Surprising find at Okinawa temple


OKINAWA: An ancient blade of a keris found recently at the royal Enkakuji Temple grounds near the 15th century Shurijo Castle might unravel the ties the Malay world had with these southwestern islands of Japan. 

As the war-ravaged Enkakuji Temple was being restored, construction workers stumbled upon a protruding porcelain pot handle at a spot where offerings were made to the gods. 

The ensuing archaeological dig unearthed nine other items, including the wavy blade of a keris, foreign to this part of the world. 

SOMETHING DIFFERENT: A staff member of the Okinawa Prefecture Archaeological Centre showing the blade of the keris found at the Enkakuji Temle grounds.

Historians believe the keris could be from either Malacca or Java as Okinawa and the its surrounding islands under the old Kingdom of Ryukyus had diplomatic and trade ties with ancient cities and ports in Asia, including Malacca, before it became a part of Japan in 1879.  

The blade measuring 22.1cm from the tip to hilt was found without the handle and sheath, as the wooden parts had been destroyed.  

According to the Okinawa Prefecture Archaeological Centre officials the blade was found buried along with other items, including a clay plate with carvings of a dragon shaped boat, a glazed pot, a gold-plated door hinge and a metal door skirting. 

The castle restoration work started in 1989 and the Shurijo Park was opened to public in 1992 while restoration work at the temple is still ongoing.  

Prof Dr Kurayoshi Takara a historian from the University of The Ryukyus said the discovery had not been publicised much and is unknown to people outside Okinawa and Japan. 

He believes the discovery of the blade of a keris would spark international interest among historians and archaeologists to determine its origin. 

“I personally believe it could have been from Malacca because the Ryukyus Kingdom had started trading with Malacca in the 15th century,” said Prof Takara, who has been to Malaysia and Malacca to carry out research on the ancient ties the Kingdom of Ryukyus had with Southeast Asian kingdoms. 

From historical records, Prof Takara said, the Ryukyus had started trading with Siam (Thailand), between 1425 and 1570, Malacca (1463-1511), Patani (Southern Thailand) (1490-1543) and several other areas in Indonesia (Palembang, Java and Sumatra) and Cambodia. 

“Records also indicate Ryukyuan junks went to Malacca every year for 49 years and carried out trade with local merchants, Arabs and Indians. 

“They would bring gold, silver, copper, tin, and Chinese ceramic from mainland Japan and China and trade them for ivory and wine,” he said, adding that there were also correspondence between the rulers of Malacca and Ryuyukus.  

Malacca was also known for its high quality wine (believed to be nipah wine), but later years Ryukyuans started buying it from Thailand when Malacca stopped making it. 

Okinawa now has its own rice wine known as awamori and there are about 40 factories producing them.  

Prof Takara said the Japan-Asean Exchange Year 2003 is the best opportunity to get students in Asean countries and Japan to carry out research work in understanding the different cultures and history. 

He said the printing on fabric, locally known as bingata, is similar to batik printing in Malaysia and Indonesia, but no records had been discovered to show bingata originated from Southeast Asia.  

A visit to a rice wine factory located at the foothill of the Shurijo Park revealed that drinking awamori has become an Okinawa tradition. 

A awamori factory owner Takeshi Sakumoto said the consumption of the beverage had become part of local culture, with people buying and storing away a bottle or jug of awamori every time a child was born and drink it when the child reached adulthood at 21.  

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