While living in Taiwan, there are a lot of interesting places nearby to visit during the Chinese New Year holidays. This past year (2016) I set out to Okinawa, Japan.
Riding the Okinawa Monorail
As soon as we got out of the airport, we got on the only train that runs the island. Public transport is not so good there, but riding the Okinawa Monorail when you land is a wonderful experience upon arriving. The train rides high above the ground with big open windows, providing a clear view of your new landscape. The feeling I got when riding was this island has a nice, laid-back vibe running through the island, just as the train runs through the island.
We got to our first stop in Kokusai Street. After inhaling some Burger King, we set out to explore the area. Kokusai street is a big shopping area, so we sought out to see what the Japanese stores had to offer. We went far enough to find several pottery shops with traditional pottery. I found some very creative face masks, and some chocolate coated french fries at the nearby McDonald’s!
Eventually, we went to get some proper dinner, and this is where I had some serious food culture shock – we ate basically nothing but empty carbs and tons of meat. Our meal was literally like a bowl of rice, a plate of noodles, and 3 servings of meat. Apparently, this is what the Japanese call a “balanced diet.” And that’s not even the kicker, Okinawa has a reputation for some of the healthiest and longest-living people in the world! I couldn’t believe they could eat this way and maintain such a healthy status!
The American Village
There is a huge US military presence in Okinawa, so there are parts that are very “Americanized” which was nice for me since I was getting a whole lot of Asia living in Taiwan. I was lucky enough have a military family friend living there with her husband and daughter, who graciously invited us to spend some nights at their place. We had some nice conversations about military life for them there in Okinawa.
Near the military base, there is the American Village that I enjoyed exploring a little bit. They had a big Ferris wheel and western restaurants and shops. Nearby there is a small beach. If the locals there are anything like the locals are in Taiwan, they would find the American Village a very interesting place to explore. It did feel very American there, almost like we were in a place like Hawaii rather than Japan.
Valley of Gongala Cave Cafe
How many people can tell you they’ve had a nice cup of coffee in a cave? Well, now you know at least one! Okinawa has a REAL cave cafe, the Valley of Gongala Cave Cafe, fully equipt with natural stalactites hanging above your head! The ambiance of the cave cafe is truly unlike anything else I have ever experienced. I read that this cafe hosts concerts and parties. It would be an awesome place to hold a party! This was a favorite stop of mine in Okinawa.
Orion Brewing Factory
To catch a little down time we went to a tour of the Orion Brewery. The tour didn’t really include English commentary, but I was mostly on board for the free sample you get at the end of the tour. It is quite interesting, though, seeing the tons and tons of materials and elaborate machinery used at factories. Orion was also very responsible in making sure each party had a designated driver that was only allowed non-alcoholic beer. Lucky for me, I was the designated passenger, so I got the full proper experience, hehe.
Yae Mountain Hike
After all the sitting around in the car, driving around the island, we desperately needed to get some exercise and move our butts. So we went to a hike in the mountains. I was a little scared after my military friend told me she doesn’t go on hikes because she heard there were poisonous creatures lurking in the tall grasses everywhere in Okinawa. But the hike was on our itinerary and we genuinely needed the exercise, so we went for our hike on Yae Mountain. The mountain was an easy climb, we had our usual photoshoot at the top of the mountain and looked out to a little island, Kouri Jima Island we would drive to later that day. And the best part… we didn’t seen any poisonous creatures!
Kouri Jima Island
Once we got to the bottom of Yae Mountain we took a drive to Kouri Jima Island. Going to Okinawa in February isn’t the best time of the year to go there, as the weather is often overcast, and not warm for the beach, etc. When we got there we experienced just about the nicest weather of the duration of our vacation and witnessed just how bright blue/green that sparkling water can be. The weather warmed up and we got some pink cheeks from relaxing by the water under the warm weather. The views were simply breathtaking.
We got a lot of recommendations to go to Cape Zanpa. We made it out there later in the week, but unfortunately, when we went out there it was, yet again, an overcast day. Cape Zanpa is meant to be the best sunset spot, but we sure weren’t going to see any sunset that day. The bright blue/green colors of the water simply turn to gray on those days. 🙁
My favorite stop… Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum
The Grand Finale of our trip was the Okinawa Peace Museum which is historic for the WWII battle of Okinawa. The museum was very eye-opening as you see the whole other side to the story that I was educated about in the United States public school, where America is always the “good guy” in war. This categorization seems to become translucent in the midst of a killing-fest. After all, history is written by the winners. Here is some information on the battle.
Though Japan was one of the countries the US was fighting in the war, the only battle of the war that took place on Japanese soil was the battle of Okinawa. This battle claimed the lives of a stark number of civilians, exceeding 100,000, all the while completely detonating the natural landscape of the island. A lot of those people were just high school kids. The US soldiers were threatening and killing the citizens of Okinawa, many of whom were hiding in caves. The US soldiers were threatening, bombing, and murdering tens of thousands of innocent civilians.
The museum showed a video of surviving civilians, remembering and describing that day. One mentioned how the natural bright blue waters were not blue at all, but red from all the blood. Many of these civilians were high school students, not even old enough to fight in a war, but were still victims of these attacks. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t allow any photography. For more information, you can check out the official website here.