Okinawa Part I

Shuri Castle, Okinawa
[Part I] [Part II] I've always been curious about Okinawa because of its (distant) relation to Taiwan as an island (once) occupied by Japan. My grandparents are with us on this trip, and it is their broken Japanese that we are relying upon to communicate with locals. They were forced to speak Japanese for the first 20 years of their lives, and although it has been 60 years since they had to speak they seem to remember a surprising amount. Soon after the end of Japanese occupation, it was Mandarin that was forced on them. Strangely, when they try to speak Japanese it is often Mandarin that comes out, and they are sometimes not even aware of the mistake.

We flew in early on the 16th, dropped off our bags, and took the monorail to Shuri Castle, the old palace of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Although it was pretty much destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, it was faithfully rebuilt in 1992 based on old records and photographs.

Shuri Castle, Okinawa

In the evening, we wandered around the DFS Galleria for a bit (ugh) before arriving back at Kokusai-Dori (International Street), where we walked around some more. I like the night aesthetic of Kokusai-Dori. Many of the stores and restaurants feature wooden fascades illuminated in red, mixing an old and modern look. Some of them reminded me of places you might see in a toned-down version of Blade Runner. (Of course, Tokyo is the ultimate for that sort of aesthetic). The streets are full of young people walking around -- variations on the ubiquitous Japanese student look. To my eyes, the people here look like they have a bit more "islander" in them than do normal Japanese folk. I'll bet they would naturally be a bit darker in complexion if their Japanese-ness didn't force them to be so preoccupied with being pale.

This is what we see from our hotel room

Today, we spent 7 hours touring war memorials and then walking around at what turned out to be basically an amusement park.

The first stop for the day was Himeyuri monument, a memorial for two hundred female high school students who were forced to work in army field hospitals located in a series of caves. As the Japanese began to lose the Battle of Okinawa, the students were told that they were "on their own." Most did not survive. Photographs, video footage, and physical remnants made the exhibit powerful and depressing, but it was very educational and worth the trip.

We also visited the Peace Memorial Park, which lists the names of all soldiers and civilians lost in the battle (around 200,000), and the Former Navy Underground Headquarters, an underground tunnel system that served as the Japanese navy's headquarters during the war. After the war, the remains of 2,400 people were found in the underground tunnel system. Those who were not killed during the battle committed suicide, and the walls are pocked with holes from the suicide grenade blasts.

Cornerstone of Peace at the Peace Memorial Park

Former Navy Underground Headquarters

We also were conned by our driver into paying for a 20-minute glass-bottom boat ride to look at a dead coral reef. Luckily, my family knows nothing about reefs or fish and were delighted to see pretty much every animal that flocked to the food our driver was sprinkling out of his window.

Finally, we saw a brewery for Okinawa Awamori liquor, which contains preserved Habu snakes, poisonous pit vipers found in Okinawa. A proper bottle of the liquor actually contains an entire Habu snake inside.

Habu snakes in a tank (for display only, I'm sure)

I tried some of the liquor. It wasn't a big deal...

[see all photos @ flickr]

(by the way, this is the first post to come from MarsEdit)