TINIAN — A huge old gate standing in front of two old flame trees caught my attention when we went driving on the north field of this island one Sunday afternoon a few weeks back.
My companion, Tinian’s hot pepper entrepreneur Susan, drove fast on the rough and dusty road but willingly backed up the car when I asked if we could check the place out.
I’ve driven around Tinian’s North Field several in the past in a rented car and visited the more popular spots, but that Sunday was different because I was with buddies who are Tinian residents. Gone was the usual apprehension and hesitancy to explore new and strange nooks that I always experienced in the past because I felt that I was with people who knew the place well.
Entering the clearance from the main gate, we came upon another torii Shinto gate and several other smaller shrines on both sides of the inner gate.
The Shinto Shrine gets a fair share of tourists, especially Japanese, every day. We passed by a couple of cars parked earlier but they had already left when we arrived and we had the place to ourselves.
We gingerly approached the place and felt that it was almost a sin to intrude and step on the hallowed grounds. Save for the chirping of some birds and other insects and the clicking of our shutters, the place was silent.
According to the barely readable information printed on a marker, the NKK Shinto Shrine was built next to a spur of the sugar railroad and its name suggests that it was built by the Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha or NKK of the South Seas Development company in 1941.
From the marker, we also learned that the Japanese development on Tinian started sometime in 1926 when the NKK expanded its operations from Saipan. In 10 years time, about 80 percent of the island of Tinian was cultivating sugarcane. Tinian also embraced Japanese citizens and Japanese culture that time.
It was hard to imagine that once upon a time seven decades ago, ceremonial rites were regularly held on the very grounds where we were standing.
We were reluctant to leave but the sun was already dipping low on the horizon. I didn’t fancy staying after dark in the place.
We left the area with a certain connection to the past, rich with experiences. If you haven’t explored Tinian yet, you’re missing a lot. The island is filled with historical sites and scenic spots worth visiting.