Sunday, June 29, 2014

Before and After - Photos of Oku Village in Rural Okinawa

One of my favorite programs to watch on Japanese Television is a show called "Before and After" It's hosted by a fellow named Tokoro George or as they say in the west, George Tokoro and each week, sometimes every other week, sometimes only once a month during the holidays and sweeps week and sometimes they even skip a month. Anyway its a Japanese TV show on Sunday evenings! Most of the time it's a one hour show but they also have two hour specials and at least once a year they have an awards show for the greatest transformation. In the show, they find some poor family living in a old house that for a variety of reasons, is in dire need of a complete renovation and they like to show the house both "before and after" it's all done hence the name. Now aside from the fact that Tokoro George has a family vacation house here in Okinawa, not far from the controversial U.S. Marine Base at Camp Schwab and other than the title of the show, this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with all that. I just needed some filler to put down till I figured out what I was going to write about that go with these photos I shot up in Oku, a tiny hamlet in far northern Okinawa.


Oku is part of the Kunigami Village governmental unit. It's at the very end of highway 58. If you've traveled around the island, especially in the spring and during the Japanese Holiday known as children's day, you might have seen how the villagers up in Oku string all those carp streamers they call Koinobori across the valley. Something else interesting about Oku is that long ago, before all the roads were cut through the mountainside and the raging streams cut through the steep ravines were bridged to connect it to the rest of the world, the main way into and out of Oku was via boat. They used to have at least one a month that visited to replenish the supplies in the community store. If you needed to get out more often, perhaps you could catch a ride with one of the local fishermen.


We went up to Oku this week to see about a festival they hold up there called Shinugu. It's held around the Obon holidays each year and we had recently spotted an article in the "Engrish" language version of the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper online about it. In the past, we had visited the Shinugu festivities up in Ada, a nearby fishing and farming hamlet similar to Oku, whose Shinugu gathering is a bit more famous as well as the strange goings on in Shioya where the women all get fired up on Awamori Sake and dance waist deep in the water to greet the Sabani boat racers. But we had never ever seen, let alone heard about, the festivities up in Oku. Our curiosity peeked, Ryukyu Mike and I set out on one of our adventures to investigate it.


While there, we saw the little museum in the village and inquired about the Shinugu festival. At first, the little gal working the counter didn't seem to know what we the heck we were talking about. Either that or just seeing Ryukyu Mike in all his glory (scruffy looking and hung over) probably had her a little flustered. Anyway, she was together enough to charge us the price of admission, I think it was 200 or 300 Yen, I don't really remember because Mike paid it but, after a little bit of work on her part, we discovered that the big festival is held every other year and we would have to wait another year to see the fun and frolicking like you see pictured Above.This years festivities are a quite a bit more subdued and pretty much intended just for the local folks only.

That's the thing about investigating a story. Sometimes things work out just right. That would have been  the case here had we just made this little trip a year earlier. But you know what they say, when life deals you lemons, make some lemonade. So we saw some pictures in the museum of what Oku looked like some 50 years ago and since we drove all that way, we decided to see if we could find the spot where they took one of those photos from. As you can see from the evidence, above, if we weren't in the exact same spot, we got pretty darn close....

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