Nirai Kanai: happiness and plenty from the out beyond

Island museum encounters: knowing the typhoon was coming fast, I run into the Okinawa Prefecture Art Museum before the grant deluge started. The building's outer form was fascinating but one of the things that caught my attention was the introduction to the Island's sea culture section, containing an expression I just heard this morning in an interview I had with a local FM person: "Nirai Kanai" (Happiness and plenty from the 'Out Beyond'".

The people of Okinawa once believed that there existed far beyond the sea a paradise of abundance called "Nirai Kanai". The sea, for them, could be a source of blessings and happiness but also a barrier, trapping them on their islands. But the sea was also seen as an "ocean highway", as their trading vessels rode the waves to exchange goods and cultural influences with other parts of north and south Asian.

For Okinawans, the part of the ocean with which they are most intimately connected is that portion inside the reef lagoon, called the Ino. Sheltered behind the reef from the stormy sea, the Ino is a fertile "ocean field", rich with edible seaweed, fish etc. I am loving these references to the sea and island life.

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