Thursday, July 2, 2009

Okinawa (Monday, June 29, 2009)

I owe this whole trip to Ruu and Futoshi for finding a cheap package deal, and setting the daily events up.  Otherwise, there’s no way I would have been able to afford the trip or have such a great time. 

We flew from Niigata to Naha on Friday.  The weather was horrendous, and there’s nothing that freaks me out more than turbulence – especially when landing.  After we survived the decent, I was up for anything – rain or shine, bring it on.  We should have known that this vacation was going to be a good one when our rental car turned out to be a bright green Mazsa Demio.  (Did you know that Mazda in Japanese is マツダ, pronounced Ma-tsu-da?!?! I didn’t!!)  There was a typhoon in the area so the weather didn't clear for the rest of the evening.  We walked around the touristy district of Naha, taking in the yummy treats: saataaandakii, chinsukou, purple potato tarts, Blue Seal Ice Cream (born in the US, raised in Okinawa), and shocked by the stranger treats: pig ears, pig face, pig feet, sea grapes, and ridiculously expensive pineapples and mangoes.  We met Nakachi, a friend of Ruu and Futoshi’s for dinner.  Nakachi is originally from Okinawa, and a newer helicopter pilot for the Japanese Coast Guard.  The place we went to for dinner was AWESOME!!  While listening to live Okinawan music (sanshin and taiko), we ordered every traditional Okinawan food on the menu and of course Orion beer and Aomori sake.  Nakachi taught us how to do the traditional Okinawan dance and whistle so that we knew what to do when we got up on stage.  I’m in love with the Orion Beer song.  Fantastic first night!!

Saturday was mostly dedicated to the beautiful sea surrounding the island.  We took a boat out around the Karema Islands to go snorkeling and SCUBA diving!!  I felt a bit bad that I was the only uncertified diver among the Aokis, as they decided to drop back with me.  We snorkeled and saw the most beautiful coral reefs and rainbow-colored fish.  There were clown fish, angel fish, red fish, blue fish, green fish, spotted fish, stripped fish, fish that did something different with their fins, dangerous fish, and we even saw a manta!!  Because I’m new at the SCUBA thing, we took it real slow.  It was the strangest feeling to sink instead of float and walk around on the ocean floor.  Un-popping my ears were also a bit embarrassingly difficult but when all was said and done, the ocean floor was STUNNING.  Our skin turned white and we saw all the fish we had viewed from above up close.  We played with a sea anemone and the little Nemos living in it.  I’m really going to have to go all the way and get certified one of these days!!  After our short SCUBA was over, I accidentally fell asleep on the boat deck and got RED.  Whoops!!  We went out again with another one of Futoshi’s old co-workers for an all you could eat, all you could drink delicious meal.  Another EXCELLENT day!!

On Sunday, Nakachi picked us up bright and early for an eating and sightseeing tour of the central west coast of Okinawa.  Our first stop was to stop on the side of the road to pick up some delicious vanilla and shikuwasa ice cream being sold by middle school girls.  The ice cream was so good because it was a perfect combination of sherbet and creamy ice cream.  Next, we got some even more delicious Okinawa soba.  Contrary to its name, it’s not quite soba.  It’s more of a light broth ramen with noodles thicker than ramen but thinner than udon topped with loads of pork.  After that, we spent most of our time at the second largest aquarium in the world: Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.  I can’t even begin to describe how magical this place was.  It was especially interesting for us because we were able to say things like “we saw that fish yesterday!!” and “remember when we played with that fish?!”  On the way back, we stopped briefly at Nakijin Castle – mostly to eat an azuki kakigouri, or red bean crushed ice desert.  It was not too sweet and perfectly cold for such a HOT day.  On the way back to Naha, Nakachi wanted to show me the American village so that we could eat the famous ‘Taco-Rice.’  It's all of the Mexican taco ingredients on top of Japanese white rice and AMAZING!!  I ate WAY more than I should have, but I just could not stop – it was too nostalgic!!  I can’t even remember when the last time was that I had tacos (not the octopus).  But really, I shouldn’t have eaten that much food, as we had dinner plans with the rest of the Nakachi family.  There was sushi, salad, eggs, goya champuru, pork, pork on edible bones, and of course a bottomless glass of Orion beer.  Since it was our last night in town, we went out for even more drinks at was seemed like a great friendly bar.  They put on Cirque de Soliel, Blue Man Group, and Michael Jackson DVDs for us.  After a couple of rounds, and food we never asked for, the bill ended up being triple what it should have been!!  No worries though, it was another SPECTACULAR day!!

Monday was our final half-day in Okinawa.  We spent the morning viewing the recently named World Heritage Sites of Tama-Udyun and Shuri-jo.  Tama-Udyun is a massive 16th century mausoleum of the Ryukyu Kingdom King, Sho En.  Shuri-jo was recently restored into a beautiful castle that was the residence of the Ryukyu kings from the early 15th century until 1879.  Okinawa has so much history and culture from China, Polynesia, Japan, and the USA.  From the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 15th century acting as a gateway for trade between the many Southeast Asian countries to the Pacific War in 1945; from independence to Chinese rule, to Japanese rule, to American jurisdiction, and then back to Japanese sovereignty, Okinawa is truly a place of its own.  They have their own traditional clothing, music, and way of speaking.  I LOVE it. 

To conclude our trip, we ate our final meal at one of the billions of A&W’s (obviously American influence).  It was very nice.  Two half days, two full days, and three nights were not nearly enough.  I enjoyed my time SO much and want so badly to go back right now!!

'Menso-re' = Welcome

Party #1
Sanshin & Taiko
Dancing on Stage
Awamori Sake

Futosi tasting very rare Aomori sake
Part #2
Coolers in the car for PET bottle
Ice Cream ... kind of like a lemonade stand

Okinawa Soba
Churaumi Aquarium
Giant Squid

Nakajin Castle
American Village
Taco Rice


Wouldn't it be nice to go to school in Okinawa

Shuri-jo Castle



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