Friday, August 29, 2008

Holy Shrines & Temples, Batman!

Okay people, if you're actually reading this blog, leave me a comment alright? I feel like I'm talking to four loyal blog readers seem to have dwindled to one (hi Mom!)

So anyway, Lee took Tuesday off of work to accompany me on a tour of shrines, temples and sacred places of Okinawa. It was some pretty interesting stuff I think. Two of the main religions of Japan are Shinto (native to Japan) and Buddhism (imported from China in the 6th century I think), and often times people will visit both temples depending on the occasion. So first up is a Buddhist temple.

Above is the entrance, and here's the inside of it:

Click on the picture to see it larger. That's a lot of gold, huh? The motif on the top is of a phoenix. There's a small drum that's shaped like a fish, which our guide explained was a traditional thing. The fish never sleeps, so Buddhist followers should emulate fish and not fall asleep during the rituals :) Right next door to this temple is a Shinto shrine.

The inside of this one was not as opulent as the Buddhist temple, but they had more in the way of decorative carving and stuff in and around their grounds. For example, Lee and I both liked the lanterns:

And of course they had the obligatory shisa standing guard outside the shrine. I'm going to start collecting pictures of shisa from around the island so I can put them all on a scrapbook layout.

Behind the Shinto shrine is a cave system where some Okinawans hid during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. There are a *lot* of caves on Okinawa and quite a few of them were hiding places during the war; we'll see more of those when we go on the Battle of Okinawa tour next month when my parents are here. There's a tomb in this cave system for an angel...the guide told us a legend that a woman once had a vision that her father and her sister's husband were going to be caught in a storm on their fishing boat and be lost at sea, so she convinced them not to go. After that she became something of a hermit, dressed all in white, and lived in a Shinto shrine complex, and I'm not real sure how she got to be an angel...we had the same guide this time that we did for the kokeshi doll tour, and she speaks very quickly so sometimes I have a hard time getting the whole story.

Next up is Tama-u-Dun, which is the burial place for the Sho dynasty kings of the Ryukyu Islands. This is close to Shuri Castle in Naha. And hey look, it's a rare sighting of Lee!!!

There are three compartments to the mausoleum; the one on the left is for the kings and queens, on the far right are other members of the royal family, and the center one is a temporary burial site. After a few years, the remains of a Ryukyu royal would be disinterred from the center chamber, the bones washed, and then placed in one of the other chambers. Sounds a little strange to me but hey, whatever. There's a good panoramic shot of this place on Wikipedia here.

There's a pic of one of the shisa guarding the tombs. Lee took most of the pictures on this tour...I think this one is one of my favorites, I just think it's cool looking. And yes, the sky really IS that color here.

Next up we went to another Buddhist temple. This was outside the temple:

People write their prayers on slips of paper and attach them here. The guide read a couple of them to us and one was a from a guy who was praying that his golf game would improve! *snicker* The temples also sell various good luck charms for specific things, like to do well on a test, be a safe driver, fertility charms (I stayed way far away from those), etc. This temple had one special resident, a praying dog!

His name is Conan (although the Japanese seem to not really pronounce that last N). We actually got to meet him, he's something of a minor celebrity on Okinawa. He took a real shine to Lee, he even tried to follow Lee outside when it was time for us to leave! I think Conan kind of looks like a shisa, he's got a ruff around his neck like a lion's mane, so that's what he reminded me of.

Lee took several pictures outside the temple but I've already put a ton of pictures on this post and it looks a lot like the other Buddhist temple so go look at that one again and pretend it's the temple with the praying dog in it :) There was one thing that I found interesting outside this one though, much of the architecture was decorated with swastikas.

You'll notice this one faces left, unlike the one on the Nazi flag that faces right. The swastika has been a good-luck symbol for thousands and thousands of years (back to the Neolithic era even) and is associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, and some Native American religions. Our guide said that in Buddhism it's supposed to represent Buddha's hair, and I read online that swastikas appear on the feet of Buddha statues. Alexandra, the last Tsarina of Russia, scrawled one on a window of their prison before she and Tsar Nicholas II and their family were executed by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. The swastika was a popular good-luck symbol in early 20th century America, particularly with aviators, and is still a common symbol in much of the Orient today, although the left-facing version is now used much more than the right-facing one to distinguish from Nazism. So there's your history lesson for today. Personally, I still can't see a swastika without thinking of Hitler. You can look it up online though if you don't believe what I just told you about it being a good luck charm.

Anyway, back to the tour. The last stop was the extreme southern tip of Okinawa, I forget what the name of this place is but it's been a holy site on Okinawa for hundreds of years. I missed exactly why this triangle-shaped opening in the rock is important though...

To get to here, you walk up a 500-year-old rock-paved path that I bet would be deadly when it rains. There's a shrine at one point and used to be no one but the king could go any further than that, but today you're allowed to go to each of the holy sites here. On the other side of the triangle-shaped opening, our guide told us that if you say a prayer there then it will come true. You can also see this island just to the south of Okinawa, I forget the name of it but it's something to do with Eden. (So the tour brochures I got are all downstairs and I just don't want to go get them right now. Bad Christy.)

I tried to take a picture of Lee with that as the background, but it just got all washed out...

Our guide told us that there was a severe drought in 1980, Okinawa had no rain and no typhoons for a year. This is a big problem when most of your fresh water supply is rainwater, so all the mayors of Okinawa came to this place and did a rain dance (no kidding, a rain dance) here and prayed for rain. It rained the next day. I think someone on our tour must have done a rain dance because when I was coming back home from class that night, I got to see a pretty spectacular lightning show and it started raining right after I got home.

Lee and I need to work on getting in more of our pictures here on Okinawa, mostly we've been concentrating on taking pictures of the places and local people here because we know what we look like. But give it a few years and we might have forgotten what we look like...I'm sure we'll be in more pictures when my parents are here in a couple of weeks, though. :D


Anonymous said...

Hi Christy,
I actually read your blog, I get notfied right away when you post new entries. I love all the photos of Japan and will continue to come here for your great stories. My dad was military and we didnt take nearly enough pics when we were overseas. I do think you guys should get in more pics.

CCsMom said...

Hey, Kik! I learn SO MUCH from your blog. Fascinating. Can't wait to see you -- we leave Dallas in exactly two weeks from today at high noon! Woo Hoo. I'm still pinching myself because I can't believe it. Have a great Saturday -- I'm doing a happy dance because this is a Friday that begins a 3-day weekend. Can't get much better than that! Love you -- and of course, I read your blog! Mom

Liz Guidry said...

Hope you are getting some work done on your pages. I haven't started yet :(

Do you think I could hitch a ride in you 'rents suitcases?

I miss you guys! I got the catty today - thanks! you rock :)


Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see all of this myself for the second time! However, I think there wasn't this much stuff when we were there thirty years ago! Dad

Anonymous said...

Hi Christy,

I also read your blog. Your photos are lovely and I enjoy your witty writing style. I want to encourage you to continue posting. I have learned a great deal about a beautiful land that I will never be able to visit myself thanks to you.

I followed you from Splitcoaststampers in case you were wondering how I found you.


Amber said...

Look here Sistah, you KNOW that I am a loyal stalker...err...follower of your blog! Don't imply that I don't care!;) Love these pictures, I want to go on that tour some day! How's your weekend goin? Mine is going fine, bored, but fine:) See ya around Oki Sistah:)

The Henry Crew! said...

Hey girl! Oh yes, I do check in periodically to see what you are up to! I love your photos and scrapbook layouts... what incredible talents you have! How are your masters classes going? (Did I tell you Duane is doing the exact same masters program? You guys should compare notes!)

Love ya!

Where the Rubber Meets the Road said...

Hi Christy - I read your blog. I was pointed in your direction by Amber's blog which I read every week because I like her writing style and love her card ideas. I can see why you and Amber are friends, both funny, witty and full of energy. Keep the postings coming - interesting to learn about Japan. Thanks! (via SCS)