Military spouse retraces the footsteps of late grandfather at sacred Okinawan site

by Stephanie J. Pawelski
Stripes Okinawa Archives

As the world is becoming more internationally traveled, there are better opportunities to explore, discover, and find areas that have different meanings to different people. Knowledge of the natives’ culture and beliefs enhances a trip and makes experiencing a new part of the world a once in a lifetime opportunity. Personal pieces of paradise are created when an adventure leaves someone speechless with a feeling never experienced before.

It was March 2013, our first spring on the island of Okinawa. It was going to be a mommy day with our two children, ages two and four at the time, while my husband did a few things around the house. To my surprise, the “to do” list was completed by Saturday morning; it was going to be a fun-filled family day in Motobu!

As we pulled into Ocean Expo Park, our children fell asleep. I was hoping to go back the same way we just came to explore a few culture assets and recognized locations in this area until our children woke up, yet I was assured that we would find and stop at these places on the way home and to find something closer to the aquarium.

Jeff and I agreed to explore Bise Village a, quiet and old, neighborhood tucked away by farmland and fields, with one lane dirt roads to travel in and out of the village on. Large Fukugi trees line the  roads and paths and provide protection from the sun as well as protection to the village’s property from harsh winds and rains during the island’s typhoon season. These roads have been used for, at least, a few decades.

After parking in a small dirt lot, we began walking around and bought souvenirs at the village’s shell shop; we saw privately owned restaurants and old stone walls dividing personal pieces of property in a grid-like pattern. The sound of waves echoing through its narrow paths attracted us to the oceanfront property where pieces of sea glass and tropical shells were collected.

Even though our children enjoyed discovering a cave on the beach that is said to be sacred as well as playing in the tidal pools high tide left behind on Emerald Beach, they were patiently waiting to leave for the aquarium. I was certain to return to Bise Village in the near future; the residences, here, open their village to visitors.

Once everyone was buckled in the car, Jeff began driving to the Ocean Expo Park. Our electronic map said to “make a left”, but I overheard Jeff whisper “that road is too narrow to fit the van”. We continued driving down the main road until coming to a wider road to exit the village on.

By that time, I was flipping through the photos that were already taken that day when out of the corner of my eye a cement structure representing the Okinawan culture was seen. Eagerly jumping out of the van I was, uncertainly, certain to be experiencing de ja vu.

I compared what was being seen to two black and white photos of a “sacred shrine (in) Motobu, Okinawa” and then I realized everything that everything that was suppose to happen that day didn’t happen and everything that did happen that day lead me to the exact spot my late grandfather once stood on an international trip to Okinawa.

He and I are, both, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where our family currently lives. After moving to Okinawa, photos of my grandfather’s trip to the island was received by mail from my grandmother; I was certain to find the  location of a few photographs because of the distinct figures clearly seen with a, vague, handwritten description of each location, on the opposite side.

Still being new to Okinawa, I was confident this shrine would be easy to find. I spent days driving main roads, back roads, dirt roads, and trails, talking to historians at the Motobu History Museum, as well as researching shrines in northern Okinawa. After numerous failed attempts, I questioned the shrines current state of existence due to the island’s history, weather, and present day influences. To my surprise this shrine stood the test of time.

Today, we visit the Ocean Expo Park and Bise Village, regularly. I sit and stare at this shrine that is a part of the world and a world of its own. Relaxed feelings of amazement and glee are felt when being at my piece of paradise in the Pacific Theater. This piece of land leaves me speechless and certain that Bise Village in Motobu, Okinawa will forever hold the spot that my grandfather and I have shared, half way around the world and decades apart.

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