Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 13 2007

Okinawa Trip, part 3


I woke to a cold, dry cabin at 7am, and went up for my solitary breakfast. No sign of the handsome Filipino chef. Every sign, however, that the breakfast food was as full of sugar as was chemically possible. I could have had just cereal and fruit, of course. The pastries were just too tempting. It’s a vacation, after all. And I had a lot of walking to do; I could feel it.

Getting off the ship was much easier this time, a simple matter of exiting the hatch on deck 1. I joined a Taiwanese couple on their way to Shuri Castle, which I’d planned on making my starting point for the day’s General Walking Around. “Does Okinawa have earthquakes?” I asked the taxi driver, who didn’t understand me. About ten minutes later, he said, “Ah! You say ‘Quickly’! Yes, quickly.”
shuri castle

Shuri Castle was apparently the court of the Okinawan emperor back in the days when Okinawa was a tribute nation to China, and is being restored after the site was occupied by a school for many years. It seems very provincial and small scale in comparison to places like the Forbidden City, but very cleverly put together. Inside, I encountered a Japanese man in black. His appearance made me stop and stare. I’ve found that in general, the Japanese on Okinawa don’t speak any English and even less Chinese, so I didn’t go up and ask him what the hell was up with his being so damn foiiine. Also, he was with a friend. Instead I took off my shoes, as all the visitors had to do, and walked through the palace looking at the various copies of old things arrayed in copies of old buildings. A group of young men made what sounded like disparaging remarks as they mock-stumbled through the place, cheering in what I can only assume to be an ironic fashion when they encountered a new display.

After exiting the castle via a small side gate (“reserved mostly for women,” the sign read) and examining the freshwater springs next to it, I walked down to a small pond, in the middle of which sat a traditional hut on a small island connect to the shore by a small ornamental bridge. On the path, a Japanese woman beckoned to either a duck or grey cat, both of whom were ignoring her.

It started to rain, so I crossed the bridge and joined two sleeping, shoeless Japanese men on the hut’s wooden porch. It was very peaceful. Huge fish moved through the murky water of the pond under the rain. A trio of girls stopped by as well, but seemed too scared to sit on the porch. They also seemed scared of the tree in front of the hut, and of everything in general, but in that “Oh, look, I’m so cute when I’m scared” kind of way.

Naha street 2

The sun came out, and I moved on, walking down streets in the general direction of the monorail terminal I’d seen on the cartoon map. The weather was strange, with bouts of thick drizzle coming and going, alternating with strong sunshine that resulted in brilliant shiny streets. Military jets soared overhead. I noticed lots of small, boxy cars, new models I’d never seen before, though with familiar brand names. Perhaps the Japanese love them for their large size and small, easily parkable footprint.

I wondered if Okinawa is more like Taiwan than the rest of Japan, due to its geographical position and distance from the Japanese main islands. I don’t know enough about the rest of Japan to tell. I should make more trips. Do Japanese traveling to Taiwan wonder if it’s the most Japanese part of China?

Lawson Station, I’ve found, is the 7-Eleven equivalent here, along with a spattering of Family Marts. Unlike in Taiwan, the shops mostly have parking lots in front of them. There’s a lot of space here, and not too much traffic. In fact, I didn’t notice very many people walking around in that area, which is at the east end of Naha, in the hills. You can definitely feel it’s an island; it’s in the wind, the smell of the air, the quality of the light, the hint of the sea in everything. There’s no mistaking it, even if you can’t see the ocean.

The bird-call signals at the crosswalks are stereophonic, I presume, to help blind people know where they are. I walked past a school and inquired about some tabi socks to go with my tabi shoes, but the shoe store lady said they didn’t have any. Perhaps tabi are not popular here, though I saw some workmen wearing them, along with baggy pants.

I reached Shuri Station and kept walking along the monorail, down the hill towards town. It was very hot; the rain squalls had stopped. A blue-eyed cat sitting in the first-floor parking lot of an apartment building stared at the space just to my right, following it as I walked by.

I happened across a canal, which was similar to those of Taiwan in that it contained water. In every other aspect, however, it was completely different. It was clean, fresh, odor-free, sparkling, and contained no garbage at all except fallen leaves. It splashed down concrete steps and under a small bridge, winding among the houses.

monorail 1

The monorail track was very high at this point, towering over everything else, making me wonder again about the earthquake possibilities here. I continued to follow them, passing several stations as I approached downtown, but it was already 1pm on my watch, and we were told to be back on board by 2pm. I hailed a cab, whose driver puzzled over the location of the Naha New Port for a while before figuring out where I was headed. “Big ship,” I said helpfully, showing him a picture of the Libra. He eventually found the docks, and after paying my fare and getting out, I found myself strangely reluctant to get back on board. Actually, it’s not that strange, as I tend to always be the last one on a vessel, be it an airplane, boat, or whatever, before it departs. Keeping my options open, I guess.


I wandered around, taking pictures, while buses disengorged daytrippers in front of the ship. Eventually I got back on, though I had a strange feeling that I’d forgotten something. My cabin was waiting, all made up and full of afternoon sunlight and a view of the harbor. I took my camera up top, got some sandwiches and cookies and sat by the railing, waiting for the ship to cast off, feeling distinctly unsatisfied but without a clue as to why. A handful of people were left on the dock as the great ship moved away, a couple of them waving. I wondered why, who they were waving at, and what they would do after this. On the deck, two crewmembers, a man and a woman, were trying to get the crowd interested in some kind of entertainment by the pool, but everyone was busy watching the departure, and they were largely ignored. Large jets swept overhead as we passed the airport, and the harbor pilot departed via a splash of waves onto the tugboat, which fell back, headed for the harbor. More air force planes flew overhead, banking over the city, which gleamed in spots. Rainbows appeared, no doubt the result of another misty shower on some wet, shiny Naha street somewhere. I found myself wishing I was there, fishing for an umbrella in my backpack.


We sailed into the sunset, passing various dark islands. Naha became a faint line of light, with maybe a hint of rainbow, before disappearing. I went up to the bow and watched the mesmerizing movement of the water in the circular tub located there, sloshing like jello to the movement of the ship. A couple of other guys were there, taking pictures. I’d noticed them taking pictures elsewhere around the ship. Neither were photographers, just amateurs, they said when I inquired. One had a plan to take sunset shots at a one-second exposure at f5.6, which he said was the optimal setting, so I took some on that setting, though it was difficult to keep the camera steady for that long in the strong headwind. They seemed to come out well, but it quickly got too dark. I left them talking about photography and went to get some dinner.

The door to the restaurant was closed, and lady at the reception counter said it was Gala Dinner night with the captain and other officers. A sign pointed to all the low-class clothing that wasn’t allowed, and I was wearing basically all of it. They might as well have put a picture of me there instead with the words “This is not allowed” on it.

Astonishingly, they said they could fit me in at the second sitting. I asked for a single table, as I wasn’t particularly feeling like the life of the party. They said they’d do what they could, so I went up top to the mostly-deserted pool deck and lay on a lounge chair, staring at the stars and the occasional cloud.

They couldn’t find me a table, they said later when I went down again, so I ended sitting at a large table with some people I didn’t know, right next to the captain’s table. Why couldn’t they have seated me in some unobtrusive corner, preferably next to the cute Japanese bear? I thought. The captain and his officers were all in full dress uniform. I was the only one in the room with a T-shirt. I imagined them walking over, taking me by the ear, and leading me out of the room and, possibly, off the side of the ship.

The food, when it came, was good. Beef and veggies and all that. I wanted to take out my book and read, as is my habit, but I figured I was pushing it already with my attire. At one point the chefs and waiters walked around the room in step to music, which was apparently a “show” of some kind.

The captain had found two couples for his table, one Taiwanese couple and one in which the man was an older white guy who seemed a bit out of it. I left as soon as I’d finished my tea, refusing once again to have a “memorial photo” taken. So far, I figured, I’d managed to avoid each and every “memorial photo” attempt I’d encountered.

I originally had thoughts of trying out the Jacuzzi after dinner, but the announcement of a party and a band by the pool plus overwhelming fatigue put me off that idea. Instead I retired to my cabin, wrote a little, and fell asleep.

posted by Poagao at 11:18 am  


  1. When I was in Naha I felt is was more like Taiwan than Japan. Sure the modern buildings look very much like typical Japanese structures, but some of the older buildings looked just like building I had seen in Taipei. Okinawa is quite different from the rest of Japan, especially the culture. For example, I was in Naha on business and rather than suit and tie people were wearing khakis and golf shirts or Hawaiian shirts. By 17:30 the office was almost empty as well; something that one never sees in Tokyo or other Japanese cities. I guess because it is a tropical island the people seem more laid back and relaxed.

    Did you have a chance to eat any Okinawan food? It really is a treat.

    Comment by Bryan — September 13, 2007 @ 10:41 pm

  2. Didn’t get the chance for much local cuisine, I’m afraid. I agree that Okinawa seems like the least Japanese part of Japan, but I’m no expert, my last trip to Tokyo having been 16 years ago.

    Comment by Poagao — September 13, 2007 @ 10:46 pm

  3. I remember the first time I came to Taiwan thinking how similar it was to Okinawa! I agree with Bryan – the culture is very different from that on the Japanese mainland. I spent a week on Miyako Island, and the only men I saw wearing suits and ties were working in banks. It seemed daily around 4:30 many of the locals would head down to the beach to eat, drink and relax.

    Bryan’s right about the food, too!

    A quick history lesson: Okinawa was an independent kingdom until 1609, when it came under the control of the Satsuma fief on the island of Kyushu. The monarchy was abolished, and the islands formally annexed by Japan in 1879.

    Comment by Kaminoge — September 14, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

  4. Looks like an amazing trip and the photos are pretty nifty as well. Offline blogging is pretty satisfying as well, I did the same during my trip in Thailand, well parts of it anyway.

    Comment by range — September 22, 2007 @ 10:48 am

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