Okinawa 4 - Naha
Saying goodbye to Iriomote, I flew to Naha, the cultural and economical center of Okinawa. I didn't intend to stay there but rather use it as a base to visit the neighboring islands. Indeed, interisland transportation is virtually inexistent and therefore, a much better option is to stay at Naha and make several small trips from there.
Consequently, if I stayed three nights there, I spent only one full day and I must say it was largely enough, considering how few attractions the city has to offer.
First I went to Okinawa's historical budokan, which was unfortunately hosting some totally unrelated event on that day:
Next is Shuri castle, the former royal palace used for several centuries until the Ryukyu kingdom became a Japanese prefecture:
As I still had a couple hours to spend, I then decided to relax at one of Naha's famous beaches...it turned out that I don't have the same definition for "relaxation" as the folks who designed the beach. It has an unbeatable view on a highway, see for yourself:
And maybe were they trying to cover the gentle melody of the car engines, but there was also a speaker blaring nonstop, loud music. Talk about relaxation...Seriously, what do they have in mind when they design such things??!
The heart of the city really is just one main street called 国際通り, which means "international street":
Restaurants are lined up with souvenir shops giving an undeniable cheesy aspect to it.
You can pretty much find any kind of souvenir, including of course the Okinawa lion I mentioned on Ishigaki:
Looking for alcohol? How about this:
I don't know what the liqueur is made of but inside each bottle is a habu, a highly lethal snake native to Okinawa. A bottle costs between 45000 and 70000 yen, quite expensive indeed! The conversion is up to you...
Besides, it might be due to the American presence in Okinawa, but several shops are specialized in military clothing:
I'm seriously wondering who actually buys those jerry cans:
Yes, there are still US army bases, although I don't really understand what the guys do besides enjoying the sea, playing cards and getting drunk...
If you can't find anything to your liking in the international street, try the shopping arcade that spurs off from it, it has tons of souvenir shops and fresh food stalls.
Some of the culinary specialties are indeed very special, I'm thinking about tebichi, pig's feet, and mimiga, ears of the same animal which, after being thinly sliced, look like this:
I tried the tebichi but I wasn't that brave with the ears...Instead, I had a treat with the Ishigaki beef, simply divine!
Just like the rest of Japan, security is not an issue and the way the police handle things is almost laughable. For instance, here is the measure against illegal parking...only a message:
It is no different with disturbance. I met that guy, who cannot sing for nuts:
Twenty minutes later, no surprise:
At the time, I thought that the police were not friendly at all compared to usual Japanese standards. But then I was explained that they had to come every single night to the exact same spot, to say the exact same thing to the exact same guy. And sincerely, if you heard him sing, you would understand that it may get irritating after a year of the same ineffective ritual. Even so, they never fined him, not the most effective strategy and indeed, half an hour later, he was at it again, except this time with the drums!
With a beer to finish:
I also met this guy, Vladimir Yarets from Belarus, who travels around the world on his motorbike since may 2000:
It is particularly amazing considering he's deaf! If you're interested, you can check out his website: http://www.yarets.com
It somewhat reminds me of that other guy I met at a guesthouse in Beppu, who had left the Netherlands 17 months before and made it all the way to Japan...on his bicycle!!!
Overall, I had a nice time in Naha but I still wouldn't recommend it for tourism. It has neither the beautiful nature one might expect from its environment, nor the commodities and nightlife of a larger city. However, as I stated above, it is a convenient base to explore the neighboring islands.
Here are some shots of the city to conclude: