Journal

 

Entries in Okinawa (10)

Wednesday
Nov022016

Ishiganto

  Walking down a cobbled slope in the Kinjō-chō neighborhood just south of Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa, I spotted a sign usually overlooked by tourists who can't read kanji: 敢當

  Ishigantō are ornamental tablets or engravings placed near or in buildings and other structures to exorcise or ward off evil spirits. Shí gǎn dāng, as they are called in Mandarin Chinese, are, according to Mr. Wiki, "often associated with Mount Tai [north of the city of Tai'an in Shandong province] and are often placed on street intersections or three-way junctions, especiallyin the crossing."

  Ishigantō were introduced to the Ryūkyū Kingdom from China and can be found throughout Okinawa Prefecture, where they are called Ishigantō or Ishigandō and to some extent in Kagoshima Prefecture, where they are called Sekkantō.

Tuesday
Apr092013

Murders in Taiwan linked to Sino-Japan Territorial Dispute

According to an article in the April 1st edition of the Sankei Shimbun [1]that I hope wasn’t meant as an April Fool’s prank, the body of an elderly man was found on the bank of the Dànshǔi River outside of Taipei. The man was identified as 78-year-old Chén Jìnfú (陳進福). The cause of death was stabbing. The man’s wife was also found murdered nearby.

A few weeks later in early March, four people were arrested and charged with the crime, which at first appeared to be motivated by Chén’s great wealth. It has recently come to light, however, that the murders may be related to the Japan’s territorial dispute with China. (AC—The plot thickens!)

An unnamed official in Japan’s intelligence agency confided, “There’s talk that Chén Jìnfú, who owned property in Okinawa, was in trouble with Mainland China.” (AC—Bit flimsy evidence-wise, but wait! There’s more.)

According to sources close to the victim, Chén Jìnfú first came to Japan as an exchange student. (AC—No information on when he did this.) He taught part-time at a Japanese university, then returned to Taiwan where he started his own business. (AC—Again, no details were given in the article regarding the type of business or where the business was established. Japanese newspaper articles can be awfully ambiguous.) Later Chén bought the islands of Sotobanari (外離島) and Uchibanari (内離島) just off the coast of Iriomote island in the Yaeyama archipelago, southwest of Okinawa.

(AC—One of these islands is famous for being inhabited by a “homeless” naked Japanese man. Seriously. Google Sotobanari-jima (外離島) to see pictures of the man who has become something of a celebrity. I believe his name is Ikeda.)

A businessman from Hong Kong reportedly approached Chén Jìnfú with the intention of buying the islands in order to develop them for tourism. According to an article on Taiwan’s HJK (東森) television published on the station’s website on March 11th, the businessman is quoted as saying, “I was instructed by someone from mainland China’s military to try to buy the islands.”

When Chén refused to sell the islands, he was murdered.

Last October seven ships from the Chinese navy sailed between the islands of Yonaguni and Iriomote, which lie just south of the disputed Senkaku island group.

According to the Hong Kong businessman, this is not the only instance where China has tried to purchase land in Okinawa.

(AC—The implication, of course, is that China is trying to buy land with malicious intent. There has been much hand-wringing of late when it came to light that a Chinese firm had bought land in Hokkaidô to extract fresh water for export back to China.)

 

(AC—Meanwhile . . .) In November of 2011, an investment seminar was held in Shanghai by the prefecture, which discussed developing resorts and building rental accommodation for U.S. soldiers stationed in Okinawa.

Japan’s southernmost prefecture is counting on money from China to help revitalize the local economy. Behind the scenes, local business leaders are trying to set up a Japan-China Friendship Fund of about fifty billion yen consisting mainly of Chinese capital. The plan envisions building a casino resort in Naha City, with a Chinatown and Chinese broadcasting studio.

(AC—Okinawa is consistently ranked as Japan’s poorest prefecture, with the nation’s highest unemployment rate. I suppose you can’t blame local authorities for trying to find some way to boost investment in the prefecture. Problem is that many businessmen are more concerned with their own bottom lines than they are with the welfare of the people affected by their decisions.)

 


[1] The Sankei Shimbun (産経新聞) is Japan’s sixth largest newspaper by circulation.

Friday
Mar302012

Sah-sah

   My son and I were listening to music earlier this evening when he made a request: "Sah-sah."
"Sah-sah?"
"Sah-sah."

   "Hai Sai Ojisan?" I asked, naming one of his favorite Okinawan tunes.

   "No."

   "Hai Sai Ojisan?" I asked again, and played the song.

   "No. Sah-sah."

   "Sah-sah?"

   "Yes."

   "Cha-cha-cha?" I asked. Omocha no Cha-cha-cha is a gratingly annoying children's song that is popular in Japan, and unfortunately popular with my son, as well.

   "No."

   I went to his playlist on my iTunes and clicked one song after another, and got an increasingly angry "No!" each time.

   "Sah-sah," he insisted.

   "Ah! ‘Nada So So!’" I said triumphantly. “Nada So So” is a song by the Trio from Ishigaki-jima called BEGIN. Eoghan often listens to the more popular cover by fellow islander Rimi Natsukawa.

   "So So," Eoghan replied.

   When I played “Nada So So”, however, he said, "No." It wasn't the song he wanted. Then started saying, "Sah-sah" again.

   "Sah-sah?"

   "Yes."

   As he was growing more and more upset, I racked my brain to come up with the song he wanted and clicked a number of songs: No! No! No!! No!!! Sah-sah! Sah-sah!!

   And then it hit me: the song he wanted was "Karabune Doh'i" (唐船どーい), a song I had only recently downloaded and one he had heard only a dozen of times.
When the song started to play, Eoghan’s mood changed dramatically: he went from tears of frustration to a big smile and started dancing to the music. 

   Hooray for Daddy! I even got a kiss from the boy.

"Karabune Doh'i" follows the Orion Beer commercial.

Thursday
Nov102011

Gusuku

   Zakimi Castle (座喜味城 Zakimi Gusuku) is a gusuku, or Okinawan fortress, located in Yomitan, Okinawa Prefecture. Built between 1416 and 1422 by the Ryûkyûan militarist Gosamaru, the castle oversaw the northern portion of the Okinawan mainland, then known as the Hokuzan Kingdom. The gusuku fortress has two inner courts, each with an arched gate. This is Okinawa's first stone arch gate featuring the unique keystone masonry of the Ryûkyûs. 

   During World War II, the castle was used as a gun emplacement by the Japanese army, and after the war it was used as a radar station by the US forces. Some of the walls were destroyed in order to install the radar equipment, but they have since been restored.

   Zakimi Castle, along with Shuri Castle and several other related sites in Okinawa, were desiganted a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2000. They are also designated a National Historical Site.

Tuesday
Nov082011

Cape Zampa

Wednesday
Nov022011

Beachcombing

Monday
Oct242011

Coral Beaches

 

   I don't know how many beaches around the world I have had the pleasure of combing, but a number of them are unforgettable: the white sand beaches of the Caribbean, the black sand beaches of Hawaii, and the coral beaches in Okinawa.

   If only I were there now and not in my office, looking out at a gloomy sky.


Tuesday
Oct112011

Amami - What's in a name?

   

   My mind has been on Okinawa a lot since returning from there a few weeks ago. If time permits, I'll try to write down some of my thoughts about the trip in the coming days and post some photos, as well.

    The other day, I was talking to a doctor. Although he was born near Kagoshima city and has been living in Fukuoka prefecture ever since graduating from medical school, his family originally hailed from Amami Ôshima. He told me that unlike most Japanese whose family names are written with two or three (and occasionally four) Chinese characters (e.g. 田中 - Tanaka, 清水 - Shimizu, 西後 - Saigo, 坂本 - Sakamoto, 長谷川 - Hasegawa, 長曽我部 - Chôsokabe etc.), the family names of the people of Amami Ôshima are often written with a single character (e.g. 堺 - Sakae, 中 - Atari, 元 - Hajime).

    This calls for a brief history lesson.

   In the late sixteenth century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (warrior and unifier of Japan 1537-1598) asked the Ryūkyū Kingdom for help in his ill-faited attempt to conquer Korea. Hideyoshi intended to take his ambitions on to China in the event that he succeeded in Korea, but as the Ryūkyū Kingdom was a tributary state of the Ming Dynasty, Hideyoshi’s request was turned down.

   Having refused demands for aid on a number of occasions, the Ryûkyû Kingdom drew the ire of the newly established Tokugawa shogunate  (1603–1867) and Shimazu clan of southern Kyûshû, and in 1609 the Satsuma feudal domain (present-day Kagoshima prefecture) was given permission to invade the kingdom. While the the Ryûkyû Kingdom was able to regain some autonomy a few years later, Amami Ôshima and other islands north of present-day Okinawa were incorporated into the Satsuma domain. (Incidentally, the islands had been independent before being conquered by the Ryûkyû Kingdom in 1571.) These islands remain part of Kagoshima prefecture to this day although the inhabitants are ethnically, culturally, and linguistically—you name it—closer to Okinawa.

   As was the case for ordinary people in Japan proper, the people of Amami did not have family names until the islands came under the control of the Ryûkyû Kingdom. Family names may have been used in order to keep track of who was entering and leaving the kingdom. During the time that the islands were under the control of the Satsuma han (feudal domain), the residents were classified as farmers under the four occupations social class structure and not permitted to have names. The surnames that survive today were assigned after the fall of the feudal system and Meiji restoration in the late 1860s.

   Now there was an exception to certain residents of Amami who had made great contributions to the Satsuma rule. These people, however, were given family names that consisted of one character. One purpose in doing so was to draw a distinction between people from Satsuma and those from the islands. Another reason was that as a tributary of China, the Ryûkyû Kingdom had used Chinese surnames (known as karana, 唐名), and assigning such surnames was a way of acknowledging the historical connection to Ryûkyû. (Don’t quote me on this as I’m merely summarizing what others have written in Japanese.)

  At the beginning of the Meiji era (1875), all Japanese citizens were required to have family names and the people of Amami tended to choose one-character names that they were familiar with. For a list of these names visit here.

Wednesday
Oct052011

Shisa: Holding the Fort

 

 

Sunday
Oct022011

Hitting the Roof

   One of the first things you may notice when traveling to Okinawa is how different the construction of traditional houses is from that in other parts of Japan. The red terra cotta roof tiles are particularly conspicuous.

   While the people of Okinawa today take pride in these red roof tiles, known as akagawara (赤瓦), the tiles were once considered embarrassingly provincial and deliberately painted black or gray in order to more closely resemble those found in other parts of Japan and Korea.

   In the 18th century, as construction of buildings and houses accelerated in the Ryûkyûs, the red tiles made from locally mined clay called kucha were produced in order to save time and money. These were then painted over. An example of the gray tiles can be found here.


   Another distinctive feature of the Okinawan roof is the copious amount of cement or mortar used to fix the tiles in place. Because the islands deal with typhoons on a regular basis, the roofs have been designed with these strong winds in mind.

   The roofs often feature the crest of the family, known as a kamon, at the base of the roof. In the photo above, you can see the chrysthanemum crest.