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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Arakaki Gusuku

Uchibara no Tun, one of two major sacred places on Arakaki Gusuku 

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Arakaki Gusuku

     N 26 16.375E 127 47.187

Arakaki Gusuku, Nakagusuku Village

The Arakaki Gusuku is one of many least known gusuku's on Okinawa. The term gusuku is often loosely translated to mean a castle, but it could also mean a domain. In Okinawa such domains are often on high ground. In the case of Arakaki Gusuku, it sits on a ridge line in the middle of the island, and at one time had a commanding view of both the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea. Though mostly covered now with dense vegetation, researchers (2004-2005) have uncovered ruins dating back as far as the 14th Century to as early as the 15th and 16th Century.(1) The 2004-2005 excavation also uncovered man-made objects such as celadon and white porcelain(i) as well as “gusuku earthernware and metal”.(1) Researchers also found evidence of a masonry technique called “nozura-zumi” that was used to build the surrounding infrastructure.(1) The exact boundaries of the gusuku are not very clear, though it is believed to cover much of the high ground.

Other ruins just south of the gusuku (dubbed the Arakaki Settlement Ruins) were also unearthed and believed to date back as early as 1945. These settlement ruins were at one time separate residential areas called Niidukuru, Tuni, Miiyashichi, and Nakanmi.(2). There is now a monument represented by an uganjyu (a place of worship)ii in the Niidukuru area. It is dedicated to the early settlements of Arakaki Village.(3)

Though much of its origins are still mired in mystery, official references of the gusuku have been made in old writings, such as the Omorososhi, sacred poems or songs from the Old Ryukyu Kingdom. The Nakagusuku Village Office writes in their explanation that “one song praises the gusuku and its lord and the other song is an oracle given by a female priestess celebrating a wedding of the lord's family”.(1) The lord's name was not mentioned in the source.

Arakaki no Taki and Uchibara no Tun. In addition to the Omorososhi reference, there are two sacred areas at Arakaki Gusuku that were officially documented in the Ryukyukoku Yuraiki which was published in 1713. They are the Arakaki no Taki and the Uchibara no Tun.(1)  The Uchibara no Tun is also represented by an uganjyu. Inside there are two hinukan's. The hinukan, often symbolized by three stones, represents the 'god of fire' (Why there are two is unclear).(iv) On the western and eastern flanks of the Uchibara no Tun you will find empty pits said to be old water springs. They were given the names, iri-ka and agari-ka, meaning west and east water spring in the Okinawan language, respectively. 

Arakaki no Taki(v) is not as identifiable as the Uchibara no Tun. (The exact location is not very clear. Based on a historical map, it is believed to be near the highest point of Arakaki Gusuku). The explanation provided by the Nakagusuku Village Office is somewhat vague on this point. It does write in one of their explanations that “there is a Ryukyuan limestone hill in which the settlement's guardian is known to reside and where Arakaki Gusuku is located”.(2) This summit is believed to be the location of Arakaki no Taki (author's speculation).

Other places of interest. On the network of trails in and around the gusuku compound, you will find places of historical interest. They are outlined below.

Tigunii. Amulet. Near the Uchibara no Tun sacred site is an old stone called the Tigunii which might be best described as a “protector against evil spirits”. In Japanese this would be called a “ma-yoke” (魔除け). Ma (魔) meaning a demon and yoke (除け) giving reference to something that is removed. The Tigunii would serve as a protector much like a shisa would for a household.(3)
Mijyagaa. Water spring. Long ago villagers used this water to make tofu. There is a myth that if you wash (not drink) yourself with this water, it will keep you young. This is located on the western end of the gusuku near a trail.(3)
Ushi no hana. Protruding limestone. Near the Mijaagaa spring is a large limestone rock protruding from the rock side. The local residences have given it the nickname ushi no hanna, meaning the “bull's nose” in Japanese.(3)
Kaabuyaa gama. Cave (no longer in existence). Near the “bull's nose” was a cave called Kaabuyaa-gama.(3) According to a local guide it was destroyed and replaced with concrete walls to reinforce the hillside. He said it was near this ohaka (grave) about 5 meters away from the “bull's nose”.
Tunmaasu. Old road juncture. This was an old road juncture at one time near the old Hanta Michi road. It was recognized for its large pine tree that once stood there middle. It was said to survive the battle of Okinawa but was later destroyed by a typhoon.(4) A new pine tree now sits in its place.

Sacred Days of Observation.
Arakaki no Taki - 15th day of the 5th and 6th month. 24th Day of the 12th Month. Lunar Calendar.(3)
Uchibara no Tun - 15th day of the 5th and 6th month. Lunar Calendar.(3)
Tigunii - 7th Day of the 12th Month. Lunar Calendar.(3)

i. The celadon and white porcelain were believed to be foreign made.
ii. Uganjyu – an Okinawan term; a miniature house-like structure used as a place of worship and meditation; Often found inside are incense holders and a monument of some kind dedicated to a kamisama or spirit/god; a hinukan, three stones representing the 'fire god', are also common objects found inside an uganjyu.
iii. Some families also have a hinukan for the kitchen but the representation is different. Though they both represent the 'god of fire', the hinukans represented by stones is derived from the old days. These stones are not ordinary stones, but are believed to come from somewhere special. Where they originated from depends on local legends. Some believe they may come from the ocean and are often called bijyuru stones in the Okinawan language.
iv. It has been observed here on Okinawa that most uganjyu's with a hinukan are often represented by one set of three stones, not two or more. It wasn't clear from our local guide why there were two sets in one place. Speculation: in some places like Kin Town (Igei District), utaki's (or uganjyu's) have been consolidated into one, because land where one utaki stood was needed for community use and so it was decided to consolidated them in one place. The Nakagusuku Village Office does mention on their historical sign that different “clans” do come and worship at these locations.(1) This is conjecture, but it is possible that both hinukans belong to different clans and were consolidated in one area.
v. Utaki's are sacred areas. Sometimes an uganjyu is also called an utaki. The term taki and utaki are sometimes interchangeable but they can share the same kanji. Taki can also mean waterfall, but the kanji is different.
vi. The Ryukyukoku Yuraiki is one of few surviving records detailing the origins of the Old Ryukyu Kingdom. In it contained records of many important landmarks on Okinawa, such as the Hamasaki Utaki of Onna Village.

1. Historical Sign (English), Arakaki Gusuku, Nakagusku Village Office, on location
2. Historical Sign (English), Arakaki Settlement Ruins, Nakagusku Village Office, on location
3. Historical Map (Japanese), Arakaki Green Map 2013, University of the Ryukyus, print only
4. Historical Sign (English), Tunmaasu, Nakagusuku Village Office, on location
5. Arakaki Gusuku (YouTube Video, English), Nakagusuku Village Cultural Assets Video
6. Uchibara no Tun (YouTube Video, English), Nakagusuku Village Cultural Assets Video
7. Tunmaasu (YouTube Video, English), Nakagusku Village Cultural Assets Video
8. Mijyagaa (YouTube Video, English), Nakagusku Village Cultural Assets Video

Directions/Parking. The most direct route is to take Highway 329 to Nakagusuku Village to Highway 35. You will then be going up a hillside. Your first LandMark will be the “Okinawa Pref. Fire Academy” sign. Continue pass this and make the 1st right (see picture). Continue straight. You will a sign marker on your right. The Arakaki Gusuku ruins will be on your left.

Other places of interest nearby. Taachii Ishi, Perry's Banner Rock.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Taachii Ishi, Perry's Banner Rock

"The Banner Rock"

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Perry's Banner Rock

     N 26 16.537E 127 47.300

Taachii Ishi, Perry's Banner Rock

On 26 May 1853, an American expedition led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived at Napha Port (Naha)(i). Four days later, on May 30th, Commodore Perry dispatched a small exploration team to go ashore and survey the surrounding area. The team was lead by an Officer, a chaplain by the name of Mr. Jones, accompanied by a Mr. Bayard Taylor who was appointed to document their journey, and 10 other members.(1,2) Their journey would take them from Shuri Castle to Nakagusuku Castle by way of a road called Hanta Michi or Hanta Road.(2) Along the way, they noticed a very large rock formation on a ridge line that divided the western and eastern part of the island (1) (This ridge line also happens to be the location of Arakaki Gusuku ruins).

Memorized by the summit's beauty, Mr. Taylor wrote the following passage in his journal,
“...we came upon a singular rock, rising high out of a forest of pines. The summit which was very sharp and jagged, was seventy or eighty feet above the crest of the ridge, and being composed of secondary limestone, honeycombed by the weather, it was an exceedingly striking and picturesque object.” (1)
Mr. Bayard then ascended up the summit and after witnessing its amazing panoramic view, ordered for the American Flag and hoisted it up as his men down below fired their guns in salute. To mark the occasion, the team named it, the “Banner Rock”.(1)

The moment was indeed inspirational, which then prompted a team member (Mr. Heine) to sketch the scene.(1)ii This same sketch is visible on a historical sign placed by the Nakagusuku Village Office (on location) and is also found on page 168 of Perry's narrative. This photograph (February 2014) is from an estimated angle of where the sketch was taken from.

The local Okinawans call this rock formation taachi ishi meaning two rocks (also pronounced as taachaa ishi). However, on March 7, 1997 the Nakagusuku Village Office officially bestowed the name “Perry's Banner Rock” to commemorate its historical value.(2) For further reading on Commodore Perry's exploration team, visit under Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, Chapters 8 (pgs 162-186).

1. Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, 1856
pg 151, Chapter 7 (Arrival into Naha and exploration team dispatched)
pg 167, Chapter 8 (Mr. Bayard Taylors's description of the summit – Quotation)
pg 168 , Chapter 8 (Picture of the Banner Rock)
2. Nakagusuku Historical Sign (On location, English translated)

i. The name Napha is heavily used in Perry's Narrative to describe what is considered now Naha City. It is not certain by the author if this was used because of the Okinawan's pronunciation or what Perry's expedition team had misinterpreted.
ii. Mr. Heine is mentioned by Mr. Bayard as the person who “stopped to sketch it [the rock formation]” and his name can also be found on the bottom left hand corner of the sketch.

Caution. There is a makeshift ladder to help you get near the top, however this ladder is somewhat old. Please use extreme caution should you decide to scale the summit. Some climbing will be required. Please do not attempt if you are not in great physical condition. Gloves are recommended.

Directions/Parking. The most direct route is to take Highway 329 to Nakagusuku Village to Highway 35. You will then be going up a hillside. Your first LandMark will be the “Okinawa Pref. Fire Academy” sign. Continue pass this and make the 1st right (see picture). Continue straight. You will pass the Arakaki Gusuku Ruins on your left. Continue straight till you arrive at the viewing area (see picture). There will be parking available. That same road is also called Hanta Michi. Though you will not be able to drive any further, Hanta Michi (alternate route) takes you towards Nakagusku Castle.