Friday, December 25, 2009

A Thought at Christmas Time

One of the monuments underwater at Yonaguni is a pair of stone pillars with a narrow slit between them. At least, that is how they are thought to have looked when they were still standing. One idea concerning them suggests that the narrow--and very even--space between them might be related to the sun's position in the annual calendar.

Certainly, the ancient peoples of the world had a more intimate relationship with the sun than we seem to have today.

For instance...

Saturnalia—the ancient Roman festivities that took place in mid-December—may be the earliest verifiable ancestor of our Christmas/New Year festivities. Evergreens and holly probably have more to do with this tradition from frosty Europe than with the events in Mediterranean Bethlehem, as they symbolize faith in the return of the sun’s warmth and the regeneration of all that is green and growing, not to mention edible.

Japan has a tradition of reverence for the sun, too. Just look at the national flag—a red circle on a white background representing the rising sun. One of Japan’s preeminent geographers, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, wrote in one of his works that this showed a certain ecological wisdom. The American environmentalist Hazel Henderson would agree. Asked to place an economic value on solar energy, she replied, “Should we figure in the value of pre-warming the planet?” Without the sun, we might as well be Pluto.

Japan, too, tries to celebrate Christmas, but the festivities are more like Saturnalia—a way to brighten up a cold season that contains the shortest day and the longest night. Frankly, I like it. I like the idea of taking the given circumstances and making something out of them.

Makiguchi, the Japanese philosopher who gave our ancestors credit for recognizing the worth of solar light and warmth, didn’t advocate worshiping the sun as a god/goddess. Instead, he advocated a philosophy that asked, “Given your circumstances, what are you putting forth? What are you creating? What value are you adding to society?”

I like that thought a lot. Joy, cheer, an appropriate gift, breaking bread together! There are so many ways to put forth creative contributions out of our own particular circumstances.

Happy Holidays to All!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Giant Zipper in the Earth's Crust

Why are the ruins at Yonaguni underwater? This is a big question. The easy answer is the global warming of an ancient era that raised sea levels and sunk coastal settlements. The more complicated answer concerns crustal movements--the changes that happen when the Earth's tender skin wrinkles or cracks.

A rare opportunity to watch crustal movement in action is happening now, in the desert of Ethiopia. A volcanic eruption and the flow of magma that split a rift through the desert has been likened by the scientists observing it to the opening of a giant zipper in the Earth's crust--one that is some 35 miles long.

Please follow the "tiny url" like below to see the whole story.

Or, try cutting and pasting the original:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Natural Arch vs a Man-made One

This is a natural arch, easily created by nature from coral-origin rock. The arch in the photo is on Tokunoshima, an island between Okinawa and Kyushu. Yonaguni's submerged ruins have a different kind of arch, one created by rocks piled on rocks. That kind of arch is a little harder for nature to make, but a simple accomplishment for human builders.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Annual General Meeting (2)

The 4th annual meeting of the Marine Cultural Heritage Research Association was over in a jiffy. The main news was the new camera we had to buy in order to have our underwater research broadcast on TV. How cool is that?

We now own a high-definition underwater video camera--worth it because Channel 12 (Tokyo) broadcasts our research every other month. It cost almost as much as we have--I mean had--in the treasury. It's worth it because research has to be recorded.

This past year's research focussed on the submerged ruins off Chatan, on the main island of Okinawa. Chatan is not Yonaguni, and not being Yonaguni is both the good and the bad news. People are curious about Yonaguni, so not doing more there is a letdown. On the other hand, Chatan is easy to get to and, therefore, more divers can get involved.

Getting involved is good. A diving group from the University of Tokyo has offered their assistance. A group of independent divers from Osaka has also offered theirs.

MaCHRA is alive and growing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Annual General Meeting

I'm off to the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa for the annual meeting of the Marine Cultural Research Association. We'll hear what's new in Yonaguni.

You'll hear all about it on this weblog next week.

Monday, June 1, 2009

One Island's Experience

Near Papua, New Guinea, there is a chain of islands that is expected to be underwater in another few years. Twice already the residents of the worst case island have tried to relocate to larger islands in the same ocean neighborhood. Twice they have been chased back to their original homes.

This story (reported by Neil MacFarquhar in the International Herald Tribune, May 30-31, 2009) about the Carteret Islands raises questions about the Yonaguni experience. The times may be different, but human nature is probably still the same.

Did the people of Yonaguni, like today's South Pacific islanders, know their homeland would end up underwater? Did they succeed in an orderly evacuation to a new home? Were they welcomed with open arms or were they driven away?

There are stone tablets in the collection of the Okinawa prefectural museum in Naha that seem to be telling a story in pictures and symbols. In his book, Dr. Kimura interprets the message as a tale of a hasty evacuation.

The thing is, the tablets are inscribed in a lost language. No one knows for sure if that was the last thing the people of Yonaguni ever wrote. Until the Rosetta Stone turned up, however, no one knew for sure what was written on the Egyptian pyramids, either. (Rosetta Stone: created in the 2nd century, BC, in Egypt; deciphered in the 19th century, CE, in France)

All the world's mysteries are not yet solved. Who will succeed in unraveling this one?

Meanwhile, in the South Pacific...

Some people are looking around for new homes. Who will welcome refugees by the hundreds--make that 200 million within the next 40 years, according to the International Organization for Migration--when their islands slip beneath the waves? These are the islands you see on picture postcards--lots of white sand and crystal blue sea, a few palm trees, a ramshackle wooden deck.

So beautiful! But when the seasonal high tides roll in, they almost disappear. Almost...

How many years before they drop the "almost"?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Living Geology

So much about geology is speculation about what might have happened in the misty, distant past. That's why the story about the glacier melting in Alaska at this very moment is so fascinating.

What happens when a glacier melts? Where does the water go? Obviously, it goes into the ocean, but then what? Does the ocean get deeper?

That's hard to measure, but in Alaska, the one thing that is easy to measure is that the land--not sea level--is what's rising.
(link to NY Times

What used to be a salmon stream is now a grassy path. What used to be a golf course with a driving range that flooded at high tide is now getting new links. This is all happening now and over the past fifty years.

Fifty years is plenty of time for people to react to their new geographic reality. But what about Yonaguni? When it went the other way--when it submerged--did it happen slowly enough for people to react? Or was it a sudden, disastrous geologic event.

No one knows. Yet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Time Out

It's Golden Week in Japan--a holiday studded spring break.
Yonaguni Tales will be continued after Golden Week.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Underwater Relics--What's There?

Awesome! That's the first reaction to the submerged ruins off Yonaguni island in Okinawa. The second reaction is, why are they there? Who made them? What were they for?

As a first step towards answering all the questions their existence raises, we need to know in concrete terms what we are dealing with. That is why the work of the survey team, led by Dr. Masaaki Kimura, now professor emeritus of The University of the Ryukyus, is so important.

What, exactly, is down there, and how big is it?

Sometimes the team literally jumps in and measures things with a tape measure. Can you imagine standing still against the powerful stream of the Black Current while you hold your end of the tape against the rock being measured? Talk about awesome, it takes SCUBA skill and nerves of steel to come back with the data. The survey work began in 1992.

Systematic photographic surveys began in 1997. Again, awesome is the word.

As one of the photographers told me--a non diver--you do not roll off the boat and drop like a stone straight to the object you want to photograph. You and your equipment are at the mercy of a current that whips around the rocks like a freight train roaring downhill with the brakes off. It gets really interesting when you and the other members of the team, all carrying one essential piece of the necessary equipment, get separated. You can't exactly dial each other on the cell phone.

Now that the data fills several books and the film data would take almost a month to see in its entirety, it is easy to forget how very hard it is to acquire any data at all.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Marlin Fishing

Something old, something new...

Marlin fishing is considered something new in Yonaguni. The island's reputation for "big game" fishing took off after the 1930's. A thousand pound fish certainly qualifies as big. Is it that marlin didn't swim there until the 1930's or that no one noticed they were there?

The Yonaguni ruins' popularity has been soaring since the turn of the millennium. It's not that they weren't there. It's just that nobody noticed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Home, Sweet Home

c. 10 millennia ago