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.→
While living in Asia means that we have to do without some Western amenities (like an oven), Steve and I have gotten quite used to a few innovative things here. We’ve also learned that necessity is truly the mother of invention. Asian cities are some of the world’s most densely packed places, and constrained natural resources and space made these innovations not only helpful but necessary.
One of the first things that we saw in Japan (literally) was a toilet with a small faucet and sink on top. We were at our host Ken’s house, and I swore up and down I’d get a photo, and of course, I forgot, but luckily, plenty of other people online have documented these toilets. Much like some European houses, Japanese toilets tend to be in a different room from your sink and shower business, so to make it easy for you, when you flush, the water comes out of the faucet. You can wash your hands, and the dirty water will flow directly into filling the tank. Pretty brilliant. My family uses a number of water-saving techniques in the bathroom, but it’d just be simpler if versatile water usage were the norm that we strived towards!
I smell faintly of sulfur, which makes me intensely happy. It is because I’ve fulfilled one of my World Tour bucket list goals already: visit a Japanese onsen. Well, it was technically a sento, which is a public bathhouse. Onsen are baths that are fed by hot springs. Both are intensely awesome, and I’m so glad that I got to visit one in Japan.
I thought typhoons were like a cooler version of hurricanes. Of course they’re actually just as annoying and miserable. Today we got caught in Typhoon #18, which means a lot of rain, some wind, supposed train delays (but not really), and more rain. We said goodbye to Tokyo Ken this morning and left on the Shinkansen (bullet train), arriving in Kyoto about two and a half hours later. It was fast.
We’ve been in Tokyo for about 28 hours, give or take a few, and have had a number of exciting adventures and trials already. However, I’m really barely functioning given the amount of sleep I’ve had and the amount of jetlag that I’m dealing with.
Let’s try to detail some of what has happened so far. Lessons learned: Do fly Malaysian Airlines. They offer free wine and beer, which makes any flight, especially trans-pacific ones, go faster. Customs is much more casual here, as compared to China. Or even compared to our border crossing in Vancouver, Canada. Nevertheless, it took us an unexpectedly long time to reach our Couchsurfing host, Ken, by JR Railroad and Tokyo Metro, which are two of the rail networks here. We crashed last night, and this morning, got up with the sun, feeling remarkably fresh after 5 and 1/2 hours of sleep. We set off to Shibuya this morning, where we enjoyed breakfast at McDonald’s and internet at Starbucks, took some pictures of the famous Shibuya Scramble, and then set off on the road to investigate Tokyo.