A Travellerspoint blog

April 2008

Golden Week 2008 - Okinawa II

Braving the left side of the street, Naha to Onna


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We woke up around 8:30, hit the Starbucks next door, and ate the breakfast food we picked up the night before. After we checked out we caught a cab to Sky Rental to pick up our metal chariot for the rest of the trip. We lucked out and got there right before four other groups showed up. Courtney wanted the nice green Mazda that was in the parking lot, but we instead got the regular silver one.

On our way out of Naha we decided we'd check out Shuri-jo. We plugged some info into our Navi and headed off. We quickly realized our Navi was tempermental and if we veered off route it wouldn't tell us how to get back on it, and we'd have to do it ourselves.
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We learned this when we got disoriented on the way to the castle. We missed the first turn for the parking, but eventually circled around. We were also very lucky when we did find a lot with space they stuck us by the entry door to the castle and the exit to the parking lot.

Shuri Castle was built by the Ryukyu people. The Ryukyu kingdom was based in Okinawa from 1429 until 1879 when it was "annexed" by Japan after the Meiji restoration. The Ryukyu people traded with both the Chinese and Japanese. This influenced their architecture and culture a lot. Shuri-jo is a lot different than any castle that we have been to in any of the main islands, and after seeing the pagodas in Vietnam we could pick out the Chinese influence in Shuri castle.

There were a few parts where we couldn't take pictures, which were mostly the living quarters. But we still managed to get a lot of pictures. Court also managed to successfully find all the stamps around the castle, but couldn't trade it in for a prize because she was too old. They wouldn't buy that she was still in junior high school.

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After we wandered through the castle we set out of our next hotel, The Royal Hotel. We thought it was in Onna but it turned out it was closer to Naha than we thought. It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the hotel. We checked into an absolutely huge room. It had two double beds, a living area, a kitchen, a big balcony and a nice TV. We unpacked and ate lunch at the hotel restaurant, then hit the road to do some glass blowing. We got turned around leaving the hotel and Navi didn't give us a new route, so it took a little bit longer to get there. Courtney made a glass and I made a mug. It was fun to do this, however guided it was. First they put the molten glass on the end of a pipe and then into a mold. We had to blow into the pipe to give it shape. They did something else, then we had to roll the glass with a pair of large tweezers to create the mouth of the cup. I had to put on a handle on my mug then we were finished.

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We poked around the giftshop and then went to Ryukyu Mura. Ryukyu Mura (village) was described as the Okinawan King's Landing by Courtney.

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We saw traditional houses and buildings in the village. We also saw a few different traditional performances and dances, again with a heavy Japanese and Chinese influence. In one performance, the Lion Dance, there was a guy dressed up kind of like a clown and it was leading around his lion, which Andrew says looked like a 'dragon dog'. There was a bit of the buskers feel to this as well. At one point the 'clown' threw the ball and the 'dragon dog' caught it. Then he pulled a volunteer from the audience to try to throw the ball to the 'dragon dog'. Of course, the 'dragon dog' missed it the first two throws, but finally caught it on the third throw. Just like the Halifax waterfront!

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The next performance was a dance by a some women. There was also a band that was playing and a whole lot of whistling. Everyone dancing would whistle while they were dancing. Not a simple whistle; it was a two finger, "get in here, it's dinner time" Wally Guitard whistle. Except they all whistled in key and in time. It was quite impressive. They did this dance a couple times then they pulled up some more volunteers from the audience. Most of these were kids, who were cute, but not very good at the dance. There were two little boys who were so fascinated by the whole dance that they had to kept be pushed around the circle by the actual dancer. It was pretty funny.

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The third performance we saw was a combination of taiko drumming and dancing. There were three men and one woman drumming and dancing in time.

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Near the end of the village they had a sugarcane press set up. It was basically two gears that were turned by a water buffalo. One of the people placed the sugar cane in between the gears and collected the sugar that came out of it. We also watched a few people go up and very, very, very gingerly pat the water buffalo. Some people actually patted it, but some people didn't work up the courage themselves. Courtney was really entertained by this apparent fear of livestock.

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All around Okinawa we saw a lot of shiishas. Shiishas were brought from China between the 14th and 15th centuries. They were placed rooftops to protect homes from evil. Pretty much every building had or has a shiisha on it.

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We poked through the gift shop again and found some ice cream sandwiches. It was the first time we'd seen them in Japan. A momentous occasion.

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Then we left to find some dinner. We stopped at one place that served steak and pork (or at least we assume they did; they had giant pig and giant cow models out front). It looked pretty good. But, we got there at 5:28 and it closed at 5:30. So, we had to go find a new place to eat. We made our way back towards the hotel and saw a sign for the Fisherman's Wharf. We ate there and had a nice view out over the ocean and the beach. After we ate we went for a stroll on the beach. It was a little chilly, so we cut it short. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Max Valu to get some breakfast food and fresh fruit. Then we packed it in for the night and watched some Japanese game show and "Best House 1-2-3", where we actually saw some man we met in Malaysia last summer. Crazy world!

Posted by agc_cwm 08:29 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Golden Week 2008 - Okinawa I

Flight to Naha, Kokusai-dori

-17 °C
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In Japan, there are a lot of national holidays in late April/early May which are collectively referred to as Golden Week. Since coming to Japan, we'd never taken a trip during this time of year, but this year the circumstances supported a little trip. After checking ticket prices and mulling where we'd like to go, we settled on Okinawa.

To get around Okinawa, it is a lot easier to drive than take public transit, so Andrew had to go and get himself a driver's license. This was nearly a full day rigamaroll, and apparently really frustrating, but not without merit, as he got a license out of the thing in the end.

We weren't too stressed about planning this trip, as we have been in the past; we weren't leaving the country, and we decided that all we should really do is book hotels and then just figure out the rest when we got there.

Our flight was in the afternoon, so we had a pretty laid-back morning in the apartment before catching the bus to the airport. We checked in, had some Subway, and went through security. Not once did we have to show ID, which both surprised and concerned me.

The flight was short. We arrived in Naha after about two hours, and sprinted to the monorail to take us downtown. We caught a taxi to our minshuku, the Loas Villa, which was in a shockingly convenient location next to Kokusai-dori. We check in and went out to eat. For the first time, we actually made a quick decision about dinner and settled on Kokusai Yakiniku, where we enjoyed a meal of self-grilled meat and vegetables. We walked up and down the main drag there, looking at all the kitschy shops and souvenirs. We found ourselves hungry again, and so we ate at a little taco place. Mmm tacos. You can actually get reasonably priced tacos in Okinawa, which is good for me, because boy do I love tacos. Taco rice is a very popular dish in Okinawa; it's basically taco filling on a bed of rice. Personally, I miss the shell, but to each their own.

Well, after some poking around, we we're tired, and so we retired to our minshuku to get some sleep. Unfortunately, because of the convenient location, it was also quite loud; street drumming and crosswalk music until all hours did not make for a good night's sleep, but we did get a little rest, anyway.

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Posted by agc_cwm 07:20 Archived in Japan Comments (0)