An afternoon in Okinawa

 

Well, in Naha, to be precise.

 

IMG_0247

 

The sea was still a bit choppy as we neared the Japanese shore this morning, but there wasn’t the heavy swell of last night, thank goodness.

 

IMG_0269

 

The pilot came on board and the small tug sailed alongside, tethered by a small rope.  I’m not sure who was pulling whom?  Shortly before this, the Captain had made an announcement about the need to turn the stabilisers off before entering the port, because this would cause the ship to roll.

 

IMG_0270

 

Well, roll it did, but I have no excuses for this photograph which came as a bit of a surprise when I uploaded the day’s pictures from camera to computer just now.  Really, we didn’t roll that much!

 

IMG_0286

 

A small dance troupe were preparing to welcome us to the port of Naha, in Okinawa Prefecture and we made our way to the deck to watch their performance.

 

IMG_0287

 

The smallest member of the dance group won a place in everyone’s heart, of course.

 

IMG_0293

 

They put on a spirited performance, smiling and waving to the audience who were clearly appreciative as we were for this colourful entertainment.

 

IMG_0295

 

And yes, you’ve guessed who stole the show!

 

IMG_0289

 

Whilst this was going on, the man from the Ministry arrived, carrying a bottle of pink stuff.

 

IMG_0292

 

He supervised the dilution of the pink stuff in a watering can and watched as a crew member watered the carpet at the end of the gangplank with the solution.  Hygiene precautions.  I’m not sure what we might tread off the ship onto the land, though.  Or perhaps it was the other way around?

 

IMG_0300

 

Actually, the immigration process was quite a lengthy one, but managed very well we thought.  It was a three stage process in that we had to hand in landing cards in return for an official looking document which we were to keep.  This being Japan, it was a curious mix of the old fashioned, traditional red rubber stamp and the high tech QR code.

 

IMG_0305

 

Whilst we were doing all that, a smiling gentleman in uniform walked along the line, pointed a digital thermometer at each of our foreheads and registered our temperature.  We noted that at both Hong Kong and Macau immigrations, body temperature was scanned as a precaution against infectious diseases, too.

Having been given the all clear from the temperature controllers, we were called to an immigration officer who scanned our passports, recorded two index finger prints and took a photograph.  Those who commented on the excess of this procedure were gently reminded that foreigners entering other countries have exactly the same process to go through and this was by no means unique.

Finally, we collected our tour assignments, and today, my hero and I were going our separate ways.  As he disappeared to explore the highlights of the city, I sat and waited for my own tour to be called.

 

IMG_0301

 

When I walked down the gangplank, these two delightful chaps were there, waving and smiling.  Oh, how much I was looking forward to being back in Japan, one of my favourite countries (there is a reason…read it here)

 

IMG_0307

 

As we drove from the port, our guide Miyaki pointed out the cemetery on the right side of the road, suggesting we look out for picnickers there.  It’s an Okinawan custom to visit family graves during March and many take along picnics and spend a happy afternoon there.  No one there today though so we’ll take her word for it!

 

IMG_0311

 

The bus stopped at a busy intersection – except it’s Sunday and this particular street is closed to traffic on this one day of the week.  Whilst we waited for the stragglers to get off the bus, we spotted a first

 

IMG_0309

 

The 2013 cherry blossom season has started!  Though we’d seen the blossom in Taiwan, Okinawa sees the first of the Japanese “sakura”; the beginning of Spring.

 

IMG_0312

 

The pedestrian shopping street was rather quiet and we laughed as Miyuki encouraged us to walk right there in the middle of the road.  “Come on!” she said.  “Go for it!”

 

IMG_0314

 

Okinawa is a holiday destination, though, and the goods on sale were generally souvenirs of the place rather than everyday things. All of these brightly coloured items are Okinawan and feature some typical products and emblems of the prefecture.  More about them later, because look what’s in the next store…

 

IMG_0316

 

It’s a T shirt shop for pets!  Well, yes, you can have a matching one, but several stores along the street featured similar displays and it would appear that the doggy T shirt is the hot souvenir here in Naha.

 

IMG_0324

 

Of course, we hadn’t come to shop but were heading for the arts and crafts centre, where we would learn about the Okinawan textile technique known as Bingata.  Miyuki explained that the method of decorating fabric is a very old one here and came about because the hot climate made the heavy, embroidered fabric known in the rest of Japan very uncomfortable to wear.  Parts of the technique are similar to other resist textile processes, but there are a couple of features which single Bingata out from the rest.

 

IMG_0339

 

Here’s the example of the design I chose to paint.  For my textile-y friends, I’ll write more in a separate post and for now, I’ll just say how fascinating it was in so many respects.  Firstly, how detailed the technique.  This is not your slop on a bit of paint kind of work, but a precise and measured process which takes time.  There was also the quiet and so very Japanese approach to helping us achieve a pleasing end result – lots of help available and much positive feedback!   Surprisingly, (unsurprisingly?) not everyone was as keen to complete their masterpiece and the shops we’d walked past were proving too much of a temptation.  Those of us who stayed to complete the project were rewarded with one to one tuition.  Hooray!

 

IMG_0349

 

My completed bag will need to be soaked once we are home, to remove the glutinous rice resist, and hopefully it will look something like the design above.  I’ll post about the technique in more detail later, but for now, we’d got half an hour to make our way back to the meeting point and yes, to have a quick look in the shops.

 

IMG_0317 

 

The products local to Okinawa include hot sauce, packaged in a rather familiar style, I thought.

 

IMG_0321

 

But it was Kukuru Okinawa which drew my attention – textile design studio?  You bet.

 

IMG_0357

 

The items on sale in here were also aimed at the tourist, though they were traditional Japanese things such as tengui and handkerchiefs.  Small door panels and wall hangings were there too and a few garments.  I was interested in buying a couple of tengui – maybe to use as gift wrapping, perhaps make something from the fabric.  I hadn’t decided.  But these were a great souvenir of our visit and the cherry blossom motif seemed to be a good place to begin.

 

IMG_0360

 

I had a few more minutes to browse in one of the tourist shops and was interested to see what people take home from here for their friends and co-workers, because of course, the Japanese gift-giving tradition is very strong.  Most things are packaged in multiples as a result and these foodstuffs were aimed at that market.

 

IMG_0367

 

The purple sweet potato is a speciality of this area of the country and sure enough, they featured in many of the products (there are 140 yen in a pound by the way, if you want to work out the price) .  Long term blog readers might recall that I bought an Okinawan speciality when we were last in Toyko and sure enough, there they were.

 

DSC02803

 

Yes, of course I had to get some!

 

IMG_0353

 

As I returned to the bus, I noticed these signs.

 

IMG_0362

 

Oh my.  Of course, an island such as this one must take such things very seriously indeed.  We live in such a benign climate, we forget that in some parts of the world, precautions must be taken.  Typhoons are a way of life here, too.

 

IMG_0363

 

By the side of the sign, the gang of young men were cleaning the pavement of bubble gum.  What a task they had!

 

IMG_0365

 

So, waiting underneath the monorail for our group to reassemble, we’ll take a break and I’ll meet you in the next post, to go to the Shurijo Castle.  OK?

Shuriji Castle

Rocking and Rolling