Even though it was not actually filmed in Okinawa the ‘Karate Kid Part II‘ (1986) actually gave me my first glimpse of Japanese life back in the eighties. I actually wrote about this ten years ago when I went to Okinawa-prefecture for the first time to do some island hopping taking in the likes of Taketomi-jima and Ishigaki-jima.
A decade on and my wife and I were very much looking forward to experiencing Okinawa as she had never been there and I had never done anything more than transit on the main island. Naha was to be our destination for a three night break but due to the typhoon it was extended. We were supposed to be flying back on the Monday (3rd October) but my wife received an e-mail from the airline the day before saying it had already been cancelled. This wasn’t the first time though that I had missed a day at work due to flight problems!
We flew over Yoron-jima (actually part of Kagoshima prefecture) as we came into land and things had been going well although it was something of a dark start. ‘Joanna Lumley’s Japan‘ on ITV came at a good time for me as I hadn’t done too much research. In the third and final part of her travelogue series she visited the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters and though she said the tunnels were unbearable I felt we should visit them to get an understanding of how the Okinawan people fought the war.
The Memorial Museum costs nothing but it’s the tunnels (440 yen) which visitors come to see and steps lead down to a complex network of corridors.
175 men committed suicide as the battle for Okinawa came to a bloody conclusion in June 1945 and the wall of the staff officer’s room is riddled with hand grenade blast scars.
Construction began in August 1944 and the overall length was 450 metres and included such places like the commanding officer’s room (below) as well as signal, staff, code, generator, medical and petty officer’s rooms. Only a 300 metre portion of these hand-dug tunnels is open to the public due to roof cave-ins and, though gruesome, they are fascinating to see.
We walked for about 30 minutes from the tunnels to the nearest station which was opposite the baseball stadium (above) and from there we took the monorail to the end of the line in the east of the city.
Shuri was our destination to see it’s castle and we were greeted at the perimeter by a few ducks!
You are free to wander the outskirts of the castle park and there are a few notable views such as the World Heritage stone gate of the Sonohyan Shrine (below) and an interesting looking tree.
Shuri-jo served as the castle of the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 to 1879 and, having been destroyed by fire during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, it was restored in the intervening years and opened to the public in 1992.
Shuri-jo castle Seiden was quite a sight albeit an expensive one. I never expected it to cost 820 yen but it was a now-or-never moment. The stylish bright-coloured exterior and striped tile flooring was a most aesthetically pleasing site (below) but the inside was of less interest to me personally. Like the majority of the visitors I went through the motions of shuffling along the route, looking at a few exhibits, reading bits here and there and promptly forgot most of them moments later!
Back to the other end of the monorail we went, and at the station one stop before the airport we headed to Senagajima which is an island connected by a bridge that one of my school managers told me about a few days prior to this trip. We could’ve waited for a free bus but they weren’t that frequent so taking a taxi was the best answer.
After a quick foot spa (above) we wandered around the western part of this small island which is full of shops and restaurants. The eastern side offered some fantastic views of the aeroplanes up close (below) as they all came in to land at the airport over the over side of the water. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thing and it was more interesting than I ever thought it would be.
As sunset edge nearer just after 6pm our focus switched to the opposite direction from our vantage point on top of the hill. We moved down to the beach area to witness the beautiful sunset (below) which is quite common ahead of an approaching typhoon.
The following morning we visited the Okinawa Prefectural Museum (via a shopping centre) which was a sizeable place and our 1-day monorail pass (700 yen) got us something of a discount on the entrance which was a nice bonus.
I’ve long realised that myself and museums don’t go well together and so tend to focus on just a few sections. In this case the ones of prime interest for me were about Okinawa after the war, it’s modern era and the folklore gallery.
Kokusai-dori Street is the major road in Naha and it is absolutely full of souvenir shops all selling the same stuff with a smattering of restaurants, bars, convenience stores and hotels dotted in between. One shop even had some Star Wars products in it but the 100 yen sign was of course for the products beneath R2D2!
Shisa statues are an icon of Okinawa and they feature on the rooftops or at the entrances of most homes and buildings. These lion-dogs protect from evil and below are a selection of the more whacky and creative ones I saw during our time in Naha.
Click here to read ‘Okinawa 2016 Pt II: Dining Out In Naha’