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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Kagami-iwa, The Mirror Rock"

Kagami-iwa, the Mirror Rock

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The Mirror Rock and Shirumichu-reijo

     N 26 18.769E 127 57.574

Kagami-iwa, The Mirror Rock - Hamahiga Island

Not too far from the Shirumichu Cave is a place that just leaves you in awe. The large slanted rock you see above is called 'Kagami-iwa' meaning 'The Mirror Rock'. It has a striking resemblance to one of the most sacred sites here on Okinawa, Seifa Utaki. It is here that the land owner, Mr Nohina, believes are the images of two of the most sacred figures in Ryukyuan Mythology: Shirumichu and Amamichu, male and female deities said to be the originators of the Ryukyu Islands. This should be of no surprise considering Hamahiga is purported to be one of the dwelling places of the first ancestors. At first, the images are difficult to make out, but if you look carefully – and with a little imagination, you can see two figures embedded on the side of the wall. To get a visual orientation, click the following links in sequence: Picture 1 (both images), Picture 2 (both images and Mr. Nohina), Picture 3 (Shirumichu), Picture 4 (Amamichu). According to Mr. Nohina, the optimal time to see the apparitions is generally between May and September around 2 o'clock where the afternoon sun reflects against 'The Mirror Rock' at just the right angle, revealing the ghostly images.

So why do people come here? Probably for most, it is merely out of curiosity. But according to Mr. Nohina, couples do come here to pray for a long and healthy companionship. Some come here to pray for fertility (it can be said that the image of Amamichu is holding a baby). For whatever the reason, people do come...but this wasn't always the case. Mr. Nohina explains that residents long ago on Hamahiga avoided this place because the images (thought to be ghost) would frighten them away.

Other places to see. On the same grounds you will see what Mr. Nohina refers to as the 'Turtle Cave', named for its turle-like head. It is a very tiny cave and inside, are strategically placed crystal stones that illuminate when the morning sun hits the cave entrance. The following link is a photograph he took during the illumination. See photo. He says between 8 and 9 o'clock is when the 'magic' happens.

Not too far from the 'Mirror Rock' you will see another impressive rock wall that will amaze you. Click here to view. And further up the trail is a carved stone stairway that takes you up high where you can get a great view of Hamahiga Island from atop.

The Endless Questions. So how does a place like this come to existence with so little attention in the public eye, especially being so close to the Shirumichu Cave, one of the holiest sites on Okinawa? Mr. Nohina is originally from Miyako Island. He moved in 2002 in search for peace – the same kind of peace you would find...let's say, on Kudaka Jima. After a long search, he had found this place on Hamahiga, purchased the land from the previous owner, and renamed the entire area Shirumichu-reijo (Shirumichu Spiritual Place). This takes an incredible amount of energy, passion, and wealth to do something like this. But Mr. Nohina is a Okinawan historical enthusiast. He breathes Okinawan folklore. After doing much research on the area, he decided to open it up to the public in 2007.

When asked, do noros (Okinawan female priestesses) come here to pray? He eluded that many would probably not out of pride because they never heard of this place before. This is understandable. It would be kind of embarrassing not to know about a place of this magnitude being so close to the Shirumichu Cave, one of most revered religious sites a noro can pilgrimage to. One can conclude that this area must have been a highly kept secret for a very long time — which is hard to imagine cause it's literally within walking distance from the first Torii Gate of the Shirumichu Cave. And what is the connection with Uruma City's Board of Education, normally in charge of explaining such places within their jurisdiction? Official references, if any exist, have not yet been found. The investigation continues...

Conclusion. So what exactly is 'The Mirror Rock' and Shirumichu-reijo? No doubt the landscape is incredible and has 'Animism' written all over it. And being so close to a sacred site here on Okinawa, it would be hard to imagine a place like this not having any spiritual significance. You may find no answers here, just one man's belief. But when you see 'The Mirror Rock', you just can't help...but wonder.

Hours: Daily, 10am to 6pm. Recommend you call before you go. The estate is run by Mr.Nohina and one other person, and possibly may not be available during certain times for unforeseeable reasons. (If you wish to see the crystal stone illuminate inside the small 'Turtle Cave' then you will have to arrange that with Mr. Nohina. Normally the illumination happens between 8 and 9 am).

Fee: 200 Yen per person (You will receive a 200 Yen coupon in return which gives you a free ice tea or 200 yen coupon towards another refreshment higher in price).

Phone Number: 098 977 7157.

Recommendation. Mr. Nohina, does not speak any English. You may want to bring a friend fluent in Japanese should you have any questions, preferably one who knowledgeable in Okinawan Hogen and the Miyako dialect.

Directions.Hamahiga is accessible by vehicle. As soon as you cross the Kaichu-dori Bridge (on Highway 10 off the Katsuren Peninsula) you will see signs directing you to Hamahiga. Once you arrive on Hamahiga, you will make a left turn heading towards the eastern side of Hamahiga. After you pass the Amamichu Grave Site look for a toilet facility on the right. Take the first immediate right after this facility. This is the start of the Blue Vehicle Route (See map above). From there you will see signs directing you to 'Shirumichu' sacred site. Near the end of the route, you will see a large parking area near a boat port. The entrance to Mr. Nohina's residence is across this parking area. Look for a sign board pointing you the way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Ghost Stories: Haunted Ruins in Kyoda"

Entrance to Nago's famed Haunted Ruins

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O-Files: Haunted Ruins, Kyoda

     N 26 32.462E 127 57.839

O-File Mystery: The Kyoda House

There is Okinawa and then,.... there is Okinawa. The former is one we have come to know and love. The latter is a place few talk about, but many have come to fear... a parallel world that lives in the subconscious of every Okinawan; a universe filled with the occult where wayward spirits dwell and thrive. It is a place neither here, nor on the other side. It is Okinawa's underworld.

In Nago City, in the town of Kyoda there is a lonely trail right off Highway 58 that thousands of cars pass by everyday. It leads to an empty lot on beachfront property. It was said that a two story building of European-style design once stood here for many, many years (possibly since the 1970's or much longer). All that remains now are ruins of an old brick-style kitchen and remnants of an old room. Stories have surfaced claiming sightings of ghost and spirits in and around the area. With stories like these, separating fact from fiction is almost next to impossible particularly in the internet age where rumors run more rampant than ghost themselves. Here is a summary of one internet rumor,
People of foreign nationality (possibly Americans) once lived here (Kyoda) many years ago. There was a murder and subsequently, a ghost would be seen in the area described as a foreign male wearing blue jeans and a white shirt. It was also said that a Statue of the Virgin Mary was on the premises and if one saw it, they would become faint.
It shouldn't be any surprise that many people from the western part of Nago know about this place. You just have to ask around. Like all good ghost stories, they are often perpetuated by rumor and by the youth class. Residents of Nago that I spoke to (all from different areas with ages ranging from 17 to the their mid-thirties) have heard about the hauntings in Kyoda. But a much older Okinawan man who lived in Nago does not believe there was any kind of murder, just that strange things were reported to happen in that area. He said their was speculation that these strange occurrences happen because the house stood on the same grounds where a certain 'kami-sama' or god was once worshiped. The house just happened to be in the way.

Today. Internet rumors claim it was destroyed a few years ago. The cause said to be a fire. However, during a recent visit, no visible charred marks could be seen in the surrounding rubble or vegetation. Pictures of the actual building intact could not yet be found. However, there is a Three-Part YouTube Video by famed Japanese actor and storyteller, Junji Inagawa, where he is conducting a night visit of the Kyoda House some time before it was destroyed. The video is all in Japanese. See links below.

Epilogue. Somebody out there knows something. Somebody lived in that house at one time. For now, it seems that the story behind the Kyoda House will remain in the archives of the long and growing list of unsolved mysteries, in a special section under the letter 'O'. Regardless if the hauntings are real or not, what is real is that the people of Nago believe it to be real. 

Source Links. (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

Other Okinawan Ghost Stories. The Legend of the Okukubi RiverThe Legend of Nanga Bozu.

Directions. Access to the trail is right off of Highway 58, about 100 meters south of the Highway 71/58 Intersection. You can only access this trail going northbound on Highway 58. There is a small turn-off where you can pull in and park your car. This pull-off will be under the expressway. On one of the pillars near the turn-off the characters 'B-P7' can be seen in large print as seen in this photo. The entry way to the trail is right on the turn-off.

Other places of interest nearby: Kyoda's Two Giant Shisas, The Kyoda Utaki, Kyoda's Water from HandsTodoroki Waterfall, Nago Green Bridge/Lower Creek Park, The Nangusuku Castle Ruins, Nago Museum.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Mysticism and the Sunset at Senaga Jima"

Sunset viewed from Senaga Jima

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Mysticism and the Sunset at Senaga Jima

     N 26 10.525E 127 38.534

Mysticism and the Sunset at Senaga Jima

Spending time on Senaga Jima during sunset is a very worthwhile moment, particularly if you are in a romantic mood. The picture above faces west towards the East China Sea. The light haze, acting as a natural filter, gave away the sun's well defined circular outline just as it was breaking through the horizon. Sunset viewing from Senaga Jima is a very popular activity with many Okinawans. But for some, the reasons may go a lot deeper. An Okinawan had once said that if someone had an abundance of misfortunes, a 'yuta' (an Okinawan mystic) would take that person, at his or her request, to Senaga Jima. During sunset, they would perform a ritual believing it will free the individual of his or her burdens.

This kind of ritual can be viewed as some kind of purification act to rid evil spirits believed to be the cause of such misfortunes. In Japanese this is referred to as 'yakubarai' (厄払い), a word meaning exorcism. Yakubarai could be done at a temple or at another sacred place under a direction of a spiritual mentor. If one's house was believed to have evil spirits, a 'yakubarai' ritual may be performed. These kinds of practices are not necessarily part of any organized religion. They can be performed by a self proclaimed 'spiritual enlighten' person. The yutas are a subject of great curiosity, and perhaps controversy as well. Many are treated with skepticism and yet there are many who are very highly regarded. Whatever the case may be, the yutas...or the belief in them, has to this day remain in part of Okinawa's folklore and mysticism.

The Mystery Island. The island seen in the background above is Maejima. It sits between Senaga Jima and Tokashiki Island, which has administrative control over Maejima. Maejima has a little interesting story of its own. It is largely uninhabited...with the exception of one family. It wasn't always that way. At one time it had a small population, close to 400 people. But hard times had forced the people to flee the island for a better life. According to the Ryukyu Shimpo, “The last four families went to live in Naha in February 1962 and Maejima Elementary and Secondary Schools were closed. With this the island became uninhabited”. A former resident, Fumio Nakamura, writes his account in his new book about the history of Maejima. In 2003, Mr. Nakamura decided to move back to Maejima with his family, and after 42 years, Maejima officially regained its inhabited status becoming the 40th inhabited island in the Ryukyu Archipelago. See article linked below by the Ryukyu Shimpo dated June 3rd 2012.

Traffic. Senaga Jima is not a difficult place to get to. However, if you are going to go to view the sunset, you need to give yourself plenty of time. Traffic is heavily congested during evening rush hour. 

Directions. Travel south on Highway 331 past the Naha Airport. Study the map carefully. The main road to Senaga Jima branches off where Highway 331 splits. Make sure you take the 331 that veers west. You will see street signs directing you to Senaga Jima.

Source of information. Maejima:

Notes. 1. It is under the impression that most yutas are considered to be female.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Shirumichu, Hamahiga Island"

The Shirumichu Cave

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Shirumichu Shrine

     N 26 18.745E 127 57.578

Shirumichu シルミチュー

Up on a hillside in Hamahiga lies a very sacred cave referred to as Shirumichu. It is said to be the once dwelling place of the first Ryukyu Gods, Amamichu and Shirumichu. Around new years, it was noted that noros, Okinawan female priestesses, would come here to pay their respects. Traditionally, they would bring a small stone from the beach and place it in a pot inside the cave. This custom may still well be alive today. Also inside the cave is what is referred to as a 'female stone'. Women and couples often come here to pray for fertility. Around 1918 (Taishō Era, Taishō 6), the location was recognized by the Japanese Government as a sacred site. A stone tablet sign marks the occasion.

Entrance inside the cave. There is no sign that forbids you to go in the cave. Though there is gate, it may or may not be locked. Use extreme etiquette if you decide to walk inside. Noros are not the only ones that come here to pray. You will often see elderly people (especially, elderly women) come here to pay homage as well. It is best to only stay inside for about 15-20 seconds if there are people waiting.

Etiquette. Sightseers need to be very conscious not to impede those who come here to pray. All those who do take priority. Please do not take pictures of prayer sessions unless given permission to do so. In fact, if there happens to be some kind of prayer ceremony in progress, it is best to leave and come back at a later time. Some of these prayer ceremonies are extremely private. Generally, when in the area, keep conversation in a very respectful and low volume. This is an area of meditation for some.

Taking photographs. There are no signs forbidding photographs inside the cave. However, a local Okinawan said to use good judgment. This particular cave should not be viewed as a place of adventure. It is best to gauge your surroundings first.

The Grave of Amamichu. The Grave of Amamichu (and Shirumichu?) is within a short driving distance from this location. See map above. The proximity gives life that there is a much larger connection within Hamahiga and the origins of the first Okinawan people.

Epilogue. Hamahiga is an island full of mysteries, and perhaps there are some go deeper than what is currently open to the public. In a future article, we'll delve inside the mind of one Hamahiga resident and a place that looks all too familiar to one of the most sacred sites here in all of Okinawa – Seifa Utaki.

Source of Information. Explanation signed in Japanese on location.

Author's Note.
1. The meaning and significance of the noro's small beach stone is not exactly certain. 
2. The fertility stone could not positively be identified, but it is believed to be the one that is shaped like an elephant's head from its side. It is a very shiny stalagmite/stalactite type of stone that stands out among the rest. 
3. Kudaka-jima is widely believed to be the location where the first Okinawan civilization began. A tour guide was asked about the relationship between Kudaka and Hamahiga. She stated that some believe the gods later went to Hamahiga. 
4. Amamichu and Shirumichu are sometimes referred to as Amamikiyo and Shinerikiyo, respectively.

Directions. Hamahiga is accessible by vehicle. As soon as you cross the Kaichu-dori Bridge (on Highway 10 off the Katsuren Peninsula) you will see signs directing you to Hamahiga. Once you arrive on Hamahiga, you will make a left turn heading towards the eastern side of Hamahiga. After you pass the Amamichu Grave Site look for a toilet facility on the right. Take the first immediate right after this facility. This is the start of the Blue Vehicle Route. From there you will see signs directing you to 'Shirumichu' sacred site. Near the end of the route, you will see a large parking area near a boat port. You will see the trail entrance to the Shirumichu Shrine location.

Other places of interest nearby. Amamichu's Grave, Gateway to the Other Side, Agari no Utaki, Hamahiga Beach, Off-the-Beaten Path - Hamahiga.