Thursday, August 25, 2011

High Octane Grannies (Photo Essay)

This Wednesday last, we head the opportunity to attend the Unjami Festival in the Shioya district of Ogimi Village on Okinawa’s northwest coast. It’s an unusual annual event that dates back some 400 years to the Ryukyu Kingdom, what Okinawa was once known as.
 (That aint coffee in that cup)
(Click on the photos to enlarge)
The festival is unique in that the ladies of the village don traditional costumes, drink copious amounts of Awamori sake and go down into the waters to cheer on their team of boat racers. Please note that the wearing of traditional garb and the consumption of mass quantities of spirits is not unusual to Okinawan festivals. You might even be forgiven for thinking that it’s compulsory.

For a little background information, Shioya is a community within Ogimi village. It was once its own village and the main part of it hugs the coast and sits at the mouth of a huge shallow back bay. Along the north coast of the bay are two smaller communities and the three compete against each other in this annual event.

The event starts off much earlier in the day with prayers and a procession from the two outer communities to the main one in Shioya. This time Ryukyu Mike and Ryukyu Ryu got there early and I came along as the procession was approaching the second of the two smaller communities. I'll try to have more on the earlier events in another post.
 (Life's a dance so swing out sister!)

Mike has a thing about some of these smaller festivals in Okinawa’s rural northern communities. He’s convinced that at one time, the folks of the villages used to go naked up into the mountains for their morning prayers. Being an older fellow and not shocked by such things, he has hopes of one day being able to capture this with his camera.

I don’t think the government allows such practices any more but, Mike still holds out hope. Anyway, most of the time these prayer rituals are conducted by the elders of the village and the thoughts of capturing a 90 year old lady romping through the jungle naked sort of nauseates me. I think I’ll stick to the more public ceremonies and leave the pubic ceremonies to Mike and his camera.

Once all the prayer vigils are held, the ladies gather at the port and start singing, beating their drums, dancing and drinking. The three groups approach each other and it would appear that they taunt each other and sometimes, in a friendly way assault one another. I did see one lady, decidedly under the influence, approach another and force some sake down her throat. At first the victim appeared to resist but then drank it all down like a professional!
 (Here's Mud in your Eye! or some Awamori Sake anyway)

Once the taunting is done, all three groups head down into the water to cheer on the teams of men in their traditional “Sabani” boats from each respective community. They’ve been sitting patiently at the far end of the bay waiting for the women to get liquored up enough to go down into the water. Once everyone is in position, the races start.
 (There was a gaggle f**k of photographers at the landing so I backed off to get the best view I could. Obviously at least one of the ladies had a little too much high octane prior to entering and went right on her fanny)

We stayed for the first two races but the events of the day were by no means over. I had a “honey-do” list from hell to take care of for the wife and had to get home at a reasonable hour. Ah the joys of married life. Mike and Ryu might have decided to go back for more. You’ll have to check out their blogs to find out for sure.
 (The winning team from the first of two heats we stayed for celebrate a hard earned win. Note that they had at least one guy designated to bail out the boat)

(And a good time was had by all!)

This is my submission for Travel Photo Thursday for August 25th, 2011. Be sure to check out the links (Where the font changes color) provided here for more on this festival and other great places around the globe. Feel free to leave a comment and share with your friends too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chibi Chiri Gama - Photo Essay

This last Wednesday’s Okinawa adventure outing took us to Southern Onna Son and Yomitan Cho. For those of you who may not be initiated to the Japanese language, “Son” is translated as village and “Cho” means town. We had no plan to speak of. Sometimes that’s when we find the most interesting stuff. Today was no exception.

At first the day started out slowly. We went to the Onna Village and photographed the harbor where just a few weeks before, Ryukyu Mike had the opportunity to photograph the dragon boat races. Just a few quick words in the native “Uchinaguchi,” Okinawan language, and he had a front row seat for the whole event.
 (Going down by the Bow: Damage from the latest Typhoon at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel)

There wasn’t that much to see this time around. There were quite a few diving tourists getting ready to go out on a tour and some bikini clad young ladies caught our eye. What can we say, we’re guys! What would you expect? Anyway, Unfortunately after developing what I took, I wasn’t too impressed. Nice, but not nearly nice enough to post here. Sorry!

From here, we headed out to Chatan Cho for some business and a quick lunch. Then it was on to Yomitan Cho and the lighthouse at Zanpa Misaki. Again, there wasn’t too much that caught our eyes. We both practiced our techniques on a few birds in the bushes but, that was boring.

From here, we stopped at what appeared to be a failed attempt at someone building a tourist trap. Some interesting statues and buildings but the site looked abandoned and although it caught our eye from the highway on the way to the cape, it was pretty easy to see why it failed to garner much support from all the tourists who frequent the area.
 (The monument at Chibi Chiri Gama. Ryukyu Mike puts the sign telling folks not to venture into the caves back in its place)

What was to be our last stop for the day was Zakimi Castle ruins to check out when the big Eisa festival would be taking place. While we were there we checked out some of the tourist signage and found a reference for something we had never seen before.
 (I guess this place is well protected from the elements. Even a typhoon couldn't clean all the bird and bat shit off this statue)

The map called it “Chibi Chiri Gama.” The last word is the local dialect for cave and that piqued our interest somewhat. In all our some 50 combined years on the island, neither of us had heard of this place before

I recognized from the map the general location of the place and in a flash, we were off to check it out. It’s less than a five minute drive from the castle and although I would normally offer directions to the place in my blog, I hesitate to do so at this time.
 (What appears to be a statue of a mother holding on to her children is hidden inside the base of the monument)

When we arrived, we found the site unmarked. The only thing that told us that there was anything of significance here was the public restroom along the otherwise insignificant road through the farm fields of the town.

We pulled off the road and found a place to park. There was a series of steps with rails to help the elderly make their way down into the ravine and the cave area. The cave is located in a natural depression in the earth and a stream runs into it. From there the water rushes into one of the many caves and disappears from view.

At the one end of the gulley is a large opening into the side of the rocks and a statue of what appears to be a man playing a Sanshin. To the left are two large stone markers with Japanese carved on them and at the entrance to the main cave itself is a huge display of folded origami cranes.

The base of the statue has several holes or windows in it. At first glance, it almost appears to be a tomb but a quick glance inside revealed a sculpture of people in great agony and fear. We are all but certain that this was a hiding place for many of the locals to escape the carnage that was the Battle of Okinawa in the spring and summer of 1945.
 (If this is any indication of what hell is like, I don't want to go there)

Ryukyu Mike and I quickly took some photos of the place and were careful to leave the place as undisturbed as we found it. You see there are many places like this across the island where the locals come every year in pilgrimages to remember their families and loved ones lost during the great battle. The last thing they or we would want is some drunken half crazed U.S. service members frequenting the place for a weekend beer blast or just to explore the caves.
 (Ryukyu Mike checking out the base of the sculpture. Inside the base are more sculptures)

My advice to anyone who may come across this post and want to go see it, leave the “Liberty Risk” assholes on base and remember that places like this are considered sacred sites! Also, if while you’re out and about enjoying the sights and you happen across something like this, look but don’t touch and if there are any locals about, be respectful!

I tried to Google the name of the site (Chibi Chiri Gama) and came up goose eggs. If anyone has information regarding this site, please feel free to leave a comment below.