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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.

1 comment:

  1. Let's chase, all those bells down and get the mystery solved !