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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Shiinagusuku Ruins"

Shiinagusuku Ruins

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Shiinagusuku Ruins

     N 26 39.595E 127 58.396

The Shiinagusuku Ruins

This is the Shiinagusuku Ruins. The history and research about this place is mired in mystery. It is not even quite clear which town or precinct it belongs to. It borders Nakajin Village, Nago City, and the town of Motobu. Nothing was mentioned in any of their official websites about this site. The only information that we obtained was its name, due to a small road sign in roman characters leading us to the ruins. The suffix 'gusuku' is Okinawan dialect for castle or fortress, and by its appearance and location it does give indication that it was once used as such. Once you are there, you do get the ambiance that it is an 'old' ruin site – preserved and untainted by modern construction. Mostly what you will see are large stones that seemed to be naturally part of the landscape, and then some makeshift stone walls further back (though it is not certain when those walls were erected). Now, it is mostly covered by Elephant Ear plants and trees interspersed throughout the area. One intriguing question does come to mind – what was its relationship which Nakajin Castle not too far away? Did it just serve as an outpost or lookout of the northern east side of the Motobu Peninsula? It's not quite clear.

There were signs that possible renovations may be done in the future. Engineer tape and reflective markers were placed at strategic points on location. However, at this time, the origins and the history of the Shiinagusuku Ruins shall remain a mystery.

Caution. I highly recommend you bring a good size guide stick, larger than a normal size umbrella. Though there are some well laid out paths, there are some areas you may be tempted to go. However, I highly recommend you just stay on the beaten paths. You can safely pretty much see all you need to see from there. Because of all the gaps between stones and sometimes dense ground vegetation along the unbeaten areas, you will need to probe these areas if you do decide to go. There are just too many places for snakes to hide. There are also plenty of spider webs in the area, so keep your eyes on top as well.

What to bring. Bring plenty of mosquito repellant. Recommend pants, good shoes, hat and long sleeve shirt (pending on weather), water, and your camera.

Getting There. Getting there is not difficult. If you look at the map you will see the turn off is off Highway 505. However, there is only one small road sign that points in that direction. Study the map carefully so as not to pass it. Once you turn you will see other signs (in Japanese only) pointing you the way. At some point you will reach an end point. You will see a construction area to the left and a tented farm center-right. The path is along this tented farm. The following pictures are the sequence you will see from parking to entering the ruin site: Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3, Picture 4, Picture 5, Picture 6

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"The Futenma Shrine and Cave"

The Main Hall of the Futenma Shrine

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Futenma Shrine and Cave

     N 26 17.572E 127 46.624

The Futenma Shrine and Cave

The Futenma Shrine is considered one of the major Shinto Shrines here on Okinawa. Many people come here to pray for various reasons, mainly for good fortune. It is accessible to all, but perhaps to get the most and best experience from visiting this shrine, is to bring a Japanese or Okinawan friend along with you. Having someone familiar with the customs can guide you through some of the traditional practices when attending such a sacred place. This might also be their first time attending this particular shrine as well. If you do go without any knowledge of the customs, just show proper etiquette as you would at any sacred place.

There are few simple things that you can do however. When you first enter go through the Torii Gate, give a slight bow as you enter. The Torii Gate symbolizes an entrance to a holy ground. Next you want to go to the 'purification fountain'. They have a pictorial demonstration board posted next to the fountain. Please go to this link of the “Awase Shrine” and go to the section called 'Steps to Purification'. The process is same.

When you go to the main hall, you will see an offertory box. It is not required, but if you wish to make an offering (10 or 100 yen is okay) you can do so. Once you drop your offering you bow twice then clap twice (quietly), then bow once again. Some people just bow and clap twice. Different sources may vary. You can also read the section called “How to Pay Reverence at a Shinto Shrine” here.

The Story. The office at the shrine does have an English write up of two legends pertaining to this shrine. Ask for one when you go there. The first legend is about a female deity or 'kami' named Megami. The legend goes as follows (paraphrased): there where two sisters that lived in area called Syuri. There were rumors that the eldest sister was a very beautiful women, but because of her devotion to spirituality, she had no desire to be seen in public. Her younger sister's husband wanting to see what she looked like took a peek. Realizing that she had been seen, “the older sister rushed out of the house in agony and into the cave, never to be seen again”. Since then, she had become a deity of the cave (quote was taken from that English write-up).

The second legend is about a male diety or 'kami' called Kumano. Legend has it that there was once a humble couple that lived in poverty many, many years ago in Nakagusku-son, not too far away from modern day Futenma. Because of their dire circumstances, the couple agreed that the wife work as a royal maid at Shuri Castle. Every evening after work, the wife would leave Shuri Castle and make the long journey to the Futenma Shrine to pay her respect. Then one day, the Kumano Kami, disguised as an old mountain man, visited the poor woman near the Futenma Shrine and gave her an item that was wrapped . He told her to hold it for him. Time went on and he had not reappeared for some time, so she prayed. One night he appeared to her in a dream and revealed who he was. He then told her that the special item was hers to keep as a reward for her perseverance. She then opened up the item and it discovered it was gold. Since then, the couple became prosperous and wealthy. Henceforth, people have become more devoted to the shrine.

Photographs. If you wish to take photographs of the main hall, please do so quietly from the outside looking in as to not create any disturbance inside. People go in to meditate and to pray. Sometimes there will be a prayer session going on. Avoid taking any photographs while inside the main hall sitting area, unless given special permission.

The Cave. You have to be granted permission to enter the cave. This is not difficult, however, you do have to ask. They will escort you in. This is a controlled environment and there is limited space in the cave so you may have to wait. If you can, please have a Japanese friend come with you to help explain some of the things you will see. I think you will get more out of this experience if you do so. If there is a special ceremony inside the cave then it may be closed off to the public at that time. Pictures are allowed inside the cave but please do so without creating any major disturbances. Please maintain a low voice and a sense of quietness at all times as you enjoy the peace. You are on sacred grounds.

Getting there. Getting there is not difficult. The shrine is just south of Camp Foster and Camp Buckner. However, the turn-off will sneak up on you. You can only enter when you are driving in the north lane of Highway 330. There is a middle divider blocking you if you are driving south. When you do turn off, it may not be apparent where you are supposed to pull in. There is a driveway to the right of the Torii Gate as you are looking at it. Drive through there and it will take you to the parking lot. Parking is free.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Yomitan's Tucked Away Nature Trail"

The beginning of a trail in Yomitan

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Yomitan's Tucked Away Nature Trail

     N 26 24.270E 127 44.770

Yomitan's Tucked Away Nature Trail

For those who are not familiar with Yomitan Village you are most likely to drive pass a small nature trail and not even be aware of it. This is because the beginning of the trail is tucked quite cleverly near a slope just off Highway 12 as you are heading towards Zakimi-jo Castle from Highway 58. The mostly, paved small trail is about 1.5 km long. However, it still delivers an opportunity to view nature, especially birds who feed along the creek side. Though it seems largely forgotten because of overgrown vegetation in some areas, it can still serve as a nice morning or afternoon walk with the family dog or with a friend. At about a 150 meters into the trail you will see a well to the left and at the very end of the trail you will see a set of steps that leads you to a small cave cut-out structure used as a prayer site. There is also a small tomb built on the cliff side next to the prayer site. You cannot go any further pass this point. The creek that skirts along the trail runs into the Nagaham Dam, however, the dam will not be visible at the turning point. 

If you do decide to walk your dogs in this area please keep them on a leash. There is a farm next to the trail with chickens and small farm animals that roam the area freely.

Also marked on the map and south of the trail is a small well believed to be named 'Tanangaa' Well. The carved name etched in stone next to the well was slightly eroded.

Getting there. Getting there is not hard. It's a straight shot on Highway 12 leaving Highway 58. Look for the Kijimuna (Okinawa jungle boy) statue as a landmark. Park across the street in the open dirt lot (Green Thumbtack above.)

Other places of interest nearby: Zakami-jo Castle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Ubugaa, Awase's Sacred Well sits behind this Utaki

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     N 26 19.143E 127 50.168


Though small in stature, this sacred site has significant meaning to the people of Awase and their history. This is Ubugaa, Awase's sacred well. The picture you see above is the utaki or place of worship for the well. The well actually sits behind this small structure. Like its counterpart, the 'God of Fire', that sits only a few meters away, Ubugaa too has an interesting story about its origin. The sign (translated in English) reads,
Ubugaa was built during the first part of 1768 when the village was formed.  It is a well built from natural springs for the villagers to use as drinking water. It was not only used for drinking but also used as a baby's first bath after they were born. People also drink this water on New Years day and has been esteemed for years. During birth, people also took this water to wipe the baby's forehead. The water was also  used to wash the body of dead. It was the children's duties to fetch the water from this well when used for a new born baby and New Years. They are taught not to switch hands when carrying the water back home.
31August, 2002 - Awase Restoration Committee
One obvious question is, why is switching the water in the other hand considered a 'no-no'? It was something that couldn't be answered with the given resources. Further research is required. This could be a local tradition or something part of a wider custom. As January 1st comes closer and closer (or later, depending on what day the Lunar New Year falls on),  you may see activity heighten as people prepare for the upcoming New Year . It is also not uncommon for people to come here and pray during other parts of the year as well.

Language note: The word "gaa" is of Hogen dialect. It understood as a 'well' or 'spring' when it is appended to another group of words as a suffix. It this case this well is called "Ubu-gaa". The Nakandakari Hijya Spring in Nanjo-Shi is also referred to as "Ufugaa".

Other places of interest nearby: The Awase Shrine, The Meinu Utaki, The Awase War Memorial, Kanumou Well, God of Fire Utaki.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Awase's God of Fire Utaki"

Awase's God of Fire Utaki

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Awase's God of Fire

     N 26 19.151E 127 50.163

Awase's God of Fire Utaki

In many places around Okinawa you will see some sacred places of worship or 'utakis' that give homage to the fire spirit or 'god of fire'. This one is located in Awase of Okinawa City. It is collocated next to another place of worship called 'Ubugaa'. It is also about 150 meters near the 'Meinu Utaki' (not visible on map*). Information gathered about this site was derived from a stone inscription next to the utaki. It reads,
Place of Worship:  The God of Fire
The god of fire has been worshiped in ancient times (Okinawa) in people's kitchen.  To this day, it is known as the protector of homes and is very well respected.  From a family guardian, god of villages, and more importantly, Guardian of the Ryukyu Government during the Sho Dynasty, it became the highest level female guardian. On 24 December based on the lunar calendar it is said that she rose to heaven. January 4 on the lunar calendar the following year, is a festival welcoming the god of fire.  
Prior to 1945, Awase's God of Fire was placed facing the south side of the road, found on the northern part of 'Ubugaa.' (a water well collocated in the same area). It is symbolized by three stones (Umichimon) and an incense holder. In 1945, Awase was seized by U.S. soldiers. The original structure was burned down and damaged during the war. In 1951, part of Awase was re-opened to the Okinawan people and the prayer site was temporarily reestablished. The current location was rebuilt by the Awase Land Re-adjustment Committee. 
31August, 2002 - Awase Restoration Committee
The god of fire is also referred to as 'Hinukan' in Japanese, but it can also be referred to as 'Umichimon' as written above in the translation and gives reference to "three honorable things" (source: Encyclopedia of Shinto).

Other places of interest nearby: The Awase Shrine, The Meinu Utaki, The Awase War Memorial, Kanumou Well, Ubugaa.

*Reader's Note: Icons of nearby areas will not be visible on the above map. This is because Google Maps starts a new complete Map Page when a certain number of Icons been marked. Don't worry the other icons are still there. To see the other places of interest on the map, click the 'View Map It! Okinawa in a large Map' link above and scroll down at the bottom where you see the Previous and Next Links. I have provided feedback to Google that they should show everything on the map.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"In the Beginning, ...there was Kudaka-Jima"

A Lone Road on Kudaka Jima

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     N 26 09.816E 127 53.749


This is Kudaka Island, home of the first Okinawans as told by Okinawa folklore and tradition. But for all practical purposes, Kudaka Island looks no different than any other region in Okinawa. They have their farms, coral reefs, old style homes, dense vegetation, and structures of modern technology. However, there is one very noticeably difference about Kudaka-Jima once you set on foot. It is very eerily quiet.

Okinawan legends may vary, but one version originating around the beginning of the 16th Century tells us that two gods, Amamikyu and Shinerikyu, a female and male deity respectively, first descended on Kudaka Island many years ago. Still a virgin, Amamikyu had given birth to three children which became Okinawa's first inhabitants. The first child was a son and became the first king. The second was a daughter and became the first priestess or 'noro' and the third child was the second son and became the first farmer. Another account written around the 1650's tells us that Amamikyu and Shinerikyu descended from heaven and created the land and its inhabitants. Many years later, a grandson was born, named Tentenshi, and he divided mankind into five classes of people. He would bear five children and made the first son, the 'First Ruler', the second son, the 'First Noble (Anzu)', the third son, the 'First Farmer', the oldest daughter, the 'First High Priestess (Kikoe-ogimi)', and the second daughter, the 'First Village Priestess (Noro)'.

As you can see, the 'Noros' were well rooted in Okinawa folklore and history. The 'Noros' were at one time a powerful organization of women in the Ryukyu Kingdom. Their influence was immense. Highly regarded for advice, Ryukyu Kings would often seek them out for consultation. It was here at Kudaka-Jima, where a ceremony called the 'Izaiho' was held every 12 years to appoint a new Noro. The last one was conducted in 1978. In 1990 it was canceled due to declining population of women on Kudaka. It is not certain if such a historic ceremony will be revived again.

Enjoy the peace that comes with Kudaka. You may see many travelers there, particularly from mainland Japan. It is a great place to meditate and to soak in the spirituality of Okinawa. Included in the photo album are numerous pictures of things you will see on Kudaka. Enjoy and have a safe journey.

Since there are soo many prayer sites on Kudaka, you may accidentally wander into a prayer session or ceremony. Please refrain from taking pictures unless given permission to do so and please maintain a proper distance. It might be wise to temporarily leave the area and come back later.

Souvenirs. Please refrain from taking any natural souvenirs (rocks, sand, etc.) from Kudaka Island. I know the temptation will be great. The gods will be watching. Strange things have happen to those who have tried...according to the O-Files ; )

Taking Pictures. Taking pictures is permissible all over the island except at Fubo Utaki. Please also avoid taking pictures of ceremonies unless given permission to do so. You may not even be allowed in the immediate premises during such event.

Fubo Utaki (Forbidden to the General Public). Eventually on the western side you will run into a sign that points you the entry way to Fubo Utaki, which is the most sacred place in all of Okinawa. Fubo Utaki and what really happens there is mired in mystery and will probably remain that way for a very long time. The entry point is marked by a sign written only in Japanese. THE GENERAL PUBLIC ARE NOT ALLOWED PASSED THIS POINT. It is a small sign that has an arrow pointing to the ground. You can miss it. Look for these landmark signs (picture 1 & picture 2) of where you are not allowed to enter.

Getting Around Kudaka. I highly recommend renting a bike. The cost is inexpensive ranging from 300 Yen to 1000 Yen depending on how many hours you go for a ride. Kudaka Island is about 4km from tip to tip. You can walk to, but it will just take you a little longer and if there is a hot sun, you will be tired. See the Travel Prep page for more info on what to bring.

Recommended Route. When you first get to Kudaka, I recommend you first start exploring the southern part of Kudaka which is the residential area of the island. You will see many prayer sites or 'utakis' in this area. Then make your way back to the port and start viewing the western side as you move your way up to the north. The west side of Kudaka has more interesting things to see such as wells/springs, landscape, and other prayer sites. Most of the wells are literally next to the rocky cliff. Halfway on the island the western and eastern routes converge to one central route that takes you to the northern most point on Kudaka. On your way back you can take the route on the eastern side. The eastern side is full of jagged coral reef and some beach areas. As you explore the western side, you may have to step off your bike and skirt part of the western edge on foot. If you strictly stay on the dirt road you may miss some of the wells and prayer sites. Most wells will be down close to sea level. There are about 4-5 of them on the western side. All have stairways that lead down to them. Please use caution. Some of the stairways are extremely damaged. There was one that was soo damaged due to harsh erosion that we decided not to go down on it. It literally seemed like it was on its last leg.

Source. JapanTimes: Animistic Run Deep in Okinawa, Okinawa Diaspora, The Great Loochoo: A Study of Okinawa Village Life, Pilgrimages and Spiritual Quest in Japan, International Association of History of Religions:World Congress Proceedings Tokyo 2005 (PDF).

To learn how to travel to Kudaka, please refer to post: Azama Port: Gateway to Kudaka.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Azama Port: Gateway to Kudaka Island"

Inside the Kudaka Ferry at Azama Port

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"Azama Port: Gateway to Kudaka Island"
     N 26 10.745E 127 49.612

Azama Port: Gateway to Kudaka Island

Welcome to Chinen's Azama Port of Nanjo City. What makes this port special is that it is the only port to take you to the most sacred land in all of Okinawa, Kudaka Island, and hence deserves a Map It! Profile of its own. This is a two part series on Kudaka Island. Part One discusses preparation and travel to Kudaka Island. Part Two is about Kudaka Island itself.

Things you should know before you go. Kudaka Island is considered a very sacred place to Okinawans. According to tradition this is where the Ryukyu God first descended upon and created the first Okinawan people. Because of its spiritual significance there are numerous ceremonies held throughout the year. Kudaka Island is open to all, but there is one place, called 'Fubo Utaki', that is forbidden to the general public. See photo of the sign where you are not permitted to pass. With the exception of Fubo Utaki, you are welcome to take pictures of anywhere else on the island. If you happen to be there during a ritual gathering please avoid taking any photos unless they give you their express permission to do so. Also, please do not take any natural souvenirs (rocks, sand etc) from Kudaka. The Ryukyu God will be watching.

If you feel a little anxious about going to a remote island, don't be. You will be okay...just don't miss the last boat back! As a precaution, on your first trip to Kudaka, consider going an earlier boat ride back instead of banking on the last scheduled ride back... just in case. If you do miss the last ferry ride, go to the main office at the Kudaka Port and see if they can assist you from there. Ask if someone speaks English to assist you. There is a lodge there on Kudaka but it is on a reservation basis only. However, you may be able to work something out.   

Your Journey to Kudaka starts here. <<Click Here For Your Travel Prep to Kudaka Island>>

Phone number: Azama Port: 098-948-7785, Kudaka Port 098-948-2873

To learn more about Kudaka Island, please refer to this post: In the Beginning, there was Kudaka-Jima

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Pineapple House in Naha City"

The Pineapple House in Naha City

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Pineapple House in Naha City

     N 26 12.341E 127 39.814

Pineapple House in Naha City

For those of you who like Okinawa's specialty pineapple goodies, you no longer just have to travel to Nago's Pineapple Park to fine them. The Pineapple Park has a smaller store located in Naha City that can fulfill your pineapple delights. It is called the 'Pineapple House' and is located just off Highway 331 and is about 5 minutes away from the Naha Airport. Though a distance for some, it is however, another option if you are down in that area. 

Just like what you find at the Nago Pineapple Park, you will see an assortment of pineapple cakes, wine, and cookies. They have little tasting samples near their pineapple delicacies if you wish to give it a try before you buy. See photo album above to see some of the various assortments inside the store. On the second floor is a restaurant if you wish to have lunch while you are there. If anything, give their Pineapple Soft Cream a shot.

Getting there. The Pineapple House is off Highway 331. It sits a little high above the road so it may not be immediate apparent when drive near it. Look for a large statue of a pineapple that sits in their parking lot as a landmark. Click on the icon above to see this pineapple.

Parking. Parking is available on location.

Hours: 9am-6pm, everyday, even holidays.
Phone: 098-858-9000. (Though they maintain they are open 24/7, it is always best to call before you go)
Currency. Yen and Credit Card

Other places of interest nearby: Sumiyoshi Shrine, Tribute Monument to Hibari Misora, Fukushuen Chinese Garden, Manko Waterbird & Wetland Center.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Iha-jo Castle Ruins of Ishikawa"

Entrance to the Iha-jo Castle Ruins

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Iha-jo Castle Ruins of Ishikawa

     N 26 25.285E 127 49.031

Iha-jo Castle Ruins of Ishikawa

This is the Iha-jo Castle Ruins of Ishikawa in Uruma City. It is a small castle site that sits on a hilltop over looking what is now Ishikawa district and Kinbu Bay. You will see remains of an old single layered stone wall that surrounds the castle site in different areas. The castle ruins covers about about 60 square meters, or 201 square feet in total area. Up on top you will see various spots where people pray, known as 'utakis'. Various artifacts have been discovered here to include pottery from other countries. There was also indications that poles to erect huts were used at one time on the castle grounds. Near the main entrance to the castle ruins you will see a large torii gate and a sign translated in English provided by the Okinawa Prefecture Board of Education and the then, Ishikawa City Board of Education. The source of the information was derived from that sign.  

One point of interest near this site is the burial tomb of Iha Nuru. This is supposedly about 200 meters away from the castle ruins. However, it could not be located. Either the path to it was overgrown by vegetation or the sign marker was removed. The word 'Nuru' is Okinawan dialect (Hogen) for 'Noro' in Japanese. A 'Noro' or 'Nuru' is a priestess, and for many centuries has played significant roles in Okinawan culture, religion, and society. To read up a little about Japanese/Okinawa Priestess please check out the Japan: Life and Religion website. As of now, the mysterious location of the Iha Nuru Tomb will remain in the O-Files.

Getting there. Getting these isn't difficult. It is not far from the Highway 329 (Ishikawa Bypass) and Highway 6 traffic intersection. Look for these brown and beige road signs along the road to see where to turn. It's not too difficult.

Parking. You can park off to the side near the ruin grounds.
What to bring. Camera, mosquito repellent, good shoes, umbrella and/or guide stick.
Caution. You may see areas of overgrown vegetation. Avoid walking in these areas if you cannot see around where you are stepping, the obvious danger being snakes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"The Nago Museum"

Inside the Nago Museum 

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The Nago Museum

     N 26 35.166E 127 59.211

The Nago Museum

The Nago Museum is one of your more English friendly museums on Okinawa. Though not every museum item has an English explanation next to it, they do provide some labels in English and they do have a very nice brochure both in Japanese and English giving a general explanation of a particular museum section. Make sure you get one of these brochures before you enter the museum so as to understand what you are seeing as you are touring the area. The brochure may also be a handy source of information if you have children doing a research report on 'Okinawan Culture'. 

The two story museum covers mainly the life of the Nago people, mainly post war era to present. It is well set up with various exhibits of farm life, food processing, worship and ceremonies, and whaling. Everything is neatly arranged (See Photo Album). The Cetacean or whale exhibit is pretty impressive for the size of the museum. There is also Special Exhibition room on the first floor that covers featured topics of Okinawa culture. Price for entry is very inexpensive. See Admission rates and other pertinent information below. 

Admission: Adults 150 Yen (Group Rates 20 or more, 100 Yen), College/Univ Students: 100 Yen (Group Rates 20 or more, 70 Yen), Elementary/Junior High/High School: 50 Yen (Group Rates 20 or more. 30 Yen).

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm.
Closed: Mondays, New Year's, 4th Thursday of the month, National Holidays, Scheduled Maintenance.
Phone number: 098 053 1342.

Pictures. Taking pictures is allowed.
Parking. Please click on the Green Thumbtacks for specific instructions details.

Other places of interest nearby:  Ato no Utaki (Kyoda)Giant Shisas (Kyoda)Water From Hands (Kyoda), Todoroki Waterfall, The Nangusuku Castle Ruins, Nago Green Bridge & The Lower Creek Park.

To see other photos inside the museum, please also see Mike's Ryukyu Gallery.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"The Nangusuku Castle Site Ruins in Nago City"

Steps leading up the Nangusuku Site Ruins

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Nangusuku Castle Ruins of Nago City

     N 26 35.269E 127 59.424

The Nangusuku Castle Site Ruins in Nago City

The Nangusuku Castle Ruins is part of a much larger park known as the 'Nago Castle Site Park'. The ruins are collocated on the same mountainous region where they host the annual Nago Cherry Blossom Festival every January and February. English translated signs found near the site explain that the ruin grounds were residence to Nago Aji, once royal members of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Additionally research has shown that various artifacts excavated here have been said to have theirs origins traced to China and Korea giving belief that people first settled here around the 14th Century. Artifacts included Chinese ceramic pottery known as 'Kamwi-yaki' jars and Korean roof tiles and pots. Unlike many of the major castles found on Okinawa, the Nangusuku site does not have any stone walls. Instead, trench like defensive structures have been discovered at this site.

When you first arrive near the ruin grounds, it is not quite clear where exactly are the ruins. Everything seems to have been modernized (meaning modern construction) with the exception of a few old sacred prayer sites scattered about. There is a shrine at the top of the steps. This too is built from modern construction. As you walk around you will see a network of trails and beaten paths, and paved roads. You will be tempted to walk around the entire park. As stated before, the ruin grounds is part of a much larger park. If you do wish to venture off, prepare to walk a lot. Most of it will be up or down hills.

Location and Parking. Parking closest to the Nangusuku Castle Site is at the 'south entrance'. The Green Thumbtack icon you see above marks the base of the steps that lead up to the ruin site, and also marks one of the designated parking areas at the 'south entrance'. These landmarks are collocated near the end of Route 18 and the Nago Green Bridge.

If you wish to visit the entire park and see other stuff and have no desire to walk long distances, then view the last picture in the photo-album. It a photo of a map board taken at the park. The 'south entrance' will be a the lower left hand corner. Downloading the photo will not give you a high resolution. Use Google's zoom tool already affixed to the photo album instead to see more details. This map board is also located at the Lower Creek Park caddy corner to the Nago Green Bridge (both near the south entrance).

Note: Other photos of the park are included in the photo album in case you decide to visit other areas.

What to bring. Water, mosquito repellant, good foot wear, umbrella for rain and knocking away spider webs, camera, hat or sweat rag (optional), Bento lunch (optional).

Bathroom facilities. There are various bathroom facilities spread out through the park.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"The Sueyoshi Shrine of Naha City"

The Sueyoshi Shrine of Naha City

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Sueyoshi Shrine

     N 26 13.804E 127 42.846

The Sueyoshi Shrine of Naha City

This commanding structure is the Sueyoshi Shrine. It lies prominently high at the Sueyoshi Park of Naha City and can also be seen from a distance at the grounds of Shuri Castle. The path to get there can be quite a trek depending where you start. You have several options however. Please see the post on 'The Sueyoshi Forest Park' for detailed instructions on how to get there and where to park. Around the shrine itself is a network of trails, burial tombs, and sacred prayer sites interspersed along the hillside. If you visit, chances are you may see families or Holy people paying their respects along these trails. If you happen to walk upon such a private gathering, just keep a  proper distance or avoid it all together and you should be fine. It is understood that people come to see the main shrine itself.  A sense of quietness should be maintained at all times as you enjoy the tranquility of nature and peace that accompanies the area.

The shrine's origin can somewhat be explained by a stone marker along the path that was also translated in English. It reads...
The Sueyoshi Shrine, commonly called 'Shadan' was a guardian shrine of the Taikei-zan Manjuji Temple. According to tradition, the Kumano Gongens (Shinto Avatars) were enshrined here during the reign of King Sho Taikyu (1454-1460).
The stairway laid with Ryukyu limestone leads up the stone to the main shrine. The main shrine, one of Japan's National Treasures before World War II, was entirely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The site is a place of scenic beauty as well. The Shrine  building was restored in 1972.
March 1990
Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education,
Naha City Board of Education.  
The explanation does give insight to its origin but also gives rise to more questions about the details. For example, the only reference I could find about the Manjuji Temple was of a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan (see source). So being very far away from the Ryukyu Kingdom, it is not sure what is meant that the Sueyoshi Shrine (a Shinto Shrine) was considered a  'guardian shrine' of a Buddhist temple, if this is indeed the temple. This may give insight to somewhat of a complex, yet compatible and peaceful integration of both the Shintoism and Buddhism as religion was becoming more and more popular in old Japan. Perhaps it is important to understand the human aspect of the Japanese people and the context of those times as well as religion was being spread throughout Asia. 

More information on the Sueyoshi Shrine can also be found  here.

Reader's Note. There are two buildings to this shrine. One lies behind the other. I am not sure of the particular significance one has over the other. Also keep in mind that some of the stone paths are uneven, so please watch your footing as you walk,.. and recommend avoiding any unbeaten side trails if you encounter them.

Other places of interest nearby: The Sueyoshi Forest Park, The Tomb of Ginowan Udun.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"The Graveyard of Ginowan-Udun"

Graveyard of Ginowan Udun

View Map It! Okinawa in a larger map
Graveyard of Ginowan-Udun

     N 26 13.821E 127 42.757

The Graveyard of Ginowan-Udun

This is the graveyard of Ginowan-Udun, a one time prince of the Ryukyu Kingdom during the OFU period. The grave is found at the Sueyoshi Park and is very close to the Sueyoshi Shrine. The construction of the grave is similar to many of the 'turtle back' graves seen throughout Okinawa. However, this tomb is the "oldest existing tomb displaying a gentle curvy line", called the 'Mayu' or eyebrow, above the grave opening (source, inscription). The tomb was constructed near the beginning of the 18th Century and those built afterwards were built in a different manner. What is is also unique to this grave is a stone wall called the 'Hinpun' that lies in front of the grave. The only way to enter the graveyard are from the sides of the stone wall which was intentionally designed to be narrow. Thus, making sure that the coffin 'had' to be lifted above the stone wall. This was a form of symbolic expression of making one's journey to the 'other' world difficult.  Source of information was found in English near the graveyard

See the post below titled "The Sueyoshi Forest Park" for directions. The graveyard can be found on one of the trails at the park. See the Map Icon above to get an orientation.

Other places of interest nearby: Sueyoshi Forest Park, The Sueyoshi Shrine.