So on Monday morning, I took the train to Narita airport for my flight to Naha. Can I just say that flying domestically in Japan is SO MUCH LESS STRESSFUL than flying domestically in the States? It took me about 45 seconds to get through security, they didn't pull me out of line for a "random" pat down,* they didn't disassemble my laptop, and after whisking me through security THEY APOLOGIZED FOR TAKING SO LONG. Also, the airport was just so much more relaxed. Heck, they managed to board the entire flight in 10 minutes! I'm not even kidding!
If air travel in the US was more like air travel in Japan, maybe I wouldn't hate it so much!
Anyway, it was about a three hour flight from Tokyo to Naha. There was no movie or drink cart or anything, but given how cheap my seats were, I don't really care! I mostly just read a little bit and worked on some stuff on my computer and just otherwise generally chilled.
The only unfortunate thing about the flight is that between my cold and the descent, my left ear got plugged and refused to pop FOR THE REST OF THE DAY. Ugh.
So I arrived in Naha, grabbed my bag, and then hopped on the monorail to our hostel! Yep, Naha has a monorail that runs through the whole city, which is pretty nice! Anyway, after dragging my bags up five flights of stairs, I got checked in and chilled with the other members of our crazy Naha-exploring party, which included Sara, Steven, Alex, Alyssa, Alyssa's sister, and Alyssa's cousin.
We didn't do much else, except go out for dinner, where we got:
DELICIOUS GINGER PORK OM NOM NOM. (Well, Steven and I got ginger pork and everyone else got Okinawan soba, which is actually more like ramen.)
And then AFTER dinner Steven and Sara and I grabbed sata andagi, which are Okinawan donuts! They were delicious.
And then I collapsed into bed because I was a pathetic and kind of sick mess.
On Tuesday we decided to go to the beach! There was a beach in town, but we decided to take a bus out to a different one.
(Picture totally stolen from Sara because I was too busy splashing around in the water like an idiot.)
Tropical Beach! (That was actually the name.) It was...weird, because the water was WARM what the heck. If I'm going to go swimming in the Pacific, I'm going to expect the water to make my legs feel like they're falling off. Also, there were...basically no waves? And there was a swimming area sectioned off, so there was no fear of sharks/jellyfish/riptides? Also, the sand was mostly composed of tiny shells/corral so it was pretty bad for sand castles.
BUT I WENT SWIMMING
That afternoon we took the monorail to Shuri Castle:
(This is not Shuri Castle. This is just a view of Naha.)
(This isn't Shuri Castle either.)
(Neither is this.)
Okinawa is home to many exciting animals, including the incredibly poisonous habu!
Seriously, don't let one of these things bite you.
Oh, hey, now we're at the castle.
It doesn't really look like other Japanese castles, 'cause it's built in a sort of hybrid Chinese-Japanese style.
Look at these incredibly talented people.
LOOK AT THIS TREE.
TREES IN OKINAWA ARE CRAZY.
LOOK AT THIS WALL.
...also, perhaps I've been spending too much time talking to Geoff, but the castle defenses were pretty pitiful. There wasn't even a moat! What the heck.
Those two guardian lions are called shisa, and they're kind of the unofficial mascot of Okinawa. If you go to BASICALLY ANY STORE in Okinawa, they are selling tiny shisa of some kind.
LOOK AT THESE INCREDIBLY AWESOME PEOPLE IN FRONT OF THIS INCREDIBLY FAMOUS GATE.
If, for some reason, you have a 2,000 yen bill in your possession (you probably don't, because I had never seen one until Sara whipped one out), this gate is on the bill.
This gate is on MONEY.
Okay, heading inside the castle!
...I think this is supposed to be a dragon maybe?
LOOK AT THAT PALACE.
My favorite part is that the lines on the ground were used during ceremonies so that people would line up in the correct places. GENIUS.
LOOK AT THESE DRAGONS.
(LOOK AT THAT...LIGHTNING ROD?)
Here, have some shisa:
I love how much personality these little guys have.
SO MANY DETAILS.
This one MIGHT be my favorite.
Anyway, then we went inside the castle museum, so we couldn't really take many pictures. But we could take pictures of the castle garden!
(This garden is mostly composed of rocks.)
Tatami rooms! Yay?
And then we went into the main palace:
...where there was a giant hole in the floor so you could see the original foundations!
(The entire castle had to be rebuilt, because it was destroyed during the bombing during WWII. SO MUCH HISTORY GONE.)
...aaaaaaaaaaaand fancy castle!
This is the King's Crown! (It's a replica, unfortunately. The real one was made out of pearls and gemstones and other ridiculously swanky things.)
So this is what the castle looked like during ceremonies:
CHECK OUT THAT LINING UP ACTION.
That night we grabbed Okinawan food (DELICIOUS) at a surprisingly cheap izakaya. We had champloo (which is a stir fry of bitter melon, egg, tofu, and other stuff I'm forgetting) and egg-and-spam (NOT MY CHOICE) rolls and fried chicken and other similarly delicious things.
So that was our Tuesday!
Unrelated, but this sign was at our hostel. And I love it. I will take all the cake.
(Our hostel was great. Sora House. Go there.)
On Wednesday we decided to go check out the beach in the city, but it turned out to be under an overpass (????) and kind of small and weird and depressing, so instead we went gallivanting off to check out shrines.
Namely this shrine.
There's something really surreal about a shrine located in a tropical environment.
Look at those roof shisa.
Even your roof is not safe from shisa.
Because giant umbrellas.
So then we headed down the hill!
This is the front of the shrine, by the way.
And those are some foreign tourists.
Oh, hey, a temple!
...oh, hey, a mizuko temple. That's cool too.
You can just hang up bibs for your aborted/miscarried fetuses here. A bunch of the bibs had addresses/contact information/names written on them.
...and a mizuko statue.
I'M NOT OBSESSED WITH DEAD BABIES.
I just see them.
And theeeen on the way back to the hostel we found a Daoist/Confucian temple (it had both Daoist and Confucian gods, so).
And also this amazing manhole cover:
And also this temple:
Anyway, we then decided to go wandering around the main shopping district. If you have a sensitive stomach (i.e. if dismembered [but not bloody or gory!] and/or weirdly pickled stuff bothers you) you MIGHT want to scroll down to where it's safe for you to look.
SERIOUSLY I AM NOT KIDDING.
IT IS KINDA WEIRD AND GROSS.
Everyone with a sensitive stomach gone now?
So we saw amazing things such as:
(I'm not even kidding. That is a habu. In alcohol. And you are supposed to drink the alcohol. With the habu in it. What.)
A decapitated pig head wearing sunglasses!
Because why not?
I put sunglasses on my decapitated pig heads every day.
Vacuum-sealed pig faces!
We also saw whole fugu, which are essentially the creepiest things, because all of them look like they want to murder you. Seriously, if a dead fish could be a mafia boss, it would be a fugu.
OKAY, IT'S SAFE FOR YOU TO LOOK NOW.
We also tried "sea grapes" which is this kind of seaweed, I guess? It looks like tiny grapes and tastes like pickleweed, so it is DELISH.
Other things we saw!
...this is exactly what it appears to be.
Also, THESE SHINY THINGS. (I am not a magpie.)
ANYWAY, that evening we went out to get MORE Okinawan food, and I got champloo again because I love bitter melon.
We spent most of Thursday bumming around the shopping district, getting omiyage for people, buying adorable scrunchies with MANTA RAYS and WHALES and SHISA on them (okay, that was really only me), and freaking out over the salt store.** The weather was kind of bad,*** and I was sick and everyone was tired, so it was a pretty chill day.
And then we headed to the airport and I flew back to Nagoya and collapsed everywhere!
And that was my trip to Okinawa. Pretty good overall, although next time I'd definitely like to hit some of the side islands (like Iriomote...and not just for the cats). There just...isn't...that much to do in Naha, and it's hard to get to anything outside of Naha if you don't have a car.
But it was nice to get to Okinawa, eat some delicious food, and see SO MANY shisa!
(Also, Okinawan ice cream is great. I may have eaten a lot of it, but you can't prove it.)
*It's random the first time or two. When I get pulled out of line PRACTICALLY EVERY SINGLE TIME, it stops being random.
**IT'S A STORE THAT ONLY SELLS SALT. THAT IS ALL THEY SELL. But they sell INCREDIBLY COOL SALT-HERB MIXES which you can sample, like "dynamite salt" (which is salt mixed with incredibly spicy stuff) and "hibiscus basil salt" (which sounds disgusting but tastes amazing) and "garlic salt" (which should be obvious). I may have spent way too much money there. Everyone may have spent way too much money there. BUT MY SALT IS DELICIOUS.
***Which is to say raining in the morning. In the afternoon it was the same as the weather the rest of the time, which is to say in the 80s with 90000% humidity. So disgusting.