Scrolls offer glimpse into Okinawa’s past

February 12, 2013  |   |  Comments
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Two handscrolls offer exhibit guests a rare glimpse at the history of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Kingdom. The scrolls are one of the many priceless collections at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library.

The exhibit features two handscrolls, portraying Ryukyuan embassy processions on their way to pay tribute to the Shogun of Japan in Edo, or modern day Tokyo.

One of the handscrolls is from the 1670s and is about 18 feet long.

“The procession includes roughly 70 people, 70 Ryukyuans, plus a few hundred samurai, so you need about 18 feet to cover that many people,” said Travis Seifman, the exhibit co-curator who received his masters degree in Japanese art history at UH Mānoa. “And that is our 1671 scroll, which is one of the oldest scrolls depicting these kinds of processions.”

The scroll was recently restored at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum in Japan.

The second handscroll dates back to the early 18th century and is about 30 feet long.

“There are only a hundred scrolls depicting these Ryukyu processions that are extant in the world and we have two of them right here,” said Seifman. “So it is definitely sort of a rare opportunity to see about 17th, 18th century Ryukyuan, that is to say Okinawan, culture. What their costumes looked like, what their hairstyles looked like. The imagery shows you so much more than what a text could describe.”

The handscrolls are part of a February exhibit at the UH Mānoa Art Gallery titled, Picturing the Ryukyus: Images in Japan Artworks from the UH Mānoa Sakamaki/Hawley Collection.

“These two scrolls along with a whole bunch of books and different things are one of the largest collections of Okinawa related materials in the country, if not in the world, and we are extremely fortunate to have it here at UH,” said Seifman.

For most, these are not the images that come to mind when one is thinking about Okinawa.

“Okinawan culture, Okinawan history goes beyond just the more recent political issues and the war and like that,” added Seifman. “This is showing another aspect of Okinawan history and heritage.”

The handscrolls and exhibit made an impression on those who took the time to see it.

“It’s pretty interesting that you got such ancient artifacts,” said UH Mānoa student Janine Murray. “It’s amazing how you preserved them and how you can have a piece of the past.”

“They are so detailed and it really explains the way of life they had,” said fellow student Marcos Delgadillo. “Like I noticed one of the pieces had a number of women weaving from a tree, which is quite interesting.”

For more information on the exhibit and the Sakamaki/Hawley Collection go to the UH Mānoa Library website and, go to http://library.manoa.hawaii.edu/ and click on collections and then Japan.

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