by Jes Stayton, Greenheart Travel High School Abroad Participant
After that we returned to the hotel, changed out of our school uniforms, and went to dinner, which was delicious. (I still can’t believe that we were required to wear our winter uniforms in what is basically a tropical climate. ) After dinner, I went to a Japanese public bath for the first time. The public bath was basically a big room with a bunch of showers around the sides and a big bathtub in the middle. (A Japanese bath is more like a hot tub than anything. You don’t wash in it.) The big shocker for me was that everyone strips completely to go to the bath. I was very nervous, but managed to take my clothes off with everyone else. I was surprised to see that all the other students acted as if this was a normal thing to do. They laughed and even commented on one anothers’ bodies. There was none of the awkwardness that I expected.
The next day, we dressed, ate, and packed to leave, since we wouldn’t be returning to that hotel. We went to the ruins of Nakijin-jo castle, a World Heritage site. Nakijin-jo was a Ryukyu castle (Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom before it became part of Japan), dating back from the 13th century. The ruins were fascinating and still very beautiful. They commanded a fantastic view of the ocean.
Next, we went to the Churaumi Aquarium, one of the biggest aquariums in Japan. It was amazing, but very similar to aquariums found in America, so I’m not going to go into detail about it. (Sorry!) After the aquarium, we went to a nearby hotel, where we ate a fantastic lunch comprised mostly of seafood. (The Japanese consider food an important part of any trip, so you can usually count on them to have good food. )
After a walk along a very scenic stretch of coastline, we went to Sakima Art Museum. The museum mainly displays paintings related to The Battle of Okinawa. (For those who don’t know, the battle of Okinawa occurred during WWII. It is notable for both the huge loss of life, and the fact that many of those who died were civilians. ) The paintings were very moving, and both I and some of my friends felt a little depressed. One painting depicted a mass suicide.. It was mainly black and white, except for a huge swath of red on the right-hand side, and a gray-blue toward the bottom. Looking closer at the gray-blue, I realized that it was a pond, filled with bodies.
We had a long bus ride to the next hotel, and I didn’t talk much, feeling a little sad. Throughout the trip, I always felt somewhat relieved to sit on the bus, both because of the heat and my aching feet. When we finally reached the hotel, everyone put their bags in their rooms. I had been surprised (and impressed) to discover that the teachers (who chose the room arrangements) had tried to put everyone in the same room with their friends. After changing, we went down to dinner.
Dinner was in courses, instead of all at once. Everyone had three forks, and a dessert fork and spoon, which I’d heard of, but never seen in real life. All the students were a little nervous about which fork or knife to use, but everyone seemed to know what to do, despite using chopsticks to eat most of the time. (Most Japanese people know Japanese manners, and European manners as well. Isn’t that amazing? Sometimes I can’t even handle European manners.) The food was delicious, and I think everyone enjoyed the experience, including me.
Back in our room, my friends and I stayed up late, talking and laughing. I went to sleep around twelve o’clock, and two of my friends went to bed even later. This probably wasn’t a good decision, considering the next day we had to get up at 5:30 a.m