Day 7: Okinawa

I slept in nice and late compared to usual since my arrival in japan, partly because of my flight. Finding that I was down to my last set of clean clothing and it was time for laundry I set out to find where I could get my laundry done. Little did I know that in Japan the 2 days after new years day are usually spent with family and so all but the 24 hour mini-marts are closed, including the laundromats. This forced me to use the somewhat expensive laundry service from my current hotel, but since my next hotel has coin operated laundry I was at least able to have only a minimal amount done here, enough to last me until I’m back in Osaka.

Today I was feeling pretty adventurous and set out for Ryukyu Mura, an open air museum. The only way to get around in Okinawa outside of Nara and its single monorail line, is by bus. Unfortunately for me in Okinawa almost nothing is in English or even romanized, so I had to figure out the bus line, departure times and departure locations by recognizing the kanji(Chinese word alphabet) and hiragana(syllabic alphabet). Talk about a stressful way to travel. I managed, but the bus ride was nearly an hour and a half, and the fare came to 1020yen(about $9.75). The Ryukyu are the indigenous ethnic group of Okinawa who trace their roots to a mixture of Japanese, Polynesian and Chinese. The people themselves look somewhat like Hawaiians, but sadly do not make up a large portion of the population anymore. Their people have an interesting history worth reading up on, and at one point were quite prosperous before being invaded by Japanese warlords at the end of the Edo period, and subsequent oppression under the Meiji reform. Japanese during the Meiji era did a pretty good job of destroying as much of that culture as they could forcing Japanese cultural identity and language on the islanders, and 1/3rd of all Okinawan’s and were killed along with almost all of their architecture destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. This is part of why I was so interested to visit this museum, even though my guide book describes it as ‘touristy’, its a chance to see what is almost. Also after WWII, American occupation of Okinawa continued after mainland Japan was turned over to the Japanese to govern, and many attribute how Okinawa is lagging behind Japan in development to this. Okinawa feels more like a second world country, than a first world economic and social powerhouse like mainland Japan. The US military still has a very strong presence in Okinawa, and about half of the passengers on my flight were military. It was really quite obvious when the baggage came off the carousel and half of the bags were jungle green. As for the park touristy is an understatement sadly, the place was like Disneyland with shops and ways to take your money any chance they could fit them in. However, there were a collection of 12 houses dating back from 1800-1910, and a lot of information on the lifestyles architectural techniques, and the crafts practiced by the Ryukyu, and thats what I came for. When I arrived they were just about to perform some traditional Ryukyu music and dance, which I really enjoyed. I’m going to try to incorporate one of the movies into this page. I then walked around the rest of the grounds and took in the sights and sounds. Eventually it was time I moved on, and I wanted to go see the aquarium at the north of the island which is very famous for having giant tanks, and even whale sharks. I’d heard of the aquarium even before I had started researching what would be nice to do in Japan. I hoped on the next bus headed out to Nago Station where I could get another bus to the aquarium. After getting all the way to the top end of the island, I found out that the aquarium closes at 5:30, and it was going to take me until 5 to even get there, maybe later… That was a total let down, so I caught the bus back to Naha where my hotel is. On my way back I was going to stop in at the local convenience store for some dinner to avoid the hefty hotel prices, and noticed that there were actually some stores open. I took a look and there was a noodle shop among them, I decided to be brave and give it a try despite not being able to read a word of the menu. After looking lost for a bit, I asked ramen kore o kudasai(please can I have ramen), the owner sort of laughed and said ‘zis iz ahhh soba.’ I nodded and then asked for soba and gave a bit of a laugh. As the owner explained in broken English and bits of Japanese they serve Okinawa style Soba. I enjoyed it a lot and headed back to my room.

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