Here is a recap of Okinawa goodness. I am dividing it up by days because I wrote a ton. I have also updated my flikr site again with even more photos!
We left Wednesday after school for Kansai Airport. Damien brought his tent which contained a hammer. He got stuck at bag search for several minutes. They were really caught up with the hammer. Finally, and in typical Japanese service, they politely told Damien he would not be able to bring the hammer, but they would give it to the captain and Damien could claim it when the plane touched down. We were a bit flabbergasted that they could be so impossibly nice, but sure enough when we touched down the yellow envelope containing Damien’s hammer was waiting for him at the terminal. Stop! Hammer time!
Our flight left about 7 and it took around two hours to make it down to Okinawa. We landed in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. All we had time to do the first night was find a place to sleep and something to eat. The place we stayed was a youth hostile called “Vamos.” It was very cheap; only about 1,000 円 ($10) a night. The accommodations were rows of bunks. There was a bunk on the floor, one in the middle, and a topmost bunk. The bunks were large and enough to comfortably fit a person and his/her junk. It was a standard futon on the hard wood. It wasn’t paradise, but it was cheap! We found a store that was still open, and I had gyudon and curry TOGETHER. My two favorite Japanese foods mixed, it was awesome. Then my friends fell into various states of drunkenness at a reggae bar and we went back to the hostel.
This was our first day out and about. Okinawa lacks a train system so we were stuck on busses. Until we discovered that a taxi split 4 ways equals about as much as bus fair and thus never stepped foot on a bus again. On our way to the Peace Museum we discovered that we could “rent” a taxi for a day. It was around 10,000円 ($100), but we were getting a ride, a guild, and splitting it 4 ways, it was a steal! We instantly rented the cab.
The Okinawa Peace Museum
The Museum was very well done. It was poignant and touching. Japan has a reputation for glossing over the war years, but I found the Museum to be fair. It was set in the shadow of the bunker where around 2,000 Japanese soldiers and officers committed ritualistic suicide after holding the Allies in Okinawa (and thus away from the main archipelago) for as long as they could.
The museum was very frank about the fact that the Allies used tactics such as indiscriminate targeting and incendiary charges, thus killing scores of civilians. But it also told of how the Japanese used Okinawa as a shield both figuratively and literally. Japan used Okinawa citizens as literal human shields for the Japanese troops, and the island as a barrier between the Allied fleet and the Archipelago. The footage, accounts, and pictures from the museum were very hard to take. The museum theme was about the horror of war, particularly on the civilian populace.
Yet it is not a museum dedicated to the suffering. It is meant to be a testament to peace. There were many exhibits showcasing Okinawa’s rebirth and the belief that Okinawa must bear witness to and show the world the horror of war. At the end of the exhibits about war is the poem (both in Japanese and English):
“Whenever we look at
the truth of the Battle of Okinawa
there is nothing as brutal
nothing as dishonorable
In the faces of this traumatic experience
will be able to speak out for
or idealize war.
To be sure
it is human beings who start wars.
But more than that
isn’t it we human beings who must also prevent wars?
Since the end of the war
we have abhorred all wars
long yearning to create a peaceful island.
our unwavering principle
we have paid dearly”
On the museum grounds stands an ivory white tower, with seven prongs. Each prong representing one of the seven seas. The most poignant thing about the grounds were the large black marble stones. It was reminiscent of the US Vietnam Memorial. On the stones are carved the names of everyone that died in the Battle of Okinawa. The names of the Allied Forces, the Imperial Japanese, and the civilians trapped between the two. The stones were a powerful reminder that even “victories” are losses. There was also a series of machines of war on display rusting to nothingness. There were two torpedoes, an artillery cannon, tank track, and, most chilling, the navel equivalent of the kamikaze – two fully steer-able torpedoes that would have housed Japanese navel men. The equipment was obviously on display, but it was not in a glorifying way. The devices were rusting away, and that was the point. The gun barrel was broken. The torpedoes were decayed through in places. The tank tread was not identifiable. It was such a subtle and powerful image. The Peace Museum is an example of how being in Japan can be both a painful reminder of the past and an inspirational glimpse at what could be.
The Underdark: Limestone Caves
After leaving the museum our tour guide/taxi driver took us to an udon shop. The Okinawa take on Japanese udon is interesting. Udon is a traditional wheat noodle dish of Japan usually served in a soup form often with a fish stock. In Okinawa they prepare the noodles slightly differently, and add chunks of pork to the stock. It makes for some delicious eating.
After eating, the cab driver took us to some limestone caves. This was a real highlight for Damien (Canadian Heat) and me. The cave was 800 meters (~2,400 feet) long. The stalactites and stalagmites ranged from small to massive. Usually Japan likes to put nature on a very tight leash. I was very happy to discover that the caves were different. For the most part they were in their natural state and allowed to remain that way. There were subtle lighting things done, a pathway to walk on, and the occasional trim job so that you wouldn’t knock your head on low hanging stalactite. There was also one area that was lit with Christmas-esque lights and had a Batman emblem. But that was all acceptable because 1) Batman does live in a cave. 2) The rest of the cave was left to nature so it was okay for one small section to get a bit of a tourist makeover. One of the coolest things was looking at the walkway. You could see new lumps of limestone congealing and forming new stalagmites right on the concrete/rubber path. We also saw some bats, an underground river/lake, cave fish and shrimp like things, and dark elves.
The caves were not the revelation in the unexpectedness of nature that Beppu was, but it was an incredible experience that reminded me that I really don’t know what my own planet is capable of. We also encountered some awamari the local firewater. Somehow the habu venomous snake is involved in making it. I took pictures of the snake curled up at the bottom of the bigger jars for sale. It can be up to 60% alcohol, so it is probably more vicious than the snake.
After the caves it was back into Naha proper for dinner. The absolute great thing about Okinawa is the food. They have two things that I sorely miss in Japan: tacos and steak. We gorged ourselves at a steak restaurant. It was a bit like a Mongolian barbeque, we ordered our meal and then a chief shows up with a lot of raw meat. He then cooks it right in front of you, doing all kinds of wild tricks with the salt and pepper shakers, knives, and food. There is a lot of twirling and throwing food into the air. It may sound silly, but Team Daito Massive was flabbergasted. Plus the steak was the best I have ever had. You might call the whole thing, “shock and ahhhhh this is good steak!”
Then it was back to our individual bunks to get some sleep.