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I’m writing you from the confines of the Marley Coffee shop in my neck of the woods — Iksan. As I write I am sipping on a cup of warm black coffee (no cream, no sugar). Since I am fresh from having returned from Okinawa, today’s post will concern my trip. For starters, I want to list my regret (and I only have one). Not far from where I stayed (Yomitan) while on the island of Okinawa there took place a traditional Okinawan bull fight.
Unfortunately, I only caught wind of this event after I left Yomitan to meet my girlfriend, Fusako (Fuko for short). Seeing this event would have made my trip rival that of Anthony Bourdain’s who on one of his TV episodes experienced Okinawan Karate, witnessed a bull fight, and devoured some wonderful Okinawan cuisine. Actually, Bourdain had a camera crew and a substantial and enviable travel budget. My trip didn’t rival his one bit. Nevertheless, I had a ball! If you have never heard of Anthony Bourdain then never mind. I am Larry Wiggs. I go by That Brotha in Asia, and I am glad you came to my site. Had I not left Yomitan to meet my girlfriend, I might have attended the bull fight. Well… I won’t even entertain that thought because time spent with a companion is time well spent regardless of where you are and what you do together. Although the bull fight would have added another dimension to my visit, I credit Fuko for making it a memorable visit regardless. Before she arrived, a brotha was looonnneelyyy. Here’s how it went down.
I arrived on Thursday night. The Facebook posts kind of give you an idea how my day went. Alana of The Wind is right! There is something very appealing about Japan which makes us want to visit her time and again. She is sophisticated, prosperous, strange, secretive, and most importantly close enough to Korea to visit her frequently whenever I have had enough of Korea. Sure, Korea too may have had enough of me what with me having lived here for the better part of a decade.
I took a Peach Airlines flight there. Why? Peach is cheap. They pack folks on those planes too. There’s no first class. The seats are all alike. If you want to sit near the front of the plane you need to pay extra. Also, if you want a window seat, you need to pay extra. Have extra bags? You’ll pay extra too! On my way back from Okinawa, I noticed the first row of seats was empty. Call us cheap, but obviously like my fellow passengers and I were just content with traveling to and from a new destination. Bump paying more for a front row seat. Sadly though you have to pay for the drinks too. Equally sad is that there are no distractions (TVs or internet access) and the windows are somewhat smaller than those on larger planes. Nevertheless, the ride was smooth and the service was great. Their staff spoke English too. That’s a plus! Overall the experience was just peachy!
I arrived at Naha airport, went through customs, took the monorail to AsahiBashi station; transfered to a bus and made my way to Yomitan where I stayed at the apartment of the lovely Aloha and her boyfriend, Thomas. I found their place on AirBnB. Theirs is a very clean and cozy apartment decorated in a Japanese minimalist motif — perfect for the solo traveler. I had my own room separate from their living space, but with access to a bathroom with shower. After rereading my post thus far I am getting the sense that I am not talking enough about Okinawa culture and traditions. I’ll get there. Don’t you worry your pretty little heads. Also, I am probably boring you with these travel details. So, here are some pictures to pique your curiosity and also spur you to keep reading. Stay with me, will you?
Personally, I never thought I would visit Okinawa. Although I hadn’t been there before I wasn’t interested in an island that is overrun with US military bases and personnel. This is not an exaggeration either. This all changed several months ago after crossing paths with two Okinawan women, A.K. and Yuka. While visiting Seoul, A.K. and Yuka found themselves lost and in need of direction. They were asking an old Korean man for directions to no avail. When they spotted me, A.K. said: “hey, you!” Although I was surprised that two seemingly Asian women would want my attention, I took them around the Hongik University (HongDae for short — pronounced hong-day) area to Thursday Party where I showed them a good time. We talked and after learning they were Okinawan visiting Korea, I understood why they were so eager to ask me for directions. Perhaps being that A.K. speaks English and is comfortable with non Asians, she say that I was alone and not a threat. So she seized on the chance to ask me for help. Of course, being the nice guy that I am I obliged. They wanted to repay me for my kindness and thus told me to visit Okinawa some day. They said they would host me. I found a cheap flight and that is just what I did. Although I thought Yuka was single and a possible love interest, she quickly crushed my hopes when she abruptly warned me that she was in a serious relationship and that she would not be able to host me. WTH? That was sudden, I thought. I had already purchased a nonrefundable ticket. There would be no free loading for me. Fine. With my sights set on Okinawa I began to do my reasearch, e.g., typing Okinawa into a YouTube search and watching whatever videos piqued my curiosity. Hooray for YouTube!
A.K. and Yuka invited me to a night of fun with their boyfriends, Kenny and ???. I thought I would be the fifth wheel and was underwhelmed with the invitation, but they were going to dine on one of the military bases. There aren’t any ATMs that allow users who have cards issued outside Japan to withdraw money. This created a very serious problem for me since I was running out of cash quickly. The base’s ATM would allow me to withdraw enough cash for the rest of my trip. Again, I didn’t want to be the fifth wheel, but I needed money. Now although I lived in Korea for 8 years I have never stepped foot on a base. This was a new experience for me. We had dinner at Chili’s! I ate chicken and salmon, black beans, and vegetables. The meal was delicious since I don’t usually have good meals like that everyday. They brought along the lovely, Ana — a single twenty something Okinawan woman. Had I not thought of Fuko I probably would have hooked up with her (at least tried). A brotha can dream…
“Americans are free to pick and choose from a promiscuous array of values and behavior.”
– Bartolome de Las Casas, A Brief History of the Destruction of The indies
If after reading thus far you are still wondering about Okinawa, I will tell you the following. The tiny island’s history dates way back. The story of the Okinawan people being Japan’s sacrificial lamb during WWII is quite sad. In an op-ed published in The Japan Times’ June 15, 2015 online edition estimates the casualties at. Furthermore, the American occupation of this island is frustrating politically and socially. Okinawans were at once separate from the Japanese who but for their proximity barely considered each other fellow countrymen. It took WWII to bring the two together in an effort to stave off the Allied Forces. It didn’t work, Okinawans suffered. Even the Japanese tortured Okinawans who did not speak Japanese, but rather their native Okinawan language. Today, the island is overrun by an American presence. Ask an American and they are likely going to tell you the Okinawans love American culture. Ask an Okinawan and the answer is likely to be very different (if you can get them to be honest). Like many histories the Okinawan narrative is tragic.
The casualties caused by the Battle of Okinawa were enormous. More than 240,000 combatants and non-combatants died, including some 150,000 Okinawans — about a quarter of the population. About 94,000 of the Okinawans killed were civilians. The U.S. lost some 14,000 servicemen while the Japanese military lost more than 70,000. – The Japan Times
In Okinawa, Domino’s Pizza is a full restaurant where customers can sit and enjoy their pizza and side dishes. It is not just a pick up/take away or delivery based franchise like it is in the states especially California where I’m from. And A&W makes some of the best root beer, in my opinion. There restaurants are sprinkled throughout the states. But on Okinawa island, this franchise is ubiquitous. Before arriving here I watched a few documentaries about Okinawa. One in particular mentioned the Okinawan people’s predilection for all things American so much so that the younger Okinawans prefer greasy burgers and fries. Really? They enjoy it? Some do, but they are suffering for it. Obesity, heart disease, and all the problems we have in america are growing on the Okinawans. This is truly sad after all Okinawans held the title of the longest living humans. Partly due to their diet and lifestyle on the island. All that drastically changed in part due to the American presence. Japan sacrificed them and now America is taking these people taking for a ride. It’s a damn shame if you ask me. The All American restaurant capitalizes on this. A&W also offers drive-in service like Sonic and what was popular during the 50s. McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken are there too. Like Korea, McDonald’s delivers in Okinawa.
As I look down into an empty coffee mug, I think it is time to take a break and pick up from a different locale closer to my office. After all class begins soon.