Being a mainly inland person myself, having grown up far from the ocean or any major bodies of water I find islands fascinating, the weather, the ocean, the winds, everything is just so different. Japan has its own little paradise in the southern island chain of Okinawa, where I took these photos early this year. I hope I can visit again next year! I don’t remember the spot where I took these, but not far from Onna in central Okinawa, on the main island.
Early this year, before all the trouble with the tsunami, I spent a few days in Okinawa and one of the places I made a point of visiting was the Seifa Utaki (written 斎場御嶽 in Japanese but pronunced Seifa Utaki or Seefa Utaki in Okinawan and Saihan Utaki in Japanese), which literally means “the purified place of Utaki”. The Seifa Utaki is the most sacred place in Okinawa forming a physical link between the Royal court (and in extension the people of Okinawa) and the land itself. The series of ritual places that make up the whole complex was run by a special group of holy priestesses, or shaman, called Noro, governed by a head priestess called Kikoe-Okimi. The system was formalized in the late 15th century and lasted until the about the 1870′s when the old feudal system was abolished in order to give the emperor on mainland Japan more power over the regions (which is the prefectural system we have today). Naturally nothing remains of the shrines that must have been built here, as the unforgiving climate of the south pacific destroys almost anything organic in just a few years, but back in the old days it must have a been a rich and powerful spot, reserved only for the holy women and the members of the royal court. These days it’s been turned into a world heritage site by UNESCO and there is a small fee to enter the holy grounds.
Even on this hot and humid January day it was hard to concentrate on the spiritual aspects of the place as there were the usual tourist crowds and numerous friendly examples of the little remaining Okinawan wildlife in the form of salamanders and fowl to keep me entertained. But most people only went so far as to see the great leaning rock wall at the end of the site which I can imagine would be more spectacular in a more spiritual mind frame. It’s also a good opportunity to get out in the under brush of a tropical forest. As with many other things in Okinawa, the stark contrast between the rich spiritual history of the islands and the mediocre civilization after the great Pacific War was quite depressing. I really hope the people of Okinawa can recover their own culture, language and religion soon.
I don’t know about other places – I’m pretty new to the game – but urban ruin safari is a pretty common sport among young westerners in Japan. There are tons of great blogs and photo sites dedicated to the fine sport of finding and exploring abandoned buildings. Urban decay appreciation as a fine art?
This occupation demands skill, strong nerves and great deal of luck, as well as tons of dedication. In Japanese there are books about the subject and it goes under the name of Haikyo (not to be confused with the form of poetry knows as Haiku).
I have never really understood why, but Japan seems to be littered with abandoned buildings, houses and even resorts. Go driving anywhere in the country and you’re bound to notice the boarded up and abandoned concrete constructions stood next to motor ways, streets and rural side roads. Some if not most of them are stark reminders of the big recession that hit Japan in the early 90′s, at the End of the Bubble Era. I get the basic economic reasons behind the failure of many of these building projects, but why they are left up all these years is a mystery. In most western countries local governments would probably take it upon themselves to confiscate unused land and tear buildings down rather than leave them to decay, but in Japan this almost never happens, and the buildings, both public and private constructions remain standing.
For some reason every single one of my Japanese friends absolutely refuse to take me every time I suggest we go on a ruin safari, but last month while visiting Okinawa I was on my own and couldn’t resist exploring this abandoned hotel on top of a small mountain near the Okinawan capital of Naha (a place called Nagausuku). I didn’t spend too long though, and even though I got a couple of hundred meters into the main building I didn’t even see one tenth of it all. Not only because it is actually illegal, but also because it was just to much of a hazard to climb around on my own. As many more experienced ruin lovers than me say – never go on a ruin safari alone! Here’s a few shots. Enjoy!
I love Tokyo more than any other place on Earth, but sometimes the lack of space, sky and nature can get to you, which is why I escaped to Okinawa last month, just to get little bit of breathing space. One of the places I visited was Manzamo Point, about half way up the main Okinawan island. It’s medicine for the soul to be able to see the horizon every now and then.