Saturday, March 02, 2013
Nippon Extremities: Okinawa V
February 27, 2003
Yet again, another morning at Starbucks. The guy from Aomori dropped in on his way to surf up north. We chatted away the morning, amped up on coffee. Keiko showed up and we headed north ourselves, out onto Motobu peninsula. We took a bridge over to a small island, finding a clean quiet beach on its west side. Porous rocks with caves long weathered pointed out to Iojima, whose strangely shaped mountain was somewhat reminiscent of Picacho Peak in Arizona. A cave led far back, offering a comfortable shelter if the weather turned rough. A guy slept on the beach, a green parka zipped up over his face. Further along was a young woman whose body shape led us to believe that she was not real. Suddenly she got up and walked over to the sleeping guy, who didn't respond. No doubt a lover's spat. Keiko moved along, collecting cool seashells and skimming rocks. This island had been dated to the same age as Everest, making it one of the oldest places on Earth.
Back on the main island, an utaki was hidden behind a small marble shrine high above. On the walk up, we noticed a tree had fallen against another, the "V" of the branches fitting naturally into the latter's trunk.
We moved around the peninsula and up into the hills to Natural Cafe Haru, which sat amidst a beautifully sculpted garden and run by an old guy looking like an Amami Hemingway. We chatted a long while with him, me being drawn to a small straw hut laid out in the corner of the garden, giving off a significantly powerful vibe. We moved indoors for a rib curry, sitting at the counter overlooking the hills and the sea below.
Next up was Nikijin castle ruins, whose paths ran between long stone walls up to a plateau ringed by stones and containing tall trees, sakura, and an utaki. The views of the sea were spiritual material in themselves. There was a definite Celtic feel to this fortification, no doubt quite imposing in its day. Keiko bemoaned the fact that the government had cut dozens of tress, in the misguided attempt to spruce up the place, befitting its world heritage designation. Despite this, nearly every utaki had a nuru in prayer.
We wound back around the peninsula, losing our way a couple of times, then hit the beachfront road heading north. Eventually, we arrived at Kunigami, a small village of old traditionally-built homes, with a couple of workshops nestled beneath the high hills. One of them was a pottery workshop, with frightening leprechauns sitting atop the kiln and in the rafters above. These creatures were said to actually exist, lurking up in the forest, waiting to jump out at passersby, terrifying them their long claws, fierce faces, and huge balls. I asked the woman working there if she'd ever seen one, but she told me that friends had, a few feeling them responsible for kanashiburi. Keiko said that they have the same creatures down south, but there they bring good luck.
Next door was a group of weavers/dyers making fabric from banana trees. Downstairs was a museum, upstairs the workshop, smelling mysteriously like the scent of Asia.
We contineud further north to pick up a nuru from Kudaka, then wound up into the hills to a besso built into the hillside. The air was much cooler up here, the trees branchless until their upper reaches, leaning into each other like a net holding up an invisible weight. We sat on the deck above, drinking coffee and looking out at the sea. On the drive out, passing the corral, two horses raced each other along a rail, back and forth, back and forth, exchanging victory kisses at either end.
Dinner in Naha at Helios, then onward to Chakra. I was greeting by smiles now familiar. The band was on fire, but Shokichi wasn't, facing some serious trouble with his voice. He didn't talk as much as on Sunday, and the set was much shorter, yet somehow he did dig deep and belt out the words to "Hana." I stayed for the next set, played by Shoei. It was interesting to see everyone "at work" after having spent some time with them.
After the show, I had a beer with Keiko's parents, then went upstairs. A new guy was behind the bar. He'd spent a couple of years traveling and working in the US and UK, then came to Okinawa on holiday just a few days before me. He and Shokichi had hit it off, and was already working behind the bar. Connections work fast here. Keiko wanted to leave, but a drunk was causing everyone trouble. He had a thing for her, so mistrusted me, calling me a liar when I told him that I was already married. I left first, so Keiko could sneak out later. As I sat out front reading a book, he came out, telling me how dangerous it was to sit here and to go home. When his attention was drawn by someone else, I tried to sneak back inside, just as Keiko was coming down. We quickly hopped in a passing taxi.
We went next to a bar whose live act was karate and music. They'd finished for the night, but after talking to the master awhile, he decided to give me a show, showing me the difference between Shorin, Goju, and Uechi styles of karate through a demonstration of their kata. He did some solo stuff with kama, and fought his wife with bo and tonfa. The highlight was a lion dance. It lasted less than fifteen minutes, but the energy that it created reverberated for hours more.
Last, we wound up at a small jazz club. The music here too was finished, but we talked for a couple of hours. It was here that I was introduced to the dangers of Awamori. By the time we left at 3:30, I could barely walk straight.
On the turntable: The Be Good Tanyas, "Blue Horse"