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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Okinawa Prefectural Museum

I decided that I wanted to visit one museum during my trip to Okinawa. After a bit of googling, I decided to visit the Okinawa Prefectural Museum because it seemed like the most interesting and comprehensive.

The museum is a roughly 10 minute walk from Omoromachi station. It's basically a straight line from the station, so it was pretty easy to find.

By the way, there's a discount if you have the one day or two-day monorail tickets so if you have it, show it to the staff. There was a temporary exhibition at the museum, but I decided to just go for the permanent exhibition.

Entrance to the gallery! 
The museum covers ancient Okinawa (before it was even the Ryuku kingdom) to modern day Okinawa. There are also 5 galleries attached to the general exhibition:

- Natural History Gallery (pictured below)
- Archaeology Gallery
- Arts and Crafts Gallery
- History Gallery
- Folklore Gallery

And here are some interesting things that I learnt. Disclaimer: I did not try to summarise all the information here. These are just a few facts that caught my eye.

- The Ryukyu Kingdom was formed in the 14th Century, after the period where the islands were divided among the three powers, or Sanzan. That reminded me a bit of the three kingdoms period in China!

- The Ryukyu Kingdom lasted for 500 years and only became a part of Japan in the spring of 1879, during the Meiji era.

- While it was still the Ryukyu Kingdom, it engaged in a lot of trade and had close ties with both China and Japan. One bell in the museum described it as being as "closely related to China as spokes to a wheel" and "as closely related to Japan as lips to teeth".

- During the Yayoi period, people in the Ryukyu islands traded conch shells and seashells with the Kyushu lords. And when the demand for shells decreased, the demand for green snails increased.

- Since the Jomon era, there have been two types of tombs. And somewhere along the way, the practice of 洗骨 (senkotsu) arose, where bodies were disinterred when there were only bones left and the bones were washed, placed in urns and the urns placed in tombs.

- Okinawa has its own 'Rosetta stone' with pictographs that have not been deciphered. The stone was found in 1933, near the grave of Noguni Sokan. Noguni Sokan is also the man who brought sweet potato to Okinawa and there's a festival which bears his name.

- In Okinawan dialect, 'agi' means land.

- There are sacred places called 'utaki' in Okinawa, and religious rituals are held in it. If you're interested Wikipedia has an interesting article on the Ryukyuan religion.

- There is a belief that gods come from across the seas and bring blessings.

- The sanshin is a traditional Okinawan instrument. Originally brought in from China in the 14th or 15th century, it underwent changes to become what it is now.

The museum has a free audio guide, and since the amount of English explanations vary from gallery to gallery, it would probably be worth borrowing the audio guide.

As for photography, my impression is that the 5 galleries generally allow photos while the main one doesn't. So please remember to check before taking photos.

I really want to read more about Okinawa history and culture after visiting the museum, but sadly, the museum gift shop doesn't have anything in English and I don't think I can concentrate that long in Japanese!

Bottom line: If you're interested in history and finding out more about Okinawa, you should definitely visit the museum.

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