Monday, February 20, 2012

New and Improved (maybe!)

I feel as if it's time for my little ole' blog here to be re-vamped. My goal is to blog each Sunday, more for myself to look back on upon leaving Japan than for anyone else, although hopefully someone is still checking in every so often and will benefit :)
I'm also going to focus on the traveling aspect of my life (sort of!) and leave out the history. Anyone can use Google to research the places I am talking about or ask questions, but I'd like to focus more on the adventure and feeling than the history behind the locations.
So cheers to a brand new year and *hopefully* a more exciting blog!

First Stop: Granny Kim's (HA!) visit for Christmas!

How amazing it was to have a guest from home! After feeling a bit homesick for the last several months, it was wonderful to see Kim's familiar, smiling face at the airport. She was here for Christmas and for Turf's Birthday, and we really tried to show her the Hot Spots on Okinawa.

We visited the Peace Prayer Park again. Turf and I had been before, but it was a rainy day and we didn't get a great chance to walk around. We saw much more of the park this time, and the weather was gorgeous.
The park itself is set upon these enormous cliffs, which are often referred to as the suicide cliffs. Once the war broke out in Okinawa, many Okinawans were terrified of being captured and tortured, and in women and children's cases, raped. Rather than allowing themselves to be captured, they threw themselves from the cliffs. The park is a humbling reminder of the price of war, and is overflowing with memorial walls and tombs.
We were also able to visit the museum this time. It is so incredibly interesting to see history from the perspective of the Japanese. A lot of the information in the museum did not paint a pretty picture of Americans, as most of it involved invasion and death. There was also some very strong statements about the military presence in Okinawa and it's effect on the local's way of life. Some of the more emotional information was that of the Okinawan testimonies and memoirs of the war. Talk about heavy-duty stuff!

 Memorial Walls at the Peace Prayer Park
 Fountain overlooking the ocean at Peace Prayer Park

We, of course, also took Kim to Shuri Castle. Although Turf and I had been to the castle grounds before, we had not experienced the tea room. The tea room is set in a garden within the castle, and is where the king would meet with visitors and for informal meetings. We were given some delicious Jasmine tea, along with several Okinawa "sweets". I believe most were made with a popular bean paste, and none were overly sweet. 
 Kim sampling some Okinawan cookies
We made a trip to the Aquarium again as well. This place was just as amazing as it was the first time we visited, and is most definitely one of the most impressive aquariums I have been to. Particularly, the Whale Shark tank blows me away. It is full of schools of fish, sting rays, and most importantly, these mammoth Whale Sharks. The size of these suckers is just unbelievable, and it's amazing to think of them swimming around in the ocean so close to the island. 
 Whale Shark tank

One of the places we took Kim which was also a first for us was the Nakijin Castle ruins. Turf was not thrilled about seeing yet another castle ruins ("if you've seen one pile of rocks, you've seen them all", he says), but we were both surprised at the beauty of this place. It quickly took the Nakagusuku Castle's place as our favorite ruins on island. The rock walls of the castle were set in the hills and surrounded by jungle, and of course, overlooked the ocean. The landscape was well manicured and enveloped by cherry blossom trees, although they were not yet in bloom. I felt a definite sense of peace and tranquility as I was walking these grounds.

 Nakijin Castle

Our next stop was Cape Zanpa. Something about standing at the edge of these cliffs with the wind in your face is just soothing. 
 Cape Zanpa

One of my goals this year was to visit Futenma Shrine on New Years Day. The Japanese go all out for New Years Day and flock to the local temples to pray for the new year. Essentially, there is a festival that goes on for the first week of January. There are local food booths (YUM!), toys, prayer scrolls, etc. The smells of fried foods, the chitter-chatter of the crowds, and the general positive vibe of the new year was truly exciting!

 Futenma Shrine on New Year's Day

Finally, we celebrated our first Christmas in Japan. I have to admit, I did not have the spirit of Christmas this year. It may have been, in part, because we were a day ahead of all of our family and friends, or perhaps because it was not super cold yet on Okinawa. I felt a bit like Cindy Lou Who searching for the Christmas feeling. I was happy to have Kim there with us, but the entire day came and went too quickly.

Of course, just a few days later we celebrated Turf's 26th Birthday with some apple crisp, our very own Birthday plate (Kim even brought the birthday pillow case all the way from Oregon!), and a REAL candle :) I felt so lucky, again, to have Kim around to bring a piece of "home" to Turf's special Day. Thank you, Kim, for visiting and for all you brought with you! It was truly a special trip for us :)

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