Okinawa: A Year in Review


  “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Well, when I wrote this we had just celebrated our one-year anniversary of relocating our domicile to Okinawa, and although it’s now over two months past due, I still thought it would be a good idea to do a “year in review” blog. So, here’s an eclectic summary of the King’s Flirtations with the Far East to date (as of this past August), along with a personally favorite blog selected for each month.

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July 2013.  Preparations for our overseas move.

See Sayonara Amerika to read and see our Asian-inspired going-away blowout

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August 2013.  Moved!  Rented our Florida home and moved overseas with our cat!

See Jody Drives Naked about used-car shopping in Okinawa.

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September 2013.  Divine winds!  Experienced something like 8 typhoons in two months.

See Surf Nazis Must Die to read about a scuba diver’s angst with the powers that be on Okinawa.

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October 2013.  Scuba Diving!  Kevin becomes a PADI scuba-diving instructor!

See Are You Breaking Up with Me on Mount Fuji for perhaps my favorite breakup story of all time!

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November 2013.  Jody’s birthday!  Celebrated by exploring the northern reaches of Okinawa.

See Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys about my first foray to Okinawa in 1999.

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December 2013.  Household goods!  Our forgotten “stuff” finally arrives on-island.

See Oh Christmas-Half-a-Tree to read about Christmas in Okinawa.

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January 2014.  Kevin’s birthday!  Celebrated by our first off-island trip to Kyoto, Japan.

See Okinawa Kijimuna for Okinawa’s version of “Red Power!”

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February 2014.  Contracted!  Dive the Blues Scuba gets well underway.

See Surprising Swastikas about an unlikely and unfortunate connection between East and West.

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March 2014.  Earthquake!  Friends breaking bad on Okinawa.

See Cat Cafes in Japan to read about the special bond between the Japanese and their feline friends.

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April 2014.  White Day and Zip-Lining on Okinawa.

See Timeless Townhouse for our rustically historical stay in Kyoto, Japan.

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May 2014.  Iriomote!  Off-island weekend getaway to this remote nature preserve.

See Tainted by Tats to read about the stigma of body art in this corner of the Far East.

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June 2014.  My daughter gets married!  A whirlwind trip home to the states and detour because of an unexpected hospital stay.

See Placenta: Prescription or Placebo to read about some strange herbal remedies popular in Japan.

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July 2014.  Ishigaki!  Off-island weekend getaway to dive with manta rays.

See The Cat-Dogs of Okinawa to read about the special guardians of the Ryukyu Islands.

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August 2014.  Okinawan World and Hospital Caves.

See Okinawan Hillsides & Hornets to read about my past explorations in the Okinawan jungles searching for traces of WWII.

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Love Rocks!! Match-Making, Love & Romance in Kyoto, Japan


“Where there is love there is life.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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If you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places, perhaps it’s time you visited the Jishu Shrine of love and match-making in Kyoto, Japan.  Kyoto is known as the most visited place in Japan.  I’ve even heard an urban legend that it’s the most visited place on the planet…outside of Mecca.  While I doubt the latter claim, the former certainly holds true.  As Japanese’s ancient capital and cultural and religious center spared the destructive bombings of WWII (see my blog about how the city was saved here), its extensive collection of historically important castles, temples and shrines all provide a draw for tourist and pilgrims alike.

The Complex's Deva Gate

The Complex’s Deva Gate

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love and match-makingJishu is found within the Kiyomizu-dera temple complex, already the city’s leading tourist spot that draws massive throngs.  However, finding ourselves already in Kyoto during low winter season, we decided to further reduce the risk of swarming sightseers by visiting during a random weekday…at sunrise!  Actually, since it was on a hillside, I thought what a better place to view the dawn of a new day; unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that the Kiyomizu-dera provides only a westerly view….  Between the cold of winter and early time of day, we were assured a nearly private visit!

Kiyomizu-dera's Main Hall and Veranda

Kiyomizu-dera’s Main Hall and Veranda

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), painted dragon adorns a temple's ceilingKiyomizu-dera (清水寺, “clean” or “pure waters”), a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complex of Buddhist temples and shrines in the hillsides of eastern Kyoto.  Kiyomizu-dera was founded in 798, but the present buildings date to 1633.  The massive wooden main hall features a large veranda supported by a tall and dense latticework of pillars that juts out dramatically over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city.  Most amazingly, there is not a single nail used in the entire structure.

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Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, shrine's cleansing watersThe Jishu Shrine is dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and “good matches.”  Jishu Shrine gets high marks for its foreigner user-friendliness.  English-language explanations of most everything are extensively provided, and proclamations of inclusivity abound:  “There is only one human race even though there are many nationalities.”  And perhaps most importantly, the shrine’s Ema good-luck charms are clearly explained in English, a relatively uncommon find visiting Japan’s religious sites.

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While Jishu is small and an easily missed off-shoot from the main pathway through Kiyomizu-dera, it’s packed with interesting wives’ tales and superstitions about love, marriage, curses, and match-making (enmusubi).  Some of the highlights for Jody and I are described below.

Jody's Love on the Rocks

Jody’s Love on the Rocks

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, Jody blindly walks from love rock to love rock 2img_0292Love Rocks!  Love may be blind, but if you believe hard enough, you can still stumble upon it….  The primary love lure of the shrine are two rocks.  Yep, rocks.  Love rocks.  They stand about 6 meters (20 feet) apart, and according to legend, if one walks between the two stones with their eyes closed (no cheating!), then they are assured luck in love.  However, should someone help along the way, one will only find love through the interloping of another.  The challenge is a popular one, with the love-sick attempting to thread their way through the throngs with eyes shut and arms outstretched.  While I needed a bit of guidance, Jody made the walk rather easily.  Good thing she’s already mine!

An anime adaptation of Cupid....

An anime adaptation of Cupid….

Japan’s Cupid.  Ōkuninushi, a Japanese “god of love.”  The Jishu is one of the most famed and popular match-making shrines in Japan, and is dedicated to this god.  Anyone looking for romance or marriage probably has plans to visit here, and not surprisingly, the shrine is most often full of young giggling Japanese girls.  Ōkuninushi is associated with love, romance and match-making.  As the spiritual hose of the annual meeting of all of Japan’s kami (Shinto spirits) in November of every year, Ōkuninushi brings the kami together, fostering relationships in the spiritual world.  Therefore, by extension, he became the kami of connections in all worldly matters of love as well.  However, instead of a bow and arrow, Ōkuninushi uses a…rabbit?

Japan's Cupid and his Hare

Japan’s Cupid and his Hare

 

Yes, the anime version of the "Hare of Inaba"

Yes, the anime version of the “Hare of Inaba”

What’s up Doc?  Well, lovers bred like rabbits, so doesn’t it make sense for Ōkuninushi to have a hare (rabbit) as a sidekick?  Not quite.  The legend of the Hare of Inaba has Ōkuninushi taking pity helping cure the hare who had been skinned alive as a punishment for deception.  However, in a mythical twist of fortune, it turned out the hare was in reality a fellow god, and in return for Ōkuninushi’s help in restoring its skin, the hare became Ōkuninushi’s devoted ally and advised him how to obtain the love of a princess he was seeking to marry.  Since then, the pair has been inseparable.  Already have love; what about good fortunes?

Inaba's Fur Restored

Inaba’s Fur Restored

Fortune Favors…those with 5 Yen to spend.  Omikuji, literally “sacred lot,” are nothing more than random fortunes written on small slips of paper.  Divination has always been a central aspect of ancient Shinto practice, one that continues to this day in the popular form of these fortune slips.  At the Jishu Shrine, however, the fortunes mostly focus on love and romance.  Those receiving good fates might fold and keep the Omikuji to make sure they come true.  Those not so lucky in love will tie them up on a pine tree using strings provided, based on a pun of the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb “’to wait” (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.  What a sap (get it, pun intended)!!  Okay, so now you have love and good fortune.  But what about the benjamins??

Magic Money

Magic Money

Money Can’t Buy You Love.  Carrying a treasure sack on his back, holding a “magic money mallet,” and standing or seated on bales of rice, a rather healthy and jolly Daikoku, one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune associated with Buddhism, can be found throughout the Jishu shrine.  Originating in India as the Hindu deity Shiva, he became intertwined with the Shinto god Ōkuninushi as the characters for “Okuni” can also be read as Daikoku.  Thus, as one deity traversed three countries and three religions, it became conflated in cultural and practice with another, cementing the Shinto-Buddhist syncretism.  What’s more convenient in a shrine than to have access to wishes for love and wealth!!  Well, one also needs a way to wash away their sins.

Hitogata, 人形, vaudou japonais

Healing Waters.  Found within the shrine are a couple of tables with hitogata paper dolls destined to wash away your problems.  The simple design, resembling a human figure, represents you the worshiper after you write your name and age over it.  Once offered to the shrine’s waters in a divine purification service, it is said that your ills and evils shall be washed away.  Sure beats confession.

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, love Ema muah XXOOXX

chichibu_shrine_anime_ema_4732Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, love knots and ties that bindLike a Prayer.  Less Madonna’s annoying tune.  Ema (Shinto prayer plaques) sell at a brisk pace, and can be found just about anywhere around the shrine.  Some portray Ōkuninushi’s and his hare on one side, while others depict classic icons of love.  On the blank back-side, however, is where heartfelt requests for a love-match or marriage are written.  One of the most entertaining aspects of visiting the shrine is examining just how creative some of the pleas of the love-sick actually are.  Now, if only we could read Japanese….

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Cursed Sacred Cedar Trunk

Cursed Sacred Cedar Trunk

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, Okage-Myojin sacred cedar tree trunkVoodoo, Japanese style.  Finally, all is fair in love as the saying goes.  There is always a darker side, and that is no less true than here at Jishu.  Okage Myojin, a kami-guardian of women, is thought to answer a woman’s any prayer.  Such kami were called upon for “ushi no toki mairi,” a prescribed method of laying a curse traditional to Japan, so-called because it is conducted during the hours of the Ox, with the proper witching hour of 2:00AM.  Typically a scorned woman, dressed in white and crowned with an iron ring set with three lit candles, drives a nail through a straw effigy of the victim, impaling it into a sacred tree.  The ritual must be repeated seven days running, after which the curse is believed to succeed, but being witnessed in the act is thought to nullify the spell…and probably cause quite a bit of embarrassment!  The sacred tree at Jishu is a cedar, and although dead (ironically probably killed by metal poisoning), the trunk remains standing where marks of many nails can still be found.  It’s very interesting to note the similarities to placing a voodoo curse in the West.

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Jishu Shrine is a very small area and can be easily missed while traversing the massively broader Temple complex as it is buried deep within.  But don’t let its size – or the crowds fool you – it’s most certainly worth the visit!  Whether you’re taken already or not, everyone could use a little more Luck in Love.  Have a visit, and enrich your life!

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, collage

Trampled Torii: Abused by the West


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Capitalism is King, if not god, in the West

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What would his flesh be, Hardees??

What if we used Christian religious symbols in a rather haphazard and nonchalant way?  Worse, what if it was used for purely commercial purposes.  Would you, maybe some of your friends, or perhaps a family or two become offended or even outraged?  I bet some would.  But then again, let he who is without doing the same among us be the first to cast blasphemies….

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I’m not sure the Pakistanis appreciate “The Man” on Their Spiritual Moon

If these graphics have got your dander up, it’s for very good reason.  After doing a recent blog on how the Germans in the 1930s hijacked the Far Eastern swastika for rather dubious purposes (read about it here), it immediately struck me just how oddly inappropriate the West’s use of Japanese “torii” are, especially throughout the American military.  In other words, this blasphemed blade can (and does) slice both ways.

An authentic tori marks the division between the profane and the prolific merchandising of the new base exchange in Okinawa

An authentic torii marks the division between the profane and the prolific (if not sacred) merchandising of the new base exchange in Okinawa

stereoview Kyoto Torii shrineTorii (鳥居, literally “where the birds reside” or “bird abode”) are traditional Japanese gateways at the entrance of Shinto shrines.  In Japan, birds have long mythical connection with the dead, as is true is most shamanistic-based religions or cultures.  The first appearance of torii in Japan can be reliably pinpointed to at least the 10th century (CE); the oldest existing stone torii was built in the 12th century, while the oldest wooden torii dates to 1535.

Huge steel torii marking a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Huge steel torii marking a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Visiting the Fushimi-Inari-Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Visiting the Fushimi-Inari-Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Torii are typically made of wood, stone (or concrete in more modern times), and very rarely sometimes metal (steel or cooper).  Wooden torii are usually painted a bright red vermilion, complete with a black upper lintel and contrasting bases, while stone or concrete gates are left in their natural state.  Some of the most profound examples of torii can be round at Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha, where thousands are lined up in close spacing, forming torii tunnels that run for thousands of meters up and down the shrine’s hillside.  Inari shrines typically have many torii because those who have been successful in business often donate in gratitude a torii (of course inscribed with their name) to Inari, the kami or deities of industry and business.  In an ironic twist, the same shrine has as its anthropomorphic mascot a fox, ideally suited for shrewd and cunning business dealings.

A properly fantastic - and spiritual display of torii!

A properly fantastic – and spiritual display of torii!

While sacred as the USMC invasion beach in WWII, this is a fantastically poor use and portrayal of a torii.

While sacred as the USMC invasion beach in WWII, this is a fantastically poor use and portrayal of a torii.

Not all torii are at shrines or temples; the torii in general marks the entrance to a sacred space, and thereby separates the hallowed ground from our more tangible and profane world.  Rarely is it used as a free-standing non-religious symbol placed in non-consecrated plots.  Roads or paths leading to a Shinto shrine are almost always straddled by one or more torii.  If multiple torii are present, they are used to represent increasing levels of holiness as one nears the inner sanctuary core of the shrine, the honden.

At least this religion makes your ass look better, instead of making you look like an ass....

At least this religion makes your ass look better, instead of making you look like an ass….

glossarytoriigateWalking through a torii gateway helps to cleanse a person, along with water purification rituals that are practiced before formal entrance to the shrine’s honden.  Together, both help one make ready to properly pray to the kami enshrined in and around such sacred ground.  While usually seen at Shinto shrines in Japan, torii can also be found at Buddhist temples throughout the Far East.  On maps, iconic torii usually indicate the site of a Shinto shrines.  Interestingly, in a nod to the past when the Emperors of Japan were considered deities themselves, coupled with the enduring relationship between Shinto and the Japanese Imperial family, a torii stands in front of the tombs of each Emperor.

Former Emperor Hirohito's Tomb

Former Emperor Hirohito’s Tomb

The Religion of the Devil Dog

The Religion of the Devil Dog

The torii functions as an explicitly religious symbol when it marks the entry into a sacred arena.  When such an association is absent, such a structure cannot be properly referred to as a torii.  While torii used outside of a religious context are not religious symbols themselves, they still remain approximate copies of religious symbols, an organic facet of the torii that is simply inescapable.

The only sacraments beyond these gates at Torii Station is the Scuba Locker found there....

The only sacraments beyond these gates at Torii Station is the Scuba Locker found there….

Pilots are not the only priests in aviation.  The divine trinity more appropriately consists of:  Pilots, Navigators, and Aircrew.

Pilots are not the only priests of aviation. The divine trinity more appropriately consists of: Pilots, Navigators, and Aircrew.

However, the torii is widely used by the West well outside of all and any religious contexts.  In fact, it is most often used by the US military in directly antithetical ways to those of the Far East.  For example, it is not just the symbolic entrance of “Torii Station,” an Army base on Okinawa, it is the very name of the base.  Similarly, it is used by Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa (CFAO), and can be found framing rather pedestrian street signs, building names, and lessor commands and organizations throughout the American footprint in the Far East.

This is where the liberty rule blasphemy is, in part, produced.

This is where a sailor’s liberty is blasphemed

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Mr. Don's 80th Birthday Party

Mr. Don’s 80th Birthday Party

In a personally interesting tangent, one of the most well-known army units, the “Rakkasan,” uses a Torii in its coat of arms.  Rakkasan derives from the Japanese word for umbrella, and in the context of this airborne unit, can be loosely translated to, “man falling under umbrella.”  The Rakkasan are the only military unit whose nickname that is still in use was designated by an enemy, and is the only unit in the military whose guidon does not bear a finial but a torii.  I know very well a veteran of this unit, a man named Mr. Don Cripps, who has TWO combat jumps with the Rakkasan during the Korea War.  I have had the honor of skydiving with him almost weekly since I learned to jump in 2006; Mr. Don, as we all refer to him, is now 83 and continues to skydive just about every weekend.  Read more about him here.

Me and Mr. Don skydiving back in Elberta, Alabama.  Not his airborne patch.

Me and Mr. Don skydiving back in Elberta, Alabama. Not his airborne patch.

No doubt religion sells, but I doubt the veracity of their shirts' claims.

No doubt religion sells, but I doubt the veracity of their shirts’ claims.

Hell, it's even on our money!!

Hell, it’s even on our money!!

I wonder if we Westerners have ever stopped to think about how the Japanese – and those throughout the Far East – view our rather insensitive (at best) and probably offensive (in general) use of such religious icons.  While Capitalism may be King in America, and for some, it substitutes as their religion of choice, it still provides no right for hijacking such meaningful symbology, rich in myth in legend.  Particularly when these symbols of peace and the divinity are used to represent violence and death, things which both defile and soil the notion of purity in Shintoism.

If only our wedding chapels were this nice.

If only our wedding chapels were this nice.

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Modern Missions of the Far East

Modern Missions of the Far East

But, as I always like to say, the truth is always somewhere in the middle.  Western weddings are all the rage in Japan, and with Okinawa providing the fabulous backdrops of blue skies, sand beaches, lush greenery, and turquoise waters, Western-style “wedding chapels” can be found at all the resort hotels.  Yes, while they are completely modeled on a Christian theme, these wedding venues have little to do with religion.  It is, like for Christmas in Japan (see my blog on this concept here), it is the very notion of the Western Wedding that appeals so to the Japanese, not any aspect of the religiosity of the nuptials.

The Occult of the Mouse, Far Eastern Flavored

The Occult of the Mouse, Far Eastern Flavored

I guess much like the beauty and lines of the torii appeal to those of us lucky enough to flirt with the Far East.  Touché Japan, on this one; I find no grounds for blasphemy or negligent disrespect by either culture.  Still, we all should strive to be more mindfully aware of our surroundings, and what our actions convey and deeds mean to others.  After all, the whole idea of religion is to coexist.  That, my friends, should be the same, East or West, Torah or torii.

What the gods really think of all our stress over religion!

What the gods really think of all our stress over religion!