Friday, April 9, 2010

Day three of Tour and other days

The third leg of our bus tour was the southern portion of Okinawa. There are lots of WWII sites of significance as well as some sites of ancient historical history.

We actually went in reverse order from our normal route and took in a few sites we haven't seen on previous tours. Although we didn't stop, we rode around the site and Taika Oyata explained that Sho Hashi, on his conquest to unify all of Okinawa, took control of this castle first. The ruler was a major support of the ruler of Nanzan territory and it's capture was a major step in taking over the southern portion of Okinawa.

The next stop was quite awe inspiring, Sefa Utaki. During the Ryukyu Kingdom days Sefa-Utaki was the holiest site in Okinawa. It was the first place where the king visited after ascending on the throne, and it was where the highest priestess in the kingdom, Kikoe Okimi, performed sacred rituals. Kikoe Okimi herself was a member of the royal family as only the king’s mother, sister or daughter could hold the office.

After taking in the spectacular view, we stopped at a small tempura stand where 35 of us descended upon them with a vast hunger. The tempura was delicious and I'm sure they are on vacation now because they sold a month's worth of tempura that day!

The next stop was the natural caves of Okinawa. Some chose to walk through the caves while others visited the replica villages, took in the Eisa show and dance and of course, the souvenirs. There's also a sampling of Habu-shu, a distiled rice wine that contains a whole Habu, Okinawa's answer to the rattle snake, minus the rattles.

The next stop was the Peace Park, a large memorial dedicated to the battle of Okinawa. There are literally 100's of monuments dedicated to those who lost their lives in Okinawa. There is also a wall, similar to the Vietnam war memorial containing the names of all the military who lost their lives in Okinawa. We found the wall containing the name of Taika Oyata's brother, Akiwo.

The next stop was Himeyuri where some school girls who were hiding in cave were all killed during the battle of Okinawa. This was quite somber and a stark reminder of the horror's of war.

One of the highlights of Hiemyuri is the Okinawa doughnuts, Andagi. We watched as "mama-san" cooked up a batch in front of us and we got to eat a fresh batch just out of the pan. Where's a tall cold glass of milk when you need one?

The last stop was the Ryukyu Glass factory. There we witnessed glass being hand blown and for a few yen, you could actually make your own souvenir. The shop contained thousands of items to buy and we spent a few hours just browsing and shopping.

The next few days have been spent shopping or visiting Shuri Castle. A small group are going scuba diving in the next few days and I'm planning a trip to Shureido, Shuri Castle and a few other historical sites. Keep watching for an update

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Day two of the tour

The day two tour took us to the middle part of Okinawa and the viewing for several castle ruins that were important to the history of Okinawa. The first stop was Zakimi Gushuku.

Zakimi Gushuku was build by Gosamaru by having Yamada castle moved stone by stone via a human chain. Yamada castle was located a little over a mile away. This was quite a feat for the 15th Century.

The next stop was Murasaki Mura, a replica of ancient Shuri and the movie set for a mini-series, "Ryukyu no Kaze" - "Winds of the Ryukyu's" This was a movie about the Ryukyu Kingdom and the eventual take over by Japan. One of Taika Oyata's ancestors was involved in a rebellion against the take over, but lost his life as a result.

The next stop was Chibana Castle, site of Uni-Uhugushuku's grave marker. Uni-Uhugushiku was instrumental in the defeat of Awamari, a major enemy of Sho Taiku, ruler of Okinawa.

The next stop was Katsuren Castle, site of the castle ruins where Awmari was ruler. His ambitions to take over the kingdom was instrumental in the demise of Gosamaru, ruler of Nakagushuku, but who was eventually defeated by Uni-Uhugushiku.

The last stop was Nakagushuku Castle ruins. The castle of Gosamaru and a visit to Nakamura-ke, a replica of a rich retainer's home. The rains sort of dampened the last two stops, but everyone braved the down pour to take a first hand look at these historical site.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Day one of the tour

Sorry for the confusion here. I keep wiping out the previous posts somehow!

Day one of the tour was supposed to be the Southern tour which is mostly WWII related; however, because the weather turnout to be so nice, we decided to go North instead.

After loading the bus at 9:00am and counting heads, the bus driver introduced himself. Turns out he was our driver 2 years ago and he welcomed us back. We were off by 9:15am.

The drive towards the Norther end of the island took us by where Sherry and I used to live, the base where I worked and the area where Taika Oyata's dojo used to exist. Needless to say, things have changed tremendously in 42 years; however, there were few recognizable landmarks, such at th A&W Root Beer Drive-in.

Our first stop was Manza-mo. We arrived early beating most of the other tour buses, but it was still very crowed. Manza-mo is a large plateau that is said to be able to seat 10,000 people, thus the name Manza-mo. In ancient times, travelers from the North to the South would stop here to rest.

As we were leaving, there were probably at least 20 other tour buses making their way into the park. This is the most buses I've every seen here at once.

We continue our drive towards the North and stopped in Nago for their famous Nago Soba. Indeed we were pleased to have a bowl of their delicious take on this local dish. Another 45 minute drive and we reached our destination, Cape Hedo.

Cape Hedo is the Northern most tip of Okinawa. Large volcanic rocks jut out of the ocean as waves crash over them. It is quite a site to behold!

After leaving Cape Hedo, we started back South again and stopped at Nakijin Gushuku (Castle). Nakijin is probably the oldest castle site in Okinawa. It's made from indigenous rocks stack on top of each other. Most of the other castle sites are made of cut limestone. Some Okinawan's believe this is the origin of life.

The castle is located on a high bluff and you can see the surround land and sea below. the back side of the castle sits on high cliffs making it difficult for any large scale invasion. As was the case for most of the castle sites, it was completely destroyed in WWII; however, efforts are underway to restore it.

Our last stop of the day was a pineapple farmSave Now where we got to taste various types of pineapple wine, candies, cakes and of course, fresh pineapple.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 1.

Today it has rained on and off, but it hasn't dampened the spirits of anyone. After breakfast, the group broke up into smaller groups for the initial orientation for the newbies.

The GRG Hotel is just a few blocks from Kokusai Dori, the main tourist shopping area, and an easy walk. Most of the groups started their initial shopping and tastes of Okinawa just after breakfast.

Not much of an eventful day, but getting used to the time change and scouting out potential items to purchase in the upcoming days. The small groups of people allows everyone to follow an experienced traveler so that you'll know where to go for that special item you want as a souvenir.

The market place just off Kokusai Dori is always a special place and as many times as I have been there, I don't think I've been to everything that is there. You can buy almost anything from pig faces to Kimonos. It's really something to experience if you ever get a chance to come to Okinawa.

A visit to Michigwa, the local food market in Hewa Dori is a must too. All sorts of food and some free samples. Fresh sashimi can be had for less than $5.00. The same sampling would be 25 to 35 dollars stateside.

A dinner of Katsudon and a cold beer capped off a day of discovery and recovery. Tomorrow will start the Island tour with the southern portion of the island. This will be more exciting and more to write about. Stay Tuned

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Okinawa-Travels 2010

My wife Sherry, my son-in-law Chuck and a student, Alex Ormaza left Charlotte, NC on Thursday for Chicago. In spite of it being April Fools day, we made the short flight with no hitches.

After spending the night in a near-by hotel attached to the Chicago's Ohare Airport we walked right into check-in and security without any hassles. That was a first for Chicago.

Most of the tour group meet up with us for the 13 hour flight to Tokyo. A few flew out of different airports and we all synced up in Tokyo for the final 3 hour leg of the trip.

Taika and an old student, Jon Elkin and his wife met us at the airport with the tour bus. There was a short 10 minute ride to the GRG hotel in Naha and we all got checked without hassles.

After getting settled a bit, a large group of us walked across the street for our first bowl of soba and a cold Orion beer. I got to test my knowledge of Japanese and reading the menu as I ordered for our small group. Seven bowls of Soki Soba, two bowls of Okinawa Soba and seven iced cold mugs of Orion. Our trip has officially begun.

Today will be a day of rest and acclamation for the rookies. It's raining today, but I don't think that will dampen the spirits of everyone.

Tomorrow we'll start our official 3 day bus tour of the whole island. There will be postings of our daily activities. Stay Tuned

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Okinawa-Travels 2010

2010 will mark my 11th trip to Okinawa. My first trip was complements of the US Army when I was stationed there for two years in the late 60's and early 70's. Needless to say, much has changed in these 40 years, but going back is always like a homecoming.

I began my karate journey in the dojo of Seiyu Oyata in 1969. I was introduced to the culture, language and food of this tiny island and have been in love with it since. Over the years with return trips and continued study with Oyata Sensei, I have come to have a deeper appreciation for this tiny island and it has made a large impact on my life.

After bringing Oyata Sensei to the US in 1977, his organization began to grow and we've enjoyed many years of learning not only his karate knowledge, but an appreciation for the culture and philosophy of the people of Okinawa. Starting in 1990, Oyata Sensei started taking small groups to Okinawa for a first hand look at the culture, food and beauty of this tiny tropical island.

The trips last for about 2 weeks and always include a 3 day tour of the whole island. The trip encompasses the island by touring the Northern region, the central region and the southern region. The trip includes visits to castle ruins and a lesson in the history behind them. It's also sort of a culinary tour as the basic and most famous Okinawa soba, is a little different depending on the area you are in.

The tour often includes the botanical gardens and aquarium which hosts many species of plants and animals unique to the region. Stops at local tourists attractions gives a glimpse of items uniquely Okinawan and a chance to pick up a few souvenirs.

This years trip will begin as the majority of the 34 visitors meet at Chicago's Ohare Airport on April 2 as we embark of the 13 hour flight to Tokyo. From Tokyo it's another 3 hour flight to Naha and our official arrival in Okinawa around 9 pm Saturday night.

Oyata Sensei will meet us at the airport with the tour bus, to take us to the Hotel. After checking in, the plan is to immediately taste the Okinawan cuisine by getting my first bowl of Okinawa soba.

The first day in Okinawa will be a day of acclamation or orientation for the "newbies." The "old hats" will pair off with those that have never been to familiarize them with the area. Where to eat, where the shopping district is located, the bank and how to get back to the hotel.

Starting on Monday morning will be the first leg of the 2010 Okinawa tour. The bus will come to the hotel and we'll embark around 8:00am. The bus tour is likened to a field trip in high school. The rowdy bunch, usually sits in the back of the bus and starts the first jokes of the day. As we tour, Oyata Sensei begins to explain the significance of the historical sites that we visit. We usually spend an hour or two at each site depending on where we are.

So, as we embark on the Okinawa 2010 tour, I will attempt to post the daily happenings and perhaps a photo or two. Stay tuned for upcoming posts.