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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Remnants of the Past...

Entrance of Nishihara's Underground Shelter

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The Nishihara Village Office Underground Shelter

     N 26 13.753E 127 45.048

The Nishihara Village Office Underground Shelter

Shelters like the one above serve as a reminder of the past. It was before the Great Okinawan War had come to fruition, that the local people had dug out this shelter off a hillside in Nishihara Village some time after June 1944. This shelter served as an air raid shelter, but also to keep safe important documents for the Nishihara Village Office. A sign (translated in English) sits next to the shelter states that there was a safe inside and in it “contain[ed] important documents such as family and land registers, public funds, office seals, account books, and wartime credits.” Village office workers would retrieve documents from the safe daily and return them before close of business.(1)

The safe was said to weigh about 1 ton.(1) Where that safe is today is not certain by the author. But could quite possibly be preserved in a museum or at the town office. The search continues.

The shelter entrance has gone through some cosmetic changes due to damages that occurred decades after the war and is barred from entry. A building contractor around 1980, was working near this area where damage was inadvertently done to the shelter.(1) Man-made shelters like the one in Nishihara are not uncommon to see on Okinawa. This one pictured here is on the Motobu Peninsula. Its history is not really clear at the moment.

Directions. The shelter is in Nishihara Town. Take Highway 329 south into Nishihara and then take Highway 38 (right before the big San-A Shopping Center). You will pass as Lawson convenience store (left-hand side). You will then pass a Family Mart convenience store (also left-hand side). The next traffic light make a left. About 300 meters you will see the underground shelter on the right.

Source of Information. 1. Sign (translated in English)  

Friday, August 9, 2013

"The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins"

The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins

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The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins

     N 26 29.648E 127 59.591

The Matsuda Caves & the Mēgā Gama Ruins

This article is being reposted with up-to-date information. The Matsuda Caves are now open for Guided Tours (Reservations only). Please read the entire article before going. A 'How-to Guide' on how to make reservations is linked below.

For many years, the villagers from the quiet town of Matsuda, Ginoza (long ago called Kocha) have known about one of its most precious natural wonders. Up to now, it has been one of the best kept secrets on Okinawa for a very long time. Everyday, hundreds and hundreds of transients drive along Highway 329 passing this very special and sacred place, unbeknownst to them that a very large cavern sits just 200 meters away from the main road. One shouldn't be surprised that even villagers from the adjacent districts of Nago City and Kin Town, (and from some areas of Ginoza Village outside of Matsuda) are aware of these mysterious undergrounds that have stayed hidden close to home for decades – possibly centuries. Welcome to the Matsuda Caves and the Mēgā Gama Ruins of Ginoza Village.

History. Local villagers have long regarded the Matsuda caves for its precious source of water. Even today, water streams through the intricate networks of tunnels that lie beneath the Matsuda underground. Researchers have found inside artifacts, such as pottery and shells, that date back to the Gusuku Era of the Ryukyu Kingdom. And like most caves during the Great Okinawan War, the Matsuda caves were a sanctuary for many during this very dreadful period. The caves were not only a safe haven for local villagers. Okinawans from other areas, to include the shimajiri region (southern part of the main Okinawan island), sought refuge here. A woman, now a Kin Town resident from the Namizato District, recalls seeking refuge in these caves when she was a child during the 1945 battle. Speaking with the official planners from the Ginoza Office, it is believed no one died in these caves during that time. However, there is no doubt that the elders of Matsuda have had series of long and dark memories surrounding the war and these caves – but there is one cave legend they are proud talk about.(1)

The Serpent & The Buddhist Monk. The main cave (picture above) is part of the Mēgā Gama Ruins. , according to the villagers, is of an Okinawan dialect that means before or in front. Ga means stream. Loosely translated, it means the river in front. In this case it is the river in front of Matsuda Village. Long ago, villagers feared going near this cave because of a very large serpent they believed that lived inside. Desperate, the villagers had asked a Buddhist monk from Shuri to help rid them of this menacing snake once and for all. Shortly after, the snake had mysteriously...vanished. The villagers have longed believed it was the monk's prayers and and his chants that 'exorcised' this slithering 'demon' from their midst. The monk would later go on to marry a local woman and spend the rest of his life in Matsuda village. His grave was put near the cave as a memorial to his contribution to the people of that town. His actual remains have since been relocated, but remains of his original tomb still sit near the cave. His remains are now located inside the worshiping house that sits up top.(2)(3)(4)

The Kushi Utaki. You may notice that behind the main worshiping area is a concrete utaki and behind that is a large hill. That entire hill is referred to as the Kushi Utaki. Villagers paid homage to this sacred hill for protecting Matsuda Village from strong winds during typhoons. The word 'Kushi' is also of the Okinawan language meaning 'behind'. In this case, it is referring to a sacred area behind Matsuda Village.(5)

The Cave Network. It is believed that throughout Matsuda Village there are other caves that have no cave openings. This has become a problem in the event new building are to be erected. A thorough land inspection has to be conducted before any new buildings are to be put up. It is said that during the war, there were 11 cave entrances where Okinawan hid for safety. Many of them have since collapsed.

Author's Notes.
(1)Gusuku Era can be considered as the 12 century but currently cannot cite an official reference that clearly defines the time period in question.
(2) No dates could be found when the 'Buddhist Monk' legend took place, but given that it involved a 'Buddhist' monk may shed some light on the time period when this legend occurred. The monk was also said to have traveled to the Kin Kannon-do Temple prior to coming to Matsuda Village, but was originally from Shuri.
(3) It wasn't clear if the bride was given to the monk as a sign of gratitude by the villagers. Some even say her residence was somewhere near or above the cave. This cannot be substantiated as of yet.
(4) Officials have said the remains of the Buddhist monk are now part main worshiping area.
(5) Sign near the Kushi Utaki in Japanese. Note that an Utaki which means sacred grove is also used to describe a small house-like structure where prayers are performed. But an Utaki could be a waterfall, large rock, and sacred grounds. Usually the house-like structure is just a focal point where prayers are offered, much like a crucifix might a focal point for prayer within a church for Christians.

Epilogue. For better or worse, the little town of Matsuda is about to change forever. When we first stumbled upon the cave over a year ago, it was agreed that it was something that could not be divulged to the public out of concern for public safety and that it would overwhelmingly alter the natural environment of the Matsuda town. Though the cave entrance sits 200 meters away from the main highway, there were no signs on the main road indicating its location, which lead us to believe that was done intentionally, and for understandable reasons. However, with the decision to make the Matsuda caves a public attraction, the decision was then made by the Ginoza Office to officially release the story; A Japanese magazine publication, called the Okinawa Graph, released its December issue on December 1st 2012 featuring the Matsuda caves and its location. Road signs are now being posted. Because of the safety restrictions that have been set in place and a previous released public announcement made, the planners said it was okay for us to release its location and to talk about the cave's history. To see 'before' pictures of the main cave, click on the photo album.

Guided Tours (Reservations Only). The Matsuda caves are now fenced up and safe for viewing from a distance. However,entering the cave is on a reservation basis only with the Ginoza Tourism Office. There are two main areas that will have guided tours. The boardwalk you see in the picture above goes in about 70 meters inside the cave. This is part of the Matsuda Village History Walking Tour (this is the only cave you enter for this tour). The other tunnel is about 240 meters long. The entire network, however, is believed to be about 800 meters in length, but many areas are too dangerous for passage due narrow channels and high water levels. 


Concerns and Recommended Areas for ParkingIMPORTANT! PLEASE READ. Keep in mind that this is a real village, and not a 'gated' attraction like 'Okinawa World'. Therefore, to help the people of Matsuda, it is highly recommended that you park away from anything that appears to be neighborhood road so as not to disrupt their daily life. Many still farm in this area. There is designated parking behind the 'Taiken Kouryu Center', (Green Thumbtack on the map) which will be the information hub and admission office for the caves. 

Furthermore, it will take some time for the people of Matsuda to get use to the number visitors it is about to have. The Matsuda people are a very proud and wonderful people, yet they are quiet about how they live their lives. Be respectful in mannerisms. A very quiet tone, a humble presence, a nice smile, and a 'konicihi wa' will go a long way.

Views on Caves. There is a stark difference on how non-Okinawans and Okinawans in general view caves. It is important to understand this. It is a difference between night and day. Please read Map It! Okinawa's Cave Disclosure Policy for background information.

Source of Information. Explanation signs on site (Japanese Only). Interview with Ginoza Tourism Office.

Directions. The turn-off to the Matsuda caves is about 500 meters south of the Highway 329 and Highway 234 T-Intersection in Ginoza Village. However, Highway 234 intersects twice with Highway 329. It intersects first in Kanna (south) and then again in Matsuda (north). Look for this large wood map board as seen in this picture for the turn-off. You will also see small white signs that say 'Taiken Kouryu Center' as seen in the same picture right hand-side.