National Geographic : 1969 Sep
Before World War II, horse-drawn carts traveled the island's few roads. Today the number of motor vehicles tops 100,000 and climbs by 1,200 a month. Not surprisingly, the fastest-growing business on the island is automobile repairing. Used-car lots dot Highway 1, along with beauty parlors, tailoring establishments, sou venir stores, dairy bars, restaurants, pawn shops, and businesses where you can rent practically anything from a kitchen spoon to a living room full of furniture. Japanese signs have translations in English to attract American customers. The results can be delightful. A hardware store near Ka dena carries the declaration "Bolt Sell Store." A craftsman in Naha proclaims "Juwely Make & Fix." And a furniture shop at Oyama advertises "For Lent-TV." But my favorites have to be the placard reading "Auto De filers"-for "dealers"-and the highway sign warning "Plenty Curves At Farwerd." Brute Strength Decides the Winner The Oyama TV sign caught my eye when Keisei and I went to a natural amphitheater off Highway 1 to see an Okinawan bullfight. Here it is not man against bull, but one bull against another (pages 442-3). I got a pre view explanation from Ryuhan Yamaguchi, whose black-and-white animal was getting a rubdown with wisps of grass in the shade of an old parachute tied to some trees. I asked what made the animals fight. "It's just their nature to fight when they see another bull," he said. "They lock horns and push until one gets tired and gives up. "Training usually begins when they're two years old. Handlers walk them in wet sand to strengthen leg muscles, and make them push against a truck tire tied to a tree, or against a cliff, to make their necks strong." Just then a handler took the black-and white's nose rope to lead him to the arena, a circle of leveled earth in a bowl of small hills. Spectators, mostly men, sat on the high grass of the slopes, or perched on the gray stone of tombs built into the hillsides. "You see family tombs all over the Ryu kyus," Keisei said. "Some are just caves with walled-up fronts. Others are like pointed-roof houses, or have a rounded shape that gives them the name 'turtleback' tombs. "Funeral customs are changing, but it used to be families spent more on their tombs than they did on the homes they lived in. If a boy asked a girl to go to his family tomb with him, it was considered a marriage proposal because 438 of the saying, 'If you want to know what kind of relatives you're getting, visit the family tomb.'" A shout from the crowd around the bull ring brought my attention to the pit, where the black-and-white bull had tangled with a wiry beast whose cinnamon hide turned ebony from streaks of sweat. Handlers-one to each animal-tugged on nose ropes, stomping the earth with bare feet and shouting "Hiyasa, hiyasa" in encouragement. "The word doesn't mean anything. Wow, look at that!" Keisei exclaimed as the cinna mon bull slipped a horn free and, hooking wickedly, drew blood from the hide of his opponent. Horns engaged again and the push ing match was renewed. "It isn't often a bull gets injured or killed," Keisei reassured me.