Monday, April 8, 2013

Okinawan Fever

For Japanese students at Akita International University (AIU), the academic school year starts around April and ends around December. From December to April, students may decide to take classes during the Winter Semester from January to the beginning of March or take a break from January to April. I decided to take classes during the Winter semester, so I had a one-month break during March. 

After returning from Sendai to visit a friend from AIU, I spent about a week at AIU catching up with friends and making last minute arrangements for my trip. I was nervous because I decided to travel by myself for the first half of my trip, and had only reserved my hostels and my tickets for the night bus. Before leaving for my trip I thought about how to get to the sight seeing locations for the places I want to go to, but I was unsure about how easy the public transportation would be at Tokyo, Okinawa, and Okayama, so I thought it would be best to do this when I get to those locations.

On the day, I left AIU for my Winter break, it was really cold, and I had trouble finding my night bus from Akita to Tokyo. I downloaded the email from my night bus reservation to my iPod, but I was unsure of the location of the night bus despite knowing that it was located at the East entrance of the JR Akita Station.

It took me several minutes to find my night bus, but after finding the driver using my limited Japanese, I was able to find the correct bus. I was so happy to find my bus because there was a blizzard outside of the bus.

This was my first time riding the night bus, and for my trip, I had to ride the night bus for a total of three times. I rode a bullet train with my parents from Tokyo to Akita when I first arrived at AIU. The seats were very narrow, and the driver had turned off the lights on the bus to allow everyone else to sleep. Traveling by night bus is one of the cheapest ways to travel in Japan, but depending on the bus company, the experience can be uncomfortable for sleeping.

I got off from the night bus at Tokyo station, and tried to stay at airport for one night before going to Okinawa from Narita Airport at Tokyo, but I was unable to find my hostel because I did not have the correct phone number or the Hostel's address, so I had to stay at a Business Hotel at Narita instead. I wanted to stay at an Internet Cafe instead, but because I was unable to find a website to locate a nearby Internet Cafe, I had no choice, but to stay at a Business Hotel.

The admission for the Business Hotel was about 4500 yen for one night, but the hotel admission included an all-you-can-eat breakfast. This was convenient because I decided not to order a meal on the airplane to save money. At the Business Hotel, I downloaded several maps to my iPod, and made sure to write down the directions to my hostels. This was a very smart idea, but during my trip I got lost several times when trying to find my hostels when traveling by myself. Thankfully, because I am at Japan, the people were very friendly, and  they helped me find my hostels.
Free breakfast from the business hotel

The next day I traveled to Okinawa, and spent about a week there. At Okinawa, I went to places like Shuri Castle, Kokusaidori, and Okinawan World. I also tried Okinawan food such as Okinawan soba, taco rice, and Blue Seal ice cream.

Besides the warm weather, I wanted to go to Okinawa because I was curious if the environment was similar to Hawaii. After staying at Okinawa, I realized that Okinawa and Hawaii are very similar, but they both have unique qualities that allow them to be distinguished from each other.
A gate from Shuri Castle

Traditional Okinawan clothing
A miniature model of Shuri Castle
Like people from Hawaii, Okinawans have their own version of the aloha shirt and lei. In addition, like Hawaii, the recommended method of travel at Okinawa is car. At Okinawa, people are very relaxed, and because both Hawaii and Okinawa have their own unique cultures, I feel that both Okinawa and Hawaii are unique enough to be their own separate countries despite being part of another country.

Okinawan version of Aloha shirt
Okinawan version of a lei

My time at Okinawa was short, but after staying at Okinawa, I realized I am happy to study at AIU because I do not want live in some place that I think is too similar to Hawaii. Hawaii may seem boring for certain people, but because it is where I was born, even though I may not want to live in Hawaii, I think it is a very unique place that everyone should visit.