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Connecting with Okinawa’s Most Sacred Sites

Our tour reached the half way point today as we visited the most significant sacred sites and historical places in Okinawa.  We all woke bright and early to leave for the Azama Pier and board our boat to Kudaka Island.  This island is said to be the place where the gods descended to create the first Okinawa people and also brought the 5 sacred grains which still sustain the Okinawa people today.  We were guided by a “kaminchu”, or spiritual leader of the island to a few sacred areas on the south end of the island.  Unfortunatelly we couldn’t visit the north side because of the beginning ceremonies and prayers for an observance which signaled the arrival, mating and laying of eggs of the irabu, sea snakes.

We learned from the “kaminchu” that the head “guru” or priestesses of this island in the Hokama and Kudaka areas, were the most powerful and lead the ceremonies and rituals which date back to the three kingdom period of LooChoo.  These two priestesses were the ones who initiated other guru, including the high priestess Kikoe Okimi of Shuri.  The Hokama and Kudaka nuru were successors of their family line as to where other nuru came and learned their practice at Kudaka from the nuru on the island.  So this was actually the central place of training and education for priestesses and where even the Shuri king came to get advice.

After that we returned to the main island and continued to Sefa Utaki, which is connected to Kudaka Jima as a spiritual center.  Up to 400 years ago the center of spiritual power and training was on Kudaka.  After that they moved it to Sefa Utaki.  It was a big difference at Sefa Utaki, in that there were bus loads of tourists, and the way that they have fixed up the place since it has been designated a s a sacred site made it seem like any other tourist place.  We were told that the Japanese tourist have made it a main “power spot” to receive power.  This “power spot” belief has gotten very popular with Japanese and some online and tour companies have also made “power spot” tours to go to these sacred and private areas that only the locals used to go to.

A Reflection on Okinawa Experiences So Far

A few thoughts by two of our young members of the tour about their experience so far.

You may think that connecting with our ancestors by simply learning of our history is an easy thing to do, but this tour is truly an eye opening experience.  Walking on the same paths, standing in front of the royal mausoleum, hearing the stories from the elders are things you can only feel while in Okinawa.  Also, visiting Okinawa is more than just an experience, it’s builds a link to our past by the interactions and connections we make to the elders whom have lived through the tragedies and hardships of war, oppression, and day to day struggles.  At the end of this trip, I’ll still be proud to say I’m Okinawan, but more importantly I’ll be able to explain why.  

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So far, I guess I find it quite eye-opening as a mere observer: I come to Okinawa not seeking anything or anyone, but I come with a open-mind. I have been told of the plight of the first and second generations by Senseis Eric and Norman, and all of the suffering they endured for the sake of their offspring and the hope of a better future. Although I trust their knowledge (and by no means question them), there is an added element when you listen and interact with the survivors of these horrific tragedies.  A fellow participant said that this trip was a “confirmation” of everything we have heard and learned from the Seneis. I couldn’t agree more.  Each day that passes, I have come to realize that Okinawans themselves are quite ignorant of the elements which have defined them as a unique culture. Other than Shisas (they are lions, NOT lion-dogs) that are situated on prominent spaces on residential and commercial properties, I see more of a Japanese and American culture here as oppose to a beautiful Okinawan one. Well, I’m just speaking as a mere observer. We’ll see what the rest of the tour has in store. 

Ukwanshin Tour :Day 4

Our morning started with a ride out to central part of Okinawa, to the well known village of Yuntanja, or Yomitan.  This area is known for the sweet potato as well as the Pottery village and Hanaui textiles.  We first went to Yachimun Satou, or the pottery village, where everyone was able to see the traditional noborigama, or kiln that is used to fire Okinawan style pottery.  Everyone also was able to buy some souvenirs and then we headed to the Hanaui textile center.  There we witnessed and learned about the process of this famous Okinawan textile and it’s very intricate designs which have it’s roots in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Aotearoa, New Zealand.  Being able to see the process was the most important, as it helped everyone to understand and appreciate the art and value.  It’s very easy to understand why Okinawans have so much patience.  The beautiful work of their various arts seem to almost require such patience.

After experiencing the beautiful arts of Yomitan, we left for lunch at Kadena Michi no Eki where we also were able to learn about the history of the Kadena and Chatan areas at the useum there, and also were able to view the vast expansion of Kadena Air Base, which sprawled out for miles.  We were also hoping to experience the take-off and landings of the aircraft, which causes much problems of noise to the surrounding community.  However, we were told that because of the recent forced Osprey deployment, rape of the Okinawan woman, and more recently, the break-in and beating of a middle school boy by a US air force member, the US military was laying low and even has stopped and limited the flight of Ospreys.

From Kadena we continued to Ishikawa History Museum where we were met by Kumiko Iha of the Four Sisters, and Mr.Tamanoha.  The museum holds various rotating exhibits on the history of Ishikawa, in connection to the time after the war and the returning of the people to the villages.  It was in Ishikawa that the surviving population was gathered before going back to their hometowns.  Mr. Tamanoha spoke to us about the miyamori Elementary incident, where the US jet crashed into the elementary school and killed 6 people at home, and 11 students at the school.  almost 200 other students were seriously hurt along with teachers.  Kumiko Iha was a 5th grader at the time, and Mr. Tamanoha was a teacher. He told us that immediately after the incident, he had the responsibility to greet the grieving parents of the students killed and to hand over their remains.  He described that that was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life and still feels the guilt of not have been able to be a better guardian to his students as he feels that it was his duty as a teacher.  Because of this, he has committed to spreading the story of this incident in hopes that it will bring a better understanding of what war does, and that it can work for peace, not only for Okinawa, but also for the world.  His talk to us brought everyone to tears as he especially added ” We are all connected through our blood, although separated by an ocean and distant lands.  We all have the same ancestors and we have the obligation to help each other out.  I am forever grateful for the people of Hawaii for the assistance they gave us with the pigs after the war.”

Everyday, we have been blessed to experience or hear the Okinawa people’s voices.  Everyone we have met so far has experessed their hope for a peaceful Okinawa, but also have expressed that Okinawa is still suffering from the war.  They ask for our help and to be continually conne

Ukwanshin Okinawa Tour: Day 3, Haebaru, Itoman, Tamagusuku

Day 3 for the tour took us first to the town of Haebaru, which is known for it’s weaving of Ryukyu kasuri.  We arrived at the Haebaru Kasuri Kaikan and watched a video on the process of weaving the fine and valued material that has made this area so famous.  Wallking in the village below the weaving center, you can hear the rythm of looms as the women of the village create masterpieces of splashed patterns.  Okinawa has gained the reputation of having some of the finest hand woven textiles in the world.  Everyone was amazed at the intricate and intense preparation even prior to the weaving, and then everyone could understand why the prices for this fabric is what it is.  Almost all of the members of our tour bought something from the vast array of souvenir items for gifts to maybe keep for themselves to remember their visit, and to have something that shows the famous Haebaru textiles.

We then left for a short ride to the Haebaru Bunka(culture) Center.  Here we got to see the replica of the famous Haebaru cave that was used as a Japanese military hospital .  Other stories of accounts during the war, especially from Haebaru, was displayed all around, along with pictures. This stop brought back some of the heaviness we felt when we went to the Tsushima Maru Museum, however, we also could see the connection from the other day and today.  There was also another part of this exhibit that showed the life cycle events in the life of an Okinawan prior to the war.  It went from birth to death, and also had photos of everyday life, equipment, and stories.

We then took a break for lunch in Itoman at a bed and breakfast  that is owned by the cousin of Atsuko Tamagusuku sensei.  They prepared the kinds of food that you would only have at a special occasion and we were thinking on going for more salad, then the ice cream, however, the time for anyone to

The food was so delicious, “ma-san”.

After lunch we headed down to the Mabuni hill and the Itoman area where the casualties of war was over 100,0oo.  That sadness and connections to the heart were obvious when we all saw the photos and articles of the war, but its these small detailed morning , which helped to connect the Tsushima Maru .

We then left to Tamagusuku as we travel to Yusuke Yokoi’s house for the “katachiki,’ workshop..  Families and friends who survived the war, when it will happened.  Our day ended with sanshin playing and dances by Brent and I.  Everyone was so intense during their weaving, and it took some lot on the tour.  the Yusuke’s also tried to find the drinks.  By the time the end of the day , everyone was kind of wiped out and apprehensive about how it will look, so we headed back to the hotel.

 

 

 

Second Tour Day Reflections of Survival and Suffering.

The real studying for the tour began today, where the morning destinations seemed to offer a heavy feeling after listening to the tragic stories of Mr. Masakatsu Takara, who was a survivor of the Tsushima Maru. In the morning we went first to the memorial hall and museum of the Tsushima Maru, which carried over 1400 onits way to Nagasaki, to get away from the enemy.  Mr. Takara provided us with some very emotional stories, which left everyone in tears.  Mr. Takara was one of the survivors.

After the stories and experiences at the Tsushima Maru Peace Museum, we stopped over at Sakima Art Museum where we were greeted by Mr. Sakima himself.  This visit only helped to draw a stronger connection to the war stories and what happened to the Okinawa people. 

We had lunch at Jimmy’s then headed to Morikawa no Kawa in Ginowan, where we visited the famous place where local folklore says an angel came down to bathe.  She left her wings offt ot he side in the the meantime a local guy saw her and fell in love.  He hid her wings so she couldnt go back, and took her home.  They married and had a son and daughter.  The son is said to have become the king of the area.  We then headed back to Naha where we heard a short lecture by the curator Mr. Hokama.  Our day ended with good Okinawan food, music and dancing at JinJin on Kokusai Dori.  It was a very nice and relaxing way to end  a heavy and thought provoking day.

Everyone dancing and singing after dinner at Jinjin Okinawa bistro

 

Shuri Ryukyu Kingdom Festival/Parade

Our tour this year just so happened to run into the Shuri Cultural Festival, and we were lucky to see the parade throughShuri, that depicted the king’s procession that was done on the third day of the lunar new year.  It was very slow moving,but was nice to be able to see how it may have been a long time ago.  It was just long and with lots of gaps between groups.

Ukwanshin Tour 2012: Returning Back “Home”

Excited and anxious tour participants left Honolulu on a very pleasant flight on Hawaiian Airlines to Osaka.  However on our arrival into Osaka, we were 45 minutes late due to late departure from Honolulu, and the strong headwinds into Osaka.  We originally had a little over one 1 and 1/2 hour to connect to our JAL flight.  We ended up rushing in and out of customes, as the JAL agents called for us to hurry and re-check the bags for the connecting flight, and that the check-in counter will be closing shortly.  We were literally running through the doors of customs to check the bags in then go to the gate.  We made it all on, and could finally relax and be on our way to Okinawa.  Upon our arrival we were met by our friends, Chihiro, Mashi, Yukari, Yoshio, Shunki, Etsuko, and Yasuharu.  It was so nice to see familiar faces to greet us as we were all feeling the time difference catching up with us.

Our first day started with our traditional visit and prayers at Tamaudun, the Royal Tombs in Shuri.  During our prayers and song “Meekata”, the group felt a rush of emotion and some kind of connection or realization which I think brought everyone to the reality of some kind of purpose to the tour.  We then went on to Shuri Castle and had an early lunch where we enjoyed traditional Okianwan food in an old samurai class house of Shuri.

After our lunch we returned to the castle’s Ryutan Pond area to watch the Shuri Ryukyu Kingdom parade.  Here we saw how it might have been when the king processed through the streets on the third day after the lunar new year.  The weather was very nice and the cool breezes carried a little chill , especially if you stood in the shade.

After the parade, we visited Kwanyin temple where some of the group members bought omamori.  We then returned to the hotel to rest after a long day, and to catch up on our time and reflect on the day, and what it means to be here in the place where our ancestors came from.

ウークイ エイサー、ハワイうてぃ初みてぃ!Hawaii Experiences Real Eisaa on Uukui for the First Time!

Chondara bringing the sake to offer to the ancestors.

The gong signaled the bows and prayers to the ancestors of the houses, as incense and sake was offered.  The sanshin music started right after and the “I-ya sa-sa-” cry heralded the drums and dancers to begin eisaa, the traditional drumming, dances and music for the ancestors who arrived for their three day visit of lunar Obon.

The Young Okinawans of Hawaii, accompanied by uta sanshin from Ukwanshin, made tradition to be reality and alive, as they visited three areas in Honolulu to present eisaa as its been done in Okinawa for over 100 years.  Eisaa consists of songs/prayers that refer to the season of obon and the ancestors.  It is supposed to only be done within the 3 days of obon, and not meant for the

Living tradition through practicing culture and always being connected to our ancestors.

amusement or entertainment of those who are living.  It connects the past to the present while passing of tradition, culture and identity.  However, nowadays, there are groups that do similar drum dances to the more modern and at times non-Okinawan music, and for the purpose of entertainment and money.  The Young Okinawans of Hawaii decided to follow the path of our ancestors and Okinawa, as they presented eisaa on the 3rd and last day of the lunar obon.  “The experience at the first house was unbelievable.  That feeling of love that just filled your heart when we started, made tears fill my eyes,” said Mana, who was the coordinator for this first eisaa in the streets on Uukui.  “The experience was awesome.  It touched everyone and made us realize what obon and eisaa is all about.  The family members cried, we cried.  It was tears of joy and thanksgiving.  For me it was such happiness to finally express our Okinawan identity by living it and doing what is right.” said Jamie. “There are no words to explain it.  You have to had experienced it.”

Taking in the awesome feeling from the ancestors and knowing what you are doing is right!

Reporters from Radio Okinawa, and a few visitors form Okinawa followed along and expressed their surprise that this was being done in Hawaii.  They said it made them think about the essence of eisaa and obon, and that they shouldn’t take it lightly, or for granted.  They were able to feel how special it was again, and don’t want to forget that feeling.

At the second area for the evening, the length of the street looked like a block party as many houses had families and friends gathered outside their homes to witness this event.  The participating houses that did not have ancestral shrines in the house displayed pictures of relatives who had passed away, along with flowers, candles and offerings of food and sweets.  There was so much excitement as the streets were closed off by the accompanying HPD officers, and the prayers by the YOH leaders began with the offerings.

Future generations learning how to live their traditions.
Our elders looking on and seeing hope for the future.

The experience of having eisaa done on the day it was meant for, was infectious, as everyone seemed to look forward to next year, as they relaxed and talked at the end of the night.  That feeling of love that overwhelmed the families and group at the first house only could have come from the ancestors who were expressing their happiness and thanksgiving for the sacrifice and effort made by these young pioneers.  When you feel that, its like getting the warmest hug you could ever have, and that warmth will help to kindle the fire in the hearts so it can be passed on.

Great job Young Okinawans!  “Ippe Nifwedebiru!”  

“Chihinu shicha uduti, Uyafwafuji nu tami. Shichigwachi nu ashibi, kukuru urisha!”  Under the full moon we sing and dance. Its for our ancestors that we do this.  The time of obon celebration is here, happiness fills our hearts.

Maui Okinawa Festival “Releasing Their Okinawan Spirit!”

The Maui Okinawa Festival was held on June 16th, at the Maui Mall in Kahului.  Maui Okinawa Kenjinkai members, their families and friends, worked hard with preparations as things went into full gear with food prep from one week prior.  The hard work and planning showed as locals and visitors alike were treated to home grown Okinawa pride.

Various groups were represented for entertainment as the time was filled with non-stop local Okinawan entertainment.  Participating was Maui Okinawa Taiko, Mukaito Taiko, Jimpu kai USA Kin Ryosho Geino Kenkyu-sho-Maui, Hawaii Taiko Kai-Maui, Maui Okinawa Sanshin, Afuo Ryu Choichi-Kai Maui,Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko Maui, Maui Ryukyu Culture Group, and as featured guests, Ukwanshin Kabudan.

The Okinawa Culture Room had displays and video of various Okinawan arts, food, music, dance and history.  There was also live demonstrations on cooking, music and culture throughout the day.  The entrance to the room was decorated like a gate from Shuri Castle, and cute Okinawan costumed girls greeted everyone with special fliers and pamphlets on Okinawa that were provided by the Okinawa Visitors and Tourist Bureau.

The food is always an attraction, and they were serving up maui’s famous “Ashitibichi” pig’s feet soup, which is usually a sellout.

The Maui Okinawan community should be proud of their work, especially the core families and individuals who are there to coordinate and provide manpower for all events and gatherings.  The young and upcoming leaders for the Okinawan community there are also to be applauded, as they worked hard to do the planning and bring together the vision of the event.  Thank you Maui for having Ukwanshin over, and for all your hard work!  Ippe Nifwedebiru!

Here are some links to video from the festival.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NucLHNXsEjk&feature=g-all-u

 

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