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A Fun Stroll Around Town to Answer All Your Questions on Okinawa [Naha Machi-Mai (Naha City)]
post : 2021.01.29 22:00
In Shima Kutuba (language of Okinawa), Machi-Mai is a word meaning “a stroll around town“. In these guided Machi-Mai programs, local guides with knowledge on the history and culture of Naha takes you around town on an informative and enjoyable walking tour. The duration of the tours starts from one hour and the rate is reasonable, starting at ¥1,000 per participant (¥500 for elementary school children, and free for children under school age). It’s a wonderful tour program that offers great insight into the city’s culture and history.
The walking tour course I’d like to introduce in this article is called, “What’s that? 25 wonders and mysteries of Okinawa”, which was given a special award in 2018 in a project that recognizes communities across Japan working to promote local tourism. While walking around various communities in Okinawa, you ‘re likely to come across things that pique your curiosity, and wonder what they are and what the meaning behind them are. The tour program attempts to answer these questions through fun and interesting explanations and by the end of the course, you’ll be on your way to becoming an Okinawa expert.
The meeting place for the guided tour is by the ticket gate at Makishi Station, right along Kokusai Street. This course, by the way, leads you through the interesting back streets of Kokusai Street, and for all the wonderful and interesting things that pop up on the walking course, the guide points them out like a quiz game, and explanations are given. There are several guides that lead the tour groups, but on the day that I participated, the guide was Suzuko Taira, a wonderful guide with a contagious smile. Including this course, Taira-san guides groups for five various courses in all, which include “Tour through the maze of Naha’s market (Machi-gwa)”, and “the pottery of Tsuboya—tour of Yachimun Street and Suji-gwa (narrow back streets)”, and others.
All the participants receive a handy guide map, and for those who wish, you can also get a card to collect points each time you join a tour. For every course you participate, you receive a point, and you can get a discount of ¥500 with a total of 5 points collected, or ¥1,000 off for 10 points. This point card system is popular with repeat participants. Of course, the discounts are great, but there’s actually a secret behind the color of the point cards that make this system more appealing. The more you participate, and the more cards you fill and renew, the card color changes, with the first card being blue, the second is red, then yellow, purple, and the fifth card is embossed with gold, red and yellow. The order of the colors reflects the classification of ranks, a system that was in place during the period of the Ryukyu dynasty that differentiated ranks of court officials. Apparently, at present, there are only a few people among the repeat tour participants who hold these special cards with the colors representing the highest rank in the royal court from the past.
Now, for the important details of the tour. Well, wait. I don’t want to spoil it for people who are thinking about joining the tour. But then again, if I don’t, then this would be pointless. Hmm. So, after a tug -of-war in mind, trying to decide whether I should, and how much I should introduce the tour, I finally reached a happy medium. I’ll introduce a very small bit from the 25 mysteries tour.
Let’s start with the photo above. For those of you who have visited the area, you probably already know. Actually, you might have seen this even if you haven’t visited yet. This Shisa is called Ufu Shisa. You may be familiar with the Shisa, but Ufu is an Okinawa word which you will learn on the tour. Normally, Shisa are placed in pairs, and the other half of this Shisa sits in the Tsuboya area.
Next is this sign. You may have seen it before, as they’re placed in several locations in town. This is actually the Naha citizen’s charter. There’s something unique about this, too.
Pop quiz: What is a traditional craft of Okinawa that many people consider buying as a souvenir? This particular craft actually doesn’t have a long history like other, but it is still designated as a traditional craft of Okinawa. The designation imparts the, at times, tumultuous past in Okinawa’s history that its people lived through.
And to the final spot that I will be introducing in this article. Okinawa was an independent kingdom several hundred years ago. Then, Okinawa was known as the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, and as many repeat visitors to Okinawa may already know, the Ryukyuan culture was greatly influenced by two nations. But even Okinawa experts and even those who were born and raised in Okinawa may have a hard time explaining about this shrine shown above. Where did it come from? What god is revered here? And what are those bars for?
Once again, I was enchanted with the deeply rooted history and wonders of Okinawa. Every time I see something, I discover something new, and each aspect is so interesting and captivating. I hope that you’ll find Okinawa to be enchanting just as I do. Thank you for reading this article to the end. Ippei nifei deibitan (thank you very much)! Cha-ganju de chibariyo (stay healthy and keep your spirits high)!
Naha City Tourism Association, Machi-Mai
Address: 3F Tenbusu Naha, 3-2-10 Makishi, Naha City, Okinawa
Inquiry Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Website (Japanese): https://naha-machima-i.com/
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda