Our gakumun tour left Naha City and headed south to the Shimajiri area. We first stoped at Haebaru town which is known for the beautiful Ryukyu Kasuri, or handwoven textiles with splashed ikat patterns. The Kasuri Kaikan there had weavers from its guild working on some very intricate and delicate pieces, while the sound of the looms seemed to keep a rythm as the thread was pased through the warp. Okinawan textiles are known to have the spirit of its creator woven iinto them, and it is that fact that makes it so valuable and personal.
Used to pay taxes to the Satsuma government, this art was once an art of suffering and tears. It has now been made into something of pride and personal value.
Everyone got to see the time and tedious work that goes into making a roll of kasuri. The fascination of the individual threads and construction of patters through dyed, careful laid out fibers amazed , but at the same time, while looking around, the median age for the weavers was in their 70’s. This brought the realization of where this art was, wonder about what is going to happen to its future. We then proceeded to the Haebaru History and Cultural Museum. This new building was not yet opened to the public, but we were invited by its curator to visit and see the
displays they had up. It was amazing as we walked through and heard information about some things we never knew existed in Okinawa. One of those things was a shrine which was set up by the Japanese army during the war. This shrine held a picture of the emperor and the people were intsructed to bow and pay respects to it every morning and evening, and upon passing it. It was all part of the brainwashing program that was set up for the Okinawans, as the Japanese had already known in advance what was going to happen, as they fortified themselves in preparation for the land battle on Okinawan soil. There was also part of a wall that was riddled with holes and gauges from a bomb that was used to destroy a water tank where Okinawan civillians were hiding in. It killed 2. Besides artifacts and histories of the terrible battle of Okinawa, there was also exhibits on the culture of Okinawans and the Haebaru town. It seemed as though this small museum was put together with much heart and care, as compared to the cold and distant energy in the large prefectural museum the other day. This museum was built with the purpose of education so that the children of the town would learn and pass down their history and culture. It opens in November of this year, and will be a great instrument in keeping Haebaru alive. We congratulate the people of Haebaru.
We continued our treck south as we mad eour way to Himeyuri memorial. This was the beginning of a heavy and thought provoking afternoon for us, but was also interrupted with the contrast of young Japanese students yelling, playing and running in this place of past, horrific death and suffering. Why the Okinawa people allow this, I don’t understand. After Himeyuri, we went down a little ways to the Peace Memorial Museum. This hit many of us hard as the graphic pictures and visual aids of the war wrenched the hearts. To think that this happened to our ancestors, we can never really understand their suffering, but continue to carry on what they innocently died for. This kind of museum and movement in the community gives me hope that Okinawa’s true history will still be passed down for ore generations.
We ended our daylight time that day at Seifa Utaki, which is the most sacred site on the Okinawa mainland. It has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The last time I had visited this place was over 10 years ago, and I could clearly see the changes. A large parking lot was installed, as well as a visitors center, new paved paths, and of course…admission. It has become very accessible, and conpared to before, tourists have put this on their “must see” list. All is good, however, on the other hand, the local Okinawans are restricted form practicing their rituals there in the way that it had been done for the past 500 years at least. They also charge the priestesses, but at a discount rate, for admission to do their rituals. In this sense, Hawaiians have an advantage as they can enter their sacred sites free, should they be going for “religious’ purposes.
The finally of the day was the katachiki, or bingata, workshop at Yuhsuke Yokoi’s place in Tamagusuku. He made a special stencil and design just for our group. Everyone tried their hand at it, and got to take home a very personal gift. The night ended with Yokoi.his wife, and students giving us a great dinner made by Mrs. Yokoi. The group was beginning to see the kind of warmth thats part of our Okinawan identity. It isn’t hard to fathom, as we have the same kind of reciprocation in Hawaii.