National Geographic : 1945 May
Peacetime Rambles in the Ryukyus BY WILLIAM LEONARD SCHWARTZ A IERICAN landing forces, closing in on the Ryukyu Archipelago, which stretches in an arc for 700 miles be tween Japan and Formosa, have invaded an island group few foreigners ever visited. Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry based his squadron in the Loochoos, as the Ryukyus often are called,* during his famous journey to Japan in 1853-54. He closely studied this chain of some 140 islands, exposed reefs and rocks, mostly uninhabited (map, page 545). He found four-fifths of its land area and four fifths of its population concentrated in eight islands about the size of Rhode Island and, today, about as densely peopled. Perry wanted the United States to occupy the chief ports of the Ryukyus. But since 1878 they have been an integral part of Japan. Since Perry's time a few foreign mission aries have lived in the islands, an occasional foreign naturalist or explorer has made a brief stopover there, and that is about all. For the last decade or so, the Japs have blocked travel by foreign visitors beyond Shuri, the old capital (page 557). Reunion in the Ryukyus My three trips to the archipelago were for family reasons. From 1907 to 1915 the Schwartz home was the Methodist parsonage in a suburb of Naha, capital of Okinawa, prin cipal island in the chain. My visits meant a reunion (page 544). Father traveled in the Ryukyus in 1901, and our family has been interested in them ever since. Most of the islanders did not understand Japanese, so father and his fam ily settled there in 1907 in order to supervise the translation of the Scriptures, hymns, and prayers in the Ryukyuan tongue. An American was needed to overcome prej udices such as that of a Japanese pastor who refused to "dirty his mouth" with the native language of this, Japan's oldest colony. I first went to Okinawa in July, 1908, as a college junior on a summer holiday. The slow, small freighters serving the Ryukyus took on mails and passengers at Kagoshima, near the southern tip of Kyushu. Father met me there. We sailed on an old boat of about 2,000 tons. Our first port of call was to be Naze, administrative center of Amami O Shima, one of the northern islands. Sailing down Kagoshima Bay (Kagoshima Wan), we saw astern cloud-wreathed Kiri shima, on which the god Ninigi descended to possess Japan. We passed the aged cone of Sakura Shima, truncated at 3,668 feet, on the port side. At the mouth of the bay we left the extinct cone of Fuji-shaped Kaimon (3,032 feet) to starboard. Once out in the open sea, a head wind freshened into a gale, rain in sheets cut down visibility, and by night we were in a violent electrical storm. Our summer crossing began to be uncom fortable. First class on our old tub was a deckhouse floored with Japanese mats on which we sat and ate, and on which quilts were spread at night. Mere breathing made us hot. A Dubious Seasickness Preventive Few Japanese look forward to a sea voyage. Though a Shinto priest once explained that people wouldn't get seasick if they could always get the smell of the earth, we noticed that the Japanese seldom lifted his head from his own pillow, filled with soil from his shrine garden. I never before had such a passage even in winter. We arrived at Naze hours late, after our second sunset at sea. The weather changed as we entered Naze harbor, bringing relief from a pitching ship, but the July night grew all the hotter after we anchored. The town of Naze was awake and seemed inviting, so we got ashore in one of the first sampans which had reached the ship's side. Naze town, which has a punchbowl-like hill rising in its midst, climbs both sides of the wooded inlet that forms the harbor, but its few plain inns are near the beach. Naze is a lively place, from a Japanese point of view. The population of some 20,000 is crowded into a few square miles. With the temperature around 80 and the moon shining, itwastoohotforbedat10p.m. Leaving a bag at the Ikebataya Inn, we strolled into a town where wheeled traffic had stopped for the night, and a lightly clad crowd, silent because barefoot, moved past teahouses and sellers of watermelon slices or shaved ice. The inhabitants were talking in the Satsuma dialect, a sort of guttural Japanese, and fan ning themselves. Flat blue Japanese tiles cov ered the town roofs. Schools and government offices were white-painted European buildings, and the Catholic mission church had a square brick belfry. * Also spelled Luchu, Liukiu. Other names are Nansei and Okinawa, the latter from the largest island in the group.