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.→
I was at a loss for where to go and what to go today in the morning, but recourse to the old standbys of TripAdvisor and such yielded the National World War II Museum. I was impressed by the immense ratings that people gave, and thankfully, it was only a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel in the Central Business District. So my mom and I made the trek, and as recommended, ended up spending the whole day there.
As a museum, it is absolutely immense. There are five separate buildings – several we didn’t need to go into because they hosted the theatre and restaurant, but the others we all ended up seeing. We saw several large exhibits and some really innovative components, all in exquisite detail and with many descriptions, uniforms, artifacts, illustrations, and audio-visual clips or short movies. The Home Front exhibit showed the war effort at home, from ration coupons to recruiting posters for the Women’s Army Corps (“Before she married, Mommy served in the WACs in the Philippines.”) They detailed collection of even household fat and how it was rendered into glycerine to make bombs. The scale of the war effort was truly astounding. We also saw the D-Day Exhibit, which went into exactly how it was conceived, structured, and how the decision was made. We learned that the British and Canadians were assigned to Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and the Americans to Utah and Omaha. What I found fascinating was the amount of preparation that went into it beforehand – how bombers tried to knock out German weaponry first and then paratroopers were dropped into Normandy ahead of time to secure roads and towns. By the time that June 5th dawned, many Allied forces had already come into Normandy. Continue reading The National World War II Museum.→
It’s midnight, and we’ve had a tiring day. For the last two hours, we’ve been sitting around putting together the puzzle I brought along – even though it’s only the third day of our cruise and vacation, we’re about 60-70% of the way done! At the same time, there’s been this karaoke going on downstairs almost immediately below our room in the Pearly Kings Pub, which ran through all the popular songs but is over now, thank goodness. No more drunken crowds singing out loud to Uncle Kracker.
This morning, we got up bright and early, and had a long travel to the Tulum Mayan ruins on mainland Mexico. We docked in Cozumel around 7 am, which is an island, and immediately to a medium-sized ferry to transfer to the mainland. I brought some Dramamine to ward off potential seasickness, and took it going and from the island, but mainly just resulted in me feeling very, very tired the whole day. We had a 45-minute ferry ride and then an hour-long bus ride before we arrived at Tulum. Our lively tour guide Liliana took us around Tulum, a really interesting Mayan complex housing the elite, that was tucked away high on the coastline. It was gorgeous there – all the original palaces and temples were made out of limestone and some even retain their original carvings and formations. Tulum itself was positioned right on the coast next to the water but also at one of the points in the Yucatan Peninsula that the sun dawns on first. We walked with the tour guide for a while, and then we walked on by ourselves. My mom visited several years ago when she and my dad vacationed in Mexico, so we walked by ourselves around the complex. It was pretty crowded – full of people from all over. I heard a French girl of about four year old having an epic meltdown between her parents, screaming and crying, “ATTENDS!” in a gut-wrenching voice. It was pretty funny. The crowds were not quite as bad as I’ve seen in Taiwan and China, but bad enough here. We were trying to get to and from more quickly, and kind of ran into some crowds. Iguanas lounged everywhere, and had the run of the palaces and temples which people weren’t allowed into. Smaller iguanas were the females, and larger iguanas, sometimes twice the size of their female counterparts, were the males. They had also many more spikes all over their body. My mom must have taken a hundred pictures just of the iguanas! Continue reading Cities of the past and present: Tulum and Belize City.→
We braved the north of India for nearly a week to visit the holy city of Amritsar and to see its two great sights: the Golden Temple, center of the Sikh religion, and the Indian-Pakistani border at Wagah, which holds a much-vaunted closing ceremony. One of those sights we got to enjoy very much, as we visited the Golden Temple the second night we arrived.
We stayed in a hotel barely minutes away from the Golden Temple. As soon as we were headed inside, I felt the atmosphere change. Though people surrounded us, their glances were more frank and curious than probing and assessing, and no one approached us to ask if we wanted to buy something or if we needed a taxi. Wonders of all wonders! Here, few were curious visitors like us — many more were believers and true Sikhs. Sikhism dictates that inside the temple, all must go barefeet and with their heads covered. (Hence the turban you’ve probably seen Sikh men wear.) At the entrance, we approached the shoe storage center to hand them our shoes and receive a silvery token in return, carved with elaborate numbers. Steve also stopped at a bin filled with squares of orange cloth and bandannas, and fished out one to wrap around his head. He looked a little like a pirate!