Search Map It! Okinawa

Friday, February 22, 2013

"Shizen Sekitei, The Natural Stone Garden"

A large Buddha sits near the front entrance of the Natural Stone Garden in Motobu

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Shizen Sekitei, The Natural Stone Garden

     N 26 38.775E 127 56.852

Shizen Sekitei, The Natural Stone Garden 自然石庭

You never know what hidden gems are tucked away in the far corners of the Motobu forest. In the town of Izumi near Highway 84 there is a hilltop... and at the base of hill are stairs made of natural rock leading you into a garden...a garden filled with large stones and precious greenery. Welcome to Izumi's Shizen Sekitei, the Natural Stone Garden (自然石庭) of Motobu. 

The entire land belongs to an elder couple, Mr. and Mrs. Tokeshi-san, who are now the 4th generation residents of this very beautiful place. In fact, this is their home. Though they do have family in parts of California, they speak very, very little English, but they are one of the sweetest people you will ever meet on the island. If you are looking for a place just to absorb the serenity and quietness of nature, then let your journey begin here.

Points of Interest. The garden itself is full of large stones that naturally seem to sprout from the ground. But there are few points of interest to take note of.

Large Buddha Statue. At the base of the hill before you enter the garden, you will find a large and happy Buddha statue sitting next to a clump of large bamboos. He will be very hard to miss. Some come here to make their wishes known to the Happy Buddha (you may see a deposit of Yen coins near the base of the statue, a custom similarly seen at shrines as people offer their prayers to a spiritual entity).
The Indigo Dye Basins. Across of from the Buddha statue along a small creek bed, you will see a set of large stone basins embedded into the ground. It was here about a 100 years ago a combination of water and various plants were mixed together for a period of about 3 days. This fermenting process was used to make indigo dye for kimonos or kimono-like garbs. It was also said that children long ago would use it as a little swimming pool.
Kodakara-ishi, The Fertility Stone. Kodakara-ishi (子宝石) loosely translates to a 'Child (a form of jewel) Stone'. Mrs. Tokeshi told of a story that a woman who could not bare children for 12 years once touched the stone and had subsequently become pregnant. 
The Ginkgo Tree. The Ginkgo Trees are very popular in Japan and in Japanese culture, but they are seldom found here on the main island of Okinawa. At the top, near the house stands a prominent and very large Ginkgo Tree. It is said to be a male tree brought here from Mainland Japan in May of 1960 and planted as a seedling. The leaves begin sprouting in April and fall off during the fall/winter season. Another verified location of a Gingko Tree is in the town of Oura of Nago City near the Oura-wan Bay.
The Taiko Rock. As you navigate through the garden you will find a little station near the top. You will see two red circles painted on a slate of rock. If you gently hit this area with the padded hammer provided, it will mimic a sound of a taiko drum.
Cherry Trees. There are also a good number of Cherry Trees at the garden and during blossom season they add a nice touch to the scenery. You will see pictures of past blooming Cherry Trees posted near the front entrance of the house.

Admissions Fee. Paying for admissions is based on the honor system. It is a simple deposit of 100 Yen per person. Elementary students and below are free. The money box (blue box) in front of the house up top.

Hours. Because this garden is on private land and is still considered a home, there are really no set hours. But a good rule of thumb would be between 9am and sunset. Just remember this is still considered a residence.

Caution. The stone garden, though beautiful, does have several hazards to be wary about. With light moisture, the rocks can be very slippery at times and there are many trip hazards as you go up further into the hill side. Please watch your children at all times. 

Amenities. There is a small toilet facility near the house. The area is not particularly baby stroller friendly.

Seseragi Cafe. Just before the entrance of the stone garden there is the Seseragi (せせらぎ) Cafe . Their hours are 1130-5pm with last order at 430pm. (We did not get a chance to use the cafe, so no input can be provided at this time).

Directions/Parking. From Highway 58, take Highway 84 going towards Motobu. You will see signs for Highway 123. Continue on Highway 84 passing the Highway 123/Highway 84 T-intersection. Shortly after, you will pass an ENEOS gas station (on the right). The next light (shortly after the gas station) make a left. You will also see an Orange-Fruit-like structure near this turn. Continue straight until you hit the first 4-way intersection (about 250 meters later, no signal). Make a left. About another 300 meters you will see an open parking lot on the left with a two story house and a cafe on the first floor. You will see a small bridge with stone stairs leading you up a hill. The Buddha statue will be next to the cafe. Note: The Green Route takes you to the Yohena Ajisai Gardens (Hydrangea Flower Viewing/Seasonal Mid May to end of June). The Blue Route takes you to the Natural Stone Garden.

Source of Information. Large Indigo-dye Basin: Sign in Japanese, Interview with Mrs. Tokeshi.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"The Old Higashionna Village Museum"

Doorway to the Past, the Higashionna Village Museum

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Higashionna Village Museum

     N 26 24.529E 127 49.783

The Old Higashionna Village Museum

The aftermath of the 'Great Okinawan War' left many Okinawans distraught about the future of their homeland. It also left behind pieces of their heritage scattered throughout the rumble and carnage of the 82-Day campaign. Pages torn and wiped clean from the history books at an instant. Some lost forever. Putting it back together would be a major task. At the forefront in helping the Okinawans repair and preserve part of their history were two Naval Officers, Lt. Cmdr. Willard A. Hannah* and Lt. Cmdr. James T. Watkins. On August 30th 1945, they opened a museum in a small house in Higashionna of Ishikawa, now Uruma City. It was first dubbed the Okinawa Exhibition Hall and was later changed to the 'Higashionna Village Museum' shortly after 24 April 1946 when ownership of the museum changed hands to the Okinawan Civil Government. The efforts of both men would lead to a bigger push to help the Okinawans preserve what was left of their culture and history, a process that would take decades. Cultural assets were transferred from one museum location to another, from Higahshionna to Shuri and then to its present day resting place in Omoromachi, Naha City. On November 1st 2007, a new and much larger complex was opened to the public and was given the official name, 'The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum'.

Present Day. The old 'Higashionna Village Museum building still stands today. At first glance, you would think it was just any old house in the neighborhood. For all intents and purposes, it is. It remains on private property to this day. And because it is on private land, the owner, Mr. Taira, has the lone responsibility as caretaker of the 100+ year old building. Mr. Taira, an elderly man, is very proud of this historical monument, but has expressed concern of its future. All responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance now falls on his shoulders, a task perhaps too great for one person. Is there help on the way? It is uncertain at the moment. Nevertheless, Mr. Taira takes on his duty proudly and understands the importance of this historical building. It was the centerpiece for putting the pieces of Okinawa history back together.

The Mystery of Enkakuji Bells. According to the Prefectural Museum's website (source 1), Capt Hanna played an important role on retrieving the 'Enkakuji Bell' from the Philippines. On the same website they show Mr. and Mrs. Hanna in 1990 standing next to a large bell similar to one that is seen in the garden at the Higashionna Museum in the 1940's. These images (image1, image2) courtesy of Donn Cuson,, do show two bells, both different in size that once stood at the Higashionna Village Museum. There was also a third Enkakuji Bell, though it is not certain if it was also at the museum. According to the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, three bells had existed at the Enkakuji Temple (source 3), but it is not exactly certain how the temple bell that Capt Hanna helped retrieve got to the Philippines in the first place. Efforts are now being made to verify the location of all three bells, two of which are believed to be in the Prefectural Museum (pending verification). Sources have said the other bell is under the care of another historical organization. Nevertheless, at the old Higashionna Village Museum you can still see where the two bells once stood many, many years ago. Two of the bells hung on each side of a small wall near the main entrance. Okinawans call this type of wall, a 'hinpun', which was used to keep out evil spirits from entering the premises. The 'hinpuns' are rarely seen now, with the exception at old residential areas.

The Well and the Garden Pond. Other items of historical interest that can still be seen on the old museum grounds include a large concrete well and the old garden pond which is said to be shaped like a human heart. images3 and images4 were photos taken between 2012-2013. Images5 and images6 were taken over 5 decades ago (courtesy of Donn Cuson,

Online Historical Document. To see more on the Higashionna Village Museum please refer to this PDF (16.9MB) document at You will also find a wealth of historical images of Okinawa on the website.

Visitation. Because the Higashionna Village Museum sits on private property, it can only be viewed from the outside unless given expressed permission by the owner to enter. The owner, Mr. Taira, is a very nice Okinawan man, but may not be on the actual premises when you visit. If he happens to be outside doing some yard work, you can ask permission for a closer look. In front of the old museum, you will a explanation sign translated into English, by the Uruma City Board of Education.

Directions. Take Highway 329 into Ishikawa of Uruma City (not the Highway 329 By-pass). You will see a LandMark Sign (big pointing arrow, now painted white). Turn east on this street and it will be the second street on the right. The old museum will be on the left. You will able to tell by the red tiled roof. 

* Uruma City Board of Education does have the rank as Lt. Cmdr Hannan. However, the Museum Prefectural Website refers to Mr. Hanna as a Navy Captain. 

Source of Information.