Due to not so great weather I went to Naha twice by regular bus. On the first trip I did my round of shops that I like and also went pottery shopping in the pottery street, which has become kind of a ritual for me when I’m in Naha. I bought a rice bowl, a plate and two small “plates” where you put your cutlery on (like a chopsticks holder, but for fork and knife), all in Okinawa blue 🙂 I also went to Shuri castle. I was surprised they actually let you onto the castle grounds. The main hall of the castle and several other buildings unfortunately burned to the ground on October 31st 2019. You can walk past where the main hall stood. So sad and I’m very glad I visited the castle when it still stood. I think they plan to rebuild it by 2026… sigh… It’s a nice way to get a bit of money though that they let you in. It’s only 400 yen mind, but better than nothing and there were some people around too, not overly many, but a few.
On my second trip to Naha a few days later, I went to a shrine I had not been to before and also a bunker south of Naha where the Japanese navy made their last stand. They hacked a significant tunnel system into the hill and it’s an interesting site.
The weather turned even worse with pretty much of a winter storm, but despite it I went by bicycle to a large shopping mall which sports a new aquarium. It’s in the town of Tomigusuku between Naha and Itoman where I stayed. I almost got blown away and froze my hands off to get there and got pretty wet. Winds were at 50 to 70 km per hour or 15 to 20 meters per second. I almost gave up but then pushed through. The aquarium is super modern. There are no explanatory signs around, instead they make you download an app and there are sensor pads instead of signs, which then load the information about the animals into the app. The aquarium isn’t big but quite nice and you could get astonishingly close to most animals. The sloth and the toucans were just behind a line! So you could even take a selfie with the super cute sloth.
I got up at seven in the morning to be ready for the ferry, but… at eight came the announcement that also that day all ferries to Zamami were cancelled due to the bad weather and rough seas. Hmmmmm… since I liked my room and it’s price, I prolonged my stay for another night, despite the fire alarm disaster.
So, what to do? Well, when it comes to sightseeing in Naha, the castle is a must. Of course I had been there also in the 1990ties, but it was so long ago it was worth going again. When I was in Naha in 1994 there had been only buses and lots of traffic jams. There are still traffic jams, but meanwhile Naha got a tiny monorail line that starts at the airport, goes through the middle of the city and stops at the rear of the castle.
I rode the cute monorail and wandered through the castle garden to its front in a stop and go of showers. The castle is very Chinese, since the Ryukyu kingdom was, if independent, always intertwined with China as well as Japan. Ryukyu only became Okinawa around 1870.
If you are in Naha, the castle is a must and it was bigger and prettier than I remembered 😉
After the castle visit I wandered back towards the Kokusai Douri, but the march was too long and I caught a bus back to shopping paradise.
Parallel to Kokusai Douri is also a pottery street with dozens of rather up-end pottery shops where you can get beautiful stuff, but for a price. I managed to not succumb to pottery, but I did get a bit carried away and bought more hotaru jewelry. That’s Okinawa glass art with metal inlays that looks very shiny and pretty 😉 It’s more or less the only jewelry I like, apart from silver with heavy metal motives 😉 I went hunting for the best and affordable items and indeed found some at a shop with an astonishingly friendly grandma selling the stuff. I say astonishingly because I think these sales people have to put up with a lot of shit from not so super friendly foreigners every day, but she warmed up to me when I talked to her in Japanese 😉
Next I wandered on to the Fukushuen garden, a Chinese garden close to the sea and it’s very much worth the visit as well.
Finally, I went on to the main shrine of Naha by the ocean. It was already under preparation for the big queue and festival mode of the New Year shrine visit ritual, and it was interesting to see the little booths with food being installed everywhere. Finally, another march home and I guess I walked about 15 km that day and was pretty tired back in the hotel.
Luckily no more fire alarms and at eight the next morning the good news, the ferry is going!
It’s small island time at least once per year for me. So this time I wanted to go to the island of Zamami, about 50 km west of Okinawa’s biggest city of Naha, which is on Okinawa main island.
There are three possibilities per day to get to the island, twice with a speed ferry, once with a slow ferry. The only same day possibility was to take an early flight to Naha, then move to the port and take the afternoon speed ferry to Zamami.
I arrived in clouds and rain and went by taxi to the port, but the taxi driver was already saying, probably the ferries don’t go, it’s too choppy out there.
He was right, there was a sign at the ticket booth at the port saying, none of the ships had been going that day. Ugh… I quickly checked booking dot com and found a good priced hotel close to the port and the taxi driver brought me there.
The hotel turned out to be quite new or renovated and the room was astonishingly nice for the last minute deal price.
I had been in Naha once during my student times in Fukuoka a staggering 24 years ago. The other times I’ve been to Okinawa I only passed through Naha. Of course I hardly remembered the place. But the one place to go to is the Kokusai Douri, the International Street. It’s a pretty long shopping street and off it branch several shopping arcades as well.
The one thing I remembered about Kokusai Douri was that there were dozens of what was then called “army surplus” stores. These shops sold old military uniforms and whatever other kind of military stuff. There is a large US army base in Okinawa, which the locals hate. The US gave back Okinawa to Japan only in 1972 by the way.
These army surplus stores have all but disappeared. I found only one single lonely shop selling military clothes and gas masks and stuff like that. All the military shops were replaced with harmless souvenir shops selling tinker and food specialties. Well, I surely prefer that to the military crap.
At 2:30 in the morning that night I was woken up by a nasty alarm on endless repeat: attention, a fire has broken out in the fifth floor, please evacuate the building immediately. The recording was in Japanese and English with teeth grinding alarm sounds in between that were blasting your ears off. Since I saw nothing and smelled nothing, I was not very freaked out and took the time to put on socks, pants and two jackets before leaving the building with my purse and computer. Some hotel guests had been more freaked out than me and stood there in their pajamas freezing. It was raining again and windy at around fifteen Celsius. Three fire trucks and the police came in one mighty commotion.
At 3:30 they called the alarm off. The very nervous night manager stood in the breakfast room and thanked the guests for their cooperation and that thanks to us the fire brigade could check everything so quickly and efficiently and sent everyone except for floor five back to bed. I was on floor four of the ten story building, luckily. No clue when the fifth floor was allowed to return.
In the morning the front desk showed signs around that a guest had tampered with a fire extinguisher and the case was now investigated by the police. Oops 😉 seems like a drunken dude will not enjoy the rest of his stay in Naha.