Our Tour of Tamagusuku

Hiromi leads us within the castle ruins on a hilltop in Tamagusuku, Okinawa. She explains that the castle was built of coral, like the island itself, but it looks a lot like the lava temple ruins (heiau) of Hawaii.

Everywhere I go in Japan, my friends stop and offer reverance at shrines, large and small, and I always join them. So, I am not surprised that, at the foot of the hill onwhich the castle ruins rest, we all stop to offer prayers at a small forest shrine.

The entrance to the castle looks out and down upon verdant countryside, including a wind farm.

View from the castle of the coastline, including Donto-in, which is the house closest to the ocean on the upper road around the hill.

More of the view from the castle ruins, of the ocean and Ou Island.

On one side of the castle, a deep and forested abyss.

Our next stop, Nakandakari Hiijaa, a spring developed as a communal water source, built of limestone in traditional Okinawan style in 1912-13. It includes men’s and women’s bathing areas, vegetable washing areas, laundry areas, and, of course, a shrine. Destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, it was partially restored in the 1960’s and fully restored in 2004.

The wonderful old tree at the Nakandakari Hiijaa compound, with a birdsnest fern in its boughs.

Next Hiromi shows us a verdant path to Hyahuna Beach, another sacred place in Tamagusuku.

Rising from the ocean is a stone marking where the goddess who was the mother of the Okinawan people first came to shore. I am wearing a t-shirt that Rina Usuki hand printed, and a skirt that Mayumi Hirai made. I am coming ashore, too.

Coral and shells abound on the beaches of Okinawa.

Kitesurfers love Hyahuna beach.

Just inland from where the kitesurfers sail is an old shrine commemorating the bird who brought rice stalks to Okinawa, beginning rice cultivation in both Okinawa and Japan, and the wealth it created.

At sunset we drive around tiny Ou Island, a fishing village isle connectd to Tamagusuku by a bridge.

For our dinner we stop at Hiromi’s favorite tempura stand, the only one on Ou Island, where we had tempura sea vegetables, squid and fish. Tempura, it turns out, is an elegant Japanese adaptation of a recipe brought by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, who prepared batter-fried fish for Lent.

Lunch at Hiromi Kondo’s house in Nanjo town

On our second day in Okinawa, Hiromi Kondo drives over to Donto-in and invites me and Koki to have lunch at her home, after which she will take us on a tour of the local area. We are thrilled! Hiromi moved to Okinawa not long after her daughter was born, 16 years ago, after her apprenceship as a drummer/percussionist in Zimbabwe. She plays hand drums, kalimba and balaphone, with two bands in Okinawa, Amana, and Dinkadunk, an African-influenced ensemble that performs both meditational and dance music. I can’t imagine anyone more generous, gentle and kind than Hiromi.

Perched on the crest of a hill, and simply built of cement bricks with a tin roof, Hiromi’s house is guarded by her pet duck.

Next to the front door, a mask from Africa.

Inside, all is elegant simplicity with a kind of soulful decay, what Japanese call wabi-sabi, and what Americans call shabby chic. It makes wall to wall carpeting and painted sheetrock look spiritually dead by comparison, which, I think, they are.

A painted cloth from Africa defines Hiromi’s sleeping quarters.

Baskets and other folk art on the wall over Hiromi’s woodstove.

Hiromi’s kitchen and dining room, where we sat with her and her friend Matsuko, who owns a local gift store, and who had come by to pick up a load of…

Hiromi’s homemade tropical herbal soaps, beautifully wrapped with her own graphic designs!

Here’s our lunch: a vegetable and chicken soup, a green salad with sea grapes in it, slices of lotus root stuffed with mustard paste, sandwiches, bread and pastry from the local (famous) bakery, freshly baked sweet manju (a soft bun filled with sweet red bean paste) and black tea.

After lunch we wandered out to Hiromi’s car for our tour of Tamagusuku. Hiromi’s neighbor across the road lives in a traditional Okinawan style house. Cement block construction makes sense in an area beset with typhoons.

Welcome to Donto-in

A couple of days after Koki and I returned from Doshi to his home in Hayama, we caught an early morning flight from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Naha City, Okinawa. Koki pointed out the window soon after take-off. There, rising above the clouds, we espied the summit of Mount Fuji. My beloved friends from the goddess trance band Amana met us at the airport. I wept with joy to see Yoko Nema and Sachiho Kojima, and their manager, Kawashima, again. Soon Koki and I were peeling off our warm winter clothes and acclimating to the tropical heat of Okinawa.

Kawashi drove us down to Tamagusuku in the south of the island, to the octagonal house Sachiho built as a temple in memory of her rock star husband Donto, who died suddenly at the age of 37 in January 2001 on Hawaii Island of a brain aneurism after watching a hula performance dedicated to the volcano goddess Pele by the nationally famous Halau O Kekuhi at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

When I met Sachiho in 2002 through Seawest Studio, where we had each recorded a CD, I participated in creating a memorial for Donto at the largest Buddhist temple in Hilo, and I coordinated a tour afterwards for Amana on the Big Island, to defray some of the expense of the memorial. That was the important third year memorial. Now, here I am again, just in time for the important seventh year memorial.

Hiromi Kondo, the third member of Amana, came down to meet us at Donto-in. The Matsui family, visiting from their forest home at Aso Mountain on Kiushu Island, and staying at Donto-in, greeted us as well. They, too, will participate in the two festivals that the Amana team is organizing the following weekend.

Sachiho places our small gifts upon the altar to Donto in the main room. The wave shaped cross piece below the altar recalls Donto’s famous song Nami (wave). The altar includes a Tibetan bell, a Shinto paper prayer, a statue of the merciful goddess Kannon (Kuan Yin), a Thanka of White Tara, a bowl gong and a crystal ball.

The ceiling of the greatroom with its skylight, a perfect mandala. Below the floor, directly below the skylight, the family buried a meteor in the foundation, truly a fitting memorial for a rock star.

Through the elegant double front door, a view of Ou Island and the ocean. Above the door, Tibetan temple hangings and a Native American dream catcher.

Even the furo bath has a magnificent ocean view, a skylight and flagstone on the floor. So how do ten people share a single bathtub? Each day the tub is filled with warm water, and people take turns bathing themselves on the flagstone, pouring warm water over themselves from a large bowl. In that way, one tub full of water serves ten.

I set off on a walk to get a better look at Ou Island and the harbor. Along the way I pass a small tea house made from a shipping container.

Now I’m in the habit of photographing the man hole covers in each community I visit. This one shows a bird bringing the first rice stalks to Tamagusuku, initiating rice cultivation in Okinawa.

Along the side of a cement fence, a sign reading “One Love.”

Beside the road, a family vault of an important family in the area, perhaps the owners the local sugar plantation.

At last I reach the harbor and look across at Ou Island.