Okinawa Tourism Information:ItomanUminchuKobomuseum–learnthehistoryandcultureofItomanUminchu(Itomanareafishermen)

Itoman Uminchu Kobo museum – learn the history and culture of Itoman Uminchu (Itoman area fishermen)

post : 2016.11.09 09:00

This unique museum is located along Route 331 near the southern areas of the island and it is about a 20-minute drive from Naha Airport.

In the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, people obeyed the government rules formulated such as supporting agriculture, and that meant that people in very few districts were licensed to fish instead of work in the fields. Itoman was one of these notable exceptions. You will get to know history and legacy of the district at this museum.


Sabani (small fishing boats with sails), miikagan (the prototype of swimming goggles), yuutui (a bailing bucket for a sabani boat) and other tools for fishing are exhibited.


Researchers from various fields and even writers often visit this museum.


“Many people come here,” said Ken Uehara, chief director of the museum from the NPO Hamasuuki. “And out of all of these exhibits they are usually the most interested in the miikagan.”


In the old days without goggles, fishermen suffered from eye problems because of diving. In 1884 Yasutaro Gusukuma invented miikagan made from wood from the monpanoki (octopus bush or hamasuuki in Okinawan dialect) for which he is known as the “Edison of Itoman.” Using Gusukuma’s great invention, fisherman could catch many more fish over a wider area. Miikagan were responsible for big changes in fishing field. When the ceremony for Emperor Showa’s coronation was held, Gusukuma was awarded the Dairei Kinen Sho (a medal commemorating the Emperor's accession to the imperial throne) as a meritorious person in fishing. Miikagan evolved into effective tools for many people in other areas as well.


The sabani is also eye-catching in the museum. Fishermen from Itoman excelled in shark fishing. The vessel’s name comes from “saba (shark)” and “nni (shark fishing boat)” in the Okinawan dialect. In the Ryukyu Kingdom period, many sharks, squids and sea cucumbers were caught for export to China.


These days, fisherman use more sophisticated fishing boats than sabani, but the beautiful wooden boats remain popular for use in marine competitions. The Hokake Sabani Hashisee Taikai at Minamihama Park (Itoman) and the Sabani Hokake Race (from Zamami island to Naha Port) are the most popular sabani boat races which serve to protect the legacy of sabani and enhance the popularity of water-based cultural events. Participants come from all over the country. You will be amazed at the sight of sabani boats in the beautiful Okinawan ocean. It is well worth it to consider the various race schedules in your travel itinerary.


Yuutui and ueeku are the tools for scooping water from the boat. Yuutui got its name from the combination of the words “yuu (hot water)” referring to water in the boat that’s been heated by the sun, and “tui (to remove).” This clever tool was traditionally made with the curved roots of Ryukyu pine tree with the shape matching the bottom of the boat for ease in bailing. Nowadays people usually make them by cutting plastic detergent bottles into the correct shape.


Ueeku (paddles) can be seen at haarii (traditional Okinawan paddling races). Yuutui may not been found easily anywhere else now. This scoop was used as a cutting board or a food dish on the boat. Muneyoshi Yanagi, the famous founder of the Mingei Undou (national art movement) and also a national philosopher praise this amazing piece of art.


Ken is the last person who can still make miikagan and yuutui in Itoman. He has knowledge about each of the equipment mentioned above, such as miikagan, sabani, yuutui and ueeku. He is also is very familiar with the use, history and other details about local tools and foods. His detailed stories are sure to impress.


Once you listen to Ken’s stories, you will realize that this museum is not only a place for exhibits. You will marvel at the lively atmosphere, energy and wisdom of the past. Please find out what I mean by unique or lively by meeting Ken. Call for details.


At the end of this museum’s introduction, I would like to say “cheers!” Itoman style. In the rest of Okinawa, we say “karii!” but in Itoman it is a little different: “koobangiraa!” is the word that means, “good catch.” If you hear “koobangiraa nigayabira!” it means, “have a good catch!” When toasting in Itoman, say “kobangiraa!” with your glass. Please enjoy your awamori starting with the unique call.


Itoman Uminchu Kobo museum

Address: Itoman Umino Furusato Park (South side) 1-4-11 Nishizaki Town, Itoman City, Okinawa

Open: Morning 9:00–12:00 (last entry 11:30); afternoon 14:00–17:00 (last entry 16:30)

Tel: 098-987-1550

Closed: Monday (except holidays), Itoman Haarii (special boat race), Lunar Obon and Chinese New Years

We may close on days of special events


Admission: 300 yen for adults; 100 yen for elementary-high school students



Okinawa CLIP photo writer Mika Azumi