Song of the Island

Trip Start Jul 25, 2009
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Rue on the Beach
Okinawa Misako Hotel

Flag of Japan  , Okinawa,
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A rough translation of 島歌, Shima Uta, or Island-song, was in my hear just about everywhere I went on this island. Okinawa Prefecture (沖縄県,)is one of Japan's
southern islands that consists of hundreds
of the Ryukyu islands in a chain over 1,000 km long, which sits within spotting distance of Taiwan. With a low of 20-degrees Celcius (80 Farenheit) over most of the year, it's compared to Hawaii in both beauty and ease of living.

The people reflect this lifestyle of good food, great temperature, a respect and love for nature, and a long history of culture and internationalization. From its earliest times, the Ryukyu kingdom (and its several kings) would work on establishing good trade relations with China, Thailand,     and other Asian countries. This is why you would find so many differences in cuisine, architecture, clothing, governance and even dialect in this part of the world. It also has its own unique folk songs, dances, instruments, and liquor: Awamori (I will not dare to touch this stuff again). Karate was also created here. The reason for its creation is amazing. Way back in the 16 and 17th century, Ryukyu was a weaponless nation. Either for religious or political reasons (or both), they abandoned the creation and advance of war-weaponry. Eventually this backfired against them, and they were conquered by the Satsuman clan (present-day Kagoshima). Liking to keep these people without weapons, the Satsuma clan decided to keep that law in effect, but still took advantage of their lack of weapons. To fight back, many Okinawans began to develop Karate (which means empty hand) in secret and made this practice deadly. I'm not sure if they chased them away with their bare-hands of not, but Karate looks so freakin awesome!

Anyhow, enough of the history. I decided to go because I needed a vacation, wanted to see more of Japan, and have been dying to say, for once in my life, I've seen blue-waters. From where I live, it was rather inexpensive to grab a flight there and back with hotels. The only thing cost me under $800, for meals, gifts, hotel, flight, and rental car.

I arrived in Okinawa's capital, Naha, which is located in the southern part of the
island. After picking up the rental car, I set off for the small and secluded country-side condo we had in the northern part. The drive took about 3 hours (the scenic route), but the location was great and the people were friendly. I tried their local Chanpuru, a Korean or Chinese dish made popular in Okinawa, that was cooked with Goya--a bitter local vegetable. I grew to like this bitter vegetable over the next few days, as they even had ice-cream flavored with this veggie. Awesome.

The next day, I got up early and checked out the castle ruins. The castle's name is Nakijin, or the remains of it anyhow. The ruins date back to the 13th century, but the Japanese believe that it dates much farther back. This particular area of Okinawa was called the Hokuzan, and it housed three kings of the Ryukyus: Haniji, Min, and Hananchi (according to 14th century Chinese records). This particular section traded mostly with China, which would account for this Chinese/Western-style castle. The spirituality too, much like the rest of Japan, is very diverse. We had a tour guide show us around in Japanese, and she talked a lot about the various Gods they worshiped, and explained why the Women's Quarters were exclusive (they had the best view in the joint!). But since they are dead we were allowed in this time, and I took full advantage of camera-shots. After this, went for some ice-cream, and went to Japan's best aquarium.

well, it was the only aquarium I've ever been to in Japan, but the best I've seen so far! The one in Vancouver was great too, just different. This one has the Ocean Expo...a large surrounding park with various attractions, so much so that they have shuttle-buses running between the attractions. We wandered a bit, had some delicious Goya Chanpuru and some Chili-rice (I actually wrote Chiri first...dammit) at the cutest little beat-up restaurant we could find. The owner was originally screaming at us from our car to get us to pull in. We didn't at first: my tourist instincts took over. But on the way out, I decided to give it a go. It was fun! She had a chart up with the local-dialects and their pronunciations. They had an English menu. The owner was hilarious, and had a rich accent. It was refreshing, and I was definately regretting my decision to NOT put Okinawa on my request list, based on my teacher's recommendation that I wouldn't understand their dialect.

The aquarium itself was amazing. It's largest tank was HUGE (7500 cubic meters). There was so many various life-forms that I didn't recognize that I began to wonder if I was on the right planet. I was shaken by this doubt once I walked into a familiar area; the shark tanks. I'll never forget the first time I saw a shark through a mirror in my parent's cottage. Jaws is quite possibly the worst movie I've ever seen, but considering that I was only 6 at the time and had Care Bears, Sesame Street and The Dark Crystal to go on, it wasn't a hard comparison. (Oh and I forgot where my fear of snakes/worms came from until now: I also watched "Tremors" through a mirror at one point. i think I was caught, and that was the end of mirror-vision).

Tangent! So the next day, we stopped by a very beautiful tourist-spot on our way to scuba-diving in the morning. Once we suited up, we had a Japanese-speaking Ecuadorian named Toku give us the down-low. Once we were in, he took us very slowly, from adjusting to being in the suits underwater, and gradually giving us more freedom over where we went. I mean comon, i was breathing underwater! What a wonderful experience, I definately want to do it again...as soon as my ear stops hurting. I'm not sure why, but the pain was pretty tough underwater. I think I took a little ear damage, but the georgous blues and greens, and the various marine lifes made it all worth it. While underwater, we came across all sorts of beautiful life. The instructor busted out some weird fish/meat sausage roll, and started breaking chucnks of it in the water. The next thing you know, we were SURROUNDED by marine-life. It was amazing. I had fish swarming me, nibbling at my fingers, and we're talking colors you can only IMAGINE on an animal. It looked like some of the 1st-graders I teach coloured all over them (and they are jozu!).
Along the way, we came accross the classic mother protecting Nemo fish in the jelly-like stringy-plants that suck themselves in when provoked. She nibbled at our fingers to scare us away. Apparently, the father just abandons the fish after knocking them up. It's up to the mothers to stay by their side until they are ready to leave the jelly-plant. It's funny, because the movie switches that role around, leaving the father looking after Nemo to the best of his ability.

Oh and he communicated all this with underwater kid's doodle-pad.

Well, during my little poke-attack on Nemo's mother, a snake (slithered? glided?) by right in front of me. In a near panic, I made some noise and moved out of the way. I found out later that they were extremely poisonous. Definately a great nightmare-inducing memory, for my later run-in (Sunday) with a metre-long snake. This brown glory was perfectly disguised for his surroundings, and I nearly stepped right on him, but let out a squeal and jumped back after dancing a bit. He was just curled up, staring at me. I totally regretted wearing my sandals that day.

So back to Okinawa. After the Scuba lesson, we went snorkeling with a small family group, where we went into some natural caves and took in the beautiful sights from there. Pictures to soon follow.

We spent the evening going around Ryukyu castle, or Shurijo Castle, a National Heritage Site that was painstakedly reconstructed over four times, the last reconstruction due from WWII bombardment. It was beautiful. Almost all done in vermilion, I can only imagine how much work and money this took. Originally built in the 14th century, it went through a series of rulers through the 500 years until modern-times. Through trade with China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, you can see where the distinct culture of Ryukyu blossomed through the arts of lacquer ware, dyes and textiles, ceramics and music.
It was busy, but a beautiful day to take in the surrounding scenes.

We arrived at our hotel, took a cab downtown, and started shopping. We ran into a really cool old dude that was jammin on the 'sanshin', a three-stringed instrument similar to the Shamisen. He was playing some real old classics, and I was taking in his talk. He had a little setup, but didn't seem interested in money. He just wanted listeners. He had two benches set up for listeners, and he played well. He wouldn't accept my money. After trying some sweet-potato ice-cream, I went to a bar then headed home.

All in all, I was very very, very satisfied with Okinawa, and will go back again someday. They have tons of little islands I'm dying to check out. They also have Japan's oldest tree on their islands, a tree so old that it ressembles rock now. Would love to see that.

Well, there's always next time. Thanks for reading, more updates soon.
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