by Jes Stayton, Greenheart Travel High School Abroad Participant
The next day, at breakfast, all the students were still very sleepy. We only began to wake up as we boarded the bus. The first event of the day was a visit to a natural air-raid shelter. It was a large cave with a small, narrow entrance, where 600 people had sheltered during WWII. Many of my classmates were very scared, and several had to return to the bus. I wasn’t scared myself, but I can understand why the other students were.
The entrance to the cave was very close, and it was very dark, even though everyone had flashlights. After that, we went to Himeyuri Peace Museum. This museum remembers the girls of Okinawa Women’s Normal School, and the First Women’s Prefectural High School, many of whom who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa. (WWII) Girls at these schools were mobilized in the war effort, working as nurse assistants at the Okinawa Army Hospital. The job was grueling and dangerous, and when the deactivation order was issued, the students were thrown out of the caves (the hospital facility was in a cave) into the war front. Many of the 240 mobilized students died. The museum contains pictures of the students who died in the war, along with information on the lives as nurse assistants.
We then went to a large park that stands as a monument to the Battle of Okinawa. It was very peaceful. There were slabs of beautiful stone placed in a wave pattern, to represent the ocean. The names of the victims were listed, by prefecture, on the slabs. I was shocked by how many victims there were, even though I already knew that many many people died in the Battle of Okinawa. A museum stands near the monument, offering up information on the Battle of Okinawa to anyone who wants to know. We spent some time in the museum, then returned to the park after lunch to listen to a speech. After the speech, we folded paper cranes, the symbol of peace. We had a ride in the bus next, and I was grateful for the chance to sleep.
The next stop was Kokusai dori. The was a big road, absolutely filled with shops selling omiyage. An omiyage is a little gift that Japanese people give to the friends and relatives when they return from a trip. They don’t have to be big, or even particularly imaginative. Usually omiyage relate to or symbolize the destination of the trip in some way. They can be food, (in Japan, almost every place has its own famous food) or little knick-knacks. A common example of an omiyage is what the Japanese call a strap. (A loop of strip with a character or charm on it, that can be hung from a (Japanese) cell phone or key ring) Although omiyage don’t have to be big, you do have to buy one for everyone. As a result, by the time we trudged back to the hotel, some of my friends were carrying bags of that would turn out to be bigger than their suitcases.
The next day we sadly packed up our bags to depart the hotel for the last time. After lunch, we would be returning to Sendai. But first we went to another Ryukyu castle. I write castle, but unlike the European conception of a castle, or the ruins we visited earlier, this was more like a collection of impressive buildings surrounded by a wall. Visiting Shurijo Castle was one of my favorite parts of my school trip to Okinawa. The castle was the center of the Ryukyu Kingdom before Okinawa became part of Japan. Although destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, (like many other beautiful buildings) it was restored in 2002.
The Seiden, or the building where the King held court, was a beautiful red building, with intricate decorations in gold, blue, yellow, and many other colors. Inside, as we toured the three floors of the building, I could see both the Chinese and Japanese influences on the Ryukyu architecture. Although the Ryukyu Kingdom was closer in physical area to Japan, Chinese envoys also often visited the palace. One of the most striking aspects of the castle is the garden. (there is only one garden within the castle walls) Although it is not very big, it is incredibly beautiful. Because the ground drops off abruptly on one side of the garden, you could see no land on the other side of the garden, only sky. It felt like the garden and the palace were somehow anchored to the clouds, floating above the world.
The Sasunoma and Shoin (the anteroom for the Ryukyu Princes, and the building where the King conducted his daily business, respectively) both opened out into the garden. It was very beautiful, but very humble as well. There were no brightly colored flowers, only green trees, and white rock, and grass. I wish I could have stayed longer to admire the garden.
After lunch, we were informed of an unexpected ‘setback’; due to a mechanical problem, the plane would be two and a half to three hours late. I think the bus shook with our cheering. Because of the delay, we went to Okinawa World. My friend called Okinawa World a theme park, but it was nothing like the American conception of a theme park. The were no roller coasters or other rides. Instead there we shops, a small museum , and other cultural activities. The was also a beautiful cave, which all the students toured. Visitors could try traditional Okinawan crafts, see a tropical orchard, or watch a traditional performance. My friends and I mostly, shopped, hung out, and ate ice cream, which came in Okinawan flavors: mango, and beni-imo. (a type of sweet potato) When it came time to leave we trooped sadly back to the bus, wishing the plane had been delayed for another day, instead of three hours.