First snow had yet to fall in Sapporo, but it was still bitterly cold, a fact that we definitely hadn’t missed when we’d gone looking for the Benson Bubbler in Odori Park the previous night. The bubblers are an iconic Portland feature, and one we decided to share with our sister city, Sapporo. Unfortunately, all my research on the bubbler yielded no results as to an exact location, and we’d wandered the park for a good two hours in the bitter cold with no luck. (We would have better luck later—have some GPS coordinates!: 43.0610733 N, 141.3539886 E). Although the sun was up now, it seemed hardly warmer as we walked from Naebo station to the Sapporo brewery.
Two things make every potential Japanese tourist curious: capsule hotels and hot springs. They’re as terrifying as they are intriguing, crossing the lines of Western taboo more the lines of safety and yet many people are too afraid to try them. Put these intriguing things together and what have you got?: Spa Safro in Sapporo.
I have a hard time trusting the Pacific Ocean, and a really hard time trusting “the beach.” I’ve lived in Oregon for almost twenty years, and any delusions that I had about the Oregon coast being in any way a “beach” were dispelled when I tried to frolic in the waves only to discover that 60 F (15 C) is considered exceedingly warm. If the water’s too cold to swim in, what’s the point of sitting in the blazing sun on a million tiny hot rocks that will inevitably get onto every inch of skin you have? It was hard to convince my animal brain that ocean water could be good for recreational purposes, but something in me held out hope, which is why I decided to try out Haemida Beach on Iriomote Island.
I don’t need a lot when I first arrive at a travel destination: a clean, warm, safe place to sleep tops the list, and everything after that is gravy. Unfortunately, our first night in Japan I also wanted something with a good location: close to food and particularly so close to Tsukiji Market that I could walk there. I was worried I’d never find something in my price range, but then I stumbled on Viainn Higashi Ginza.
Ishigaki is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been, and we only stayed there a day. I wish I’d known–I would have made it a bigger part of our plans.
When I was a girl, I was always excited to stay in hotels—it was a luxury we almost never got, my dad preferring to drive 48 straight hours and sleep in the passenger seat than stop for a bed. If we stopped at all, we’d always end up at the cheapest of the cheap, a Motel 6 or Super 8, so the first time we stayed in a Marriott I was blown away by the accommodations. Of course, as an adult I learned that Marriott is also pretty basic. I don’t get that feeling often—being blown away by a hotel’s unexpected greatness—but Hotel Patina on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa did that for me.
Tranquility to those who enter, happiness to those who depart
When I think architecture, I think of cathedrals arched and spired, skyscrapers glinting in the sun, and temples weathered and brown. But the truth is that any building is architecture, even our homes. Although I don’t think many people would be impressed by my beige mid-nineties apartment, even a home just 100 years old begins to take on the quality of “true” architecture. So it is with the Nakamura Residence, the family home of a rich farmer constructed in the mid-18th century.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Annie Ostler, who allowed me to use her photos in this post. Thank you so much, Annie!
[Content warning: This post details my personal reactions to the Former Japanese Underground Naval Headquarters and addresses some parts of the Battle of Okinawa. As such, it includes written descriptions of war, serious injury, death, and decomposition, and mentions suicide, claustrophobic spaces, and sexual assault.]
I think one of the reasons I love Okinawa is the deep anger and hurt hiding under its bright face. The war shattered the island—the Battle of Okinawa rivals the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in terms of civilian casualties, and Okinawa’s fallout of disease and poverty was just as devastating as Hiroshima’s fallout of ash and black rain. I love to go to Okinawa to snorkel and zip line and lie on the beach, but what really calls me is learning about the Ryukyuan people and coming face-to-face with the everyday reminders of the Second World War that we don’t have in the States, including the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters.