Okinawa in Review
So, as I mentioned before, Star and I ventured out to Japan’s southernmost set of islands this weekend – and wow, what an amazing time we had. Sight-seeing, relaxing, shopping, perfect weather, quality time with a good friend – how much better could it get? Friday afternoon was spent shopping on Kokusai-dori (International Street) and trying to locate Coco Shanti, the charmingly (and affordably) hippie place we called home for the weekend. We got to know this street quite well during our stay and probably walked its length 20-30 times before our departure.
On Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early to pick up our rental car from the airport and our real adventure began. We started off by heading to the southern tip of the island to check out some of the war memorials. Okinawa suffered heavy losses during the last days of WWII, both military and civilian, with many people committing suicide on its coastal cliffs. We visited Himeyuri-no-To (the Cave of Virgins), a memorial for a group of about 200 women and children who lost their lives, and the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, which contains the Cornerstone of Peace. The latter monument records the names of all who died in the Battle of Okinawa (Japanese commanders, civilians, and foreign military personnel alike), arranged in striking waves of black stone tablets.
Then we moved on to Shuri Castle, the former seat from which Ryukyu kings ruled before Okinawa was subjected to mainland rule. The architectural style was much different than that of the mainland, with the Chinese influence really shining through. The most famous gate, Shurei-no-mon, appears on the Japanese 2,000 yen note.
With two major sites under our belt, Star and I stopped at an A&W restaurant for lunch – it was a drive-in, so you could actually pull in, order, and eat in your car (though we opted for the air-conditioned interior). Hamburgers and root beer were in order. After that, it was off to the Motobu Peninsula, where I visited the Churaumi Aquarium while Star napped on Emerald Beach. I thought the aquarium was really fascinating – and huge! I hadn’t been to one in years, so it was quite a treat.
Our final mission of the day was to drive along the Okinawan coast to the northernmost tip of the island, Cape Hedo. The scenery was stunning (Star has all the pictures though, since I was driving), and it was well worth the time when we got to the rocky cliffs and saw the bird statue we’d been looking for.
Two hours later, we were back in Naha and back on foot. We continued to sample Okinawan cuisine, which Star became quite fond of during her homestay seven years ago, and which I actually enjoyed as well. During our weekend, we had Okinawan soba (different from mainland soba), yakisoba, rafti (pork stew), zenzai (shaved ice with sweet bean), and chinsuko (yummy cookie). We also sampled Orion Beer, the local Okinawan brew. Anyway, we pretty much passed out after dinner.
Sunday morning we made time to shop along Kokusai-dori and Heiwa-dori, collecting the necessary omiyage to be able to return to our respective workplaces without losing face. Our mascot for the trip requires an introduction though – meet Goya Man (or Super Goya, as Star and I like to call him):
The goya is a bitter melon that is very common in Okinawa and Okinawan dishes. Rosalind and I actually cooked goya champuru in our cooking class. Anyway, the goya memorabilia gave us no end of laughs along the way.
Sunday afternoon marked our returns to Niigata and Tokyo respectively, and I came home to find the Kamo Spring Festival winding down (which was curiously similar to coming home and finding my roommates throwing a party). I managed to see some fun stuff there, but I think it’s best left to another post. This one has come to an end. :) Click here if you want to see the full set of photos from our fabulous weekend in the sun.