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Ryukyu Mura: The Memory Of Okinawa’s Past

By: Wendy Hively

Date Posted: 2000-10-21

Okinawa’s treasured history and traditions of many years past are brought to life at Ryu Kyu Mura. This unique village features old Ryukyu homes, arts and crafts, a sugar mill and the indigenous habu snake.

A walk along the dirt and cobblestone path takes you back to a time long ago when farming villages were commonplace in the Ryukyun islands.

The old Ryukyu homes, with sliding outer doors and red-tiled roofs, were moved to the village from various locations around the island. Preservation of this old style of architecture was important because today’s houses are not built in the same manner. Located inside the many houses are the fabric and textile factories, an Awamori bar with numerous selections of sake and displays of teas and medicinal herbs. You can sample some of the herbal teas at the Tea House and the concession stand next to the sugar mill.

The methods of the Ryukyu arts featured at Ryu Kyu Mura have been passed down from generation to generation. Textile weaving is done using a hand loom to generate beautiful fabrics with varying colors and designs. Okinawa is known to have the largest variety of patterns among its textiles. Bingata, a technique used to dye fabric, is an art that is unique to Okinawa. Previously, this type of fabric was worn only by employees of the king and women who took part in religious services. Okinawan pottery, also made in a workshop at Ryu Kyu Mura, is well-known for its originality and beautiful designs and is highly sought after throughout Japan. Items for sale in the workshop include sake pots, shisa lions, and vases. For those interested in learning an Okinawan craft, Ryu Kyu Mura offers a variety of culture classes. Choices include textile weaving, indigo and bingata dyeing, earthenware coloring, or Ryukyu dance class. The cost of the classes ranges from ¥400 to ¥2300.

Black sugar, a staple of Okinawan cooking, has been refined on the island since before World War II. Sata-ya’s, or “sugar houses”, were commonly found in many villages throughout the island. The sugar mill at Ryu Kyu Mura is one of only a few mills in operation today. The sugar is made by pressing sugar cane between cast iron wheels until the liquid has been squeezed out. As in days past, the main shaft of the mill is turned by a water buffalo. Sweet treats made from the black sugar are sold throughout the village. Look for candies and sata-andagi, Okinawan doughnuts that were traditionally made for weddings and celebrations.

At the back of the park is the Habu Center where research on this highly poisonous snake has yielded Habu powder, which is taken as a vitamin, and Habu oil, which is used as an antifungal treatment. Previously featured here were the fights between a mongoose, brought from India, and the Habu snake. The Habu/mongoose match no longer takes place, but both animals are on display in tanks at the Habu Center. There is a show where snake handlers display the Habu snake and discuss its habits, however, it is presented only in Japanese. There is an extra charge for this show; ¥420 for adults and ¥210 for children ages 3-15.

At various locations around the park are daily shows that feature music, drums and dance with musicians and dancers dressed in traditional costumes. The showtimes and locations are posted on a board at the entrance to the village. See the Eisa dance, Geion taiko welcome drum, Mo Ashi Bi dance and folk song, or Geiongaku welcome music.

To get to Ryu Kyu Village, drive north on Route 58 past Kadena Circle. About 6 km past Kadena Circle is the sign for Ryu Kyu Village. Turn left at the sign and follow this road for about 3 km. The Village will be on the left side of the road with a parking lot on the right. They are open every day from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is ¥840 for adults ¥730 for students and ¥420 for children.

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