Okinawa – A Gentle Place

Okinawa – A Gentle Place

When I arrived here it was dark.  When morning came and I pulled aside the curtains, I was keenly aware that this place was like no other.  At first it was visual.  Things look very different.  Because of the typhoons, the buildings are made of concrete.  For a long time they were white, but recently, as paint for concrete is longer lasting, they are adding color to parts of the buildings.

I wasn’t sure about all of the buildings being concrete.  I have heard that it can cause wall paper to peel, starting at the seams.  My small apartment is on the second floor and is quite new.  I imagine the covering on the wall might be some type of wall paper.  It doesn’t have any dampness or coolness to it.  The room is not “echo-ee” at all.  The floor is some sort of tile that looks like wood.  I have seen houses with porcelain floor tiles.

The next thing I noticed were that the cities/towns seem to merge together.  Its hard for me, as a newcomer, to tell where one ends and another starts.  People, for the most part, do not live outside the city.  There are many farms in the countryside.  Most seem like segregated pieces of land, each with its owner who lives in town.  But there are other places where it almost looks like a lot of gardens togrether – like a community garden or farm.  You can tell they maintained by separate people, because one little piece looks very different from the others.  It may have a hoop greenhouse.  Another will have a small shed.  Another has a bit of fence.  There are all sorts of crops, including banana trees, mangos, sugar cane, etc.  

There are many parks in the city.  They’re beautifully maintained and lots of people use them.  Today I saw a young couple playing catch at the park near my apartment.  The girl was screaming with delight when she caught the ball.  I noticed right away that people are often out and about.  Children play outside.  People stroll along the sidewalks.  Families spend time daily in the parks.  The beaches have all sorts of activities, including volleyball courts, basketball courts, clean bathroom facilities, many benches and picnic pavillions.  These areas are so popular that you have to stop by the main building and reserve a court.

I’d have to say Okinawa is wonderful for how many places they provide for sitting.  Have you noticed how few benches there are in America?  I was very aware of that when we were at Disney World.  Also the malls have very few places to sit and rest.  Not so with Okinawa.  It’s wonderful.  The mall has all sorts of areas where there are clusters of comfortable leather chairs.  There are also lots of places where there are tables to sit at.

There is public transportation here, but I have not noticed many people making use of it.  The streets are very busy with rush hour traffic, just as the United States roads are.  There are times of the day when its not too bad, but most of the time, its pretty heavy.  Speaking of streets, I have never before seen such variety of vehicles.  They come in all shapes and sizes, some of them reminding me of characters in favorite anime shows.  I wish we had the cars back home that they have here.  There are two kinds of vehicles.  The slightly larger ones (still small to me) have white license tags.  The plate even shows the size of the engine, for tax purposes.  The smaller vehicles have orangish yellow tags and have many benefits, such as lower insurance and the right to park anywhere at all.  People park on the street with such vehicles and there is no penalty at all.  They are not required to move them.  In the mean time, everyone else has to carefully watch for them and get around them as best as they can.

Cars have interesting names.  I saw one last night called a “That’s”.  I understand that, for the most part, the people don’t know what the words mean.

Its against the law to honk your horn unless its an emergency.  About five minutes ago I heard such a horn.  Someone almost wrecked.  Happy ending, however.  Drivers here, for the most part, are very courteous.  Because there is so much traffic, its not uncommon for someone to put their nose out into the road, hoping someone will let them out.  They may block three lanes of traffic doing so, but when you pass that vehicle, the driver looks oblivious to the problem they are causing.  Japanese people are very serene looking and very reserved in their behavior.  Driving in Okinawa (I have not been in a car in mainland Japan) is like playing a video game.  Just as scary as well.  Unfortunately if you wreck, you can’t simply start over, as in a game.

Okinawa has sidewalks everywhere.  On those sidewalks are often yellow stripes that are about a foot side and have raised lines on them.  These are for blind people.  When they come to an intersection of crosswalk, the strip’s raised surfaces are small round bumps.  At intersections, there are sounds, like a single bird chirp.  One chirp is for the corner that the person just left.  A double chirp is for the corner the person is headed towards.  Is that cool or what?

When emergency vehicles are zooming down the road, they have a different kind of sound for their siren.  They also have a person talking over a loud speaker, saying something like, “Caution!  Emergency vehicle approaching.  Make way.”  The current governor, who is campaigning for office again, also has vehicles that use loudspeakers to announce what a great candidate he is.  They just ride around the cities making announcements about him.’

People in Okinawa are not buried in the ground.  They are buried in family crypts.  First a piece of land must be purchased (very very expensive) and then the crypt is made.  They are often marble or maybe granite.  Old ones were concrete and the really old ones were large cut stones.  Modern crypts can cost as much as $100,000.  You would be put into the family crypt of your father.  If you marry, you are put into the crypt of your husband’s family.  If he has no crypt, you are out of luck, I suppose.  This is the case for women who marry military.  They would need to be buried in the United States, wherever the husband is buried.

Speaking of American military…there are many bases here on Okinawa.  There have been governors who wanted the American bases to go away (they would like to have the land for their own use) and told the American bases to stop giving Okinawa money.  So that’s what happened.  In short order the streets came into serious disrepair and lost jobs had a devastating effect on the economy.  The people got themselves a new governor and asked the Americans to please put things back as they were.  The bases hire a multitude of Okinawans to work.  The Okinawans are very accepting of Americans.  I, myself, have been treated very well.  I try very hard to set a good example.  There are some few who go to the bars and get so drunk that they throw up in the taxi’s (which are a whole story unto themselves – such beautiful taxi’s), drive too fast, behave badly, etc.  I can’t do anything about most of that; only myself and the impression I make.

Many businesses have their name and trade in both Japanese and English.  That’s awesome.  However, often you have no idea what the business is about.  Is it a bar, a restaurant, a shop?  There is a place beside the building where my apartment is.  I think it’s a steakhouse.  I can smell cooking steaks in the evening.  However, the place is packed in the later evening hours and there are special cars waiting outside, which I understand are hired designated drivers.  When a person gets drunk, they call for one.  Its usually operated by a couple.  The wife drives the inebriated person’s car and the husband drives the inebriated person home.  These vehicles set outside the more popular bars, waiting for fares.  They are designated by a light on the roof.

If you are over a certain age, you have a sticker on the hood of your car that designates you as elderly.  If you have a baby in your vehicle, there is a sign or sticker somewhere on the vehicles stating as such.  If the vehicle is involved in an accident, the emergency personnel then know to search for the baby right away.

The Okinawan people.  They’re everywhere.  HeHe!  I do see Americans now and then.  There are favorite places that Americans go.  For the most part, I see Okinawans wherever I go.  I have not seen many handicapped people, but a few.  Maybe two.  I guess that isn’t really a few.  Okinawans feel very safe.  They don’t worry about school shootings, mall shootings, movie theater shootings, concert shootings; none of that.  They don’t worry about children being kidnapped.  They don’t have drive-by shootings.  You can go for a walk any time and feel perfectly safe.  Its very refreshing.  I like it.

Ok.  I’ve run out of observations.  I guess I’d sum it up with this.  I had been hesitant to come here.  It seemed too different.  After all I stand out like a sore thumb here.  However, after spending time here, I love it.  I love the way the people feel safe here and love spending time at parks and going for walks.  I love the clothes they have here.  I wish I were small enough to wear them.  I am very tall in comparison.  I doubt there is a clothing item on the entire island that I could wear.  I love the vending machines and the amazing shops.  I like how solid and well built my apartment is and how amazing the things in it are.  The washer and dryer are different from any I’ve ever seen.  The faucets and sinks and tubs and showers and toilets – all the most amazing things.  My balcony has an escape thing.  I can’t tell if its some sort of elevator or electric ladder.  The balcony itself is a step down fromt he apartment and the first time I stepped out, I didn’t realize that and just about fell out.  Thank goodness there was a side wall to crash into.  I’ll have to photograph the escape hatch in the floor of the balcony.

The far left photo is of the back of my apartment building.  I have an assigned parking space underneath.  The front side of the building has shops on the main floor.  My apartment is on the second floor, just above the shops, facing the street out front.  I use a key to enter the door that you see on the right side, bottom level.  Across the hall from my apartment is a room that I am allowed to use.  It has exercise equipment, a dart board, a large flat screen TV, movies, snacks, and much more.  Its very nice.  I just haven’t had any time to go and use it.  I’m only a couple of blocks from the Pacific Ocean and I haven’t even made it that far yet.  The second photo is looking from the door towards the other end of the apartment.  The far right photo is the only real room in the apartment.  It has two beds.  There is a small round bedside table next to the bed.  I make that my desk or the table where I eat.  There is a short square table at the foot of the bed on the left.  I sit on the end of the bed and have my computer there.

Its not likely that I will ever come this way again.  I have tried to make the most of it, to savor it.  I will write about my adventures in another blog.

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