was buried with the same honors or care during that time frame. It would seem to make sense that significant individuals (lords, priestess etc.) received extra care and attention during their burial. The sign on location posted by the Uruma City Board of Education does show an image of the somewhat decorative urns found inside. Additionally, it is quite possible that the tomb houses remains of more than one Noro.

i. The Uruma City historical sign uses the word Nuru. Nuru is the old Okinawan pronunciation for Noro.(1)

1. Sign, on location, Uruma City Board of Education.

What to Bring. Be prepared for mosquitoes during all times of the year. Vegetation may be little high in some areas. Recommend a guide stick to move through the vegetation as well as good shoes. Be on the lookout for snakes.

Other Places to Visit Nearby. Iha Castle Ruins.

Other Noro Tombs. The Kanna Noro Tomb.

Directions. Take Highway 329 into Uruma City till you run into the Highway 6/Highway 329 Intersection (South of the Ishikawa Tunnel). Continue east on Highway 6 for a few hundred meters. You will see brown historical markers on your left (signs for both the Iha Castle and Nuru Tomb). When you get to the Iha Nuru Tomb Historical sign, you will see a dirt trail going north. Walk about 100 meters. To the right you will see an opening. Vegetation may be a little high. Continue through this opening to you see a set of steps leading you to the tomb.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Okawa Water Park, Kin Town

The Okawa Water Park

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Okawa Water Park, Kin Town

     N 26 27.246E 127 55.674

The Okawa Water Park, Kin Town

The Kin Town Water Park sits across the Okawa water spring in the Namisato district of Kin. Though the water park is somewhat small, on a hot summer day the water can be extremely enjoyable, especially for young children. Parents are welcome to partake in the fun. All ages are welcome.

Then and Now. Long ago, where the water park currently sits, stood large washbasins. Water flowed from the Okawa spring into these centralized basins where villagers would use the water for their daily needs (laundry etc.). You can see part of this area in Donn Cuson's website, Remembering Okinawa. Please also visit Michael Lynch's photo comparison of the Okawa Spring, Then and Now.

Amenities. There are some shaded areas on site. Family members may want to bring their own shade as a precaution. A bathroom and a small playground facility is on location.
Hours. There are no opening or closing hours at the park. However, water at the park does not begin to gush until about 945am. The water will turn off some time before dark.

What to Bring (Recommendations). Mats for sitting, water amusement attire (bathing suits etc.), towels, set of dry clothes, shade, sun screen, garbage bags (please pack out what you pack in).

Directions/Parking. Take Highway 329 into Kin Town. You will see signs along Highway 329 pointing you to the spring. The turn-off sits across a 'Family Mart'. Once you make the turn, follow the green asphalt road downhill. Parking is available on location.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Nankabama Monument

The Nankabama Monument

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Nankabama Beach

     N 26 26.417E 127 50.708

Tracing the First Shō Lineage, The Nankabama Monument

The first Sho Dynasty (or Shō Dynasty) ended around 1469 at the hands of King Shō Toku, who plundered his kingdom into dire straits. He had sought a military campaign to conquer Kikai Island(1), now part of Kagoshima Prefecture(2)(3). Though, his invasion was deemed a success, there was no economic value gained from this venture and as a result, squandered the royal treasury in the process. A rebellion ensued and the King later died(1). The details of his death is not exactly clear.

The first Shō lineage is perhaps more known by its first king than the last. He was King Shō Hashi and in 1429, unified the entire Ryukyu Kingdom under one rule(1) thus making him the first King of the Ryukyus. But the distinguished Shō bloodline vanished from history with the demise of Shō Toku some 40 years later. Whatever happen to the famous lineage from there on after remains a mystery.

But there may be clues to where the remaining family members fled to.

In the Yaka district of Kin Town there is a shoreline called Nankabama Beach. The area was known for its deep sand which made it difficult for travel. Yaka village chronicles claim that family members of Shō Toku fled north after the King was overthrown. They hid in the mountains during the day and traveled under the cover of darkness. On the 7th day they reached Nankabama Beach. A monument now stands in the vicinity to mark the occasion. Where they traveled to afterwards is uncertain. It is believed they fled further north towards the Kunigami region. Author's speculation. It would seem by this written account that someone from the entourage discussed the details of the journey with someone significant in the Yaka community.

The Nankabama area, is also mentioned in two kumiodori's (Okinawan classical operas) called 'Kushi-no-Wakaaji' and 'Yagura-nu-hya' thus adding to its historical importance to the people of Yaka.(i)

i.. 'Kushi-no-Wakaaji' means 'The Young Lord of Kushi' and 'Yagura-nu-hya' is a name of a person
ii. The Second Shō lineage begin right after the demise of Shō Toku. The first king of the Second Shō Dynasty was Shō En (Kanamaru). There is no blood relationship with the First Shō Dynasty.(1)
iii. Nankabama beach area is highlighted in yellow in the map above. This is an approximation based on a graphic image from the Kin Town's Board of Education's Historical Chronicle (2012) pg 34. The northern edge of Nankabama beach is said to be an area called Kohamabaru.(4) 

1. History of an Island People, by George Kerr, Charles Tuttle Publishing Co, 2000, pg 86 (King Shō Hashi unifies the Ryukyus) , pgs 100-101 (The Fall of Shō Toku), pgs 101-104 (The Rise of Shō En)
2. Kagoshima Prefectural Website
3. Kikai Island Website
4. Kin Town Historical Chronicle, Kin Town Board of Education, Published 2012 pg 35

Directions/Parking. The Nankabama Monument Stone lies near the southern border of Kin Town in the Yaka District. The monument can be seen from Highway 329 next to the shore. It stands next to a much larger structure seen here.