So it's 2011 now. I just returned from a week in Naha, Okinawa which is a completely different part of Okinawa from the part that I live in. I did enjoy my time in the "big city" (Naha), which in comparison to NYC is really a small city (it's probably about the size of Tampa, Florida condensed into a smaller region). I feel like I need to escape my island more often. I love realizing that I am indeed on an extended working holiday, and taking vacations away from my island enables me to reconnect to this. Plus, in mainland Okinawa there are many things there that are just not here on my island (ie, I can shop for clothing that fits me, I can shop for books without having them shipped, I could go see movies in English at the theater -- there's no theater on this island). Yes, I know that's all stuff that isn't very interesting in terms of experiencing a new culture. True. But, sometimes you need to be able to go to a foreigner bar and order a rich, Western style cocktail (not a chu-hai) and feel overwhelmed by the military dudes that have come in to party hard (or maybe you don't need that at all...) Actually, I probably could do without the latter, but it was still part of the whole Okinawa experience.
I pretty much saw most of mainland Okinawa. I drove up the coast on a 2 hour journey to see the aquarium. I hate driving though so that was somewhat stressful, even if I wasn't going very fast (probably about 55-60mph equivalently to what I was going kph). The central northern part of the island is really nice. I wouldn't mind living up near Nago as it's different from the southern part of the island.
|Yes, those are people staring into a gigantic tank full of whales and other beautiful sea creatures|
|What are you looking at?|
I also experienced American Village in Chatan, with its Ferris Wheel (I didn't get to take a turn on it though) and South Florida-like entertainment complex complete with huge movie theater (we went to see Tron Legacy in 3D). Yes, the central part of Okinawa is somewhat bizarre. I felt like I was in some sort of weird American cultural wasteland instead of a part of Japan.
|Ferris Wheel at American Village|
The most interesting part of my week though was New Years Eve, when I and my fellow travelers went to Naminoue Shrine to ring in the new year Japanese style. Basically it went down like this: Everyone arrived at the shrine ready to celebrate. There was a matsuri style tent village with delicious Japanese food, games, good luck trinkets, etc. We played balloon darts and I won this ridiculous light up bouncy tako creature and then I bought a tiny glass rabbit for good luck (Year of the Rabbit). Then we ran to join in the line/queue to enter the shrine so that we could ask for good luck in the new year. It was fun waiting out in the line. There was a group of Chinese tourists just in front of us (the Mandarin language gave it away, along with the fact that they were all taking photos the way tourists, like myself, do). The energy at the shrine felt good. Everyone seemed very excited and happy about the New Year.
|Year of the Rabbit|
|My fortune for 2011|
|<3 Japanese matsuri food!|
|Waiting to enter the Shrine|
Being in Naha made me realize how much I like Okinawa and the Okinawan people, but it also made me realize that I'm not really living in Japan. I mean, I am...but it's such a different culture from mainland Japan. The Southern Ryukyu island of Okinawa are even more removed in many ways (though there are more and more mainland Japanese in this area now). L. who lives on the coast of the Sea of Japan remarked that Okinawa was a paradise and how relaxed everything and everyone is in comparison to Kanazawa. She needs to come spend some time on my island I think. It's very relaxed down here.
|View of Naha from the Monorail|
I've made a few resolutions for 2011. They're more extensions of decisions I made since I arrived in Japan, but I feel more confident about these decisions. Mostly they have to do with perspective about myself, about my life, about what I'm doing and where I'm going and to just let things go where they will go instead of worrying about them. The thing is, I really still have no sense of direction for next year and I do feel like I'm not being given the opportunity to utilize my creativity here on this island. I don't know how to change this. But maybe just putting this out into the universe will lead me to meet the right people. The other English speaking people on this island do not seem to be extremely interested in being involved in the arts (though they might object to this publicly, I don't see any of them really involved at this point). I haven't found anyone to collaborate with and have no clue how to even meet these individuals who I am sure are on this island but who are separated from me via the Great Language Barrier. I want to form a band-performance art-film collective hybrid project, but where the hell do I start?
- Start listening to more Japanese music (in addition to the local sanshin music that I hear) and read more Japanese literature (I'm working on a German language translation of local myths and fairy tales from Okinawa, just to flex my German while reading stories from where I am currently living).
- Find a Japanese language tutor that will work with me one-to-one. I'm doing the self study thing and it helps, but it's not enough right now. I need a course.