Dragons abound in Okinawa

Photo by Shoji Kudaka
Photo by Shoji Kudaka

Dragons abound in Okinawa

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Japan

If you travel along the Nishikaigan Road towards Naha Airport from Camp Foster, on your left you’ll find a pair of giant pillars that look just like dragons. The location is near the cruise ship terminal at Naha Port.

The dragon pillars, which are 15 meters in height and 3 meters in width, debuted in December of 2015 to welcome those who come to Okinawa by airplane or cruise ship. The exceptional size of the dragons are the first thing to catch your attention, but the importance that this legendary creature has to the island should not be overlooked.

You can see dragons at many locations in Okinawa. Pillars that take the form of dragons can be seen at cultural sites, bridges, and commercial facilities on the island. The dragon boat races in Okinawa is a tradition that dates back to the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Even the logo of the Ryukyu Golden Kings, a professional basketball team based in Okinawa, is modeled after the face of a dragon.

The use of dragons in Okinawa can be traced back to feng shui, which was valued in the Ryukyu Kingdom. Feng shui is the Chinese practice of arranging items in their best possible locations and positions, according to Dr. J.H. McKenna of the University of California Irvine. Meaning “wind” and “water,” this art/science of placement is designed to lead people to better fortune and luck by understanding the flow of invisible energy called “chi.” The dragon was deemed a sacred creature that symbolizes the current of “chi.” 

Many building and facilities in Okinawa have dragon pillars at their entrances. Those who are familiar with Shisa dog as gate guards in Okinawa may wonder, “why dragons?” But no need to be surprised. All you need to do is to pray that the “chi” force be with you.

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