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Kakinohana Hījā
Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Spring water profitable for humans. A general term for springwater naturally flowing out on the ground surface, artificial boreholes, fountains welling up from the bottom of a natural cave, etc. It is not a river, although we use kanjis such as 井 (well), 井泉 (well water), or 川 (river) to write it.

In the past when obtaining water was a difficult and heavy labor, the , a water source, took a big part in the settlement of a community. A common well in particular was the center of the village, used for drinking water of course, but also to wash clothes, livestock, and crops, to bathe, and served too as a place to exchange information or to entertain themselves with gossips1.  
 Given the spread of waterworks, their importance has lessened in recent years although a considerable number are still used as the source of water supply, irrigation, and industrial water. Yet, many are completely abandoned and have turned into garbage dumps.

Famous include the Kanagushiku Hījā (Kinjō, Shuri, Naha City) known as the birthplace of papermaking in Okinawa, Sungā Hījā (Samukawa, Shuri, Naha City), Kadeshigā (Ōzato, Itoman City), Kin Ukkagā (Namisato, Kin), Gushiken Kā2 (Gushiken, Motobu).  Some used to be taken over temporarily by the U.S. Army as a water source, like the Yoza Kā in Itoman City. 

On Miyako Island, people had to go down to the bottom of a cave to bring out the water. Therefore, the fountains in the caves called Uri Kā (Descending Kā) were central. Especially abundant fountains are called Kura Gā (Dark Kā). Women fetched water, and they have suffered greatly from this task.

If you see a still well-kept, overflowing with clear water, then it will surely be excellent. Please have a drink. There even used to be a theory considering this lime-rich water as the crucial key to explain the outstanding longevity in Okinawa. More than anything, it’s delicious.
 When summer has not quite yet arrived, I passed by the Uegusuku on Kume Island while climbing up a slope under the grilling sun. A level lower on the roadside, I saw a , plenty of water which seemed so refreshing. I stopped by, attracted by its sign saying “drinking water.” Clear water, wavering, flowed out from the bottom of the fountain. With a closer look, I found a scad of tiny half-transparent shrimps. I drank from the ladle set aside and found it to be splendid. A moderate chillness, without any scent or irritation, with a faint sweetness (or rather say, that smoothness.) Most of all, how simply it soaked into my throat, my body. That is water. So what on earth is the liquid which comes out of the tap that I drink every day—such a cheeky question came up to me after having drunk six ladles, instead of just one. 

Editor’s Note:

  1. 「井戸端会議」(conference around the well) is a Japanese term to describe the housewife’s gossip exchanged between the chores.
  2. In Japanese morphophonology, the consonant in a compound word alters. In this case,  becomes .