As we have mentioned in previous articles, the village has been constructing a new governmental office. The building was completed just in time for its opening ceremony on March 7, 2016. An event that only occurs once every fifty years, the ceremony and festivities drew guests from throughout Okinawa Prefecture, and those in attendance enjoyed warm and sunny spring weather.
The former village-office building was constructed in 1966, prior to Okinawa’s return from American possession to Japan. At that time, Zamami was just beginning to put effort into tourism promotion and was about to see a diving boom in coming years. Fast forward almost fifty years to find an outdated concrete building at the end of its lifespan. The structure certainly served its purpose well, but the village was in need of a new municipal-government building that reflected the new era into which Zamami has stepped.
After dividing the village-office divisions and staff into multiple buildings spread out across the village, the previous office was torn down in the fall of 2014. Before construction could begin, the ground had to be tested for, among other things, the possibility of unexploded land mines. Okinawa, Zamami included, was very much a bloody battle ground toward the end of World War II, and prior to the construction of any public building in the prefecture, the ground must be checked for such war-related remnants as a precautionary measure.
With the ground checked and plans complete, construction commenced in June of 2015. While pictures might portray a smooth transition in building phases from the pouring of the concrete foundation to the final Ryukyuan-architectural exterior finishes, the project faced many difficulties inevitable in building on a tiny outer island. Construction halted for typhoon-related weather and dangerous sea conditions. Any supplies, equipment, and even personnel had to be brought from the Okinawan mainland and, in certain cases, the rest of Japan.
Construction came to a close toward the end of February, just in time for the big event. Exterior elements worth mention include traditional Ryukyuan architectural features such as the red-tile roof and shisa statues. Elements from more modern Okinwan architecture might be found in the flower blocks used on the front of the building or the expansive eaves designed with typhoons in mind.
The Zamami-unique aspects shine in the interior. Zamami supporter and graphic designer pokke 104 created original illustrations spanning all three floors. The first floor represents the ocean and all the creatures found within. The second floor boasts glass paneling for the atrium that depicts Zamami’s history and culture with images of Ryukyu Kingdom trading vessels, bonito-fishing activities, and more recent scenes of marine-based sports. Sunlight illuminates the third-floor illustrations of the village’s scenery, mountains, and creatures within. With designer bathrooms and accessibility features, the structure fits the form of its locale’s burgeoning era.
Visitors and guests enjoyed the perfect weather for taking in all that the aforementioned building had in store on March 7, 2015. Invitations went out to top officials from throughout Okinawa as well as the village’s own most-honored and elderly residents. The ceremony itself began outside with an unveiling of the “Zamami Village Office” sign. Middle-school students each representing one of the islands’ three schools had the privilege of executing the ceremonial display. The adults followed suit and the village’s mayor, assembly leader, a national-government Cabinet official, Okinawa’s vice governor, and one of the construction-company’s executives posed for a ribbon-cutting photo.
Guests of honor were then invited upstairs to the third-floor conference room for speeches. Words and gifts were exchanged to express the significance of the event in not only Zamami’s history but that of Okinawa and Japan as a whole. The middle-school students were far from finished with their duties and further participated in the ceremony by reciting a joint speech and approving of a time capsule scheduled for opening thirty years from now.
With the scheduled formalities complete, everyone headed back outside to enjoy the good weather, architecture, food, drink, culture, and arts. As one might expect of an official Japanese function, speeches were far from over, but any subsequent words more closely reflected the joviality of the day. As guests enjoyed Orion beer (a symbol of Okinawa) and Zamami-caught marlin sashimi, local performers took to the spotlight. Like many of Zamami’s parties, performances included traditional Ryukyuan dancing, hula dancing, and eisa drumming. Applause and cheers were plentiful.
As the clock neared four, the party seemed to flow toward the port as the last ferry for the day was about to arrive. Jolly and sun-kissed faces bid the ferry farewell, and visitors arrived back in Naha just in time to see the sun setting in the West over Zamami and the rest of the Kerama Islands.