Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More tales of travel: Okinawa

It’s been too long since my last entry.  I’ve traveled rest of Japan, came back to US, lived in Canada for a month, returned to Connecticut, and now back in Japan…… all since my last entry back in February.  Why did I stop writing?

Somewhere along the way, I lost my inspiration.  Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the road; Japan still made my head spin; I still smiled whenever I met strangers and still held my breath whenever I saw something beautiful.  But I was no longer traveling alone.  I was blessed with road companions who are among my closest friends.  Traveling with them made the roads shorter and the nights full of laughter.  However, traveling with others took away the time of self-reflection which was essential to my writing.  Traveling with my friends took away the loneliness, which was my inspiration in the first place.  Before, I could sit anywhere: park, train station, host’s house, restaurant or street bench and write; but with friends, the time of self-refection shortened to a few minutes at night right before falling asleep.  

Nevertheless, I would like to share with you the rest of my original journey. 

I left you hanging back in February with the last story of Thailand.  January 21st I flew back to Tokyo, where after spending the night at a domestic airport and sleeping on the benches, I took a flight to Ryukyu Islands aka Okinawa. 

The Ryukyu Islands were once an independent state called the Ryukyu Kingdom.  It was populated by indigenous people who spoke their own distinct language and followed their own customs and traditions.  At one point, China claimed the islands for their own.  Then came Japan with an equal claim.  Finally, less than 150 years ago, The United States allowed Japan to “plant its stake” and declared the islands Japanese. 

The Ryukyuan people suffered a great loss during WWII when the Americans overtook the main island in order to use it as a base to get to the main island of Japan.  After the end of WWII, the United States took over the island to maintain its presence at the Pacific. 
Finally they returned it to Japan 40 years ago. 

Although, there are still many American bases on Okinawa Island, the locals have long gotten used to them.  Okinawa and its many surrounding smaller islands are popular vacation destinations for main-island Japanese.  The locals do not consider themselves Japanese and many still speak the original language. 

The largest population of centennials live on Okinawa.  They say it is the combination of lifestyle and diet that keeps them going for so long.  They eat fish, rice, seaweed and goya.  They live in close communities where families take care of each other.  There are many grandmas to one child, and many grandchildren to one grandparent.  Everyone is a family.  Sustaining close relationships keeps them going way past 100 years old. 

The island is stunningly beautiful.  It’s long south to north and very narrow west to east.  The drive north along the shore is magnificent.  The color of the water is purest greenish-blue.  The small towns feel quaint and cozy.  The people are smily are friendly.  No one is in a rush.  Busses are late (which is unheard of on the main island).  It’s an island life.

I stayed in Naha, the capital of Okinawa for two weeks before finally setting out around the island.  Through my sister, I found an American girl who was teaching English in a town nearby, and quickly we became friends.  I stayed with her for almost a week while touring the island.  We went out with her students at night, explored the gardens of Naha in the south, cooked home food for each other and spend lots of time talking.  NiQui was very happy on Okinawa.  She found a job she cherished, she acquired close friends with whom she felt happy, and there was a prospect of a relationship in the works.  Her smile was unobtrusive, contagious and sincere.  When she laughed, people around her burst in fits of giggles.  She had a feel of a person who knew what happiness was.  And that was immensely attractive.

When the day to say good bye came, I was sad to part but having these new memories felt good and I was happy to have met her.

I was going back to Naha to meet a friend.  He was flying from New York to spend a week in Japan.  To check-up on me and to learn about a new culture. 

The first couple of days, we spent exploring the southern part of the island.  We found ourselves strolling through the streets of Naha talking about our lives and fulfillment.  We explored the famous Gyokusendo Cave, which is one of the longest natural caves in Japan.  And eventually, our feet led us to a pier where we took a boat to a remote Tokashiki Island. 

Tokashiki Island is very small. There are only four towns, two on each coast and they are separated by mountains.  Strolling through empty streets, hiking up in the mountains, swimming in crystal blue waters, we were always alone.  There was not a soul in sight.  Every once in a while, we’d run into a local, they’d share a big smile with us and we parted ways.  We came to Tokashiki off-season and that was our luck.  Complete serenity, peace and silence were in abundance. 
On the way to our town
 Our beach

After exploring most of the island’s hiking paths and swimming in the ocean to our content, we finally left.  My friend was going back to US and I was bound for Kyushu.  The plan was to visit my friend Sumire, whom I met during my last days in Japan back in November and then move forward to the main island.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! Hisashiburi!! So good to be back in touch and to see what life is & can be on those islands on the other extreme side of Japan. Okinawa has never been on my "to see" list, but it is now! Domo arigato!!

    p.s. I totally understand the first part and how you can get distracted from your inner reflection when traveling with friends! That's happened to me a few times over the years, as well. Not a bad thing at all. ;)