The Tsukazan Box
October 6, 2019

Seems that Rob Oechsle always has something very interesting and off the beaten path to share with those of us who retain our sincere curiosity regarding issues of our old "homeland" - Okinawa.
Here's another of his fine offerings:

(Story and text by Rob Oechsle who lives on Okinawa)

"FREEWAYS, BACK-HOES, and OFFENDING THAT WHICH IS SACRED -- a True Story of Modern Civil Engineering vs the Ancient Gods of Okinawa.

If you lived in Okinawa, you know that there are more little Shrines and Sacred Groves than you can throw a stick at. They are in every village, and every place, and are older and more venerable than anything that exists in mainland Japan.

Here's a story about one of them.


Back in the early 1990s, I was standing along Route 507 in southern Okinawa, while an elderly gentlman pointed my eyes to a wooded hill, and (while laughing) said,

"The Japanese Government says they want to cut through that mountain, and put an Expressway there. Are they crazy ? You can't cut that mountain. That place is sacred. That's where the Gods live. If they try to do that, they'll be in big trouble".


By the end of '93, road cuts and bridge pillars were already dotting the landscape, as the construction of the Naha Airport Expressway had begun in earnest.

Eventually, the road crews did reach this spot, and the old rumors that had once boggled the mind of that old-timer on the side of the road turned out to be true.

However, the engineers were not as fearful as the old man, and figured the top of their sloped road cut would miss the "Sacred Altar of Tsukazan" (Kubo Utaki) by a good 20 meters / 60 feet or more, and leave plenty of forested hilltop as a nice buffer zone.


But for some strange reason, the more they cut into that hill, the more trouble they had. Equipment kept breaking down. Back-hoes wouldn't start. Members of the road crew were getting injured. And... weird things occured.... so they say.

Finally, the National Road Department consulted with the locals. The Shaman, Yuta, and Priestesses all had their say.

The Gods were angry.


It wasn't just the Sacred Shrine on top of the hill that was home to the ancient Spirits. It was the whole hill. And the earthly powers-that-be had cut right into it, without first performing any sacred ceremonies, nor bringing the requisite offerings to the invisible ones who inhabit the long-sacred mound.

These things were belatedly done, but it was not enough.

Speaking through the voices of the village priestesses, the ghostly Spirits demanded that the sun-bathed slope that had so rudely been cut away, be replaced on top of the road when all was done.

The National Road Office obliged, and, at a cost of half a million dollars reworked the road bed, foundations, and retaining walls, in order to build a roughly 60 meter / 200 foot "Box Tunnel" over the road --- for the sole purpose of replacing the "stolen mountainside" back on top of it as best they could.


Once this was done, work proceeded without a hitch, and the huge concrete "box" remains to this day as a testament to supremacy of the Okinawan Gods over the arrogance and impertinence of the National Road Planners.

Seen from the sky, the green and grassy "Hillside" on top of the "box tunnel" is obvious. The Gods accepted the engineers feeble restoration attempt at a practical apology, and --- at least at this spot --- they remain at peace until this very day.

The National Road Office in Naha told me they believe this is the only (ahem) "concrete example" found on Okinawa of such a run-in between the natural and spiritual worlds.


The next time you are traveling along the Naha Airport Expressway, and happen to pass through this mysterious, four-lane concrete "Box", er, "Tunnel", er "Bridge" that seems to have no immediate function or purpose, now you know what it's really all about.

The small SHRINE is right HERE.

All else can be seen around it. If you wish to visit the Shrine, you can park on the sidewalk along the north side of the hill (Route 82), and walk up the stairs and pathway to the very end.

Besides the old man who first got me interested in this almost thirty years ago, and the National Road Office in Naha, others at the Haebaru Culture Center and Musem, as well as the Tsukazan Village Office, were helpful in answering all of my question about the "Tsukazan Box" along the Expressway."

I've adapted and embellished this from GOOGLE MAPS.

The "Tsukazan Box" covers the Route 506 "Naha Airport Expressway" in Tsukazan Village down in the Haebaru District.

Although there might be others, this is the ONLY shrine I've ever seen on Okinawa having FOUR altar stones in it --- all the rest that I'm familiar with have only THREE stones. Tsukazan Village takes both this and their Gods very seriously.

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