Japan II – Exploring Okinawa (thanks @STRIGGA!)

At the end of May, one realization really hit me: The semester is about to be over. I technically could have stayed in Korea until the end of September or travel around more for the remainder of that time, but this was not an option for me for many reasons. While I did manage to travel around in Asia for about ten days after leaving Korea, I realized that I was still not satisfied. And since I unexpectedly had almost nothing to do in June, I certainly had the time for some more trips. I would have expected the end of the semester to be more busy with CAU finals coming up, but it turns out I had to write a total of zero exams and only give a handful of presentations and written reports instead, some of them even due in late May. So that gave me a lot of freedom and time to do some more exploring. I left Seoul on June 22nd, but I think I only spent about seven or eight days of June in Seoul and was traveling the rest of the time. I returned to Seoul from Japan late at night on June 20th, only to move out of the dorm the following day. It was quite a hectic schedule.

After my fantastic trip to Tokyo, it became obvious to me that I desperately needed to go back to Japan once more. I loved every second I spent there, and there were still more things I wanted to discover. Most importantly, I absolutely fell in love with live professional wrestling again. However, the two promotions I wanted to see live the most, New Japan and Big Japan, were the two promotions I missed on my trip to Tokyo. With NJPW promoting a tentpole show in Osaka on June 19th, the plan to make another trip to Japan centered around that show emerged. The flights from Korea are relatively cheap and short, and who knows when or if I ever got this opportunity again? So, go for it!

When planning this trip, I discussed it a bit with all-around Japan coinesseur and awesome dude @STRIGGA (go give him a follow!), and he mentioned his desire to go to Okinawa one day. To be honest, I’m not sure if I had ever heard of Okinawa before. I did some research, really liked what I found out, and developed a travel plan. It went like this:

Seoul -> Okinawa -> Osaka -> Seoul

All in all, I traveled for eight days. This unfortunately meant that I didn’t really have all that much time to spend in each location, including a measly 48 hours in Okinawa, so my schedule was tight. Maybe it was because I learned some valuable lessions from my trip to Jeju Island, or maybe it was just because of the really tight schedule, but I changed my plan up quite a bit. No more exploring an island by public transportation and constantly getting lost, there just was no time for that here. Instead, I booked two guided bus tours. Not necessarily ideal, as I do quite like exploring a place on my own and feel that you can get a better feel for the place that way, but it had to be done.

 

About Okinawa:

TLDR: When I say Okinawa, I mean Okinawa Island. Okinawa Island is the largest of the Okinawa Islands, which in turn are part of the Ryuku Islands group that stretches southwards from Japan’s main islands. Okinawa island has a population of about 1.3 million and has a subtropical climate.

Okinawa does feel quite similar to Jeju Island in many ways. It is quite far removed from the main land (even moreso than Jeju), which led to the development of a quite unique culture. In fact, it is further away from Japan (over 600km) than from Taiwan. Okinawa still feels distinctly Japanese, but also very unique compared to the other places I visited. The Ryuku Islands only officially became part of the Japanese kingdom in the 1870s and were part of an independent kingdom before that. Hence, it is a very unique places that mixes Japanese with its own distinct culture. That’s the little bit of information I have cobbled together about Okinawa, I’m obviously by no means an expert, and I’m sure there are a lot of resources you can use if you want to find out more.

Much like Jeju Island with its Dol hareubang, Okinawa has its own ‘mascot’ with the Shisa lion-dog hybrids. They are part of Okinawan mythology, are supposed to fend off evil spirits, and can be found all over the island.

 

Naha City:

I stayed in Naha city, as this is where the airport is located. Since my funds were quite limited, I looked for the cheapest possible lodging option. Thankfully, other parts of Japan are not as expensive as Tokyo, and I was able to cross another big item of the Japan to do list. Capsule hotels!

This was definitely something I wanted to try, and I quite liked it. I’m sure I would have lost my mind if I had to stay there for longer than just two nights or during a particularly busy period, as the hotel was mostly empty. However, it was definitely a very unique and fun experience, and I certainly preferred it to staying in a hostel. Even though the ‘door’ of the capsule is just a plastic sheet that really doesn’t keep noise or light out all that well, it still felt a lot more solitary (in a good way) than just sleeping in one open room with a bunch of people.

The joined bathroom was also…quite something. Not entirely sure how one could enjoy a bath in this setting, but who am I to judge. Again, the hotel was quite empty so I only ever ran into somebody else once and was able to limit the otherwise extreme level of awkwardness. And no, I did not sit down on one of those plastic chairs. But hey, another interesting experience for sure!

I didn’t get to see much of Naha. I really enjoyed riding the monorail as it gave you a great view of the city even if you didn’t have time to really check it out.

The top attraction in Naha is Shuri Castle. As Okinawa Island was the site of very intense battles in World War 2, the castle was actually complete destroyed like most of the island’s buildings and was only rebuilt in the 90s. You would never guess this from looking at it though. It’s a beautiful castle surrounded by a nice little park. You can enter the castle itself too and inspect the various rooms inside of it.

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Furthermore, make sure to stop by the castle shop to pick up Shisa-themed underwear or various other merchandise items. After all, who doesn’t want ancient Okinawa spirits to protect their privates?

I also wanted to visit nearby Tamaudan Mausoleum, but it was already closed for the day. Instead, I strolled around Naha aimlessly for a while, admiring Okinawa’s unique architecture and flora.

Additionally, I also spent quite a bit of time on Kokousai Street, which is Naha’s night-life district. The street is jam-packed with countless shops, markets and restaurants and really comes alive at night. Strolling along the busy Okinawan night life really felt like being back in Shinjuku, just not quite as nuts and with no sexual propositions by sleazy-looking fellas.

I was also happy to see that pro wrestling also seems quite popular on the island, with countless posters advertising various events. Yay!

 

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