In my experience on this trip, the first day in a new city is a little awkward. You’ve got to take a little bit of time and figure out what’s going on, how do I get around, and what’s worth doing. The problem compounds itself even more when you don’t speak the language that everyone else does and that all the signs are written with.
If I had to do it all over again (and believe me, there’s a blog post coming of things I did right, things I did wrong, and the dumb things that only I would think to do!) I wish I had a more firm plan upon entering the city. As it has been, I get to the city, wander around, figure out what’s going on and where everything it – after all that, that night I sit down and plan out my time in that place. It’d be nice to say that I should have a good strong plan before I even show up – but I think that half a day of scouting around really helps make the next days work well. Who knows!
I got on a bus from Nagasaki to go to the airport (which is a surprising distance away!). The Nagasaki airport is a pretty small one, but they do handle some large jets. 777’s and 747’s are not unusual for 1-2 hour flights in Japan simply due to the number of people they need to move. I think it’d be interesting at some point to compare aircraft route structures in American to those in Japan as a function of their population – but that’s just for dorks like me who think that stuff is cool.
The whole “airport” rigamarole was pretty straight forward – everything is done quickly and efficiently. No need to take off shoes and belts and whatnot (that may just be because it was domestic – flying back to the US might be a different story). As is my habit, I arrived WAY too early (expecting some of the usually airport silliness).
Thankfully, my wait was not wasted – there was an amazing observation deck on top of the airport where you could watch all the fun baggage handling and stuff. Most people didn’t even go through security to get to the gate until the plane they were taking had already landed in Nagasaki!
Welcome to Okinawa
After an uneventful 1-hour plane ride, I faced the most daunting task that I had come upon during this entire trip. This one task was the one that I was the most unsure of…
DRIVING IN JAPAN!
In general, I consider myself a fairly competent and safe driver. Throw in driving on the left side of the road while I’m on the right side…of my, some doing are about to transpire!
It’s an interesting experience. I heard earlier about the “Gaijin Turn Signal” and it didn’t take long for me to get the windshield wipers going when I wanted to indicate a turn.
The trouble with driving from the right side is that you don’t have a good sense of how close thing are on your left. This is tricky when you are driving around cabs and busses that are poking out of their lane on the side you aren’t quite confident in. I’m sure some locals got a chuckle as a swerved to leave a good 4 feet of space between myself and something on the side of the road.
One thing that I think is smart is the addition of stickers on the back of cars to indicate…
- Old people
- Young people
- Rental cars
In general – if you see a sticker with multiple colors on the back of the car – stay away!
Okinawa itself is an interesting place. A series of islands far from the Japanese mainland, it had a different history from the majority of the country. At times it was shared between China and Japan, but now it is its own prefecture (sort of like Hawaii is to the US).
There are two main reasons based on the fellowship that I wanted to check Okinawa out:
- It is the only part of Japan that actually saw hand-to-hand fighting. The Battle for Okinawa was an incredibly bloody battle and paved the way for the end of the war. Once Okinawa fell, the war was essentially over. It will be interesting to see the difference in reaction to the war Okinawa has to the other cities which were mainly just bombed.
- There are a lot of Americans still here! America has several military bases on Okinawa and strangely enough, the locals aren’t too happy about that. The presence of American troops and the current relationships between US and Japan is certainly an area of interest in this Fellowship.
Once I was settled in my hotel and I stopped shaking from having to drive through the busy streets of Naha, Okinawa – I hopped on the monorail (that’s right – MONORAIL!!! – hopefully you are hearing Phil Hartman singing a Music Man spoof about monorails in your head!). Shuri Castle was the castle for the king of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû (what Okinawa used to be).
It has a very ancient history (first being built between 1200-1400), but was completely destroyed during the war. This aspect of the castle intrigued me…I’d heard it before often. You see, in Tokyo, Sendai, Kyoto, etc… you hear about all of the old landmarks which were destroyed in the war, but they had also been destroyed many times before. Japan lies in a region that is ripe for disaster – earthquake, tsunami, typhoon, godzilla attacks just to name a few. It seems as if the Japanese people are…and this might not be the right way to say it…numb to the idea that historical landmarks and shrines can always be rebuilt. I saw many pictures of temples and shrines being rebuilt shortly after being destroyed. This is different from what I’m used to. America really doesn’t have a history long enough to have gone through this sort of thing…and I feel there’s a greater antipathy to these sites in America as well. Something to ponder.
Anyhoo…I was hoping to find out about Shui Castle during World War II or the reconstruction of it after war…sort of struck out on this one. While big and beautiful, it was a bunch of kimonos and really neat looking rooms and such. Can’t win them all.