One of the things I was most interested in when we were planning this trip to Okinawa was its historical and current relationship with the US. I knew that the US had bases on Okinawa, and that it had been a major part of the WWII offense against the Japanese. I was curious to see what sentiment remained today around Americans, and also what remained of the history from that era.
We got to learn more about that when we visited the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum on our second day. It was a wonderfully detailed museum with plenty of English captioning, and we spent a long time watching videos, checking out some amazing audio-visual exhibits, and being absolutely amazed by the wealth and the breadth of history covered here. There was a stunning projector display of the weather patterns around the Ryukyu Islands (of which Okinawa is the biggest), as to where typhoons typically go, and currents which have guided historical trading patterns with the Chinese and the Japanese. The more traditional exhibits didn’t disappoint either, with a lot of detail about how Chinese influence led to imperial adoption of dragons and similar architecture, and Japanese influence led to imposing a feudal samurai-and-peasant structure. Continue reading Finding America in Okinawa.
Last night, we disembarked our plane onto a hot, humid tarmac way past dinnertime. This is one of the things that always makes me think of Asia. Yes, we are on the road again, and this weekend, we are visiting the Kingdom of Ryukyu, which is better known to the greater world as Okinawa. Okinawa is similar in some ways to Taiwan, being just a hop, skip, and 90-something minute flight away, but it’s also, as we are finding out, a distinct place all its own, even different from Japan.
We are staying in an Airbnb in Naha City, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, and the biggest city on the island. Okinawa itself is known as 沖縄, which means “rope in the sea”, as it is a long, thin island, with Naha City at its most densely settled bottom section. Other than being here just for a visa run (those pesky 90 day limitations on staying in Taiwan…), we figured it was a good time to get reacquainted with Japan and something new.
This morning, first up was my renewed appreciation of FamilyMart, which is bigger here than 7-11 as far as convenience stores go. Other than getting breakfast, I was hoping really hard that someone there had a pin which could trigger the SIM card holder on my smartphone. I needed badly to switch my Taiwanese SIM with my US T-Mobile SIM so I could have slow, albeit real data access here in Japan. Our smiling FamilyMart cashier rang up our breakfast rice snacks, was quite confused at my request initially (the language barrier not being the only problem), and then lit up with understanding, and promptly unpinned the nametag that she wore on her shirt. It was perfect for our uses, and in a trice had my SIM card slot popped out so I could switch it. We profusely thanked her (arigato being one of two Japanese words we know), and emerged triumphant to start our day. Continue reading Evening in Okinawa.
Hot springs are getting to be a habit with me, a habit I’m happy to indulge. I’m not used to having luxurious baths in steaming, sulfurous water every weekend, but it so happens that with a bit of foresight and planning, I can enjoy something that I would have nearly no idea how to accomplish in the US. Bathhouses aren’t a thing in the US, for a bunch of reasons. Why go to a public bathhouse when you can have a private bath at home, after all? Well, people are missing out on the communal hot springs experience, I tell you.
This weekend, I started off my trip by dipping in at the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, which is a good way to explain what’s going on here. Since the Japanese ruled over Taiwan, a century ago, they brought with them their own traditions of onsens, or hot spring baths, from Japan to Pautauuw. The native Taiwanese aboriginals near Taipei called this area Pautauuw, which means witch’s cauldron, because the area’s hot springs emit steam and a sulfurous smell. Over the years, the name was Sinicized to Beitou (which kind of means northern reach). In 1913, they built what’s now known as the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, but what was then merely one of the first formal onsens for government officials and important people of the like. The Victorian structure with brick and wide windows and terraces has been thoroughly restored, and inside, you can see the main bath, an open pool circled by pillars, which was for men only. A side wing features smaller pools for women. Inside the museum, you have to exchange your shoes for slippers that you wear throughout the museum, a nod toJapanese sensibilities. In one area, there is a large topographical model of how further north, waters from the actual thermal pool is piped down to spas, hotels, and hot spring locations. It was tempting to look at every single detail, but this weekend, I merely took some quick photos, and left gazing at artifacts and such for a longer visit. Continue reading Weekends at the Beitou hot springs.