Saturday, 28 February 2015

living on ice-cream and chocolate kisses

Our tour of Okinawa begins properly from the southern tip of the island, as by now we've already explored the built-up area around Naha on the west coast.  On a blustery wet day we cycle along the south coast on quiet roads and stop in the afternoon at the memorial park to remember the victims of the Battle of Okinawa.  The Japanese only surrendered to the Americans after two and a half months of fighting on the island.  The death toll is staggering: 77,000 Japanese soldiers and 14,500 US.  But the truly frightening statistic is the 149,000 civilians who also died.  To put this in perspective, that's more than the death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.  It was this battle that probably sealed the fate of those victims of the atomic bombs - the Americans did not want a protracted battle on Japanese soil.  I wonder what the Okinawans make of all this - whether they consider themselves as sacrifial lambs used by the Japanese military to slow the American advance or angry at the deaths caused by the American invasion.  It seems the park has been created by the Okinawans themselves rather than the Japanese government.  In the park there is a garden with stone tablets engraved with the name of every known victim, including some Korean and British.  We walk around and look out to sea. 

Along the coast we come to a quiet beach where our tourist map indicates free camping.  It's at the end of a little road and there are only a couple on the beach when we roll up.  It's quiet, the weather has brightened, we pitch the tent.  A couple of fisherman turn up at sunset as the tide is turning.  Later in the night we see someone wading in the shallows with a torch - looking for what? shellfish, crabs?  The place is so nice that the next night we return to the same spot.  Further along the coast we watch two fishermen at work as the tide reaches its highest point.  One wades slowly into the water with a net in his hand.  

After waiting and watching he hurls the net into the water and it spreads out into a large circle before the weights drag it downwards.  He hauls the net back with the rope attached to the centre.  He pulls it out - there are a couple of tiddlers thrashing around.  The other man has been watching from the shore, from up above, and he now wades in.  He stands still for a long time and then quickly moves into the sea up to his waist and throws his net out.  When he pullls it out of the water it is bulging with fish.  He makes it look easy.  It's incredible.  He doesn't return to the water - just pours his catch into a bucket and drives off home.

We ride up the east coast of the island and take the bridges to some small outlying ones before crossing back to the west coast at the lowest point on the central ridge.  The weather is sunny and windy and makes for easy days.  We camp on the beach or tucked away in sheltered spots next to farmland.  There seems to be a lot of small-scale farming across the island and all the vegetables in the shops we've seen look like something entered in 'Best of Show'.  We've begun cooking once again in the evenings and the vegetables are expensive, whilst everything else seems quite affordable.  For lunch we've been eating bento boxes from convenience stores or supermarkets - take-away ready meals.  And the occasional choc-ice, of course. 

Okinawa is said to be an americanised version of Japan, but we're not sure what this means.  Some people speak English. You can buy Spam in the supermarket and get a 'taco rice' in some cafes.  There are baseball fields in every village, at every school.  One Sunday we sit and eat our lunch whilst watching a game - it's a bit dull with each innings passing quickly.  But the Japanese have been playing baseball since the early 1900's and it's big on the mainland.  Some of the professional teams are having their spring training here.  No, we'll have to wait until we get to the mainland before we can compare.

No comments:

Post a Comment