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Thursday, June 27, 2013

"The Legend of Asato Gura"

A stone stature of Asatogura

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Legend of Asatogura

     N 26 42.853E 127 47.982

The Legend of Asato Gura 

"if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely.
— Which is?
...Legend, Mr. Wayne."

Okinawa is full of legends. Some big. Some small. Eventually, they all fine their way across distant lands in the ears of the intrigued. Some time during the 19th century, word had spread in old Naha, that there was man of extraordinary strength. This man had lived up north on an island known today as Ie Jima. His name was Asato Gura. But to the villagers of Ie Island, he is known as Uputeimun, (the Strong Man) Asato Gura (ウプテイムンアサトグラ ). As word continued to spread, five men from Naha made the ambitious journey to challenge this man to see if the stories were true. Predictably, all five men, in an Okinawan-style sumo match, would succumb to Asato Gura's overpowering strength, henceforth, making him sort of a local hero and a 'bragging right' among village folks.

Asata Gura's exact age was never determined. It is believed though that he died in the year 1890. At Miisui (ミースィ) Park, on Ie Island, you will see this statue erected in his honor. You may wonder why he is standing firm like a mountain on boat while holding a flask in his left hand. Asato Gura was known for three things: being very strong, being a fisherman, and being a man who always had a bottle of liquor at his side.

Source of Information. Sign in Japanese underneath the Statue.

Directions. The statue and Miisui Park is on Ie Jima Island and is marked in the map above. Please refer to the article 'Travel Prep to Ie Jima' on getting there.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Sen-nin Gama (Niya-Thiya Cave), Ahashagama Cave.

Notes. 1. The opening quote was taken from the motion picture, 'Batman Begins' 2. Uputeimun (ウプテイムン) is of the Okinawan Language (possibly an Ie Jima variant)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"The Tale of Two Caves - Ahashagama"

The Ahashagama Cave

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The Ahasha Cave, Ie Jima

     N 26 43.610E 127 49.061

The Ahashagama Cave

June 22nd, 1945 – The Great Okinawan War' comes to an end. The day after, the long road to recovery begins.

June 23rd is a day of healing. It is Okinawa's Memorial Day, known to the Okinawans as 'Irei no Hi' (慰霊の日). The 22nd and the 23rd of June are two bookends of an era tied to a significant event. One is an end to a war-torn past. The latter, a beginning to a brighter future. This is Okinawa's past and with it, countless wartime stories told by the Okinawans – stories that did not always have a peaceful end. Telling them is their way of preserving the honor and memories of those who tragically lost their lives many, many years ago. Telling them is their way to remind us, the consequences of war. On Ie Jima, there are two caves that are connected by the Battle of Okinawa. One is about life, the other about death. Sen-nin Gama (now called the Niya-Thiya Cave) was said to have a 1,000 people take refuge in its domain as war waged on between American and Japanese forces. There were no reported deaths as a result of the war. And inside, you will find a stone about life. It's a fertility stone. Visitors to Ie Jima come here to feel a special power. To them, it is a 'Power Spot' and is pronounced as such in their own language.

Then, there is the Ahashagama Cave. It is a cave that for two decades that was seemingly left to be forgotten, and for understandable reasons. In 1971, just twenty-six years after the war, the cave was revisited and excavated for its remains. A dark past was about to be revisited. It was discovered that about 150 people died. The cause... suicide by use of grenades, given to them by the then Japanese Imperial Army. About 20 survivors walked away from that dreadful aftermath. All remains were removed and sent to a separate location. A phone number is left behind for those relatives who come back to Ie Island wishing to pay respects to their ancestors (it should be of no surprise that some Ie villagers left the island after the war to get away from the horrific memories of the past). Stories like this are not uncommon during the Battle of Okinawa, where mass suicides were committed to avoid being captured by the oncoming US Forces – a fear that was propagated by the then Japanese Army. It is a sensitive and controversial subject even today.

But 'Irei no Hi' is not supposed to be a day of controversy. Like Memorial Day in the United States, all political positions are set aside for one day in what should be a solemn and quiet moment to honor and remember the fallen. June 23rd is a day that helps Okinawans move forward to the next horizon. The story of Ahashagama – an end to a terrible past, and yet a monument that reminds us to strive for a better future.

Author's Note. The word 'then' is highlighted to emphasize that it was the then Japanese Imperial Army. It is a sometimes human tendency to inadvertently convict an entire current generation of people to the tragedies that took place long, long ago... or to convict an entire group of people over the misdeeds of one individual. The Okinawan War can be a topic of heated debate. I realize this especially as someone who has both an American father and a Japanese mother. History, in the author's opinion, should always be viewed in the context of the times they occurred.

Source of Information. Ie Jima Tour Guide phamplet (Japanese Only), provided by the Ie Village Office.

Related Articles. Beggars’ Belief: The Farmers’ Resistance Movement on Iejima Island, Okinawa (The Asia-Pacific Journal), Survivors Remember Commotion Then Calm Inside Okinawa Cave (Shimuku Gama), Okinawans Outraged....Cover-up of Mass Suicides During WWII Battle (Chibichiri Gama).

Directions. Ashahagama Cave is on Ie Jima Island. Please refer to the article 'Travel Prep to Ie Jima' on getting there. The cave itself borders a golf course (LandMarked on the map above) on the northeastern side of the island.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Sen-nin Gama (Niya-Thiya Cave).