SYNOPSIS:  About a 14 hour day sight-seeing on Okinawa.  A shinto shrine, two castles, a crafts village and a fast-food Sushi place.  It could not have happened without Mike.


It was a 14 hour Marathon.  I can’t imagine anyone pushing through the day like this with no food breaks but another “culture freak”.  I was completely pooped at the end of it and I was not even the one driving or the one who had to pay attention!

At 7 AM we had arranged for a spot to meet.  Mike sort of knows his way around the island, but that does not eliminate the incredible density of urban traffic he had to maneuver through versus the bit of highway driving we had while going north.   What looked on the map like a hop south took us 1.5 hours to reach, just in time for the site to open.

This part of the UNESCO site — of the cluster of nine monuments designed to preserve and demonstrate the variety of Ryokyon culture — was Sefa -Utaki, a sacred Shinto shrine.  It was the sacred shrine which in the Ryokyon legends was associated with the birth of the island and Ryokyon culture per se. The head priestess of the kingdom was inaugurated here and people from all around performed pilgrimages to the site and to some extent, they still do.

For the first time, I got a sense of just how tropical this island really is.  Mike insisted that by the end of August, some of the spiders we saw, that are now as large as a fingernail, will be as big as your hand…  Yikes!  Even without arachnophobia I am terrified of that thought.  It was sticky and muggy in the forest, yet it also felt breezy and in a sense cleansing to walk around from one sacred area to the next, six in all.

That was the easy part.  From here we headed up north to Nakijin Castle, another typical castle of the masonry style we had seen yesterday.  Yet, each of these castles has its own character.  Here, the first couple of enclosures had been allowed to grow into an orchard.  The sense of size was completely lost by the feel of walking around under the cover of trees until one had reached the top and was able to look down.  I am not sure I am very fond of that.   Some of the wall parts were slithering along in those typical undulating waves that they seemed like a huge snake.  People have also compared the effect of this wall to that of the Great Wall.  Perhaps.

A museum of quite recent artifacts, early 20th century, was all fine and interesting, but since all captions were strictly in Japanese much was lost on us.  The castle here is actually part of a whole complex which would require a walking tour of probably two hours to take in the remains of various shrines, stone structure remains, and sacred trees between the castle and the village.  We could not even consider walking this if we wanted to make it back before dark.  So we focused just on the castle itself.

The 20-30 mile of highway we drove cost us $10 in toll fees.  Wow, they really don’t want you to get anywhere fast, or what?  Aside from that, there is only this one real highway cutting North to South on the entire island.  It displayed some curious signs like: hedgehog crossing.  No kidding!  It also offered some spectacular views of the jungle, unspoiled mountains, and the ocean.  Here, the urban sprawl finally had stopped.  But we had to come this far to see it.

Zakimi Castle, about at midpoint at the Western coast of the island, was our last stop.  It was one of the few monuments without a ticket booth.  It was mercifully small, too.  By then, I started to feel the drain of the day.  But we were not done yet.

Too close to pass up, a pottery village was advertised and I really wanted to see it.  As an added bonus it turned out to also feature a glassblowing workshop, something Mike is particularly fond of.  Okinawa seems to have a substantial glassblowing tradition.  Shops are showcasing some of the glassware, which ranges from uneven, clearly crafty pieces to highly polished cut crystal.

For me the draw was a row of kilns that curiously sloped upwards under a tiled roof and seemed to all be fired by one huge underground fire pit.  Indeed, it was the coolest thing I have seen pottery-related in a long time.  The next firing is June 10, if anyone is in the area.  The doors, now on wooden hinges, will be all bricked up for the duration of the firing.  The fire will go for three days, we were told, and the cooling period after that is 10 days.  The kiln looked old, but in reality was only 35 years in operation.  However, this type of kiln and firing goes back hundreds of years and was only revived not too long ago just before it would have slipped into oblivion.

The day was winding down. It is getting dark early here.  No more sightseeing.  I invited Mike to choose a restaurant so I could at least take him out to dinner.  After this day of sightseeing in our sweaty and exhausted state, a fancy restaurant seemed out of place (and out of budget).  So, Mike chose a curiosity which I would have never found on my own:  a Sushi “fast food” restaurant.  It was unbelievable: people sat at various tables or at a counter, and a conveyer belt with sushi plates always with two pieces at a time was rolling by.  You would grab what you liked or if nothing came by you were interested in, you could order from the menu.  In that case, your special order would roll around minutes later accompanied by an announcement on the computer screen, which was part of every table’s setup.  The computer was there for you to look at the choices, call your waiter, etc.  It was the darndest thing.  If anyone would have just had this idea in the States — for sure in Ann Arbor, that would have made him/her a millionaire.  At the end you call the waiter and he will just count your plates to figure your bill.  Plates are color-coded at a flat price.  That is so simple, yet so effective.

This was a full day!  A day of happiness and accomplishment.  A day of surprises and discoveries.  Thanks, Mike!  I couldn’t have done it without you.  I hope you had as much fun as I did.  And I wonder if our paths will ever cross again.  I still can’t believe that they crossed in the first place.

Good night.

4 comments so far

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  1. What a day you had! I would have been totally worn out, and totally starving. I am glad that you had a good and interesting restaurant. You are the remarkable traveler–I am
    so glad that YOU are my neighbor and friend. Stay safe and enjoy, enjoy.

  2. How in the world do you keep all those castles and shrines clear in your head?
    What were some of the characteristics of the Ryokyan civilization?

  3. Well…since you are a “master” at manifestation, how about when you get back we sit down for some “tea” and I bring my list. If you can now manifest people, my list should be no problem at all. What a wonderful thing that you were able to manifest a guide so locally knowledgeable.

    That Sushi/meat restaurant sounds very cool. Chinese restaurants have a variant of that…the only one in Ann Arbor I’ve seen do that is the one on Washtenaw…can’t think of the name. Instead of a conveyor belt, they have women, many of them, walking around with glass carts. You select what you want from the cart and then they charge you based on the number and size of your dishes. Not being much of a traveler I had not seen this before but a friend told me that “big and real” Chinese restaurants typically do this cart thing.

    I am aware that I know absolutely nothing about Japan, so I read a bit about its history, and it is going to be interesting to hear what you have to say about some of the sites that go way back to the first and second centuries CE. Apparently there were people on the island as far back as 12,000 BCE. What will you find!!!!!

    Looking forward to more in your inimitable style…

  4. Amazing day indeed. Only you could have lived it, documented it and then found time to write the description to share it all, including the pictures with us. Pure gold for this armchair traveler. Hope you find time for sleep sometime. My favorite picture today was the unbelievable record of the fast food sushi restaurant eat-west blend offering. Diane K