Okinawa’s Elevated Storehouses

Last updated 10/13/14
Rodney HeaderOne day my Dad made a sketch of Uncle Hoso’s house in Oyakawa Village in Haneji, Okinawa. (See “The Floor Plan of Houses in Old Okinawa.”) On another day he took a notepad and sketched an elevated Okinawan storehouse. (See below.) Then he told me that Uncle Hoso Inafuku owned two elevated storehouses: one in front of his house in Oyakawa and one in nearby Taira Village. He says when he lived with Uncle Hoso during the early 1920s, the first thing he used to do after waking up was go out in the front of the house and pee on the cherry blossom tree next to the storehouse.

My Dad said one day he and his Oyakawa pals went into Uncle Hoso’s elevated storehouse in Taira to play around and eventually ended up falling asleep there. He doesn’t know how Uncle Hoso knew, but he came and chased them out. After 85 years, my Dad still shook his head, “How da heck did he know we were in there?”

My Dad's sketch of an elevated Okinawan storehouse in Oyakawa village in Haneji.

My Dad’s sketch of an elevated Okinawan storehouse in Oyakawa Village in Haneji.

After my Dad made the storehouse sketch, I got home and took George Kerr’s book, Okinawa: The History of an Island People, out and thumbed through it. I was stunned when I came upon the drawings of the elevated storehouses (see below) on page 28. “Holy Toledo! The one on the right looks just like the storehouse my Dad drew!” He never heard of Kerr or his book. He makes the sketch and then I find a picture like it in Kerr’s book. Is this the Twilight Zone?

Drawings of elevated storehouses on page 28 of George Kerr’s Okinawa – The History of an Island People.

Drawings of elevated storehouses on page 28 of George Kerr’s Okinawa: The History of an Island People.

The note below the storehouse pictures says “Haneji Village.” I wonder if Kerr was referring to Uncle Hoso’s two elevated storehouses in Haneji. If you look at the Okinawa map, you can see that Nakijin, Motobu, and Haneji are all next to each other. I wonder how many elevated storehouses were in that area? The famous Churaumi Aquarium with the huge whale sharks is located in Motobu. 

Across the Nakasone house in the Ryukyu Mura cultural village is an elevated storehouse like the one sketched by my Dad and also found in Kerr’s book. (See below.) I wondered where this particular elevated storehouse came from. Haneji? We weren’t at the cultural village long enough to ask.

You may wonder why the walls are angled rather than vertical. My theory is that Okinawa often has typhoons. To weather them, the walls are angled downward to deflect the wind under the storehouse and through the posts so as not to bear the full force that might cause it to collapse. The angled roof deflects the wind over the storehouse. The opposite forces created by the angled wall (force up) and the angled roof (force down) cancel each other out. I think perhaps a greater downward force is created by the angled roof. It has a greater area. Thus the resultant force downward keeps the storehouse from being lifted up and blown away.

Across the Nakasone house in the Ryukyu Mura cultural village is an elevated storehouse, like the one my Dad sketched and the one found in Kerr’s book.

Across the Nakasone house in the Ryukyu Mura cultural village is an elevated storehouse, like the one sketched by my Dad and also found in Kerr’s book.

George Kerr says, “Communal storehouses survive in many out-of-the-way villages and these seem to be close counterparts of the storehouses which are the most prominent feature in the primitive mountain villages of Formosa (Taiwan).” I asked my wife if Taiwan had these kind of storehouses. She said, “Oh yes.”

On one of our trips to Taiwan, we had some time to kill at Taoyuan International airport. So we walked all the way down the terminal checking out the shops. To my surprise, we came upon a display of an elevated storehouse at the end. It didn’t look real, however. It looked like it was made for the display. But as you can see below, it does look somewhat similar to Okinawa’s elevated storehouse. This validated what my wife said.

An elevated storehouse at Taoyuan International airport in Taiwan.

An elevated storehouse at Taoyuan International airport in Taiwan.

Last night on the Internet, I was reading the Wikipedia article on Japan’s Kofun period. The article had a picture of an elevated warehouse. They had these kinds of warehouses in Japan during the Kofun period? Before 500 AD?

Kofun era warehouse – Kofun period (250AD).

Kofun era warehouse – Kofun period (250AD– 558AD). –Wikipedia.

Kerr inferred in his book that the elevated storehouse could have come from the primitive tribes of Taiwan. But if elevated storehouses were used in Japan during the Kofun period, seems to me, they could very well have influenced the ones in Okinawa. Taiwan? Japan?  China? My wife always tells me, “Everything came from China.”  The answer is out there somewhere.

Nevertheless, I think once the Okinawans were introduced to the elevated storehouse idea, they modified theirs to weather the many typhoons that pass through Okinawa every year.

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