Above: Shuri Castle as seen from the monorail.
With apologies to those looking forward to my next post about Exploring Sakura, I’m afraid that’ll have to wait…
As a result of some incredible generosity, I am here in Okinawa for a week, a whole week, mostly on my own (woo!), but with some expectation that I’ll be diligent and responsible and spend my time doing research. From my first day alone, the trip was already to my mind a huge success in terms of research – I got to see and handle in person a whole bunch of original documents, and came away with hundreds of photos which I can then study later. But, I also knew, almost from the moment I landed, that I was not going to waste an opportunity like this by spending the whole week in archives and libraries. The way I see it, or maybe I’m just inventing self-justifications, but, walking around and experiencing the city – and seeking out historical sites – is important research as well.
Anyway, let me jump into it. I arrived quite late at night on a Friday, taking the monorail directly from the airport to my hotel (how convenient!), and arriving at the hotel around 11:30pm. To my surprise, there were plenty of bars and such still quite hopping at that late hour. Of course, once I thought about it a moment, I realized 11:30 is actually really not all that late – not for a real city. I’ve just gotten too used to Sakura, and to my on-campus life back in the States, and to a “tomorrow’s a school day” sort of schedule from my few weeks in Yokohama earlier in the summer. For a real city, having plenty of restaurants and bars that stay open until two in the morning is quite normal. And given Naha’s identity as a tourist destination, and given the incredible heat and humidity at the peak of the day, it really makes perfect sense that lots of places would be staying open later.1 And, as a real proper city, it’s not just Okinawan and Japanese places – Naha has plenty of bars and restaurants serving a wider variety of foods and atmospheres. My first night here, I went to a bar near the hotel serving pasta and pizza and the like, and apparently specializing in saké from Saga prefecture? Just seeing this level of activity and variety, my excitement to explore Naha, to really get to know it, to hopefully someday live here for a longer period of time, was really re-kindled.
The next morning, the main order of business for the day was to visit the Prefectural Archives. This was my first time working in an archives in Japan, and I was a bit nervous about how difficult it might be to get in, or how strict they might be on certain rules, etc. But, my professor had called and faxed ahead on my behalf (yes, they still use fax in Japan. a lot.), and the archives people were really nice. They prepared everything for me ahead of time, so when it came time to request materials, they had them all set aside already, and could very quickly and easily just bring over the next batch of five things at a time. They even allowed an exception, to allow me to skip out on wearing gloves while handling the objects. Now, I know that some of you are probably gasping or tsk tsking right now, but, this is what I was taught at the Smithsonian, and having now experienced trying to handle these things with gloves, I completely see what the Smithsonian collections managers / conservators were talking about – even with the thinnest of gloves on, it makes your hands feel really fumbly and awkward, making it very difficult to handle thin delicate pieces of paper with the proper care, and very difficult to turn pages. I tried wearing the gloves at first, but I quickly realized that if I continued to wear them, I was going to risk tearing something, or being unable to fold or unfold it properly. Some of these things were on extremely thin pieces of paper… but, to my surprise, the staff was kind enough to let me skip out on the gloves. I know that every archive/museum has different policies, and I certainly meant to obey them and not to give anyone any trouble, but, boy, those gloves would have been such an incredible hassle – and risky, for my proper handling of the objects.
A statue of Joe Yabuki from Ashita no Joe, sitting outside a shop on Kokusai-dôri. I guess he’s moved from the rainbow bench I saw him on five years ago, on the same street.
Thanks to everyone’s incredible kindness and organization and such, I was able to finish in one day the archives work that I thought would take two or three. Afterwards, I poked around Shuri a little, then headed over to Kokusai-dôri (the main shopping street in Naha – mostly touristy souvenir shops & restaurants, but also department stores, etc.) in the hopes of finding a Post Office ATM that was still open.2 Note to self – my American ATM card absolutely does not work at Lawson’s or FamilyMart, and there are no 7-11’s in Okinawa.
From some notes I sketched out while at the bar:
Ten years ago today, I was in Kyoto for the first time, dying in the heat, and celebrating my 21st birthday alone, with a carton of umeshu from the conbini. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have an amazing time in Kyoto that week.
Tonight, it’s my 31st birthday, and I’m at the Nenes’ shimauta live bar on Kokusai-dori in Naha. And trying habu shu for the first time. It’s terrible, of course. But I’ve had a great time in Okinawa the last day or so, and I’m still here for a week!
Kind of weird to reflect on it… I can’t believe that was ten years ago. I mean, yes, it does feel like a long time ago, but, at the same time, to think I’ve been coming to Japan for ten years, or to put it another way, to think that I’ve seen Japan ten years ago, and five years ago, and today, to think that I’ve become able to talk about how it used to be – that enough time has passed that I might actually notice changes, differences, developments in Japan.
Thinking of what I’m doing right now, the direction my career and research and such has taken, now that I’m doing Ryukyuan history, being in Okinawa for the 10th anniversary of the end of my first time in Japan is really something special.
Below: The beach at Ôgimi-son, where we went on Day 3.
(1) I shouldn’t be putting so much reliance on this, but I caught a bit of a TV program the other day that was comparing different prefectures, and one of the random items they pointed out about Okinawa is that many supermarkets stay open super late, and that a lot of people do their grocery shopping late at night, avoiding the heat of the day. I may be reading too much into it, but I thought the program was implying that especially in the summer, many Okinawans stay up or stay out later, in general.
(2) I know it may seem counter-intuitive or unexpected, but the ATMs at the post offices in Japan are one of the chief places where you can use your international (e.g. American) ATM card. And, I’ve been told they have really low fees and/or good exchange rates, but actually I don’t know the details on that. Reportedly, 7-11 is another place where you can expect your ATM card to work. But, I can now say from direct experience that Lawson and FamilyMart are not on that list.
All photos my own. I don’t know when I’ll get around to doing anything to organize them more properly, but all of my Okinawa photos from this summer can be seen on Flickr.