Okinawa, The Land of Karate
Karate is one of the most popular martial arts in the world today. It was developed in Okinawa during the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom where it received heavy influences from Chinese Kenpo and Japanese martial arts. Though karate’s primary purpose is to protect oneself, it is also about training one’s mind and honing the inner spirit. It is for this reason that thousands of karate practitioners make the pilgrimage to Okinawa, considered to be the mecca of karate, to advance their knowledge and to seek out its wisdom from the land where it all started.
To firmly solidify its cultural importance, the Okinawa Prefectural Government established the Karate Kaikan, a facility dedicated to preserving and promoting Okinawa Karate to the world. Fittingly, the Kaikan is collocated with the Tomigusuku Castle site location, a historical landmark dating back to the days of the old Ryukyu Kingdom, thus lending important symbolism of karate’s origins and history. Within the facility there is a very large ‘Dojo’ training hall and a museum dedicated to the history and lore of Okinawan Karate. This makes the Kaikan the epicenter for continuing Okinawa Karate’s legacy. The facility is centered around 6 goals: 1) guide the individual towards a sound mind and body, 2) as its birthplace, promote karate to the world, 3) be a place where practitioners can gather and exchange knowledge, 4) train the next generation of karate practitioners, the inheritors Okinawa Karate, 5) guide those to nurture the ‘karate’ spirit, and 6) facilitate and promote karate training.
Next to the Dojo is the Karate Museum. Here you can learn about Karate’s in-depth history and lineage and experience some of the training methods that were and, in some cases, still used today, such as the ‘Kami’ gripping jar and the ‘Tetsu Geta’ iron sandals (footwear). You can also learn about Okinawa karate’s history via video in their small movie theater auditorium. Most of the exhibition items are supported by English subtitles. An audio guide is also available.
Outside the museum building and the giant dojo training hall is a much smaller building that overlooks the surrounding view of Tomigusuku City. It stands prominently dressed in red paint with its very obvious Okinawan architectural style. This building is known as the “Shurei-no-Yakata”. It is a dojo but preserved only for senior masters and special closed events.
There are other smaller training rooms fitted with mirrors and training equipment, conference rooms, a Karate Information Center, a reference room on everything about karate, a restaurant, and a gift shop of Okinawan souvenirs. The facility does offer karate experience trial lessons upon reservation and karate uniform attire are also available for rent. Upon request, practitioners are welcome to use the dojo for individual or class size training.
The Okinawa Karate Kaikan opens every day except Wednesdays and from Dec. 30 to Jan. 3rd, from 9:00 to 18:00 (last entry is 17:30). Address is 854-1 Tomigusuku, Tomigusuku City. Tel: 098-851-1025. The Dojo stays open from 9:00 to 21:00. Museum entrance fee is ¥310 for adults, ¥210 for High School and University Students, and ¥100 for Elementary and Junior High School Students. Training at the Dojo is available per hour for ¥160 for adults and ¥90 for kids and senior citizens. For more information, visit their website at http://karatekaikan.jp/
The 1st Okinawa Karate International Tournament will be held at the Karate Kaikan and Okinaw Budoukan from August 1st to the 8th. More than a thousand karate practitioners from all over the world are expected to attend. This kind of tournament is a rare. It is not often to have so many schools of Karate (流派 Ryuha) gather in one place for such a competition. If you are on the island, this is a great opportunity to witness such a momentous occasion, and even more so, being at the birthplace where karate took its first step.