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See Okinawa history and culture at the Prefectural Museum

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-04-05

The Okinawa Prefectural museum is a nice inexpensive way to get a glimpse into Okinawa's past. Built in 1961, the museum can trace its roots back to 1946 when historical items were first collected and displayed by the United States Military Government. The current site was first called the Ryukyu Governmental Museum, and was renamed after the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. It is actually built on the location of King Sho's mansion. The former Ryukyu King is famous for having started the "Sho Dynasty", under which Okinawa flourished as a great trading nation with China and the rest of Asia during the 15th and 16th centuries. Stone wall ruins from the old mansion can still be seen at the right of the museum.

The museum is broken into four separate exhibit rooms, each focusing on a different theme. Room 1 concentrates on the history of the islands, with displays from the ancient Paleolithic era to the present. The room starts with exhibits on the types of wildlife found in Okinawa over 30,000 years ago, along with discoveries of human remains that date back as far as 18,000 years ago. Continuing around the room, displays from the "Shell mound age", which date from 7,000 years ago until the 12th century, can be seen. Coming to this point, Okinawa enters the "Gusuku age", where evidence of castle building starts, and Okinawa is ruled by strong regional warlords called "Aji".

Items from the Ryukyu Kingdom, which began with the unification of all the regions of Okinawa by King Sho Hashi, give you an idea of the attention paid to tradition and formality at ancient Shuri. A book of the first written records of Okinawa can be found in this room, as well as drawings that depict ceremonial rites for passage for new Ryukyu Kings. Visitors are then taken to the 18th and 19th centuries, where Okinawa eventually becomes annexed by Japan, and Commodore Perry of the United States Navy makes his presence. The displays finally end with a nostalgic look at life after World War II.

Room one also has on display artifacts from both Yaeyama and the Miyako islands, which have a much different cultural background than the main island of Okinawa.

The second exhibit room focuses on natural history, with special attention being given to the rare species of flora and fauna found only in Iriomote and the Yambaru area of Okinawa. Displays of some of the animals that live in these areas, and their habitats, let visitors see the uniqueness in Okinawa's wildlife and sub-tropical vegetation.

Room three on the second floor, takes you to the traditional arts and crafts of Okinawa, where a variety of different textiles, pottery, and lacquer ware are showcased. Okinawa has been long regarded as an island with fine craftsmanship, converging styles from many parts of Asia. Viewing many of the traditional designs, you can see the strong cultural influences from China rather than Japan. Many Okinawan designs feature dragons, which are a strong symbol of good fortune in China, but seldom seen in mainland Japan.

This part of the museum also holds an Interchanging Exhibit Area, which shows various art collections at different times of the year. Currently, textiles and dying techniques from around South East Asia are on exhibit.

The last exhibit room is dedicated to Okinawan folklore, with many different artifacts used by Okinawans in traditional everyday life. Tools for farming, which have always been an important part of Okinawan culture, line the walls and display cases. An impressive array of fishing tools, including a sabani (traditional Okinawan fishing boat), fill up one area of the room, letting you know the role of the surrounding ocean in the island's history. Household items, including furniture and kitchen utensils used in traditional Okinawa are also on display, and you can see some of the traditional ceremonial articles used in Okinawan religion.

Although the museum is fairly small in size, it should be kept in mind that many valuable artifacts were destroyed during the war, limiting the number of items that went to the museum. The price for entrance is 210 for adults, 100 for university and high school students, and 50 for elementary and junior high school students. The museum is located just behind the pond of the Shuri Castle grounds. If you follow the road to Shuri, simply go straight instead of turning right, which will take you to the other side of the castle. The museum will be on your left.

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