Hijigaabira, a walk in history

 

Shuri, former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom is known for its castle, registered as a UNESCO world heritage, the Shureimon gate of courtesy, its many shrines and temples, numerous historical sites and monuments, and its stone-paved roads.

The most famous of these cobblestone roads is definitely the Kinjo Ishidatami road, South-West of Shuri Castle. Stretching for almost 300 meters, this Ryukyu limestone slope reminds of the royal time of Shuri and is definitely a major attraction of Okinawa. Part of the Madama-michi, its construction is said to have started circa 1522. Selected as one of Top 100 Roads in Japan, it offers a great promenade and leads to others miscellaneous interests like the great Akagi tree site.

Because it was forced to house the Japanese military headquarters, Shuri, its castle and surroundings suffered terrible strikes during WWII. However, its citizens were able to reconstructed their town, preserving vestiges of the past so their town would forever be remembered as the once capital of the Ryukyu. Wandering in Shuri, time can fly and take you back to a time when nobles ruled the islands. While it is sometime hard to grasps how life was a few centuries ago, some paths allow visitors to imagine how it was in the old days. One of them is Hijigaabira-maai.

Much had been written about the history of Shuri, but this labyrinth like path, sometimes called the second stone-paved street of Shuri, is a treasure on its own, full of discoveries and wonders that deserve as much attention as its sister road of Kinjo.

Traditionally, the Hijigaabira historical walk starts at Shureimon and ends some 2 km away with the Hijigawa Bridge located next to Kinjo Dam. From Shureimon to Sakiyama and then the entrance of the paved street located next to the Awamori brewery, Zuisen, the path is indicated from start to begin by stone marks engraved in the road, helping pedestrians to follow the way. Below are the major sites and monuments found along the Hijigaabira-maai.

 

①       Shureimon

②       Sakiyama Hijya and Sakiyama Utaki

③       Entrance of the restored stone-paved street

④       Uchaya-udun Stone Shisa and Amagoi-taki

⑤       Site of Uchaya-udun (located within the Shuri Catholic Church’s grounds)

Going back on you steps from the church, a stairway takes you down the hills. The stairs are located between the stone Shisa and the church.

⑥       Tombs of Tasato Chochoku and Kuniyoshi no Hiya

Midway to the stairs, to the right is a small path that leads to the tombs of Tasato Chochoku and Kuniyoshi no Hiya. Tasato, together with Tamagusuku Chokun, diligently developed Kumiodori during the 18th century. Kuniyoshi no Hiya was a lord who lived in the 15th Century. His personage appears in a Kumiodori play composed by Tasato Chochoku, “Gishin Monogatari”.

⑦       Gima Shinjo’s tomb

Back to the stairs, to the left hand is Gima Shinjo’s tomb. Gima was born in 1557 and passed away in 1644. For the anecdote, kobudo master Nakamoto Masahiro sensei once said in an interview that in the past, when a man asked for the hand of a daughter, it was usual for the father to say: “Show me your family tomb” as the size of the tomb was a symbol of the importance and wealth of a family. When visiting the tomb of Gima Oyakata, one realized truly what Nakamoto sensei meant when making such a comment. Gima Shinjo is remembered as a grand benefactor of Okinawa’s industry. Indeed, he was involved with the cultivation in Okinawa of sweet potato (brought from China by Noguni Sokan and later labeled Satsuma Imo), the cultivation of cotton seeds that he brought back from Kagoshima, cotton cloth weaving development and the introduction of sugar manufacturing.

⑧       Tombs and cemetery

Back to the stairs, go down the hill and follow the path looking for the landmarks engraved in the road. From there, there are many tortoise shell tombs to be seen and a huge graveyard right before the entrance of the actual cobblestone road.

⑨       Hijigaa and the Hijigaabira slope

It is believed that this path was built during the 16th century. “Bira” means slope while “Hijigaa” is the name of a spring found to the east of the slope. Walking this path is like walking in history, as the road is preserved as it was centuries ago.

⑩       Hiji River Bridge

Walking down, you will arrive to a large street that swings around Kinjo Dam Park. This is where the historical walk ends, with the Hiji River Bridge at the bottom of the park. Supposedly built in the 17th century, the Ryukyu limestone made bridge and path are magnificent and were designated cultural tangible properties by the Okinawa Prefecture in 1959.

 

 

If you plan on visiting Hijigaabira, here is a map of the path, in Pdf format.

Hijigaabira map in pdf format