Sunday, 12 February 2012

How We Didn't Do Okinawa - Part II

Firstly, my apologies for not posting sooner. I'd intended to post again about our trip to Okinawa during the week but didn't get a chance.

Secondly, I'd like to begin by talking about how Okinawa compared to Taiwan. For two islands that are only a little more than an hour's flight apart, I was surprised at how different the two cultures were. Okinawa was, in my limited perception, very obviously Japanese and a marked contrast to the island we had left behind.

To my mind, it was like Taiwan Through the Looking Glass. It's cleaner, it's tidier, there are drinks vending machines everywhere, but the most shocking difference I noticed was in the traffic. At one point I was waiting to cross the road and a car just stopped dead in the middle of the road. There were no traffic lights nor crossing of any kind, so for a while I was confused. Then the driver motioned with his hand for me to cross. Realisation dawned: he had stopped to let me cross the road. I was amazed. In Taiwan pedestrians and drivers play a kind of 'who dares wins' game in the streets where you have to keep your wits about you.

Another difference was in the language. Obviously, Japanese is very different from Mandarin or Taiwanese, and I didn't have a clue what anyone was saying, but the language sounded incredibly different, and the manner in which people spoke was quite different. For example, when paying at the checkout at a supermarket, the assistant kept up a continual monologue. It sounded like she was saying:

"And here are your oranges that I'm putting in the bag, they're very nice quality aren't they? And here is your raisin bread, followed by your juice. I'm putting them in very carefully for you....." And so on...

Japanese sounded like the twittering of birds, and the same sound was used for the signal to cross at traffic lights too. Even the ticket barrier at the monorail chirruped as each ticket went through.

Some things I was expecting, such as the deep bows from service staff. Other things were very unexpected, like the number of Okinawan men who pluck their eyebrows. I noticed one or two in the first couple of days, and then you know what it's like when you notice something, and then suddenly you seem to see the same thing everywhere? It seemed that no matter where I was looking, there was a man with plucked eyebrows. Is this a Japanese phenomenon or something just confined to Okinawa? Sorry, no photos!

I do, however,  have some other photos for you. On the way up the island we stayed at a B&B near Mount Oona, which is where Conrad and I spent a day on the beach. It was great to get out of the city and into some beautiful mountainous countryside. Here's the road we walked down to get to the beach:

 And here's one of the beautiful flowers we saw growing by the edge of the road:

The next day we went the rest of the way to the next major city, Nago, and then immediately caught another bus out to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. This was an amazing experience. I'm just going to post a lot of photos and tell you a little about what was there.

This is at the entrance to the aquarium. All the creatures in the tank are alive and the public can touch them - gently!

Here are a few photos of the coral fish tanks.

Sorry, the photos aren't the best quality but I hope I've given you a flavour of the amazing variety of fish to see. That was just the start of it though. We went on to see even more amazing and strange creatures. Here's a four-foot long lobster. I didn't know they even grew that big!

And here are some eels, just popped out to say hello:

And seahorses!

These were just a few of the huge variety of weird and wonderful creatures that we saw, but still the best was yet to come. The last part of the aquarium contains a tank large enough to house three whale sharks and lots of rays of different species. It was hard to take in how large this tank was.

We were in the aquarium for about two hours. There was lots more to see than I've managed to show here, and lots of displays about sea animals of all kinds, their biology and history of their interaction with man. The aquarium is set in a large recreational area which is entirely free to the public. There is only a fee for entry to the aquarium. In the park there are large tanks of dolphins, a false killer whale, huge sea turtles and manatees. (I have to say I felt sorry for the manatees. They looked too confined in their tank. The other animals, especially the dolphins and false killer whale, looked very healthy and happy.)

There were also tropical plant houses, botanical gardens and other recreational areas for the public, but unfortunately the tropical plant house was closed on the day we visited (which I was really gutted about) and it was very cold and windy, so we didn't spend as much time there as I would have liked.

We got the bus back to Nago and ate at the equivalent of a greasy spoon cafe just outside the bus station. Not that the Japanese would ever eat anything so bad as is served in a real bus drivers' cafe in England! No, this food was tasty. I tried natto, or fermented soy beans, a breakfast staple I'm informed. It looks disgusting, full of long strings of what looks like mucus, but it tastes quite nice! (I don't know if I could stomach it first thing in the morning, though.)

Here are our meals:

Andy just chose a couple of dishes, knowing that he would end up 'helping' Conrad with his. He had miso soup too, and the natto that I tried.

Some kind of seaweed fritter/tempura.
This is Conrad's choice. Playing safe as always. 

And this is mine. As is often the case, I'm not really sure what it is, but it looks, and usually tastes, nice.

We went back to Mt Oona to stay the night, then got the bus back to Naha the next day. Our last day in Okinawa in my next post.


Alec said...

Yes, Japanese men throughout the whole of Japan pluck their eyebrows! Not just an Okinawan thing. I'd estimate 60-70% of men between 15- 35 would pluck their eyebrows. Easiest way to spot a Japanese man in a crowd, haha.

Sounds like you had a good time! And the Churaumi Aquarium is amazing. Personally I'm not a fan because whilst it's obviously a big tank, I think there too many fish squeezed in there.

Jenny J. said...

Thanks for confirming I wasn't going mad, seeing men with plucked eyebrows everywhere. I suppose it's part of the fastidious aspect of Japanese culture, like the elaborate, many functioned toilets.
Yes, I agree, the morality of keeping such large fish is questionable. I saw a dolphin and shark brain compared and the shark brain was a fraction of the other's size and looked more like a bundle of nerves, while the dolphin brain was like a humans, so hopefully the sharks don't experience much stress or suffering. The dolphins and false killer whale seemed happy enough and were 'playing' with their keepers.