Normally I begin writing about a place immediately when I get there, but it didn’t dawn on me to write about my current home until just recently. To that end, I will begin writing about Okinawa, Japan. We’ve been stationed here for two and a half years, and will move to California in about six months.
The first few stories will center on my neighborhood. It’s called Chatan, or Chatan-Cho to the locals. It rests atop a series of foothills just to the south of Kadena Air Force Base. At the onset of the Battle for Okinawa during World War Two, American forces made their initial landing just to the west of the neighborhood.
Chatan is a densely populated, urban environment. It’s never quiet, and rarely truly dark. My family and I have enjoyed many walks throughout the area. We admire the Chinese/Japanese fusion in the architecture, and we peer into all sorts of nooks and crannies. There is ALWAYS something new to see.
On one of our first walks, we stayed on our street. At 7 pm it is usually busy, and has numerous small shops to check out. We’d walked for maybe ten minutes in one direction, and had passed into unfamiliar territory. We went around a bend in the road, passed a monument company, and suddenly found ourselves strolling through the middle of an Okinawan cemetery. Space is at a premium here, so the fact that the road ran right through the middle of it was no surprise.
On either side of us, the play-house sized Okinawan family tombs stared us down. Made mostly of grey-ish granite or marble, these tombs are where Okinawans deposit(and talk to) their dearly departed.
Photographing the tombs themselves is strictly verboten, instead picture this: a plot of land, roughly two meters by three meters, with a stone building about twice the size of a large-breed doghouse. Often the land around the plot is covered with stone as well. The refinement level and size of the tombs varies with the family’s wealth. Many of them are highly polished, with vases and incense burners carved into the facade. Tombs are mostly placed in tight-knit clusters, due to the price of land, but occasionally, one can be found in random places in the jungle or in sea-side cliffs.
Since we live in the urban jungle, these graves are all clustered. It’s kind of creepy walking down the road at night, even though there are no corpses there(Okinawans cremate their dead, again owing to the price of land). I think granite just gives me the willies…