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Sunday, September 29, 2013

"The Awase Bijyuru Shrine"

Entrance into the Awase Shrine

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The Awase Shrine

    N 26 19.240E 127 49.991

The Awase Bijyuru Shrine

Origins of the Shrine. It is said that the shrine houses three special stones that washed on the ashore long, long time ago and when a woman found them they followed her home(1). The stones are said to represent the Fire Kami-sama or Fire god or spirit (1) and people to this day come here to pray for good health, good fortune, and for fertility. The shrine itself is referred to as the Bijyuru Shrine. The term bijyuru  (ビジュル)is of the Okinawan language. When there is a stone that is considered sacred or special, Okinawans refer to these kinds of stones as Bijyuru. Other Okinawans have said that the stones were able to float on the ocean which is what made them special and thus taken in by the villagers for worship.

Source of Information.
1. Okinawa; A People and Their Gods, James Robinson, 1969, pg 57

How to get there? The Shrine is in Awase just off Hwy 85. There are two good landmarks to help guide you in. If you see the map above, you will see a San-A store and the other is an AU cellphone shop.The shrine is not so visible off Hwy 85 cause it is surrounded by trees.

Parking. There wasn't any signs that I could tell that were designated parking areas. There was one for a big restaurant next door. Park at your own risk. There is a small kids park next to the Shrine, so if you want to stop there to have a lunch box feel free. Bring water, camera, and umbrella. Here We Go!!!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup (Sabani Race)

The Sabina Race (Nanjo's Mayor's Cup)

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The Nanjo City's Mayor's Cup

      N 26 07.743E 127 46.199

The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup (Sabani Race)

Update: The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup will not be held this year 2014

Every year, Nanjo City hosts the Mayor's Cup, a sailing race in which participants use Sabani Boats (traditional Okinawan sailing boats) to race around a small island called Oujima. It was in 2007, when Sabani enthusiasts first started an in-house tournament circling the tiny island. But in an effort to preserve Okinawan culture, an official tournament was declared in 2010 under the auspice of Nanjo City and since then has been called The Nanjo City Mayor's Cup.(1)

Part of the ethos of the Sabani community is to raise awareness of Okinawan culture among the Okinawan youth and to preserve the ocean ecosystem. Common activities during these type of events include a Sabani mixer where beginners  get a chance to ride Sabani boats, as well as a beach clean up of the nearby area for trash and debris.

The Race. The entire race involves circling Oujima Island 4 times.(1) One loop is roughly 1.5 miles long (apprx 1600 meters) totaling about 6 miles after completion. Depending on the skill level of the teams, the entire race can last from an 1hr 15 minutes to 2 hours. At the end, there is an awards ceremony, along with closing remarks from guest speakers. Note. The race course may change due to high winds and dangerous surf conditions. In the 2013 Mayor's Cup, hazardous sea conditions had forced the planning committee to cancel the scheduled race loop around the island and use a more safer course within the Oujima harbor. In a tournament-style setup, Sabani teams were placed in different race groups with winners in each group advancing to the finals.  

Epilogue. You will find a lot of camaraderie among Sabani enthusiast at any Sabani event. There is a push among like-minded people to promote more Sabani activities. One of the biggest Sabani races occurs in June where participants leave from Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island and finish at a Naha Port, a 3-4 hour excursion. To learn more about the Sabini Boats please visit Douglas Brooks' website.

Author's Notes. Where to watch. Since the race involves circling the island 4 times, most people pick one spot and watch the race from that location. Many spectators will be watching from the Oujima Bridge as the Sabani boats race underneath. Restrooms. It is recommended that you make all your restroom stops before you arrive on Oujima. Restrooms may not be easily accessible or available depending on your location around the island. 

Date: Sunday 22 September, 2013
Date (If inclement weather): Sunday 29 September, 2013
Spectator Admission: Free
Location: Oujima Island, Nanjo city, (by vehicle okay)
Website: (Japanese) (English section)

10:00〜10:30 Opening Ceremony
10:30〜10:40 Race Course and Rules Explanation
10:30〜11:00 Team Prep
11:00〜13:00 Nanjo City Mayor's Cup Sabani Race
12:30〜13:00 Beach Cleanup
13:00〜13:40 Sabani Mixer (have to have participated in the beach cleanup)
14:00〜15:00 Nanjo City Dragon Boat Race 2013 (NEW)
15:30〜16:30 Awards and Closing ceremony
16:30〜18:30 Finish/Cleanup

Related Articles. 2013 Sabani Race (Zamami to Naha), 2012 Nanjo City's Mayor's Cup, Japan Times (American Out to Save Boat-building Art)

Source of (Nanjo City's Mayor's Cup)

Directions. Take Highway 331 into Nanjo City. You will see signs directing you to Oujima. You can cross using Ou Bridge. Parking. There is no designated parking. You basically have to "do as the Romans do". Recommend get their little early for parking spaces.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ogatamanoki, The Welcome Spirit Tree

Ogatamanoki, the Welcome Spirit Tree

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Ogatamanoki, The Welcome Spirit Tree

     N 26 36.268E 128 07.236

Ogatamanoki, The Welcome Spirit Tree

In Arume of Higashi Village the local people have a special tree they call the Ogatamanoki (オガタマノキ), which happens to be the same Japanese name of this very type of tree (scientific name, Michelia compressa) found throughout Japan and the Ryukyu Islands.(1)(2) This particular tree, with a circumference of about 3 meters, is collocated next to the Shinzan Utaki.(3) The tree is believed to welcome good spirits.(3)

The Name and Background History. The kanji used to describe the Ogatamanoki is written as 招霊の木. The first two Kanji can be pronounced as Shōrei; Shō meaning 'inviting' or 'welcoming' and rei meaning 'spirit' and the last kanji, 木, means 'ki' or tree.  Hence, put together, the tree is known to be the Welcome Spirit Tree. (It is not certain if the first two kanji can also be read as Ogatama).

It said that when their flowers bloom it releases a strong fragrance and such trees are often planted near shrines (perhaps because it believed they welcome good spirits).(4) In Kyoto, at the Shiramine Shrine, there is a Ogatamanoki believed to be over 800 years old.(5), and here at the Kin Kannondo Temple and Shrine in Okinawa, you may also see some of these trees in the background.

Author's Notes. The tree itself appears to have sustained some damages long ago. The upper part seems to have broken off or was torn down.

Directions. Take Highway 331 North going towards Higashi Village, then take Highway 14 going west. About 300 meters later look for a white sign in English and Japanese on your left. You will see the Shinzan Utaki and a middle school next to it. There are wooden steps that take up to the Spirit Tree.

Source of Information.
2. (Japanese)
3. Higashi Village Guide Pamphlet.
4. (Japanese)
5. Official Kyoto Website (Japanese)

Other Places of interest nearby. Sakishima Sappanwood Tree, The Higashi Museum, The Azalea Festival (March Only), Meoto Falls.