Continuing from yesterday, on the second day in Okinawa, we decided to rent a car and drive around the island's southern part. The southern part of Okinawa is the most densely populated. This has been true for all of Okinawa's history. The southern part of the island is made of former coral reefs, so it's relatively flat and therefore easier to farm than the hilly northern part of the island which is made of land that was originally connected to the Asian mainland during the last ice age. These two land types: hilly former continent and flat former coral, are both seen in the main island of Okinawa, but most islands are either one or the other.
Because the southern part of the island is so densely populated, there have always been a lot of villages here. Each village usually had at least one sacred spot, often called a "Gusuku". As society became more complex and a leadership class emerged, they sometimes constructed walled buildings in high, easily defendable spots, often where the Gusuku was. As a result, many Gusuku are contained within fortress walls. However, there is debate over whether it is more appropriate to translate "Gusuku" as "sacred spot" or "fortress". (I prefer the former myself.)
The south is so dense with these former fortresses that you can rent a car and drive around for a day and not see them all. Even two, three days might not be enough. Most of them are overgrown and all but invisible to the untrained eye, and you would be unlikely to find them if there weren't signs pointing them out, but some of them are being reconstructed, or at least the area around them is being fixed up a bit.
We met this pretty kitty in the morning near the hostel we were staying at.
Naha has a monorail line.
The first place we visited was Gushikawa Fort. This is one of my favorites because it's right next to the sea on a cliff, which is a little unusual since most of the forts seem to be up on hilltops. It's been fixed up a bit since last time I was here.
This path was not here last time I'm pretty sure.
I didn't take a very good picture of it, but can you see the fence on the right side of the above photo? There's a hole in there that goes down to the sea. This fort is on a sea cliff, so it's difficult to attack from all but one side, and thanks to this hole, forces inside the fort could secretly get in and out even when under siege.
It's a little cold, but if you wear a wetsuit you can go in the ocean in December in Okinawa. These people were surfing.
On our way back to the car we saw this pretty bird. Actually we saw a bunch of them while in Okinawa. It's called a Blue Rock Thrush.
Nearby Gushikawa Fort is Cape Chan. (Or Kyan) It's a very beautiful area, but like the beautiful cliff top from yesterday's post, there's a memorial to those who died in the war.
When we got back in the car I noticed some Gusuku who's name I was not familiar with on the GPS map. We decided to go and check it out. When we got to the area, it turned out that there was a hiking trail that you had to walk on to get to the Gusuku. We walked for about 10 minutes, but it was never 100% clear where the Gusuku was. This is not uncommon with some of the smaller, older ones. Because they were sites of nature worship, oftentimes they're located next to a natural cliff face. Even if people added walls afterwards, the natural cliff formation was the main focus. Added to that is the fact that some of these places have been relatively untouched for decades (centuries?) and that means that some of them have largely returned to nature. Or maybe there was never much of a building to begin with. It's unclear. Probably the only reason anyone knows where this site is is because people from the area probably still come here to pray. I think the two photos below are probably the Gusuku area.
Next we went to Chinen Fort. This is another one that's being fixed up a bit.
The stones that they used to build these forts are the former coral stones that are common in Okinawa. One of the stones above appears to in fact be a brain coral!
It's a pigeon, though a little more handsome than the NYC variety.
This is the location where rice is said to have first been planted on the main island of Okinawa. The "five grains" were originally given to people by the gods and planted on Kudaka Island nearby. The five grains are probably rice, wheat, millet, soybeans, and something else. I'm not sure exactly.
If you climb a hill from the original rice field place, you come to the gravesite for the Chinen Aji. ("Aji" is a local powerful person in a community. One of the Chinen Aji way back when presumably built the Chinen Fort.) The descendants of the Aji are still living in the area I've heard.
I thought this shiny beetle was pretty.
The next place we went was Seifa Utaki. "Utaki", like Gusuku, also means a sacred place. Seifa Utaki never had a fort built around it. However, it's like the Vatican of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Seifa Utaki was one of the most important religious sites that the Ryukyuan King visited. It was under the control of the "Kikoe Ogimi", who was always a female relative of the king. Before the Ryukyu Kingdom united the island, there were "Noro", (witches? female shamans? I don't know what to call them, but local women who were in charge of the communities spiritual affairs) all over Okinawa. The Kingdom decided to formalize this relationship, probably to help cement their control of the island, and they placed all Noro under the authority of the Kikoe Ogimi at Seifa Utaki, who, like I said, was always a female relative of the king.
Seifa Utaki was such an important sacred site that most people could not enter. There are stones left at the entrance that correspond with the sacred areas inside the grounds. Most people prayed at the stones at the entrance. Like many sacred places in Okinawa, Seifa Utaki was also off-limits to men. Even the king, when he visited, would dress in woman's clothes.
There used to be buildings on the grounds, but not anymore. This is one the spots where people will pray.
Water drips from the stalactites above into the pots below. It's sacred water, so the sign below asks us kindly not to touch it.
Seifa Utaki is still an active religious site. People do come to pray here. Actually, I've heard that many of the Gusuku and Utaki around Okinawa are still actively used. Many of them don't look like much since they're overgrown by plants and don't have any buildings to speak of, but that doesn't mean that they're not used.
After passing through here, you can look to your left and see Kudaka Island, the island of the gods.
Kudaka Island is the low, flat bit of land on the ocean top. It's another one of the most important religious sites in Okinawa.
The last place we visited this day was Urasoe Yodore. This is a grave for Eiso, a king of the Chuzan Kingdom. Before Okinawa was united into one kingdom called Ryukyu, there were three kingdoms called Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan. (Literally, "North Mountain", "Middle Mountain", and "South Mountain".) Chuzan was centered at Urasoe, where on a hilltop overlooking the port there was a castle, and below that was the Yodore.
Actually, the name "Chuzan" continued to be used even after Okinawa was united. The guy who united Okinawa, Sho Hashi, first took over Chuzan and made his father its king. (He was a such a good son!) Then he took over the other two kingdoms in his father's name, so even after the name "Ryukyu" started being used, the name "Chuzan" continued to be used as well. The capital of Ryukyu was moved from Urasoe to Shuri, and most kings are buried there, but one king, Sho Nei, who was born in Urasoe decided during his reign to fix up Urasore Yodore and to be buried there.
There used to be an arch in the above photo. It got hit by a bomb during WWII. It used to be that you would pass under the arch and emerge into a courtyard where, if you looked to your left, you were facing Kudaka Island, just like that spot in Seifa Utaki. They think that this featured was designed to mimic Seifa Utaki.
There are two doors to the graves. The left one is where Sho Nei is buried. The right one has Eiso. Eiso was the king of the Urasoe area way back when. He may have even controlled all of Chuzan (the middle part of the island) but it's unclear. The official Ryukyu history, written by historians under the patronage of the king, states that Eiso controlled all of Okinawa, but it seems rather unlikely that this was true. It's thought that the Ryukyu Kingdom, in order to legitimize its rule, came up with the fiction that the island had once been united, and that Sho Hashi had reunited it after a period when a series of kings who led decadent lives had caused the kingdom to fall apart into three separate kingdoms. A lot of historians (though not all!) think that it's more likely that local leaders emerged all over the island and over time built up their influence and power until the point where there were three kingdoms, and that when Sho Hashi united the island, that was the first time in the island's history.
These two photos are also the cityscape, but it was getting dark, so they came out strange.
After we returned the rental car, we went to this place called Jackie's. It's an American Diner style place that specializes in steaks. It's been around for decades, so it started business under the American occupation. They had their old "A" mark displayed up front. The "A Sign" was a system instituted by the US military government on Okinawa where they would inspect restaurants and give them an A Sign to display only if the restaurant met various standards of cleanliness, etc. US soldiers were told not to go to places that didn't have the A, so having one or not having one made a big difference in how much money a business could make. (Funny enough, we have this system in place now in NYC!)
Next up! Day Three, Northern Okinawa