Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The 2011 Okinawa Trip, Day Two

Japan is a long, narrow country with a vertical alignment. Compared with the Eastern US, the northernmost part of Japan, Hokkaido, is at the same latitude as New England, while Ibaraki Prefecture, where I live and work, is equivalent to North Carolina. Okinawa, which is the southernmost part, is at the same latitude as the southern tip of Florida. Needless to say, the climate, flora, fauna, and customs are very different.

The fact that the Ryukyu Kingdom was originally a separate nation with a unique culture, language, and even ethnicity only serves to heighten the difference.

* * *
Wet and Wild
The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared," but despite my Eagle title, I seem to be anything but. Today is the day that our students are dividing into two groups for some water fun. One team is doing "marine sports", i.e. snorkling or "banana boating" (i.e. rubber rafting). The other is going canoeing (in sea kayaks, actually) and hiking in a mangrove wetland. I'm assigned to the latter group, and I'm faced with multiple dilemmas. For one thing, I seem to have forgotten to bring any footwear other than my heeled dress shoes. For another, though I brought swimwear, it is the brightly-colored, Bermuda-style suit I got for the Australia trip three years ago...the one I wound up having to miss..., and everyone else is wearing ordinary athletic shorts. Unfortunately, since our wonderful hotel is located out in the middle of nowhere, there is absolutely no chance of my going to buy suitable gear. I'm stuck with what I've got, i.e. a potential disaster.

I manage to borrow a pair of beach sandals from the hotel just before our buses roll out, but they are way too snug. I have a feeling I'm going to regret this.

Our bus pulls off the main road and onto a smaller one that passes between a couple of lagoons. There we stop to rendezvous with our guides...who fortunately have a supply of loaner Crocs, so I'm able to get something that won't give me blisters (probably the first pair of Crocs I've ever had on my feet in my life). Then the guides lead the bus further down and onto an impossibly narrow road to a local community center, which is where we leave our luggage (including my camera, unfortunately, so no pics). (The original plan was for everyone to change there, so I squeamishly hoped to put on my gaudy swimwear, but the plans kept mutating randomly. Everyone else showed up this morning already in their athletic shorts, so they decided to go with that, i.e. no time to change. I just have to go with the [fortunately inexpensive] slacks I have on.) Then we walk over to the lagoon, where our kayaks and life jackets are ready. After a quick lesson in use of the double paddle and proper boarding techniques, we separate into kayak teams and hit the water. Together with a Japanese language/lit. teacher from my grade staff, I paddle off in a bright red and orange kayak and soon became the Pirate of the Karibian, or something like that. (Cue cliche but fun swashbuckling music in 12/8 time.)

I have an absolute blast. I also get very wet...especially in my posterior region (i.e. my arse).

After an hour or so of that, we bring in the kayaks and head back to the bus. My slacks are "easy care" types that dry really quickly, so the damp spots on my pantlegs quickly fade. My aft end, however, is another story; it still looks like I wet myself and will probably remain that way for a lonnnnng time. Luckily, I have a plastic raincoat to sit on in the bus so I don't sog the seat.

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 1

Soon the bus is heading off through the scarcely-inhabited North Okinawa countryside. There isn't a rice paddy in sight. (In fact, we're told that rice paddies are extremely rare in Okinawa...mainly because the US Occupation banned all local rice production in order to keep the Okinawans dependent...and help the Californian rice industry. Okinawa was reverted to Japanese administration in 1978, but local rice cultivation has yet to recover to its former levels.)

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 3

The overwhelming majority of the fields we see are for sugar cane or fruit trees.

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 5

Every once in a while you can find a pineapple patch, too.

Soon we get off the bus, separate into groups (mine being all girls), and hike along dirt farming roads toward the lagoon. We pass a small group of farmers along the way, and they're amused when we greet them with the native Okinawan, "Haisai!" (They also have a good chuckle at the sight of my soggy backside.)

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 8

It isn't long before we arrive at the mangrove bog. It really is like another world in there...a wet and slimy one, true, but fascinating.

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 9

At high tide this area is under a meter of water. Now, at low tide, the ground is a tangle of weirdly protruding tree roots that look like a troop of sprites or some kind of fantasy festival. The air inside is strangely cool and comfortable. The ground is soft and is criss-crossed with multiple currents of sea and spring water less than a centimeter deep.

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 10

Eventually we head out of the canopy of mangroves and into the vast tidal flat. There everything changes radically. For one thing, it's a whole lot hotter under the intense subtropical sun. For another, the ground becomes a pure expanse of boggy sand that is far better suited to bare feet than footwear (and is said to be good for the skin, so going barefoot offers fringe benefits).

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 11

First we skirt the edge of the mangroves, and the guide explains the various curiosities of the local ecosystem.

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 13

The kids also get a hands-on look at some of the local wildlife, such as this BLUE, pincerless crab.

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 14

The guide shows that, by stomping your feet up and down, you can sink into the bog. The girls immediately get in on the act, some of them going down to their knees...and then seeing how far back they can lean before popping loose. (Naturally, more than one girl winds up with a goopy butt.)

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 15

The last thing we check out before leaving is a little pond formed by a small creek. It and the surrounding bog are filled with mudskippers, small fish, shrimp, crabs, hermit crabs, and water beetles in abundance. It's all we can do to pry the girls away. As you can see in the picture, we have left the area pretty much a mess, but all trace of it is certain to be erased when the tide comes back in.

* * *
Glass Tanks Full of People

Thankfully, my butt is almost completely dried out by the time we get back to the bus. Then the kids change into their uniforms, we rendezvous with the other groups, and we board our regular buses for the trip to the next big attraction, Okinawa's famous Churaumi Aquarium.

2011 Okinawa Mangrove 16

Once again the sky turns ugly as we go.

We arrive at the aquarium parking lot to find it a solid mass of tour buses. It seems that half the high schools in the country have the same idea as us.

Unfortunately, as impressive as the aquarium is, and as much as I usually like aquariums, it is impossible for me to enjoy it. Inside is a solid mass of teenagers. Those that aren't just apathetically plowing their way through (making it hard to stop and look at anything) are being extremely obnoxious with their cameras and cell phones, either whipping them out in people's faces (for example mine) or suddenly blocking the lanes and monopolizing them for posed shots of their friends. There's also the fact that I'm the only foreigner in sight, and I get a fair amount of punks thinking they're being clever by talking with mock American accents in my vicinity. The main indoor attraction, the giant tank featured on their website, is jammed solid, and as I try to dig my way through the crowd to the other side, I also have to put up with self-centered pricks elbowing me aside from behind while yelling, "Sumimasen! Sumimasen!" ("Excuse me! Excuse me!") as if they are privileged or something. I have to admit I'm more than a little tempted to haul off and deck someone.

It isn't long before I get totally fed up with the whole thing and make a beeline for the first exit I see. At least the manatee and sea turtle enclosures outside aren't crowded. I also have time to get something to drink and chill for a bit before we go.

2011 Okinawa Aquarium
The aquarium complex is still under construction, so it's going to get even bigger.

As I head up to the buses, it starts to rain. Luckily, it stops well before evening, when we are able to have our planned beach barbecue without any trouble. I manage to eat wayyyyy too much...and not even give a damn.

I fully intend to enjoy myself tonight. Tomorrow is going to be the most difficult day of all.


  • The kayaking and mangrove experience sound great. (so what if your pants get wet? if someone has a problem with that, it's their problem.)

    The aquarium situation sounds awful. I'd be tempted to stick my foot out and as the little bastard falls down, shout "sumimasen" or "gomen ne." Just a shade less obvious than decking someone, and offers some "plausible deniability". Glad you escaped to the manatees and turtles. Much better company. :)

    When you find a Manatee in your Bathtub

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:29 PM  

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