Okinawa’s original dōjō

Previously I wrote about Okinawa’s earliest forms of community organization called Makyo. The article received only very few likes and seriously I don’t have any clue as to why this is so.

Because the most important part of the article is found in the adjunct.

It is about the holy sites called Uganju which, located at the foot of a great tree or rock, roughly encircled those old original villages. The Uganju were closely related to the Utaki and the Okinawan villages from earliest times through to the 20th century.

Uganju 御願所: generic term of places used for prayers for divine assistance and wellbeing, often connected to Utaki.

These places were described by Chamberlain in 1895:

“Large open grassy spaces, often appearing as glades in the forest form a characteristic adjunct to Ryukyuan villages which perplexed the early foreign visitors.”

The functions of these areas were plentyfold.

“Called ‘race-courses,’ these spaces also serve a variety of other purposes. Here rice is laid out to dry, and the village council meets – or met in old days – goods were bartered, justice was administered, rewards and punishments meted out, festivals celebrated.”

As of February 1854, Perry’s Fleet Surgeon Dr. D. S. Green in his report described

“Open and level grounds found in populous neighborhoods, which seem to be designed as arenas for athletic exercises and games. These are some hundred yards long, and some twenty or thirty wide, and, being perfect level, are well adapted to racing, whether on horse or foot, wrestling &c., and to ball-playing.” (Cf. Hawks 1856)

In more recent history the oral tradition of early 20th century bōjutsu masters had been handed down: their training took place in front of the Uganju. Before the training they would fold their hands in prayers, and afterwards the students were taught (Cf, OKKJ 2008). This is the tradition of Mura-bō, which greatly helped to revive modern, more martial bōjutsu (Cf. Taira 1964).

first dojo ever

From the above we can see that conceptions such as Uganju in name and function had survived a thousand years in Okinawa. It may be called Okinawa’s original dōjō, yet just as a simile since — just as so many other things — conceptions were simply completely different back in the kingdom. Modern words do not apply well there without explicit terminilogical definition.

By the way, the first real modern dōjō in Okinawa was opened in 1898.

It was a jūdō dōjō.

© 2017, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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