The Path of Peace

In Ryukyuan legend, Nirai Kanai is the mythical realm across the sea where deities dwell and when invited, bring blessings into the home of the villagers. However seductive that imagery really is, present day Okinawa still styles itself as the island paradise (there’s even a bridge here named after this place), if the tree-lined paths, the beautiful coastal roads, the constant warm sea-breeze and the island vibes are any indications of what’s plastered on tourist sign boards.

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After days of driving along the coast and staring at Okinawa’s turquoise waters, it is beyond difficult to go back to the cramped streets and buildings of Naha and not feel somewhat claustrophobic. The place I’m putting up at is close to the shopping street, better known as Kokusai-dori, and the overwhelming display of tourist wares and food stalls along this mile-long road is so similar to what I’ve encountered in other major Japanese cities.

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I returned the car, then promptly and impulsively rented yet another for the next 24 hours so I could simply get out of the city for more breathing space and more of the coast. And for more of the glorious food too, which I’ve liked for years before visiting. Okinawan cuisine, much like the region and the people themselves, falls in the gap between Japanese, American and Chinese cuisines: stir-fries – or better known as Champuru – with wheat gluten, taco rice, peanut tofu, soba (that looks more like udon or Chinese egg noodles) in clear broth with braised sanmainiku (pork belly) and soki (pork ribs) are staples of the Izakayas and restaurants, made to differing standards. My carefully chosen encounters with these dishes however, thus far, in Yunangi in Naha and Yomitan Monogatari have been nothing but bliss.

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Admittedly, the alluring wildness of and the strange, odd mix of cultures found in this tropical place are hard to resist. In the dazzling sun, sand and sea, it’s almost easy to forget Okinawa’s bloodied past that culminated in the a 3-month battle in 1945 in the Pacific theatre of war, termed by the locals as tetsu no bōfū, or Typhoon of Steel because of the endless artillery fire and bombing raids that happened here.

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There is only “dishonour in war” as the Okinawa Prefectural Peace museum strives to remind its visitors, corroborated by the horrors of the eyewitness accounts about the severity of the campaign. The thrust of its message is neither quite anti-American (not too overtly at least) nor pro-Japanese but Okinawan-centric; the heavy focus remains the massive loss of civilian lives and the brutality they endured on an island made hell during the attacks.

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It’s difficult not to be anything but profoundly moved by the whole area, its solemn, quiet, gentle atmosphere – barring the noise from school groups and tour groups – jarringly ironic considering how much of Okinawa was burnt, defaced and ravaged 7 decades ago. Yet built on the site where the former Japanese Imperial Army headquartered and where thousands of Okinawans committed suicide under the orders of the Japanese government to avoid capture, the memorial park’s stark reminder for peace couldn’t cry any louder.

Route 58

If route 66 has become synonymous with the ultimate American road trip, Okinawa’s own version is found on route 58, a road that narrows in parts and widens in others and stretches from the south to the very far north of the main island. I spent a couple of days plying this route from Chatan […]

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Okinawa’s draw

When I first decided that I wanted to dive as well as see things, few places came to mind. Okinawa was one of these places, because it seemed ‘cultural’ enough with things to do apart from dive, yet small enough to cover in a short period of time. For about a week away, Okinawa seemed like […]

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Through the fog and mist

Many, many hours after I checked out of the hotel, I find myself in my own bedroom trying to recall the last hours I spent in Lake Akan and Kushiro. I draw a blank, mostly because tiredness and jet lag addle my memory, but also because I think I didn’t do very much at all […]

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Separation anxiety

I woke up a blustery, drizzly day and found that temperatures have fallen a whopping 18 degrees celsius from yesterday, which placed us firmly back in Spring weather. Ichiro Baba suggested that I paid Lake Onneto a visit in Ashoro-cho, a trip that I took and in all honesty, found useless given the weather. All […]

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Lakes, allergies and spam folders

I got the distinct feeling that I was intruding when I pulled up at the door of Pension Polaris at noon, my accommodation for the night. Curtly, I was told that there was room for me but I could only return at 4pm. Peeved at the shortness of Ichiro Baba’s reply and the less-than-welcoming manner […]

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Caution, no bears in sight

“This is a Mandarin duck. And that is bear faeces. The bark of this tree has been clawed by a bear. This is a bear paw print. This mushroom is good for rashes, but you can’t take it out from this place.” I, along with another lady dressed in inappropriate attire nodded dutifully as Ayano […]

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The wild frontier

I had lots of time to kill today, seeing as the distance to Shiretoko from Abashiri isn’t as great as the one I covered yesterday. The Shibazakura Park in Ozora-cho after checking out was my first stop at about 10am and already it was overflowing with tour buses. After a short climb uphill to see […]

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Hit the road, Jill

I woke up at 5.30am (and it was already bright with some skiers doing their thing next door), having not slept that well last night because of the strange feel of the pillows, apart from the long journey ahead. The first half of the epic journey was exciting and the second half, hellishly monotonous. By […]

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Spring in Hokkaido

The blue expanse of sky pushed away the heavy clouds that had lingered over the past few days, finally casting the Furano-Biei landscape in hues of greens, yellows and browns. Feeling somewhat cheated at the bad pictures of the rain and all-around miserable weather, I thought to re-discover the patchwork circuit again. Then, panicked at […]

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