Last Friday a group of seven of us from all around Nagoya travelled to Okinawa-Honto, the main island in the Okinawa prefecture. We went to not only sight see and experience the unique culture of Okinawa, but to also get a deeper understanding of the controversial political problem of the U.S. bases and air fields on the island. I had prepared the previous week by studying up and reading whatever I could find on the controversial situation, but I still got on the plane feeling ill-prepared, especially because it was only a few weeks ago that I learned that there WAS a controversial situation. This blog post is going to be split in two with this post being about the sightseeing and cultural experiences. The next post, I promise, will get political!
Day 1. We visited the main city of Naha in the southern part of the Okinawa-Honto Island.
Day 2-3. We spent these days in the beautiful city of Nago and came back to Naha at the end of the third day.
Day 4. We ventured off the main island to the sacred island of Kudakajima.
|These beautiful flowers were all over the island|
What we saw:
Okinawa is a really interesting place. The main city of Naha is a built up city which hosts the islands airport, many restaurants selling traditional Okinawan food, many U.S. Military bases, historical sites, monuments and really excellent souvenir shopping. Because of limited time we spent the majority of our time in Naha touring the historical and recent military sites. I would love to go back and discover what else this city is about.
The northern city of Nago is absolutely beautiful. Here we got to do a little more sightseeing. We visited the world famous Churaumi Aquarium, visited a beautiful Sei Ko Kai church and had lunch with the congregation there. We also got to visit some of the beaches and of course the local A&W restaurant which the locals call “AndO”. Outside of Nago we visited the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial. This moving memorial has the names of everyone who died during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. It was overwhelming to see almost 200,000 names of the Okinawan civilians, the Japanese Soldiers, the Koreans and the U.S. Soldiers who died during the 90 day battle.
Kudakajima, an island off the coast of Okinawa-Honto is breathtakingly beautiful. It is a sacred Island in Okinawan culture. During the Ryukyu Kingdom, the priestess and even the King would pray to this island from Sefa-Utaki a beautiful outdoor shrine made from huge boulders and beautiful views of Kadakajima. Because the island is sacred, you cannot take anything off the island. So although the shells were beautiful there, wishing no harm on myself or the Okinawan people, I left them on the beaches.
|Churaumi Aquarium. I could sit and watch the fish for hours.|
|On the ferry to Kadakajima|
|Can you see why I didn't want to leave?|
|One of many shells we weren't allowed to take off the island|
|There is some serious beauty in this place|
|I've never seen water so clear before|
|This is at Sefa-Utaki. The water that drips off of these stalactites into the pots below is holy water.|
|One of a pair of Shisa! I love these little guys.|
WHAT did I just eat??
The culture in Okinawa is different than anywhere else in Japan because it only became a part of Japan a couple hundred years ago. Along with Japanese influences, there are also Chinese and Vietnamese cultural influences as well. This is apparent especially in the food. While I was there we sampled every native Okinawan dish we could find. Some of the best were fermented tofu, hot papaya and carrot salad and the local fruits. The foods I would probably not eat again? Raw sea urchin, and pickled pigs ear (I’m told it’s an acquired taste!). I was so glad to be able to try all the new food!
While we were here we also got a chance to watch some local dances and learn about the Shisa, statues that are placed at the entrance way to houses (and gas stations, military bases, streets and schools) to ward off evil.
|See below the plants? That my friends, is pickled pigs ear.|