Summer camp classes ended on Friday, and Saturday around lunch time I started the trip to Okinawa. The flight itself was a short hour and a half from Taipei, and I arrived in Okinawa around 8:15pm. Originally, Rebecca and I were going to meet up near the mono-rail. After clearing customs, I was glancing around arrivals looking for a restroom when I heard someone calling my name. Surprise! She, and her friend - Angela, were waiting for me there. There were some short discussions about whether we should eat first or check in first. Check in first won, so it was off to find the hotel. First stop, the mono-rail. It was maybe a half hour ride before arriving at our stop, and then a fifteen minute walk from there to the hotel. As we walked, we noticed that the neighborhood was getting interesting. We looked at each other, made some jokes, and kept walking. Eventually we found our hotel and worked on checking in. Some of my friends from Team Taiwan were also coming up to Okinawa (although they'd arrived earlier in the day than I had) and were staying at the same hotel as us, so we were trying to explain to the hotelier that the second half of our group would be arriving later, but that they didn't have a Japanese phone number, so that there was no way to get a hold of them. Thankfully, both Rebecca and Angela speak Japanese, so we got it was all squared away. The rooms were simple, a little old, but clean. The three of us dropped our bags off and headed off to a nearby restaurant called Steakhouse88, one of the few restaurants still open by this time. Much to my surprise, aside from a lot of steak, tacos and something called "taco rice" were on the menu. Of course, I had to try this. After dinner, we went back to the hotel (and the other three girls had arrived), and hung out for a bit before calling it a night.
|Taco Rice: TexMex seasoned beef, lettuce, cheese, tomato, salsa, and rice|
The next day, Sunday, we had a lazy morning, with Rebecca and I finally heading out around 9am. We were supposed to meet up with Emily, Rachel, and SJ (who had gone to Emily's cousin's church in near the base in Okinawa) around noon. By the time we found a place to chill it was 8:30am, so we just sat at a Lawson's near the bus station and people watched. Once the others arrived we went to a little cafe for lunch before flagging down two taxis to cart the six of us to the Underground Command Center/Tunnels left from WWII that are open to the public to visit. Before going into the tunnels, we wandered around the memorial outside and the museum above ground.
After walking through the museum and reading about the war and how it affected the Okinawans, we went down into the tunnels. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be down there for any sort of significant amount of time. For many of the tunnels, they were just tall enough for me to stand up straight and wide enough for one man to walk through. Although there was a sign that said that even in WWII there was electricity down there for lights, there wasn't really any sunlight, so it felt dark. Things were cramped. To the point that one of the signs said that men had to rest and sleep standing up, because that was all there was room for. June 13, 1945, when the commanding officer realized that there was little chance of things ending well for the men in the tunnels, they committed suicide using grenades. There are still pock marks in the walls from when they went off. Walking through these tunnels was a very sobering experience.
|A sign at the bottom of the stairs telling us how far down we were|
|A passage from one room back out to the main hall|
|The commanding officer's room|
When we exited the tunnels, the world outside was crying. When we put in you could see the ocean from our vantage point, with the rain it was just grey in front of you. No city. No ocean. Just sheets and sheets of rain. Thankfully, when it rains that hard, it passes quickly. After putting Emily, Rachel, and SJ in a cab so that they could walk on of the touristy streets, Rebecca, Angela, and I started our walk to the mono-rail so that we could visit Shuri-jo Castle. On the way we were sidetracked for a bit as we stopped for a tea/coffee break at a cute little cafe. But, after a refreshing bite and caffeinated beverage, we were on our way again.
The castle is massive (as I suppose all castles are). It was an impressive sight passing it on the mono-rail and it was even more beautiful walking up to it. We decided to walk through the castle first. This is one of the castles in Japan that was built with a Chinese influence, so there were lots of reds and golds once you made it to the inner court. As I walked through the simple but beautiful wood and tatami mat business area, I could only imagine what it would have been like at the time, with the doors flung open, discussing business and foreign affairs, a beautiful view in front of you, and gentle sea breeze blowing through. After the business part, we came to the ornate central part of the castle. This section housed not only the throne room, and a lesser throne room, but was also were the women's personal quarters were located, along with where many of the celebrations and ceremonies would have taken place. The ceilings were higher on these floors and here was were the red and gold color scheme, along with ornate carving were at work. It was very beautiful!
|The second gate of several that we had to walk through to get to the inner palace|
|The outside of where the throne room, etc. were located|
|The throne room|
|The view of Okinawa from one of the windows at the side of the palace|
Unfortunately by the time we finished touring the castle, the walls were closed so weren't able to walk along those at all. But it was still really cool to see!
We stopped for sushi and then ice cream on our way to back to the hotel.
Monday morning I was awakened (for a brief moment) by knocking on our door. The typhoon that we'd all been watching for a week had changed direction just enough to be heading right for us! Angela volunteered to run to FamilyMart quickly and pick up some food, just in case. And we had a lazy morning, most of us sleeping in as the rain poured down and the wind howled outside. Around 10am I headed over to Rebecca and Angela's room to hang out for a bit, shortly thereafter Emily joined us. We watched Japanese television for awhile. First there was a program teaching English. And then we watched a cooking show teaching viewers how to make pudding (which here is more like flan).
In the afternoon, Rebecca and I watched "The Three Idiots" (there's nothing like a good Bollywood movie to take up an afternoon stuck inside). But by 4pm all of us were getting restless. We'd been cooped up inside for a long time. The typhoon was supposed to have passed by the evening, so we started discussing what we wanted for dinner. Several options were thrown out. Finally we settled on walking to a mall about 20 minutes from where we were (we all wanted to stretch our legs) and at least seeing what they had for food. Ultimately, we ended up walking a little further down the street to a traditional Japanese restaurant were we stopped to eat dinner.
|A traditional Okinawan appetizer: chicken cracker, which was purchased for us by another guest at the restaurant.|
Tuesday morning was an earlier start for everyone. Rachel, Emily, and SJ were off to the aquarium (which is quite the bus ride from our hotel). Rebecca and I started to head out for the day. Originally we were going to stop for coffee and then take me to the airport, but the coffee shop was closed, so we went straight to the airport. After checking in, Rebecca and I grab a bite to eat. Then it's time for me to get in the line for security (which was REALLY long since tons of flights were cancelled due to the typhoon on Monday).
|Although my flight took off about 45 mins late, at least the sun was coming out and I could see the sea from my gate.|
A few more days left before there start being office hours, and then school starts next week. Life is never dull.