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3-Day Model Trip Day2

3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Okinawa / Busena Point - Motobu-hanto Peninsula - Nago - Naha

I went further north on my second day. The northernmost part of Okinawa is a hilly region called "Yambaru", with virgin forests of subtropical evergreen broadleaf trees. Rare species of animals and plants designated as precious natural monuments inhabit in the forests, and there are not a few scenic sights. I would really have liked to visit there if I'd had more time, but on this day I first visited the Motobu-hanto Peninsula that juts out into the East China Sea. The must-sees here are the Ocean Expo Park built at the site where the Okinawa Ocean Exposition was held in 1975 and the ruin of the Nakijin Castle built in the 14th century.

As I admired the beauty of the coast with coral reefs, the bus arrived at the National Okinawa Memorial Park. There are an aquarium, a marine theater for dolphin shows, a facility to observe the sea turtles and manatees which are believed to be the models for mermaids, the Tropical Dream Center where you can see tropical and subtropical plants, and a maritime culture hall that displays the daily necessities of the seafaring peoples in the vast premise of 70 hectares. It would take a whole day to see them all, so it would be wiser to focus on something. I decided to visit the aquarium that had succeeded in rearing whale sharks for the first time in the world. There were gigantic fish tanks separated into 3 categories, coral seas, black Japanese current seas and deep seas, where over 250 kinds of fishes were swimming around. I was awed by the dynamic sight through the glass where the whale sharks and other humongous fishes were swimming freely.

Next, I visited the Nakijin Castle Ruin at the northeastern part of the Motobu-hanto Peninsula. Clan chiefs emerged at different districts in Okinawa around the 12th century and built castles called "Gusuku". The rivalry of local strongmen was weeded out into three powers, namely the Nanzan, the Chuzan and the Hokuzan by the early 14th century. This period is called the "San-zan era". The Nakijin Castle was one the residents of the king of the Hokuzan. It was an impregnable castle built on a steep hill looking down the sea, but it was ruined in 1416 by the king of the Chuzan who unified Ryukyu. There remain sturdy castle walls built with piles of limestone of the Paleozoic times that stretch as long as 1,500 meters. There was a distinctive air of an old castle far beyond expression. It is estimated that the castle had eight buildings. Ceramics from Japan, China, Thailand and Vietnam of the Middle Ages were discovered from the ruins of the buildings. They are the proof that Okinawa was flourishing with marine trades in those days.

This Nakijin Castle and four other Gusuku as well as associated heritages, a total of nine sites, were designated as the World Cultural Heritage of UNESCO in December 2000 because they are indispensable assets in understanding the history of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. I hope for preservation and progress of investigation on the precious ruins as there still remain unknown facts and events in the history of the Okinawa Region.

Next, I headed for a fruit farm, a blessing of the subtropical climate. Okinawa produces pineapples, mangos, acerola and many other tropical fruits, and has many fruit farms. I visited a large scale farm "Nago Pineapple Park" on the way back from the Nakijin Castle to Nago. Visitors tour among the endless pineapple fields on an electric cart. I saw a pineapple flower for the first time in my life. Even the flowers are shaped like a pineapple. They grow flower pineapples and miniature pineapples that bear tiny fruits as house plants as well as regular pineapples. There was a museum that introduced everything there is to know about pineapples. I was told the bottom of a pineapple is the most delicious part. We could taste as many ripe samples as we like there, so I compared the tastes. Yes, the bottom part was sweeter and had more body than the head. This farm also has the first pineapple winery in Japan. I hastily tasted the wine. It was fruity with a touch of sourness. This beautiful golden wine is the blessing from the sun by itself.

I left the pineapple farm and headed to Naha by an express bus. The centers of Nago and Naha are 63 km apart. Since there is no railway in Okinawa, cars are the important means of transportation. It takes 2 hours 30 minutes by regular bus to Naha through the winding national route, but it takes only 1 hour 30 minutes by express bus that runs on the only expressway in Okinawa between Naha and Kyoda at the end of Nago. As I enjoyed the drive on a well-maintained expressway lined with palm trees and flowers in vivid colors, I occasionally noted groups of structures shaped like small houses surrounded with fences. They were graves in the Okinawan style called "Munchu". The Okinawans have a long history of unique ancestor worship. There is a tradition of building a grave for the paternal relations which offspring of generation after generation maintained and were eventually buried together. They have believed that the souls of the ancestors would bring prosperity to the offspring and protect them from disasters. The Munchu is roughly divided into the gable style and the tortoise shell style. The largest Munchu in the gable style is the Tamaudun in Shuri, Naha. It is a tomb of a royal family built in 1501. The ashes of the kings, queens and other royal family members in those days rest under the three gravestones. It was also designated as a World Cultural Heritage. At any rate, the scale of the tomb indicated the degree of prosperity of the family.

The bus arrived at Naha, the seat of the prefectural government of Okinawa. As I walked to the north from the bus terminal, I saw the prefectural office building on my right. The observation deck on the 14th floor of this building is open to public and it commands the view of the East China Sea and the Kerama Islands. But it was already past 5 o'clock, when the offices close, I crossed the intersection in front of the office and went on to the Kokusai-dori Street. This 1.6 km long street stretching to the east from this intersection is the Kokusai-dori Street, the most prominent downtown of Naha. This site had been devastated in the World War II, but since it was restored in no time, it was called "the miracle mile". There are restaurants, souvenir shops, department stores and many other shops that stand side by side on this street.

I walked on this street and turned to a lane named "Ichiba hondori". There was a signpost "Public Market" in the middle of the arcade with souvenir shops and food shops. There was a market town called "machi-guwa" in the local dialect around this Makishi Public Market. They sell fresh seafood, meat, vegetables, fruit, daily dishes, etc. This is the kitchen for the local people. They also sell specialties of Okinawa, such as bitter melons, ukon, a kind of turmeric, and dried sea snakes called irabu. I found a peculiar item at the fish shop that displayed tropical fishes in vivid colors. It was shaped like small green grapes. Its name was of course sea grapes. It is a kind of alga and tasted crisp and snappy like caviar. Like other algae, it contains plenty of minerals. Okinawa is known for longevity even in Japan. Perhaps the secret is the abundant variety of foods. At the Makishi Public Market, you can buy the materials and have them cook for you at restaurants on the 2nd floor. I bought a fish locally called "gurukun" and had it fried Chinese style. I also ordered a local dish "goya chanpuru", or fried bitter melon and eggs, and enjoyed a dinner of homely dishes of Okinawa.