From October 5th-8th I went to the main island of Okinawa.
I went with some other ALT's. The boy helped set up our trip. Since a typhoon was passing near the island, it was pretty windy. In fact, as we were sitting in the airport we saw another group of ALT's heading down to Okinawa. However, since the typhoon was passing by, the ferry they were taking to another island had been cancelled. Such is the reality of travelling down to those little islands, I guess.
The flight down was alright. Trish was reading parts of David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day out loud as I was trying to keep it together on the plane.
We landed in Naha and got off the plane on the runway. A small bus came out to pick us up. As we stood there on the stairs, waiting for the bus, the turbine on the engine sat a few feet away, still spinning around. One of the Wakayama ALT's said what I was thinking when she asked if anyone there watched the show Lost. I was also waiting for someone to get sucked into the engine...
Once everyone got into the airport and picked up their bags, we parted company. Our little group walked outside to catch the van to the rental car place. In the van, Trish and Wynne filled out the papers for the car. Once we got there they gave us a run down about the car and then let us go.
The first stop was a grocery store with a resturant attached. Looking for a late lunch, we were disappointed to find the place didn't open until 5.
Our cottage/ room was really nice. It was a 2 storied room, almost like a townhouse apartment. There were 2 beds on the first floor and 2 on the second. I wouldn't mind living in a place like that.
That evening we went to find something for dinner and after trying a really small, pretty shady looking place that was listed in Wynne's guidebook. It looked almost like the people were running the place out of their carport. No one came out when we called, so we got in the car and then drove back down the road and stopped at a small mom and pop place. There was a man staring at us as we came in. Sitting at the table, looking at the menu to decide what we were going to have for dinner, the man put a small plastic box of food on our table. It looked like Chinese food, like Mongolian beef. But it turned out to be stir-fried liver and vegetables. As we continued discussing dinner, the man started talking to us. He was pretty drunk. He wanted to know how old we all were and where we were from. Then he told us about how he used to be he president of the Olivia Newton John fanclub and saw her in concert in Tokyo back in the early 80's. Pretty soon he was dancing around and singing "Physical."
The next day we got up and had a nice breakfast at the hotel and headed for the beach. The weather was great, but it very windy. Too chilly to go swimming. Trish said that she had read that the beach had been rated one of the top ones on the island. It was a nice beach, but the sand was full of broken shells and not really good for laying out or walking around with no shoes. We got some nice pics of everyone walking around in bathing suits, but it was more out of the feeling that it'd be wrong not to try and get in the water.
We got back on the road and headed to Nago Pineapple Park. For 500 yen we could go in and ride in a self-driven pineapple car and look at different kinds of pineapples. I think the best part of the tour was the narration inside the car. The lady with the mustache and the thick arm hair kindly chose the English narration track on our stereo. The girl on the recording read the script with the skills delivery one might expect of a recent victim of blunt head trauma. You could tell she was a native speaker, she was just stupid. The climax was when she taught us about plants that could be found on the "ar-kee-pa-lah-go" of Japan. After the ride, we went into the main building and had a tour of their shell museum and the gift shop. Then, it was off to "the winery" and an even larger gift shop. They had several wines made from pineapples. Suprisingly, most of them tasted like crap. However, in the gift shop they had several fresh juices you could try. One of which was made from a mix of pineapple and chikwasa (it's like an Okinawan lime). That was really good, but it was about $12 for an amount that was probably as much one of those big 52 oz-ish cups from Racetrac.
The first night we stayed in a hotel on the north of the island called JAL Private Resort Okuma.
Next, we bought discount tickets at the Family Mart and drove to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium . The aquarium is pretty cool. It all starts with a shallow tank with plexy-glass walls. So you can see down into it and into the sides. In the tank you can pet all these different kinds of starfish. When they're still alive and in the water, they feel like leather. The other tanks were nice too. We watched them feed the fish. Then we got to see the world's largest tank. It had a special seal from the Guiness Book of World Records. My favorite tank was the one with the spotted garden eels.
They reminded me of the "poor, unfortunate souls" from The Little Mermaid. Outside there were several different areas you could go to. You could see a dolphin show or look at sea turtles or look at manatees. We watched some manatee eat some kabocha (j-pumpkin) and then poop. It was special because my Japanese skills have improved to the point that as were laughing about this, I noticed one of the high school girls near us was calling one of her friends over to watch too. Only when she said, "Hora! Unko suru!" ("Look! He's pooping!") It was in an "awwww!-that's-so-cuuute" voice. Then, I started laughing about that because I'm an adult.
We followed the aquarium up with a trip out to Manzamou. There were some flea market-type buldings out there next to the parking area. It was the end of the day for them, but those old ladies were definately going to work that hard sale until the end of the day. We were trying to pick up any Okinawan words or phrases we could hear locals saying (since the Okinawans kind of have their own language that sounds to me like a mix of Japanese and Korean). One of the old ladies did say, "Arigatoo-sa," every time she'd finish some purchase transaction with a customer. That was about it for the day. So we walked out past the shopping area, down the path toward the cliffs. It was unbelievably windy. I was such a girl that day. I'd try to fix my hair in the car just to get out and have it literally torn apart by the wind. Everyone was complaining until we got over the hill and could see the cliffs. It was perfect for picture taking.
[This is where I would put a link in for wikipedia, but the only listing they have for this place is only in Japanese. The high points of which are that they say the rock looks like the trunk of an elephant and one of the highlights for tourists is nearby bathrooms for handicapped people]. We saw a guy who looked like a Mexican there. I wondered out loud if he was a Mexican and he looked. Maybe he was. But I digress... That evening we went to check in at the Sanmarina Hotel. I went to the desk and started filling out the check-in form. And then the man started telling us about the room. Everything was going fine until he had a brain-fart and started asking the bellhop how to say a certain word in English. To which I said in Japanese that speaking Japanese was ok. The reservations had been made in Japanese and they were in my name. But he totally didn't listen to me and instead directed his explanation of the room to Wynne. Finally giving her the key to the room.sigh. In an almost apologetic voice he told her/us that we couldn't have the room we were orignally assigned to, but instead, we would get a tokubestsu(special) room. This one was on the top floor. Once we got in there, it wasn'tthat tokubestu. It smelled like a fart and there were what appeared to be piss stains on the stairs. I picked the matchbook off the table in the room and lit one, thankfully not exploding the roof off the hotel. This room was also 2 stories, but less nice. The hotel's beach, however, was absolutely beautiful.
That night went across the street to check out a glass blowing place. Okinawa is famous for its glass. This was a special store because near the front door was a special shelf of books devoted to Okinawan history -- the WW2-to-present kind. We browsed around the store for a little bit and walked to the back where the glass blowing was happening. The woman there was also not interested in trying to talk to white folks which means she must be making more money than gawd with her little glassblowing bidnass and her $30-to-make-a-small-glass set-up. We left without getting anything and tried for dinner. We decided to eat at Ura niwa (which means, "backyard"). I ordered a pina colada, and it had no booze in it. I sent it back for fixing, and it came back in the same condition. The boy working there said that it made no difference to him because it wasn't like he was getting tipped (there is no tipping in Japan). After dinner we went for ice cream at the Blue Seal ice cream place nearby.
After this we tried to decide what the next course of action should be. Go back to the room or go to a bar. I was pretty tired, but I was up for anything. The main challenge was to keep moving. After some hemming and hawing we went into town. Thank goodness for the navigation system in the car.