I woke up about 10:00. After getting all my stuff in order I checked out and grabbed a taxi to my adventure by myself.
The indigenous people of Okinawa were the Ryukyu people. They were a sea faring nation that acted as a hub of trade between China, Korea, Japan, and the rest of Pacifica. Because of their contact with many cultures, the Ryukyu incorporated many diverse design elements into their style. Okinawa was annexed by Japan during the Meiji Restoration and the Ryukyu Imperial rule was ended. The Imperial Palace was completely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa. The palace has been painstakingly rebuilt. They built the new castle 76 cm higher than the old foundation, there is a point in the castle where you can look through a glass floor and see the old foundation. That was really cool.
Shuri-jo (the suffix “-jo” means “Castle” in Japanese, thus Osaka-jo is Osaka Castle) was strongly influenced by Chinese architectural style. It is reminiscent of the Forbidden City, though much smaller. Dragons adorn the palace. It is very different than Japanese palaces though. It seemed more relaxed. There were walls, but they were not as imposing or high. The grounds were more lush and beautiful. It felt more like a decorative place than a defendable position. It was built on top of a hill that overlooked the city of Naha and farther out, the sea. The castle was constructed using wood, which appeared to be lacquered in the Japanese style, and coral stone. The coral stone was really interesting and beautiful. I found Shuri-jo to be a very beautiful and pleasant place to spend my afternoon.
After Shuri-jo I went to the Imperial Tombs. It is a building at least 1000 years old built out of coral and limestone. To be in the presence of something that old, was pretty inspiring. That is 5 times older than my country! There were three vaults. The central vault was where the body of the royalty was placed until it decayed. The remains were then gathered and interned in a large erne. The erne was placed in the left chamber with all the other kings and queens of the Imperial line. The right vault was reserved for princes and princesses. We could not go into any of the vaults, but just seeing it from the outside was enough to get a sense of the place.
I went back into Naha and found a taco place and had a tuna taco, which was fantastic. I called my friends to see what they were up to. Much to my chagrin Flora had just headed out to Shuri-jo. I wish we had gone together. Chris and Damien were off to the festival.
The Others’ Adventures
The festival was a giant tug of war. The HUGE rope is a whopping 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter and 200 meters (600 feet) long. There are lots of little ropes that shoot off from the main rope. You pull on the little ropes. The two ends of the ropes symbolize “male” and “female”. Traditionally, if the female side wins there is a good harvest. Okinawa is famous for its sugar cane. The stuff is everywhere. At the designated time people start pulling the rope. There is a lot of rhythmic chanting to coordinate pulling. There are drums and beer to keep up the excitement. After a certain time limit a judge declares which side is the winner. People then go crazy and start cutting the rope apart to get souvenirs. Chris and Damien walked way with a few feet of rope each. They describe the process as immense fun, more than slightly dangerous, and a great way to spend an afternoon.
Because Flora has been to China and Korea I want to talk to her more about Shuri-jo. I have only seen traditional Chinese and Korean architecture through pictures so other than obvious things it was hard for me to tell where the influence was coming from with the Ryukyu castle. I hope that her first hand knowledge will aid me.
While the festival was going on I went out and about. I road the monorail from one end to the other. It afforded a different perspective on the city. I found it rather interesting, though not as interesting as I would have liked. I enjoy learning how normal people live in places. So seeing apartments, schools, businesses, and houses from the monorail gave me a little glimpse of what normal life in Okinawa is like. It is important to get away from the historical sites, neon steak houses, festivals, and beaches and see normal life as well.
During this time I also did some shopping. I had very limited space, so I was unable to buy very much. I saw an item that I knew would make a great Christmas gift so I bought it, and that was about it for my extra space! I also bought a Hawaiian shirt. In Okinawa lots of people wear that style of shirt. Chris, Damien, and I all have one now. Flora is a looser and is not in our Hawaiian/Okinawa shirt club.
We then all met back up for dinner. My cohorts were pretty broke – to much drinking! – so we opted for a cheap treat. That’s right: tacos! We went to a place called Tacos-ya. It was pretty good. The best tacos we had on Kume, but Tacos-ya was pretty tasty too. So for those playing at home I had: 3 steak meals and 3 taco meals. Brilliant!
We went back to the reggae bar my friends drank at the first night. I had my customary orange juice. Chris got horribly thrashed. Later that night he fell out of his bunk. Only his pride was injured.
All we really had time for was grabbing a quick brunch at MOS Burger, boarding the monorail, and boarding our plane. We arrived back in Osaka about noon. We went from the glimmering paradise to a rainy Osaka. Spirits were brought pretty low by the crummy weather. The vacation was definitely over!
Okinawa Odds and Ends
The American Problem
There are 50,000 Americans in Okinawa. At any one time there are approximately 2 million non-Japanese people in Japan. That means a massive 1/40 of the total foreign population is crammed into Okinawa. Many of the American military we saw were not the type you want to be representing your county. They were rude, sexist, and plain stupid. Okinawaians treated the four of us a bit rudely (by Japanese standards) until it was clear we were not US military. Then the people were perfectly delightful. Many bar owners we spoke with said that if military people come in, they ask them to leave. Because the “boys” end up harassing the other customers and get too rowdy. There are many places that refuse geijin (Japanese for “foreigners”) outright because it is too much of a hassle to determine who is military and who is not.
Okinawa is victimized by both sides of the Pacific. The main Japanese Archipelago dominates political discourse at a national level (the level that the military base problem must be solved), and the US doesn’t care that the personal are representing our country dishonorably and that it is a drain on Okinawa. Luckily, it seems that the Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, seriously wants to renegotiate where the bases are located. President Bush may be coming to the Kansai Region (where I live) November 16th on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. Koizumi has indicated that if Bush does come they will discuss the issue in person.
That's it folks.