Flew from Tokyo to Okinawa on Thursday, the 15th. My flight landed at 5:30 or so, and even though I didn’t wait long for my bags, nor wait long for a monorail train out of the airport, nor wait long for a bus to campus at the bus terminal, somehow in total I severely underestimated how long it would take to actually get out of the airport. So, I only finally got to campus around 8pm. But, I’m here now, and all is swell.
Right: Sunset over the Tsubogawa, in Naha.
Just taking the monorail out of the airport, being back in Okinawa put such a smile on my face. And the moon was so beautiful that night (even though it didn’t really come out in the photos)! I suppose that makes sense, given it was Moon-Watching Festival (月見, tsukimi, aka 十五夜, jûgoya), though I didn’t realize it at the time.
As I was saying in the previous post about seeing how Tokyo changes each time I come by, I quite enjoy seeing the same in Okinawa. In order to get out to the University of the Ryukyus campus, I had to take the monorail from the airport to the main Naha Bus Terminal, then catch a different bus.
(They do have buses that go straight from the airport to campus, but they stop all the way at the other end of campus, and I was told this might be easier, esp. with all my luggage. In the end, I think I might have been better off with the other option – just take a bus to the wrong end of campus, then suffer a short walk, or catch a cab… Still, I made it in the end!)
As I got off the monorail at Asahibashi, though, something felt wrong. Then I realized what it was – they had torn down the entire bus terminal, for renovation!! I’m sorry I didn’t get any pictures of the construction (I still might, on a later day), but, yeah, it’s these small things – having been someone who saw the old one, and not someone who’s only familiar with the new one – that make me feel just that tiniest bit more “insider”, more experienced, more worldly/cosmopolitan, more well-traveled, in the extent of my familiarity/experience with Okinawa.
Met up with my professor, who helped me get situated in the temporary lodgings – he had my key card, and all that. And then the next morning, we met up again to just get some paperwork stuff done. Had to pay for the hotel-like place I’m staying in now, and then also formally apply for a room in the International House (国際交流会館) next door, where I’ll be staying from October onward.
I then headed into town, in the hopes of getting some various things done – formally registering my residence with the town hall (町役場), so I could then have a formal address on my resident alien card (在留カード), so I could then open a bank account and get a cellphone plan. As it turns out, none of that was destined to happen – I need to wait until I’m actually living in the International House before I can claim that as my residence. I suppose it makes sense to some extent. And, I don’t know why, maybe I was just in a better mood myself, or maybe it’s because everyone here in Nishihara was so kind and understanding and authentically apologetic about it, but I’m not so worked up about it. I have a place to live, and a temporary cellphone plan that’ll last me through the end of the month, so I’m safe – nothing is going to run out on me, or leave me in the lurch, before October.
Most of the walk to the town office looked like this. Some beautiful views of Nakagusuku Bay at times, but mostly just greenery and walking along the side of a road, passing by small clusters of shops, just a few at a time, looking somewhat rundown and not entirely welcoming…
Anyway, the walk down to the Nishihara Town Office (西原町役場) was about 45 minutes from campus. A bit of a trek. My first time getting a feel for the town. We’ll see how things go as the year goes on, whether I discover some other part of town that’s different, but for now, it all just seems terribly disparate. If there is a dense, lively, walkable, town center, I haven’t found it yet. Which is weird for me; I’m a city boy, both by upbringing and by experience since then, and I’m just not used to this sort of thing. Even in small cities like Honolulu, Naha, and Kagoshima, it’s still a city – a whole complex grid of streets, one building after another, conglomerated into busy shopping districts or residential areas, or whatever, without these vast areas of just emptiness (unless they’re public parks or the like). Even in the town I grew up in, which is officially designated a “hamlet,” you’re not walking along freeways past fields or just empty natural spaces – you’re mostly walking past homes and shops, a thoroughly suburban environment. Even in Goleta, CA, a town which I constantly complain is comprised primarily of freeways, office parks, and strip malls, there are good sections of walkable shopping & residential areas, in Isla Vista and Old Town. I don’t mean to go on and on about this point for too long, but anyway it’s just interesting to me that as soon as you leave campus here in Nishihara, there’s like one fast food restaurant, and like a car dealership(?), and just not much of use immediately right there. Where’s the “college town” of bars, restaurants, cafés, shops? And, all along that 45 minute walk, I feel like I passed by very very few establishments of any interest. Which isn’t to say there weren’t establishments – it wasn’t all fields or pure void – but, whatever it was, it wasn’t anything that caught my eye at all as somewhere to check out. No cute cafés. No inviting-looking restaurants. No bookstores. Only one or two grocery stores. Certainly no big-box electronics store where I might hope to get a visitors’ SIM card plan (no address required), or a longer ethernet cable (can you believe there’s no wifi here? what?).
But, again, maybe it’ll just take some time before I settle in to a better appreciation of what’s around. I’m hoping to get a bicycle soon, so that’ll make exploring a lot easier. I hope. If there aren’t too many hills or freeways or whatever.
Cheesy, but, whatever.
After my unsuccessful trip to the town hall (I really do need to be living at the International House before I can get my address registered), I did at least order a hanko (a personal stamp) for the first time. I can’t wait to have my very own seal, so I can stamp documents all official-like, rather than signing by hand (Japanese bureaucracy generally prefers the seal). And, to my pleasant surprise, I checked with the bank, and they’re cool with me using whatever design I want – it doesn’t have to be my legal name (in English letters). So, while I’ve long thought about doing something with the character for “tiger” (虎 – since the Japanese word for “tiger,” tora, sounds like the first half of my name – Travis->Torabisu->Tora), in the end I’m just going to go with a hiragana version of my surname.
My hopes of getting anything real done dashed, I decided that at least while I’m down in town, I should maybe check out some historical sites. The one main one in the area, which Google Maps told me was amazingly close by – like a 10 min walk, maybe 15, from the town hall – is Uchima Udun, the ruins / former site of the 15th c. mansion of Kanamaru, lord of Uchima, who in 1469 staged a coup, overthrowing Ryukyu’s First Shô Dynasty and installing himself as the founder of the Second Shô Dynasty. As it was this Second Shô Dynasty which then continued down until the fall of the kingdom some 400 years later, Kanamaru (aka King Shô En) is a pretty major guy, and thus his mansion definitely something worth seeing.
I don’t know if it’s preparations to safeguard the site against the impending typhoon (Typhoon 1616 Malakas), or if it’s repairs from a previous recent event, or more normal (non-disaster-related) restoration / conservation efforts, but I was surprised and disappointed to find Uchima Udun all covered in construction fences, nets, tarps, and so forth. I guess in a certain way I feel kind of special to have gotten to see it in this unusual state. But, I’m definitely hoping that the work is completed soon enough, that I can go back and see it in a more proper, cleaned-up, visitable and photogenic state.
It then began raining. Pouring, really. So I dashed into a small community center that was right there. Thanks so much to the people hanging out in the Kadekaru Kôminkan that day, who welcomed me in. I don’t know if we have quite the same sort of institution in the States. A kôminkan is basically just a single space that I guess is free and open for people to hang out in, and to use for special events. A sort of open auditorium space, with a stage, folding tables and chairs so you can rearrange the room for whatever purpose, and then also a small kitchen, and that’s about it. Pictures and documents hanging on the walls relating to prominent local civic figures. And a small bookcase of books of local history. If these books weren’t available elsewhere (e.g. in the university library), it’d be kind of neat (if inconvenient) to get to work in such a space, and to feel like I’m using really local materials, getting a really local perspective…
Anyway, the rain stopped quite quickly, and though the people warned me otherwise, I decided to risk it and to head out on the walk back to campus. I got totally soaked. Through and through. But, while the walk was thoroughly unpleasant for a good 20 mins or so of it, all in all the 40-45 min walk back went quite quickly. Walking along the side of the highway was certainly less ideal than if this were a normal walkable town, with cafés and shops on every block, but, on the plus side it means I had a very direct way of walking back, that took me straight right to campus.
Anyway, that’s about it, I guess, for now. I ended up staying right around campus the following day – just sitting in the library getting some work done, and so forth. A nice, quiet, and fairly productive day. The university library is quite sleek and clean and new-looking, making for a very pleasant environment to study in. And they have a separate room set aside for Okinawan Studies, which makes me feel like I have my own special space, which is very cool. Even in this relatively small room, though, the extent of the books is kind of overwhelming. I want to read them all! But it would take multiple lifetimes.