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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Heart Rock, Kouri Jima

The Heart Rock, Kouri Jima


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The Heart Rock

     GPS
     LatitudeLongitude
     N 26 42.774E 128 00.919

       *GPS to Parking Lot




The Heart Rock, Kouri Jima

On the northern shores of Kouri Jima is a small natural wonder known as the Heart Rock. Recently, this has become a popular tourist attraction as hundreds visit daily to get a glimpse of this inspirational phenomenon. Many Japanese may call this specific area a 'power spot' (pronounced phonetically by the Japanese as such). It is a term often used to describe a place that's a source of positive spiritual energy.

There are actually two protruding coral rocks. Together they may look like a pair of whale tails flipping in the ocean. It is the rock on the left that is known as the Heart Rock. Please view the photo album above or click here for more images.

Entrance Fee. Cash/Yen Only. Individual: 300 Yen. Groups: For groups with 2 or more people, you only need pay 300 Yen for the entire group. Parking and Entrance Gate is located on the map above.
Amenities/Parking. Toilet facility is available near the entrance. Parking available.
Caution. Use caution when taking the trail to the Heart Rock. Some areas are uneven and can cause to lose balance.

Directions. Take Highway 58 North into Nago City. Then take Highway 110. You will have to cross Yagaji Island before you get to the Kouri Island Bridge. There will be signs posted on Yagaji Island directing you to Kouri Jima. Once you cross the Kouri Island Bridge navigate around the island in a clockwise direction on the main road. There will be small makeshift signs with the Japanese word, ハート ロック, which means Heart Rock directing you to the parking lot location. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Legend of Nanga Bozu

A lonely road near Benoki Mountains


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Benoki Dam

     GPS*
     LatitudeLongitude
     N 26 47.199E 128 15.339

     *GPS is to the Benoki Dam



The Long Road from a Demon's Past...

Every other year on the 16th of January, people from the town of Benoki come together and pay their respects to a fallen ancestor. Incense burning and prayers are part of the formalities to this melancholy, yet solemn occasion. It is their way of keeping the peace in Benoki; a reverent act to tame a demon with hopes that he never returns.

Some time at the beginning of the Meiji Period...
Angry voices reverberated through the forest trees. Soon the mob would reach him. Closer and closer, they narrowed in. The man knew his attackers were not far behind.

Fate had turned against him; For it was not too long ago, when he was the one doing the chasing and harassing. Now, the shaven-headed man found himself fleeing for his life... for the second time. Shortly before that, he had fled Shuri. Something there too had caused him to go into exile. When he escaped to Benoki, he sought refuge in the Nanga Forest, high up in the Benoki mountains. No one knew his real name. He was just a shaven-headed man from Nanga. The Nanga Bozu they called him.(ii)

But his welcome was a short one. Soon after he arrived, he took advantage of the town's meek and kind-spirited demeanor. He would often maraud through the village taking whatever he wanted, especially their livestock. Women and children were constantly harassed. No one knows why he did it. He was just a wicked man. Something very dark had swelled in his soul. Now, the villagers were forced into a dilemma. Evil had made its way to their home; and the once humble and good-hearted people of Benoki found themselves in a very precarious situation. They were going to do the unthinkable.

The chase had finally come to its end. The Nanga Bozu was trapped like a wild animal. Armed with sickles, the villagers cornered the unruly man. Time, as if capable of fatigue, had limped to a halt. All that could be heard now was whispering cries of the wind; and then suddenly, that too had quietly faded away. Fear had taken root; it seemed to be the only life force the villagers had left. One by one, they closed in on the shaven-headed man. There would be no turning back now.
History for the town of Benoki was about to change... forever.
January 16th, better known as Jyuu Ryoku Nichi, is no ordinary date. In the old calendar system(iii), this is New Years for the Dead in Okinawa. The townspeople of Benoki chose that particular day to pay homage to the Nanga Bozu, or whoever that man really was many years ago. It was their way to make peace with what had happened on that tragic day; for they were truly sorry that it ended with his death. Did he deserve to die? Was justice served? Lingering questions like these continue to haunt the Benoki people.

As time went on, rumors and ghost stories drifted about of what really happened on that day in the Nanga Forest. It was said that when they slayed him, his body had fallen near a creek and that his blood had filled the entire stream. Villagers have later claimed to see the creek turn into a pool of blood. "The Nanga Bozu is returning!", they believed. This creek later became known as Uninga. In the Okinawan language this means the demon's creek.(6)(i) It was also said that when the villagers attacked the shaven-headed man, he unleashed some kind of dark magic and sorcery against them. He or it was not from this world. "Could the Nanga Bozu really come back from the dead?", they thought. For fear that he would return, the villagers would offer a pig's head as a sacrifice to appease him. But that particular tradition had faded away over time, as well as the whereabouts of the Nanga Forest and Uninga. Their location and all memory of them... lost with time. Perhaps, it was meant to be.

For now, it would seem that the true demon is nothing more than a haunted past, for it was a tragic time indeed. Humanity had suffered a loss; a man had sold his soul into a world of darkness, and a once innocent town was now left to bear the guilt for the rest of time. Despite it all, hope still remains in Benoki. In a word, the 16th of January means reconciliation. Though it is a sad moment in their history, it is a way for the villagers to revisit and learn from the past and move forward towards a happier future. The road to peace may be long, but as villagers gather on that 16th Day, it is an occasion to face their demon head on, much like their ancestors did many, many years ago in the woods of the Nanga Forest.

The Origins of the Story. The Benoki Village Chronicles (dtd 20 January 1998) explains that the incident involving the Nanga Bozu was the reason why the villagers first embraced the 16th of January as a communal occasion. But the overall story is believed to have some basis in the truth; the Nanga Bozu man did exist and that he was later hunted down for his crimes. And as for the Nanga region, that too is thought to be somewhere high in the Benoki mountains. No one really knows for sure anymore. But a different version of the story may give clues to its location. The village chronicles states that the Nanga Bozu may have been killed by the people of Uka, the next village to the north. After they killed him, they discarded his body in Benoki. Author's speculation. If this is true, then it seems highly unlikely that anyone would carry a body great distances through the mountains. This would hint that maybe the Nanga region lies somewhere near the border of Uka and Benoki.

Additionally, the village chronicles never mentions anything about Uninga, the Demon Creek, or the use of demonic powers by the Nanga Bozu. It was only mentioned in Kunigami's Historical Chronicles, dtd 1967 (note: Benoki is a town within the Kunigami Village District). This same version was later retold in the Ryukyu Shimpo, March 17th 2013 edition. It appears it was just a ghost story version that took a life of its own. So it would seem.

The Man from Shuri. An intriguing question remains; Who was this Nanga Bozu? Did he have a name? Where did he really come from? Many believe he was indeed from Shuri. Villagers had observed that he could read and write, implying that he had a formal education. This would seem to make sense, especially for someone who had lived in Shuri. It would have been rare for a commoner to have such an education during that period. Some villagers today speculated that he even might have been a monk because of his apparent level of knowledge and shaven head.

There is one last clue. The Benoki chronicles infers that the Nanga Bozu story originated some time at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and that he fled Shuri because of a 'conflict' that had occurred there (based on the interpretation, the translation seems to hint that it was some kind of armed conflict). It makes no mention of exactly what that conflict was.

Author's observation and conjecture. The closest and perhaps the largest political upheaval involving Shuri was in 1879 (eleven years after the birth of the Meiji Period) when the last Ryukyu King, Sho Tai, surrendered Shuri Castle and the kingdom to the Meiji Government.(5) In 2012, the Ryukyu Shimpo featured an article covering a historical play that relives that transition of power.(4) The play was titled “The Surrender of Shuri Castle”. Interesting enough, the Ryukyu Shimpo writes, “The play tells the story of when the Meiji government ordered the abolishment of the Ryukyu han (feudal domain) and forced the surrender of Shuri Castle. A confrontation ensued between the pro-Japan party and the pro-China party.” Could this confrontation be the conflict the Nanga Bozu's story was referring to? And the reason why the mystery man went into exile? This is pure conjecture. There are no facts to support this theory.

Epilogue. Benoki is a quiet town, and just as quiet is the Benoki Dam further up the hill. At first glance this functioning dam seems deserted. Not many people come here. There is a certain emptiness about the place. And when you arrive at the dam, you'll find yourself immediately engulfed by the Benoki mountains. Somewhere in that vast abyss of forest greenery lies the Nanga Forest. And what of the Nanga Bozu? Today, there is no indication that people of Benoki believe in any such ghost. It is just a haunted memory. But a stroll around the perimeter is revealing. As you explore the back roads, one cannot help but to feel that you are being watched. And as you gaze into the whispering treeline, one cannot help but to wonder that somewhere within the forest shadows is a lost soul, a specter of the past, silently waiting his return.

Related Articles. Jyuu Roku Nichi - New Year's for the Dead.

Other Okinawan Ghost Stories. Haunted Ruins in Kyoda, Legend of the Okukubi River.

Other Places to Visit Nearby. The Benoki Utaki.

Reference.
1. Nanga Bozu, Benoki Village Chronicles, Book, dtd 20 January 1998 (Azashi Benoki January 20 Heisei 16), pgs 213 -214
2. Nanga Bozu (Ghost Story), Kunigami's Historical Chronicles, Book, dtd 1967, pg 78
3. Nanga Bozu (Ghost Story), Ryukyu Shimpo, Newspaper, dtd 17 March 2013
4. Historical Play - "The Surrending of Shuri Castle", online article, dtd 12 December 2013
5.  Sho Tai surrenders the  Ryukyu Kingdom - Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States, book, McCormack, Norimatsu, Pub 16 July 2012, pg 4
6. Definition of uni - Okinawan-English Wordbook, book, Sakihara, University of Hawaii Press 2006, pg 195 .
7. Dates of the Meiji PeriodEncyclopedia Britannica, online reference

Notes.
i. Uni in the Okinawan dialect means demon. In Japanese this is pronounced as Oni. Ga is Okinawan (usually annexed as a suffix) is a term that means water or stream. The extra n in the middle of Uninga could be a variant of the Okinawan language of how it is pronounced. In the Benoki Chronicles it is spelled with an extra n.
ii. Bozu is a Japanese term often referring to someone or something that is bald.
iii. The Old Calendar (kyureki in Japanese) refers to the Lunar Calendar which is still observed in many parts of Okinawa, particular in rural areas. The New Calendar (shinreki) is the current Gregoria Calendar System. It is not uncommon to find calendars made in Okinawa that have both dates. Typically, spiritual occasions are observed on the Old Calendar System.

Directions. Take Highway 58 north into Kunigami Village. The turn-off will be at large Silo-like structure off of Highway 58 (See LandMark Icon on the map). The road will zig-zag up the hills. You will pass a large wooden Torii next to a small concrete fenced off building (See LandMark Icon on the map). Continue further up the hill until you run into the Benoki Dam.

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

     GPS
     LatitudeLongitude
     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 http://www.naha-navi.or.jp/nahamatsuri.html

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

Current Schedule of Eventshttp://www.naha-navi.or.jp/nahamatsuri.html (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.
http://www.naha-otsunahiki.org/en/ (English)
http://www.naha-navi.or.jp/nahamatsuri.html (Available in English - translation machine)

Related Articles. http://voices.yahoo.com/guinness-world-record-tug-war-okinawa-japan-11145378.html
Past photos. http://blog.mikesryukyugallery.com/2011/10/2011-naha-okinawa-tug-o-war-photos.html

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

     GPS
     LatitudeLongitude
     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

Reference.
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

     GPS*
     LatitudeLongitude
     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.

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

Reference.
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.