Around the World in 69 Days - Fall 2007 travel blog

captain's perch

colorful fish

fellow shoppers

pig head

pricing the lobster

rattle snake liquor

castle guard

Shuri Castle closeup

Shuri Castle interior

Shuri Castle

Kabuki singer

We almost didn't get to visit Okinawa. CNN has been alarming us with the news of three typhoons in the area, one a super storm - whatever that means... Typhoons are what hurricanes are called in this part of the world. We don't understand the reason for the different names, but we do understand the bad effect that they have on the seas. Even though we never got closer than three hundred miles to the nearest one, the rocking and rolling and creaking sent about 25% of the ship's passengers to bed. The poor crew members who were nauseous were sent to the ship's doctor for a shot in the buns. They have to keep working. Three of us felt just fine, but poor Keith feasted on a dinner of saltines , fresh ginger and green apple. After a five hour nap he went back to bed and waited for the motion to stop. The Okinawa harbor is small and requires us to twirl around 180ยบ. Usually this ship is remarkably maneuverable, but the captain called for some tugboats to stand by just in case since the high winds could cause him to lose control. But when we finally did arrive, the sun came out and we had good touring weather, albeit with high humidity.

We were surprised when we received notification that everyone on the ship had to pass a thermal inspection before disembarking. This involved briskly passing by a heat sensing unit that would perhaps detect if one of us had a fever. What would happen to you if you did, was not clear. The ship tried to organize the passengers into groups, but we still ended up being in a line of about 1,000 people before the inspection began. Once we final made it to the lounge where the machine was set up, all the Japanese officials were wearing face masks and gloves. The only thing missing was hazmat suits. We felt like we Martians had come in for a landing and had to be closely examined. Very inscrutable.

Okinawa is on the same latitude as Hawaii and shares some of its characteristics. Both places used to have prosperous sugar cane and pineapple farms. High labor costs drove them out of business. Both places are of great military importance and had large roles in World War II and still house multitudes of army and navy personnel. Today about 75% of Okinawa consists of military bases, either US or Japanese. Tourists from colder parts of the country visit both spots for honeymoons and vacations. However, overall Hawaii gives a more prosperous, high end impression than what we were left with today.

Because of its location, poor Okinawa has almost always been invaded by someone. While it started out as an independent kingdom, it spent 450 years as part of China, 270 years as part of Japan and 27 years under US control. It is the only part of Japan that was ever physically invaded by another country. I'm guessing that this is because Japan was so busy being an invader, no one ever got around to reciprocating.

Today's tour had two parts. We started on the Miracle Mile, Kokusai Street, where one ticky tacky souvenir shop after another seemed to appeal to the Japanese tourists much more than to us. Oddities such as the local liquor with highly poisonous rattle snakes floating inside, did draw our attention. When we found the local market, things got much more interesting. These folks love pork and we saw pieces of the animal for sale, that we've only seen on a farm. The seafood was much more appealing. Brightly colored fish in a rainbow of hues could have starred in any aquarium.

Then we visited Shuri Castle Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This was a reconstruction as everything here must be, because it was all flattened to the ground during WWII. When Okinawa was still the independent kingdom of Ryukyu, the local emperor built the complex to house the royal family and impress the traders form China and Japan. Parts of the complex had to be visited barefoot and we were handed convenient bags for toting around our shoes. Since there weren't all that many places our fellow passengers could visit on this small island, it felt like all 2,600 of us were inching our way through the castle together.

Early afternoon found us back on board and rocking and rolling once again. The weather sounds much worse as we head toward Taiwan.

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