Tomb Construction: Tear ’em down, build ’em up

My living situation is one that you might imagine you would find in a horror story. I live on a hillside in Ginowan in the center of the Okinawan equivalent of a cemetery.

The tombs that I have the pleasure of looking at every day, as they are visible from almost every window in my house, are quire old and undoubtably date back to pre-war times at very least. This is why I was surprised to see that one day a bulldozer was parked outside one of the older style tombs in my neighborhood. I soon learned that this beautiful set of tombs would be torn down.

This is most definitely not something that you see every day so in the interest of curiosity I started taking pictures every now and again. My thought process was that if they were going to rebuild the tomb I could share with those of you how it was done. Luckily I was right, they were rebuilding the tomb and I can share with you the process start to finish.


The process begun by tearing down the old tombs. For me this was a sad day because it felt as though history was being torn right out of the hillside and reduced to rubble. Regardless the family felt that this was necessary and so in came the bulldozers to begin the process. Within only a day or two the beautiful old tombs were in small manageable bits and within a week or so pieces had been removed from the site altogether. 





After about a month of pounding away with the bulldozer for about 8 hours at a time a compartment like shape started to form in the hillside. This looked very similar to the shape of other tombs in the area, particularly turtle back tombs, however it seemed odd because that style of tombs (to my knowledge) are no longer permitted in Okinawa due to the amount of space they take up. Nevertheless the shape that this tomb would be taking seemed massive.




Slowly a platform was developed and support structure was built. Unfortunately for the crew (and for us) there was a lot of storm activity during this section of the tombs construction which set the crew up for a great deal of setbacks and also concerned a lot of us who live in the neighborhood because many of the loose pieces of wood that you see in this image were left during typhoon conditions. Luckily there was no damage caused.



Once the concrete for the base of the tomb was poured and set it was time to start building the structure of the tombs themselves. Originally the team of men working on this tomb had spent about 3 months building the structure of two tombs. This was similar to what they had just knocked down months before. However, something must have been wrong in their calculations and/or plan because they then spent about 2 weeks knocking down all the work that they did and rebuilding it up again which took another few months.


Finally after about 7 months, two attempts and construction starting at 6:50AM every morning the tomb started to look like a tomb. Of course although it had taken shape there was still quite a way to go. The tomb had to be sanded, painted and a canopy had to be installed. Then once the entire process was finished there was a ceremony where the remains were brought back to the tomb.

So that’s it. . . . . the construction of a tomb start to finish as viewed from my living room window. I have to say the tomb turned out beautiful although there is still quite a large part of me that wishes the family would have kept the tomb which had been standing strong here in this hillside for years and years.




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