Okinawa info.

Okinawa info.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Shurijo Castle offers glimpse into Okinawa's past

Nestled deep in the heart of Okinawa's busiest city lies a beautiful tribute to the island's ancient culture; Shurijo Castle, a fully restored monument to Okinawa's past.

Shurijo Castle dates back to the 14th century where it served as both a royal residence and the center of government and religion. Nearly all important government and religious ceremonies were held at the castle, such as the ceremony Chou-hai-o-ki-shiki, held the first morning of the new year.

In the early 15th century, King Sho Hashi gained control of the three divisions of Okinawa, thus unifying the island for the first time and placing the seat of government at Shurijo Castle. The unifying of Okinawa marks the beginning of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus and the founding of the first Sho Dynasty.

The castle housed the kings of the Ryukyus until the Japanese overtook Okinawa in 1609. After the overtaking, the kingdom was forced into a feudal relationship with Japan.

In 1879, the Japanese deployed soldiers to forcibly demand the turnover of Shurijo Castle, consequently ending the independent rule of the 450-year-old Ryukyuan Kingdom, and establishing the Okinawa Prefecture.

Following the kingdom's demise, the castle was used for a multitude of things. It was first used as a barracks then later as classrooms for Shuri City Women's Crafts School, Okinawa Prefectural School for Industrial Apprenticeships and Shuri No. 1 Elementary School. It was also the site of underground air raid shelters and housing for the Japanese army before World War II.

In 1945, when Okinawa became the site of a fierce battle between Japanese and U.S. forces, the castle was reduced to rubble.

In 1992, after more than six years of renovation, Shurijo Castle was once again open to the public. Although the exterior of the buildings are completely restored, the interiors are still being perfected.

The castle offers visitors a panoramic view of Naha Harbor and is said to be located at an exceptionally fortuitous site full of positive spiritual influence, according to Fengshui, the Chinese practice of predicting fortunes of castles, residences and tombs.

The castle is the site of more than five festivals throughout the year and is open year-round until at least 6 p.m. The castle is illuminated until midnight every night, offering tourists a beautiful view of the high castle walls.

Visitors can expect to see gates and walls decorated in traditional dragons and gold leaf writing. They will be able to explore the castle grounds, fountains and gardens. Tour guides and other hosts are dressed in traditional period clothing. Many of the gardens are under construction but should be completed within the next year.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Okinawa cuisine is worth every bite

The new year is here, and high on that list of resolutions was one to “try some of Okinawa’s native dishes.”

Right up front, set yourself at ease. It isn’t going to be a traumatic experience where you’ll have to eat beetles or lizards or monkey brains.

Okinawan food is downright delicious.

Okinawa’s reputation for having the longest life spans of any people in Japan is attributed to many things, including the temperate climate here in the southernmost prefecture. More to the center, though, are the combination of Okinawan mindset and diet. An almost stoic acceptance of what life brings, blended with a belief that food is ‘kusiumun’, medicine, leads to the belief that food is ‘nuchigusui’, healthy for life.

Okinawan food is not Japanese food. Aside from embracing rice as a staple, local food is totally different. The Ryukyu Kingdom, the forbearer to Okinawa the Japanese prefecture, picked up much of its culinary styles and techniques from China, as well as other Asian trading nations that included Thailand and Korea.

Pork is the cornerstone in Okinawa cuisine, much as beef is with Americans. It’s been around since the Chinese introduced it in the 14th century, and Okinawans use every single part of the animal in their cooking. Pork’s abundance of vitamin B1, which purges the body of proteins and cholesterol, is attributed to the long life syndrome achieved by Okinawans.

The pork is slow cooked to achieve tenderness and to eliminate fat. Two dishes easily accepted by the western palate are rafute, pork marinated and then cooked in a brown sugar and soy sauce, and soki, a spare ribs dish cooked with soba noodles with seaweed and soup. A couple other pork dishes loved by Okinawans, but which will take the proverbial leap of faith to try, are tebichi and mimiga. Mimiga is pig’s ear, sliced into slender strips and eaten as a snack or a salad. The true delicacy is tebichi, a unique dish with pigs feet being boiled for a long, long time, then slow cooked over a low heat. They’re actually quite good, and very tender.

Vegetables are a staple in Okinawa cooking. There are some which are not part of western cooking styles, such as mugwort, a medicinal herb, and goya, a bitter melon. Goya is chock filled with vitamin C, and is terribly bitter when eaten raw. You’ll find it cooked and served here with scrambled eggs or tuna, giving it a more refined taste.

Sauteed dishes often integrate goya, as well as tofu an noodles. Champuru is the name for a tofu stir-fried with vegetables. Add somen, a noodle, and somen champuru is a popular dish that includes leeks as well. Noodles are a mainstay of local cooking, served with everything from sanmai-niku, the port we’ve been talking about, with noodles both on the plate and in a soup.

Okinawa noodles are made with wheat flour.

Fish ranks alongside pork as the most popular dishes, with chicken coming in third. Okinawa’s fishing fleets bring a vast variety of fish to islands’ dinner tables. A visit to the Makishi Kousetsu Market, in the Heiwa Dori area of downtown Naha, is an eye opening experience. Be sure to take your camera, because it’s an odds-on bet you’ve never before seen so many different fish, not to mention other foods. There’s even a set of restaurants on the market’s second floor where you can take your fresh purchases for an immediate meal.

There’s more to Okinawa cuisine than the everyday dishes. The royal court of yesteryear is preserved by the Okinawan people, and many of the traditional royal dishes are served today. Some, such as boiled salted pork, suchikaa, sea grapes, tofuyo, a cultured tofu, sukugarasu, tofu with salted fish, and kuubu-irichii, a fried kelp, aren’t too much of a gastronomic leap.

On the other hand…..there are some dishes you’ll have to take on a leap of faith. Nakami soup, made from cow entrails, yagijiru, goat stew, and irabu-jiru, sea snake soup, are a little different for the western palate.

So is inamuduchi, an Okinawa soup made with miso, a bean paste, vegetables and pork entrails. We’d add here that miso is more than okay; it’s the other ingredients that give some cause for thought.

Seaweeds are imported from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, and fit well with many local dishes. Different, we’ll concede, but nutritious and tasty too.

The questions then are “what should we try?” and “what should we do if we don’t like it?” The answer to the first is to try everything. The second will come far less often, and a simple discrete movement with a formerlyconcealed handkerchief will make the offending morsel disappear. You’ll be surprised how delicious Okinawan foods are, and will be anxious to go back for more.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ancient traditions and omens linked to foods

The holiday celebrations are in full swing, and will continue through the lunar new year late this month.

Foods are at the heart of many celebrations, and there is more to the process than simply nibbling and eating. Okinawans believe strong meanings are linked to various foods. In essence, eating certain foods evoke certain omens.

Pork is considered a food that brings happiness. Eating yams is believed to keep a person from growing old, and seaweed promotes long life. Want children? Eat fish cakes and fish eggs.

Want to have money…to be wealthy? Fried eggs and yellow chestnuts will lead in that direction. Good health is believed to get a boost from pork intestine soup, and also from tofu.

Keeping the evil spirits at bay is thought to best be accomplished by chowing down on squid.

Holiday festivities used to take days to prepare for, with family members gathering to prepare everything in a single household in anticipation of the celebration. Today, young people consider themselves too busy to commit to all the cooking, and are turning to hotel chefs to work the culinary magic on their behalf. While some housewives are doing the cooking at home, many are ordering from hotels and restaurants.

It’s not cheap, but the meals are delicious and presentation is exquisite. Figure on Y16,000~35,000 for a full food set. The Laguna Garden Hotel in Ginowan is one specializing in holiday feasts. Chefs have been slaving and fretting for days to make everything ready.

Expensive dishes including crab, lobster, shrimp, roast beef, smoke salmon and caviar are extremely popular, and orders have been flowing in for weeks. The tempo is slowing now, but will crank up again for the Lunar New Year.

More food and less exercise is proving a problem to waistlines this holiday season. Medical professionals note people tend to eat over and over, and are gaining weight at an unprecedented clip. Radio and television are now rolling out the post-New Year’s holiday programs promoting fitness. One radio and television magazine is touting the obvious, that people should not be eating before they’re really hungry. The holiday season tends to find people doing lots of snacking and nibbling. Instead of high calory, high carbohydrate foods, the experts encourage a trend toward vegetables.

New Year’s gifts, Otoshidama, are ever popular, with relatives being the principle beneficiaries.

Money is given to children and other relatives, and bosses are doling out money to office staffs. The whole issue is so steeped in Okinawan culture that families are even going into debt to meet the otoshidama requirements. Social counselors point out that many families are now forced to take out bank loans to have the money to “properly” celebrate the new year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Okinawa base locations

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Okinawa Explorer Guidebook

A new guidebook called the “Okinawa Explorer” has hit the shelves. It is the end result of a six-year project by author Kenny Ehman, who is a thirteen-year resident of Okinawa. With the help of his sister and brother-in-law, Kim and Tim Streaty, the trio designed and self-published a helpful guide for foreign tourists coming to Okinawa. Unlike past books written about Okinawa, which focused only on specific topics, the Okinawa Explorer covers everything from A to Z in an easy-to-understand format.

This book is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Okinawa. Kenny Ehman will be present for a book-signing event on Saturday, Nov. 26, from 1 - 4 p.m., at the Kadena BX. The book is available at Tuttle Book Store (Plaza House Shopping Center), Naha Seamen's Club, Libro Book Store (Naha Ryubo Shopping Center), Paul and Mike’s Place (Naha) Kadena BX, Camp Foster Book Mark, and Torii Station Shopette.

I am trying to contact someone to find out how people not living on Okinawa currently can order the book.
I will post back in this thread when I have the information.

Ok here's the link to buy the book online for $19.95.

Buy the book

Friday, November 18, 2005

Shisa, Himpun and Ishiganto ward off evil spirits

Keeping evil spirits at bay has long been an Asian challenge.

Throughout the centuries, evil spirits, bad luck and negative karma have been of serious concern to Okinawans, who developed ways of blocking the bad vibes. Island locals have seized upon shiisa as a principal way of dispelling evil. Shiisa are lion figures, which Okinawans trust to cast away evil spirits.

Shiisa are the most recognizable of Okinawa’s physical markers against the world’s evils. Two other common methods of repelling bad spirits are himpun and ishiganto. Like shiisa, himpun and ishiganto are steeped in Chinese history, tradition and myth.

Himpun, which means partition or fence, is found in traditional Okinawan homes. A himpun is placed horizontally across the entranceway to the home, blocking visitors from direct access. Stemming from the Chinese words ping-feng, himpun serve as partitions or barricades to prevent outsiders from looking inside a home. Aside from the pure physical move of stopping prying eyes, tradition dictates that the himpun wards off both intruders and evil spirits lurking in the neighborhood.

The himpun are typically built of stones, then topped with a traditional Okinawa tile roof or a combination of woods and well trimmed hedges.

The ishiganto, simple stone tablets engraved with three Chinese characters, serve notice to evil spirits to stay away. The characters ishi, meaning stone, gan, which issues a challenge or a dare to outsiders, and tou, meaning hit, are emblazoned onto the tablets. Ishiganto found their way to Okinawa from China more than five centuries ago.

By Chinese folklure, evil spirits are limited to movement only in straight lines. Because of the way homes are constructed, ishiganto are essenntial in keeping evil spirits from wandering inside. The ishiganto are traditionally made from stone, although some carved from wood can also be found around Okinawa. There’s also a Chinese tale that a brave warrior named Ishiganto had the power to alter evil actions or bad luck into positive omens. For that, Chinese families carved his name on the tablets and put them outside their homes for protection.

Shiisa, the lion dogs, are most popular and commonly seen across Okinawa. As with much of Okinawa’s history, shiisa eminated from China, where a vile monster, Nien, terrorized the countryside centuries ago. Neither humans nor animals could defeat the monster in battle after battle. Finally, a lion whipped the monster and sent him fleeing.

Years later Nien returned, and villagers were forced to create imitation lions to scare the monster away. The shiiisa, lion dog, was created.

Traditionally, the shiisa are in pairs, one on the left of the protected area and the other on the right. One has an open mouth to attract positive spirits and good fortune, and the other a closed mouth, admonishing evil spirits to stay away.

Shi-shi dogs, as they’re happily referred to by Okinawans, are a positive influence to locals, and also to tourists. They’re found in all shapes and sizes, and some artisans go the extra steps to make theirs artistic and special. Naminoue Shrine and the Okinawa Prefectural Museum are well known for their shiiisa, but you’ll find them everywhere from RyukyuMura and Gyokyusendo theme villages to the smallest of neighborhoods.

The red clay animals once adorned the roofs of virtually all buildings, but as the red tile roofs began being replaced, the shi-shi dogs found their way to alternate locations around the buildings.
Source:Japan Update

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The story of a rope - the Naha Tsunahiki - - Okinawa News, Classifieds, Events, Culture, Forums, and more!

The Naha Tsunahiki rope is more than 200 meters (650 feet) long this year, weighs 90,500 pounds, and is 1.56 meters in diameter.

It takes a lot of straw to create the rope used in the Naha Tsunahiki each year, a project done on the southern edge of Naha Military Port. The tug-of-war takes place each year, and the rope is rebuilt—and stretched a bit—every time. Tons of straw are painstakenly handwoven into strands, with each 40 strands being twisted into a thin rope. Nine thin ropes become a larger foundation rope used to form both the main ropes, each about 100 meters long, and to accomplish a band wrap around the bundled individual main ropes.

For the 13th straight year, Naha Military Port’s 835th Army Transportation Battalion has volunteered its land as a construction site. It’s a secure area for construction, where more than 20 workers labor more than two months fabricating the rope and stretching to rest along 60 pallets.

Although the Ryukyu Kingdom Festival has endured for centuries, and the modern tug-of-war era more than three decades, the tsunahiki came to international attention in 1997. The Guinness Book of World Records saw the tug-of-war in Naha, and documented the giant rope as the largest in the world made from natural materials (and used in a tug-of-war)."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


In Okinawa there's a kind of ubiquitous sprite known as kijimuna, though in the northern area it is called sema or bunagaya. Most all of the stories describe the sprite as a child-like creature with a red face and red hair living in the hollow of big old trees such as the banyan tree (called gajimaru in Okinawa). The kijimuna is said to like fishing, but it dislikes octopus. It also has a penchant for eating the left eye of any fish it catches. Sometimes it carries along a flame or firebrand while walking through the forested foot of the hills and mountains or along the beach. (That wandering light is called kijimunabi "kijimuna firebrand/torch"). Also it has been known to approach a sleeping person, and to press itself on the person's chest making it impossible for the person to get up. Being mysteriously tied down and immobilized like that is called kanashibari in mainland Japan. There are stories of persons who managed to get on good terms with the kijimuna and as a consequence became rich. But when the relationship went sour, the person ended up chasing away the kijimuna by throwing octopus at it. But recently there are few reports of kijimuna being encountered.

Kijimuna (fairies or bogeys) live in villages in Okinawa. In some places people call Kijimuna 'Bunagaya', which means a living thing with a large head. Kijimuna usually live in big old trees,especially Banyan trees. People in Ogimi and Kunigami village, Okinawa, say that Kijimuna are fairies.

Kijimuna are short, like little boys or girls of three or four years old. They have long brown/red hairs that cover all of their bodies. Kijimuna come out from the big trees in the evening, and sometimes attack people. They then cover the person with their bodies. Women usually get covered by male Kijimuna. It is unusual for a man to be covered by a female Kijimuna. A person who is attacked by a Kijimuna can't move or breath.

Kijimuna is a good fisherman. IF a person becomes Kijimuna's friend,it takes that person on it's back and flies over the mountains and the sea. Kijimuna hates it when humans break wind. If a person breaks wind on Kijimuna's back,he or she is thrown off, over the mountains and the sea, and their skin is sprayed with poison.

Friday, August 12, 2005

People Drifted to Okinawa in the Jomon era?

 There is a famous piece of folklore about the origins of the Okinawan peoples. It says, in the Jomon Era (13,000–300 B.C.), they migrated from mainland Japan by way of the Black Stream.
 In an attempt to check the truth of the legend, a group named, Nirai Kanai began a unique experiment. On August 1st, they threw 1,000 wooden tops into the waters off Yonaguni.
 3 buoys with tracking technology were also included in the experiment to help follow their path. The tops contain messages written by local children in a variety of languages, including English and Japanese.
 They ask that the finder please call and report the location at 03-3341-6852 or send an e-mail to"

Friday, July 29, 2005

Okinawa as viewed from Space shuttle mission STS-43,1991.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Okinawa 200 mi. map

Okinawa 4500 mi. map

Friday, June 24, 2005

Typhoon alley

Kuroshio Current, warm current in the western Pacific Ocean. It flows northeast from the Philippines along the eastern coast of Japan. Near northern Japan, the Kuroshio merges with a cold, southeastern current. The two currents become the North Pacific Current, which runs east through the Pacific Ocean and brings mild temperatures to the west coast of North America. The Kuroshio Current carries tropical waters and heat energy into the temperate latitudes along the east coast of Asia.

The Kuroshio Current is narrow and fast-moving. It is 80 km (50 mi) wide and reaches speeds of 3.5 knots. Like its equivalent in the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream, the Kuroshio varies in speed and meanders like a giant river, often straying from its normal course. The strength of the current varies with the seasons, reaching its peak between May and August. Its name, which is Japanese for “black stream,” describes its dark appearance in comparison to the surrounding water when viewed from a distance. At closer range, however, the waters of the Kuroshio take on striking blue-green hues. See Ocean and Oceanography.

The Kuroshio Current is sometimes referred to as Typhoon Alley because of the severe tropical storms that follow its warm-water energy path to strike the coasts of the Philippines, China, Japan, and Korea. The Kuroshio region has the world’s highest incidence of severe tropical storms, with most occurring between July and October.

Sato Eisaku (1901-1975)

Sato Eisaku (1901-1975), Japanese statesman and Nobel laureate, born in Tabuse. Sato received a law degree from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924 and joined the ministry of railways. He was elected to the lower house of the Diet in 1948 as a Liberal and later served in several cabinet posts. In 1964 he became prime minister. Under Sato's guidance the country continued to grow as a major power. In 1969 he signed a treaty with the United States for the return of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan and removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the region, but he was forced to resign in 1972 because he had allowed some U.S. forces to remain on Okinawa. He was awarded the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the conclusion of a nuclear nonproliferation pact.

Matthew Calbraith Perry(1794-1858)

Matthew Calbraith Perry(1794-1858), was an American naval officer, who commanded the expedition that established United States relations with Japan. Born on April 10, 1794, in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, the brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, he began his naval career as midshipman at the age of 15; he advanced to lieutenant in 1813 and to commander in 1826. He supervised the construction of the first naval steamship, the Fulton, and upon its completion in 1837 he took command with the rank of captain. He was promoted to commodore in 1842. In 1846-1847 he commanded the Gulf squadron during the Mexican War.

In 1853 Perry was sent on the mission to Japan, a country that had been closed to outsiders since the 17th century. On July 8, he led a squadron of four ships into Tokyo Bay and presented representatives of the emperor with the text of a proposed commercial and friendship treaty. To give the reluctant Japanese court time to consider the offer, he then sailed for China. With an even more powerful fleet, he returned to Tokyo in February 1854. The treaty, signed on March 31, 1854, provided that humane treatment be extended to sailors shipwrecked in Japanese territory, that U.S. ships be permitted to buy coal in Japan, and that the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate be opened to U.S. commerce. Perry's mission ended Japan's isolation, a prerequisite for its subsequent development into a modern nation. Perry died in New York City on March 4, 1858.