Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Itoman City, Okinawa Japan


Itoman City is located in the southernmost section of Okinawa approximately twenty-five miles from Kadena Air Base. Time spent here involved a visit to the Peace Park with it's suicide cliffs, a fish market, Bibi Beach, the Gushikawa Castle Ruins, and local deserted beaches.


This is the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum. It houses ample amounts of World War II artifacts and historical recounts, most of which are written in Japanese. Unexploded bombs are on display below the see-through floorboards.


Down the hill from the museum are hundreds of these stone tablets most likely listing the names of those who died during the war. The multiple rows are arranged in a semi-circle around this:


This is the Cornerstone of Peace - a tribute to the dead.


Wandering around the park further, I came across an old staircase that led to an outdoor corridor lined with strange monuments like the one above, below, and the first picture of this post. My friend's and I couldn't figure out what they were commemorating and eventually headed back to the museum. About a month later when I was trying to find the infamous suicide cliffs, all the google searches kept pointing to the Peace Park. Then I realized I had already seen the cliffs and these monuments were in memory of the families that jumped during the war.


The Suicide Cliffs (not pictured because they are actually behind these monuments) are where entire families ended their lives during World War II. Terrifying rumors ran rampant about what the Americans would do once occupation of the island was won and rather than find out if these rumors were true or not, the Japanese chose to commit suicide.


Away from the more depressing aspects of Itoman City and on a separate day, I visited the Itoman City Fish Market.


Tuna head and tuna insides for sale.


The best thing I have ever seen. These plates of sashimi cost a little more than twelve U.S. dollars each.


The local seaweed. Eating this tasted exactly like drinking the ocean. Yum.


After a visit to the fish market my friend and I stopped at Bibi beach. At this point in the day it was about 85 degrees with 4000% humidity...which made it feel closer to 110 degrees. Stepping out of the car's AC boundary led to profuse sweating.


Note the beach's emptiness save for the hordes of people gathered in the small blue square. These roped off sections of water are common at all the frequented beaches and are designed to keep away a tiny animal - the Box Jellyfish. This creature is approximately a centimeter in length and transparent, making it nearly impossible to spot in the open ocean. A sting from this jellyfish almost always goes unnoticed. If left untreated, it can induce a heart attack in as little as twenty minutes earning it the reputation for most venomous creature in the world. Go Japan!


The next destination was stumbled upon by accident while trying to find a quieter beach. Pictured above are the unmaintained ruins of Gushikawa Castle. Located on a cliff, these ruins overlook the southern shores of Okinawa Island and are overgrown with grass and various plants that house spiders as big as your face.


A view of the coral reefs from the castle ruins where a man wishes he had brought shoes.


After getting lost several times, my friend and I finally found a tiny road which led to a beach devoid of screaming children and square sections of swimming area. This is Nashiro Beach, I think, and was empty except for two kids trying to catch things in the water. I decided to snorkel for an hour or so and found nothing in the water except for sea slugs. The ridge in the background of the picture below led to a deserted beach shrine littered with ridiculously odd conch shells.


Itoman City's various attractions were a welcome change from everything in the Kadena area of Japan. Here no one spoke English and almost everything was written in Japanese. I finally felt like I was in Japan.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Kadena, Okinawa Japan


My three months in Japan were mostly spent on Kadena Air Base located on Okinawa Island. Okinawa is the largest island in the Ryukyu Island chain which is comprised of nearly one thousand smaller islands, none of which I had a chance to see. There are over a dozen U.S. military bases scattered throughout the main island. Together they make up over twenty-five percent of the entire island's population - making it very difficult to get away from anything military-related. Right before I arrived, the Okinawan citizens held a massive protest demanding the Americans withdraw and give them their island back. I don't blame them, what with the annoyingly loud car exhausts and people talking on cell phones while their waitresses wait to take orders.


Before we decided to rent a car, going out was limited to how absurd the cost of a taxi would be. The closest decent place to base was American Village with its gigantic ferris wheel you could see sixty miles away when flying back to base at night. The funny thing is I never once saw anyone ride the wheel in the three months I was here. American Village was basically how it sounds - American. Signs were all in English and advertising was aimed at the Americans.


Also somewhat close to base and in a much more discreet location is this cave you can see in the far left of the picture. The tour guide, an Okinawa native, hid with her family in this exact cave during World War II. The rainbow-colored lines are millions of paper cranes. The man in the middle of the picture contemplates what he will have for dinner.


Here is a picture of what was inside the strange altar at the cave entrance.


This is White Beach located on the eastern-most side of Okinawa City on a military base. In all honesty, this was by far the saddest beach I saw the entire time I was in Japan. This picture somewhat captures the sadness. That's not sand, its dirt. The small sign says "Go Someplace Nicer". Just kidding. It talks about all the hazardous wildlife you may encounter if you decide to go swimming. I did go swimming but found no wildlife at all.


Here's a view of the Western side of the island a few blocks from Kadena Air Base. In the distance is Okinawa's capitol city, Naha.


This is Kobe Beef and an 8 oz. steak ran about forty dollars. It was well worth the money. It tasted like a steak made entirely of fat - salty, seasoned, amazing fat.


The view from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant outside American Village. Orion is the only local beer brewed in Okinawa and is comparable to a very fresh Coors.


For your Happy Time!


The sunset with our rental car in the foreground.


The last thing worth mentioning in the Kadena - Okinawa City area of Okinawa is an amazing sushi bar known as Yoshi Hachi's. Pictured above is beef sashimi. Nothing fancy, just a giant bowl of raw meat soaking in blood. Tasty. The restaurant also served a few more exotic things not found in the states including Blowfish and Shark. My friends and I probably ate here at least seven times a month...often enough to where the waitresses knew us all by name. When we told them we were leaving for good they almost started crying.


The Kadena area of Okinawa was decent but I soon found myself dying to get away from anything having to do with the military or Americans. This involved going to the southern and northern parts of the island which I will write about later.