Saturday, March 20, 2010

Okinawa

Time for the giant Okinawa post of doom! I narrowed my 250+ photos down to less than 70, so enjoy the slide show and remember that you can click on any photo to enlarge it!

First off, where and what is Okinawa? Okinawa is, as you can see in the map below, a series of islands at the Southernmost end of Japan.

What foreigners might not know about Okinawa is that those islands were not originally part of Japan and were, in fact, the Ryukyu Empire. It was an independent empire with its own language and government, and an important area for trade because it was between Japan and China. As such, everyone fought like cats and dogs over who would take over the empire. Japan has it now, but Okinawa can differ from Japan in various ways. Some of the Ryukyu languages are still in use, and people in Okinawa casually speak Japanese with a very heavy dialect that is difficult for mainland people to understand. Okinawa is also tropical, so the food is sometimes different. Traditional dress and architecture is different too.

I had been somewhat reluctant to go to Okinawa, because someone like me is obviously not into tropical beaches and getting a tan. I like my black clothes and shopping and chai lattes, thank you very much. But I somehow got roped and dragged to Okinawa by my friends Geri and Elena, and I suppose at least I've gotten it over with, lol. Everyone goes to Okinawa at some point, and I guess it's a place to visit at least once. But I've got some nice pictures, so let's take a photo journey down to Okinawa, shall we?

The plane ride from Tokyo to Okinawa's capital, Naha, is only a couple hours. Of course, I pulled an all-nighter, so I wasn't particularly thrilled during the plane ride. Our hotel was fairly nice, and a buffet breakfast was included. Beds were comfortable. Now, the one thing that made me feel any desire to go to Okinawa was warm weather (I despise cold weather). Okinawa is supposed to maintain a temperature in the 60's or higher all year because it's tropical. Well, leave it to irony that I wound up in Okinawa during the one cold fucking week of the year. Probably would've been warmer in Tokyo, where we still need coats! So that was annoying, but I tried not to let it get to me.

For starters, we took a three hour bus ride to the north of the big island to see the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is one of the biggest, and is most famous for being one of the only aquariums in the world with whale sharks (and it has the highest number of them to boot).

First, we have a squid made out of flowers:


And Geri posing with turtles made out of flowers:

Inside, there was a tank with various starfish and fuzzy sea-slug things. You could reach into the tank and touch or pick up anything you wanted. Wait... wait... I can't... I can't control myself... I... STARFISH LOVES YOU AAAAAAAGH (ten points to anyone who gives me a good Charlie the Unicorn one-liner in the comments, haha):

Here's a Big-Ass Shark:

A Big-Ass Sea Turtle:

I like this photo. It makes me look professional, lol:

Here's a Big-Ass Ominous Shark (I am quite the marine biologist):

These are literally jumbo shrimp. And when I say jumbo, I mean each of these shrimp is larger than a human. The picture makes it impossible to tell but this tank was floor to ceiling and pitch black (I lightened the photo) and these shrimps were each so huge that one antenna was probably as long as a child. The word for shrimp in Japanese is "ebi" and all the people around the tank were going, "Ebi? Ebi?!" in disbelief.

Here's a Big-Ass Crab that was in the tank with the Jumbo Shrimps:

Big-Ass Eels:

Tiny little wormy creatures of adorable-ness! Aaaaaaw!

Here is one of the aquarium's three most prized specimens: whale sharks. Whale sharks are the world's biggest sharks, but they feed by inhaling plankton like a whale. I believe this picture says everything about the size of the whale sharks and the manta rays in the tank, since you can easily see a human to whale shark/manta ray ratio:

In the same tank, we have an awesome leopard-spotted sting ray!

That giant tank also has a cafe next to it, so you could sit and eat lunch alongside the over-sized fish. The manta rays kept brushing up against the glass next to us. They seemed curious. Meanwhile, the whale sharks just drifted around the tank being effing enormous and having awesomely dopey faces.

Anyhoo, here's something interesting held at the museum: one of the few intact giant squid specimens:

There were also tanks for super deep-sea creatures, meaning these critters glowed in the dark:

Gloooooooooowing:

Anyways, back in Naha, our hotel was on Naha's main street called Kokusai-Dori (Kokusai Street). Here's a photo of the nightlife:

We managed to meet up with a good friend of mine named Mike. We lived together in Nihongo Hausu in Madison, and he's currently studying way up on Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, meaning we can't exactly say hi every day. But, by coincidence, we were both all the way south in Okinawa at the same time, so we met up for dinner. Leave it to Mike to know the most ridiculous (and awesome) place to take us for dinner: the Afro Nest:

All the employees of the Afro Nest have afros, and the place specializes in Okinawan food, good drinks, and a reggae atmosphere. Many of the people there were chilling or being very drunk and silly (a whole group of girls put afro wigs on their heads), but the "chill" atmosphere was kind of nice after rushing around at the aquarium all day.

As much as I would have loved to drink, I knew we had to get up early in the morning, so my friends and I stuck to delicious fruit juices, like pineapple juice and mango juice. But Mike got this really cool colored drink:

We then started ordering anything Okinawan that sounded good. We started with fried chicken and french fries. Doesn't sound Okinawan, probably, but unlike normal Japanese food, the fries and chicken had so many spices cooked into it that I almost wondered if someone hadn't tipped a whole spice rack on top of the basket. Deeeeeeelicious:

Then we ordered Okinawa's most famous dish: champloo (or spelled chanpuruu if you want to get all hiragana-specific). This dish is so famous that there's a very popular anime called Samurai Champloo. It's basically an Okinawan stir fry. In this case, the dish contained firm tofu, egg, vegetables, bits of pork, and one of Okinawa's favorite ingredients: bitter melon. It's not really bitter, but it's called that because it's a fruit that isn't sweet. It's sort of like eating a mix between a soft bell pepper and celery. Here's a photo of the deliciousness:

We also had Okinawan fried rice, which included avocado and some kind of tomato sauce:

We also had seafood pizza (already partially consumed here):

We liked the food so much, we ordered doubles on almost everything. Delicious! I was worried I'd hate Okinawan food because I hate tropical food with fruit in it (I love fruit, just not mixed in with other food - it's a pet peeve of mine) and I'm not fond of pork, which Okinawans love (the saying goes that Okinawans eat everything but the hooves and the squeal)... but the food was actually quite good.

Outside we found this really funny sign for a place called Henna Gaijin, meaning "Weird Foreigner" lol. I wonder what it is...

Anyways, we sadly parted ways with Mike and his infinitely awesome sense of humor and amazing ability to make me keel over with laughter by imitating South Park. After basically not sleeping at all again, our next stop was the Shurijo Castle Park.

A photo of Okinawa on the way. The mountains were very prominent here and heavily forested, reminding me strongly of Mexico:

Here's a Big-Ass Wall. I guess this used to be some big city wall or something. I thought it would've been funny if the Mongols had come like in South Park and knocked the wall down for fun, but no such luck.

Anyways, Okinawa is also known for its wild, venomous snake, the Habu snake. We frequently saw signs warning us to beware of Habu:

Here's a big gate of some sort, where we can observe the peaceful, historical tranquility of a butt-load of tourists:

These are big guardian lions statues. We saw these everywhere in Okinawa. It seemed like even regular homes had these statues positioned outside their front doors.


Another giant gate thing (I'm such a historian):

Here's the Shurijo Castle, or what's left of it. Seriously, the amount of construction happening in Okinawa is beyond annoying. I don't even mean the restoration of castles, I just mean everywhere. Every inch of the city is under goddamn construction all the time. It's like being back in Chicago.

Here's a closer shot of the castle so you can see the detailing. I like the sneezing dragon at the top, hahaha:

You could go inside the castle as well. I took a lot of cool pictures of this. You had to take off your shoes to go inside, but it was interesting to see the old offices and tea-making rooms.

I think this was the king's throne room. Very colorful:

This is a small model of what the castle grounds may have looked like while still in use:

Next, we headed off to an old structure of some sort. I think it's called the Tamaudoun. On the way, we found some totally awesome trees. Eeeeeevil trees:


Here's the old building:

There was a very pretty blue and red bird sitting on the stone wall:

We also went to the Shikinaen Royal Garden nearby. It's kind of a tropical garden:

A big stone bridge:

Another shot of the city (these photos make the city look nice, but it's actually kind of a dirty, ugly city for the most part. I kind of missed the clinical cleanliness and sterility of Tokyo):

We stopped off for some more food. Something that's great about Okinawa is the ability to have Mexican food. Tokyo is severely lacking in any form of Mexican food but, due to the fact that thousands of Americans are stationed in Okinawa, and the fact that Okinawa naturally has some of the ingredients that make Mexican food easy to make, it can be quite nostalgic for an American.

For starters, I had this drink made out of a popular Okinawa fruit called Shikwasa, which can only be found in Taiwan and Okinawa. It's similar to a lemon, but when used in juices or food, it tastes like a cross between a pineapple and an orange. Here's a glass of Shikwasa juice:

Taco ingredients! I had tacos for the first time in over six months!

Tacoooooos!

Anyways, here's a really pretty cat we saw sitting on a rock:

Here's a temple we visited. You can see a priestess walking around the grounds:

Funny story, but a woman was walking a corgi onto the temple grounds, and when she had to purify her hands and mouth, she purified the dog's mouth too. But it didn't work too well, cuz the corgi walked three feet, stopped, and pissed on the temple grounds, lol. Good dog!

We also visited a famous military cemetery on the grounds where Commodore Perry first landed in Japan to demand the country open up to trade. Here's a rock commemorating his (extremely rude) arrival:

Back on Kokusai-dori, we did a bit of shopping for friends and family. Here's a shopping street:

Later, we stopped for dinner. I decided to try Okinawa-style soba noodles. It was quite tasty, and the red ginger floating on top slowly turns the soup red:

Here's the color of my soup by the time the noodles were gone. Bad-ass:

The next day, Geri and Elena and I went to Manza Beach to see Okinawa's more natural beauty. Here's a shot of the ocean through the trees, with some rocks connected by rope in the distance (I think they're called "wedded" rocks, or something):

Because this is the wonderfully sterile country of Japan, the beaches were almost impeccably clean, with nearly no litter, and fresh, white sand:

There was even a wedding taking place on the beach!

The long, wide Pacific Ocean:

Some young men enjoying the sand and practicing volleyball:

More wide ocean:

Geri and Elena enjoying the scenery:

Here's a rock with a clam still stuck in it:

We also visited Gyokusendou, which is one of the largest and most extensive limestone caves in the world. Having visited this place, I'm thoroughly convinced that the world of Super Mario Bros. was designed after this place. The whole place was made of tall, phallic pillars that sparkled, with sparkly cave walls and slippery areas that look like ice. Seriously, it's the Super Mario Bros. world! I kept waiting for a big green tube to pop out of the ground and transport us away. Here's some photos (I brightened most of these, by the way):

The extremely ominous cave ceiling:

The Super Mario World is quite treacherous looking in real life:

Dagger ceilings:

Strange, sparkly white substances created by the dripping limestone:

Very angry ceilings:

I'm not sure why this water was glowing blue, but it was:

A very nasty overhang being admired by tourists:

And then our trip was over, and it was off to the airport to return to Tokyo! And no blog post would be complete without a picture of me riding a giant pikachu!


Anyways, so my sum-total review of Okinawa...

I guess, it's a nice place to visit if history or tropical getaways interest you. For someone like me who prefers the natural history of Starbucks over looking at old buildings, it's the kind of trip that should probably only be done once. I liked the scenery, though. I may be a pale goth kid who spends most of her time in malls or concerts, but I really enjoy gardens and clean beaches and wildlife. Because of that, I liked the aquarium and Manza Beach, and the limestone cave a lot. But let's face it, the hippie, reggae atmosphere of the place doesn't really interest me, and I'm not really interested in ever having a romantic getaway there like a lot of people do. Also, the city is dirty and there are almost no trains. I don't like cities where you have to rely on cars so much. Thankfully, taxis in Okinawa are fairly inexpensive. Also, the amount of tourists and tourism in the city makes Okinawa feel like a parody of itself. I can't imagine living there, because it would be like living in a cheesy amusement park. A little tourism is fine, but the way the whole place seems geared towards it (to the extent that a few people even tried to trick us tourists into doing touristy things we didn't want to do) makes the whole place a phantom of what it should be. Sometimes I felt like Okinawa sold its soul (similar to how I felt when I had to pay to see the Buddha statue in Kamakura). So I did it once, and I can scratch it off the list I never wrote, and that's that. Enjoyable for three days, but after three days I missed Tokyo terribly and was dying to go hop on a train and buy hair accessories. I'm really not a shallow, vain person like you might think but, what can I say, I know what I enjoy in life.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed my adventure in Okinawa! See you all whenever I have another adventure!

7 comments:

  1. The door can see into your soul! Oooh, the evil trees are cool. And a kitty. That would have been the highlight of my trip right there. But yeah, I'm with you in that I'm perfectly happy here in Tokyo and don't really care about sightseeing or historical whatever. I would've loved the fruit though, yum.

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  2. 10 points to Ashley for the Charlie the Unicorn reference, lol! Yaaay! Th-the door can do all that? Hehe, no.

    If you like the evil trees, I have a couple other pictures of them, along with another picture of the kitty. The kitty made my day too. I was just standing there like "hi pretty kitty! Who's a pretty kitty?!"

    You would've loved the fruit in Okinawa. The fruit stands are huge and things like Shikwasa are tasty. Geri and I had Okinawan mango chocolate that was to die for. I personally enjoyed the explosive amounts of purple sweet potato products, like purple sweet potato Kit Kats, ice cream, and tartes. But I agree that I'm perfectly happy in Tokyo shopping at 0101 One and eating pasta XD

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  3. This looks awesome. What a plethora of delicious things! ...As a side note though, bitter melons are actually quite bitter when raw. Like a green pepper but more so.

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  4. Ah, okay, that makes sense. I was wondering why the hell they were called "bitter melon" when they didn't seem very bitter, lol!

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  5. :P Not a case of wacky Japanese this time!

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  6. Awesome post! Dude, that aquarium alone would have made the trip worth it in my opinion! Those giant sea creature totally pwn'd! And the picture of the awesome trees is seriously beautiful. I feel bad for the roots being all eroded like that, but it sure is pleasing to my eyes..

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  7. If you like the wacky trees, I have even more pictures of them, lol!

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