Thursday, June 1, 2017

Okinawa Island

In my short time in Japan I've been fortunate enough to travel to quite a few places. Once place I fantasized of traveling, but never thought I really would, is Okinawa Island.
For those of you who don't know Okinawa Island is a small island group located south of Japan in the Pacific Ocean. It is part of Japan, as one of its 47 prefectures, but it hasn't always been that way. It is home to 32 U.S. military bases which take up 20% of its land and can be remembered as an important battle ground in the conclusion of World War II. Also for you Karate Kid fans out there, it's home to Mr. Miyagi.
Before a Japanese take over Okinawa was known as Ryukyu. It is  located several hundred miles east of southern China; several hundred miles south of the main islands of Japan; and several hundred miles north of the island of Taiwan. Being very much between these few places each have tried to get it under their control at some point in time. Though Ryukyu was its own kingdom, mostly in name, it experienced much influence from China and was made to pay tribute to the Chinese Emperor. While on vacation there, I could clearly see influences of Chinese architecture, which I found different and refreshing. Finally in 1879 Okinawa was annexed to Japan and became a prefecture under its rule. This didn't go so well for the native Ryukyuan people as their culture and language slowly faded, 

When I told my Japanese friend, Megumi that I wanted to do something special for my birthday, she suggested we go to Okinawa together. She told me of a Japanese budget airline that could get us there for about $150 round trip. I had no idea it could be so affordable, so at this I jumped at the opportunity.
During our 2-day stay we lodged at a very nice, yet affordable hotel called Laguna Garden. The room and amenities were nice and it was just a short walk from a fairly private beach. Our hotel provided a dress up experience where we got to wear native Ryukyun formal wear and pose for this photo.

We visited the beach a couple of times, taking in the mild sun with the cool breeze.

I enjoyed seeing and meeting native Ryukyun people. They looked a bit different than mainland Japanese, with a bit darker skin which could clearly tan easier and they seemed to have a more laid back demeanor. The Ryukyun people are know to be some of the world's longest living people.

In addition to seeing the native people, I got to see typical Japanese families on relaxing vacations. It was a different way to see the people that I've lived among for almost a year. Typically Japanese are a hurried people, strictly on time. But in this environment time seemed to be less of an issue. Always polished and semi conservative in dress, I got to see people in tank tops and loud Hawaiian shirts.