Sunday, May 27, 2012

Photo safari

Sunday afternoons have typically been our time for adventure around the island and this being our last Sunday I was ready for an adventure.  But, unfortunately, my family was not.  Stevie was ready for a nap and the kids were ready for the pool.  So I compromised, I released them from any obligation to go on an adventure if I could go - alone!  A solo photo safari of Okinawa, what joy!

I pointed the car south and headed for a blissful afternoon with just me and my camera.  I ended up stopping by "our beach", a peace memorial, the suicide cliffs and the Gushikawa castle ruins.

Shots from "our beach":

A hermit crab tucked in the rocks with spider webs

I checked, there was no fortune on the other side.

I love the patterns of the rock pools
My dad has been asking me to take pictures of the peace memorial for a while since he is doing a presentation on the Battle of Okinawa.  This is not the more famous Peace Prayer Park which we've visited before, but a smaller peace memorial dedicated to the girls and women of the First Okinawan Prefectural Girls School and the Women's Division of the national Okinawa Normal School who made up the Himeyuri Students Corps.  Quite a mouthful.  Basically, they were some prestigious schools for girls on Okinawa and during the Battle of Okinawa the girls were "called upon" to work in the hospitals that were set up in the caves of southern Okinawa. When the fighting got really bad, the military abandoned the girls and they were forced out of the caves during which time most of the girls lost their lives.  They began with 225 and ended up with 21, so the memorial is in their honor.

That's the entrance to one of the caves in front of the memorial

Strands of 1,000 origami cranes - signs of peace

I have to say, it's really weird to be an American visiting these types of monuments - by the way the signs read, the "Americans" were the bad guys.  Granted, we were the enemy, but the Japanese were even worse to the Okinawans than the Americans.  That part seems to get missed in these peace memorials and instead its about the Americans bombing all these civilians.  But, for the sake of knowledge of history, and to please my dad, there I stood on Sunday surrounding by Japanese tour groups looking at me like I pulled the trigger.  And boy do the Japanese tour groups visit - in droves!  There must have been 15 bus loads of Japanese high school students that passed me on the way to the parking lot.

So after the peace memorial, I moved on to the suicide cliffs (Cape Kyan), yet another place I received the evil eye for visiting as an American.  These steep, craggy cliffs were the place of an untimely demise for many Japanese and Okinawans - a preferred alternative to being captured by the Americans, or so they thought.  Nowadays, it's home to a tired looking memorial and captivating views of the East China Sea meeting the Pacific Ocean.  Although it's pretty sobering to think of what happened 60+ years ago in the same spot.

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From Cape Kyan I had one last stop, the decaying castle ruins of Gushikawa castle.  This "castle" was built in the mid-14th century but now the only remaining parts are a few of the castle walls and the entrance to the main gate.  It stands on a cliff and its most interesting feature is a cave which leads down to the sea - a pretty good natural escape route if you ask me.

Yes, this is pretty much how it looks after 700 years of battering by the weather.

View from the castle down

The castle entrance

With my photo safari time running out, I wound my way through the fields and farmlands of southern Okinawa.  This is a very agricultural area with their main crops being sugar cane, beni imo (Okinawan purple sweet potato), elephant ears, goya, tobacco and thai plants.  Okinawans do farming in a very different way from Americans - they are small plots tucked in here, there and everywhere all neatly planted and tended by hand.

Farmer's glove left to dry?  Or a sign saying everything is OK?

Fields and greenhouses

You often see these strings of bulbs above the fields.  I really can't figure out what they're for.

Sugar cane

Two Okinawans clearing weeds from a field.

Hand sorting crops - yes, this is typical dress, even on a hot day.

 I headed back to our base - happy and sad at the same time.  I will dearly miss this place!

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