An Architectural Designer’s View of Okinawa and Okinawans

The following excerpts are from Rachel Preston Prinz‘s “Okinawa: One Island and the Three Cultures that Call Her Home,” Archinia, 2015.1 This article was brought to our attention by Bobby Shimabukuro of Portland, Oregon. Prinz is an architectural designer, and the sections on Okinawan architecture are fascinating. Her heartfelt compassion for Okinawans and their culture resonates in her narrative and observations. -JS

The most ancient forms of Okinawan homes are very similar to Japanese wooden houses…. The Okinawans also modified the traditional wooden house forms to use concrete, bars over windows, and glued-on tile roofs to deal with their common typhoons. The architecture that results is industrial, but also decorated, resulting in a marriage of forms that appears both Prairie-style and Art Deco at once. The use of Shisa, or guardian lion-dogs, borders on a requirement and nearly every business and home is decorated with them. The Okinawans also reserve the most sacred spots of land for their plentiful necropoli and there are entire weeks of festivals where the family spends the week at the tomb of their forebears.

A glimpse into the garden, if you are caught peeking, will result in a tiny little Okinawan rushing out to take your hand and walk you through the hand-crafted garden shrines that Okinawans are proud to create in their gardens. It’s as if each home needs a place for the god(s) to rest, so they create amazing little worlds of mountains, bonsai as big as houses, waterfalls and koi ponds, and beautiful plants and flowers for the gods to be surrounded and entertained with.

After World War II, the United States captured Okinawa and kept part of her for use by 13 Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force bases. In the heavily inhabited central section of the island, where the Americans are ever present—with lines of American women pushing endless streams of baby carriages—the island is wrought with overcrowding and the stress of a military force that is dominant…. The Americans that do embrace the Okinawan experience find a rich heritage and a rich people who are more than willing to share it…. This tiny string of islands, 56 miles long and 26 miles wide, has had a massive emotional impact on all the Americans who have come to call it home, even for a time.

1 If the link is broken, use the WebCite alternative.

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