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.
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.
If you’re a student of Japanese culture, it can be a little hard to see how Okinawa is different from the rest of Japan. Although they were an independent kingdom for centuries, they were conquered by Japan 400 years ago—that’s a long time for a conquered people to maintain their culture identity with integrity. But the Ryukyuan people are persistent, and the Japanese benefitted from the façade of “business as usual” in the kingdom for centuries, so not as much has been lost as for other indigenous people. Although there are many places around the island that showcase traditional Ryukyuan culture, one of the most popular is Okinawa World.
We woke up to our third morning in Okinawa and drove out to Okinawa World, a theme park structured around traditional Okinawan culture and crafts. We tasted pineapple so good it made me wonder if the pineapple in Oregon are knockoffs, Mom and Dad were stuffed into traditional dress for staged photos, we saw shiisa in a broad range of styles and prices, and we watched an eisa dance that’s performed four times daily in this park that’s open every day of the year.
The Okinawan islands are well-known for their coral reefs and the tropical fish that populate them, but it can be hard to see them all in one place even if you go snorkeling—I mean, maybe you see an angelfish or a grouper, but what about whale sharks? What about sea cucumbers? What about the fish that you wish you could see, like the venomous stonefish? You can see all these fish and more at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium!