COVID19 has left so many fans staying home, stores shut, post-service paralyzed. COVID19 also turned out to be the greatest catalyst for creativity. Okinawa hasn’t had a summer without tourists for years. In 2020, Okinawa resumes to the quiet and peaceful island she used to be, which allows us to capture the best of Okinawa’s nature without distractions from the endless flood of tourists and everything and everyone who comes round serving them. (Tourism is good. Okinawa needs it. But having less tourists made this collection possible.)
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Cape Zanpa has always been the stage for the clash of forces. It is here where the sea conquers the landing, inch by inch for millions of years. It is here where heroes have fallen, where divided territories unify into one Ryukyu kingdom. It is also here when the U.S. troops landed, followed by a bloody battle that led to many deaths and the end of WWII.
Today, many come to share a moment of the beautiful Zapan sunset with loved ones. Few only know the stories came before them.
This drawing highlights many attractions near Cape Zanpa. They make Zanpa one of my favorite places in Okinawa. I hope one day you will come to Cape Zanpa, to see the color of the sky, to listen to the wind’s whisper, to smell the breeze from the sea.
In Japan, sakura awakens first in Okinawa. Unlike sakura in mainland Japan, Okinawa sakura doesn’t grow in packs. Instead, they sprinkle all over the island, from Mt. Yae to the street of Naha. Every January, follow Meijiro’s singing, and you will discover a blooming sakura tree, quietly reaching to the sky, waiting to be found.
I stumbled upon a peaceful old village in Oogimi (part of Yambaru region of Okinawa). The area is split by a river. One by one, fully bloom sakura flowers dive into the water, continue on a journey to the sea. Driven by the current, the flowers spin as if they were saying goodbye to the mother tree.
Kouri Jima – the island of love. According to local legends, the father and mother of Okinawan people met on a beach in Kouri island. They fell in love and, together, they created the people of Okinawa. Today, many come here with their partner for the creators’ blessing. Many years later, the story will come to a full circle, when the descendants of those blessed by the island follow their accessors’ footprint, once again, to the island of love.
In this drawing, you will find everything on Korui island that makes a romantic relationship possible. Follow once was the longest cross-ocean beach to the island, you will pass Korui beach, Korui ocean tower, heart rocks, the couple rock, and the very spot where the first romantic relationship in Okinawa took place. Before you go, get some take-out garlic shrimp from the island famous Kouri shrimp truck.
Shuri Castle, the symbol of Okinawa that will live in our hearts forever. Shuri castle is only an invitation to the story of the Ryukyu kingdom. In this drawing, you will find many building blocks that make Ryukyu one of the wealthiest kingdoms in the Pacific possible. Follow the paths, they will lead you to Shurei Gate, Kinjo Tatami Stone Road, Nami No Ue Shrine, Tsuboya Pottery District, Port of Shuri, and even modern-day Kokusai St.
Katsuren does not get a lot of spotlights in modern days Okinawa, where the fame and glory of an area is the reflection of the number of five-star resorts and super malls in town. Dating back to per-Ryukyu era, the rise of Katsuren and its owner Amawari was driving history forward. If it wasn’t for the fear of Amawari, the Sho family in Naha wouldn’t have been motivated to march northward and eventually unify Okinawa, soon after defeating Amawari at Katsuren Castle.
Kaichu Doro, the longest crossroad in Asia, forever changed the dynamics of the Katsuren peninsula. It is hard to imagine that up until the 1970s, before the construction of Kaichu Doro, residences who live on remote islands will walk across the seabed during low tide to come to Okinawa main island.
Today, Katsuren castle ruin is the most popular spot to watch the sunrise on new years day in Okinawa. It is no coincidence that Amawari thinks he is the chosen one. When the sun rises from the horizon, it brings so much hope and energy to Katsuren. Go! Find this view in Katsuren castle, watch the sun rises there, feel its warmth and brilliance. You will like the king of the world too.
The origin story of Manzamo dates back to the Ryukyu era. The king of Ryukyu was impressed by the size of Manzamo and said
I bet this rock can seat ten thousand people.
Manzamo 万座毛 means Ten Thousand Seats. Without the story, Manzamo is just a big rock quietly lying on the coast of Onna village. A story can give life to the rock. A story told over time can turn a stone into a popular checkpoint for millions of visitors each year.
Good stories are the backbone of art. Good stories give life. Without the king’s imagination and storytellers over generations, you wouldn’t be looking at this piece of art. From the king’s mind to the storyteller’s mouth to my hands, now in your eyes.
If you want to see the true beauty of Okinawa, you must go head north. Nago is the gateway to northern Okinawa. As you pass the most northern exit of Okinawa Express Way, you will be welcomed by the beautiful Nago bay. For many of us who take the Express Way, Nago bay is the gateway to Okinawa’s northern wilderness. The ocean’s indescribable colors create a massive contrast to the miles-long boring tar road with trees all trimmed to the same height.
Before the completion of Okinawa Express Way, the gateway to northern Okinawa is Busena. At Busena, coastal roads start to incline into the mountains, the claim Okinawa coastline begins to rumble, turning giant rocks into rubbles.
Ryukyu is a small island without natural resources. Still, it was one of the wealthiest nations in the pacific because it was an important port that makes maritime trade possible between countries around the South China Sea. At Busena, Bankoku Shinryo Kan (万国津梁館) stands. Bankoku Shinryo means The Bridge to Ten Thousand Nations. In 2000, the G8 summit was held here in Busena – once again bringing the world together.
Senaga island has a unique vibe that differs from the rest of Okinawa and Japan. She is known as The Little Greece of Okinawa. Strolling through the shops and restaurant in this area, there’s nothing Greek about what they offer, the architecture styles on this island does resonate with the Aegean Sea from a far distance. It is the next best thing to Greece for many who live in city life in Naha city. Senaga Island is a piece of oasis, a hideout, a quick escape. People come here to relax, catch a breath, gather their thoughts, and create memories with families and friends. It is amazing how much positive change a small place can do to a large group of people, day after day, year after year. A visit to Seneca Island it’s a good reminder that how little we need to restore our inner happiness. Just like how much a tiny island of Okinawa has created the world’s happiest and longest-living people. A slow walk by the ocean, a drink or and a snack in hand, a couple of good friends, a trusted community, happiness is all around us, we are just too busy to look.
Churaumi Aquarium is the largest aquarium in Japan. I love coming to the aquarium especially to stand in front of the giant water tank that houses the giant whale sharks. Inside the tank, there are fishes that are many times bigger and faster than humans. It is a thought-provoking place to think about a much bigger world outside of the bubble I live in. This place is magical because it removes all the little, clumsy human troubles from my mind. Next time you feel in trouble, go see a big fish. A change in perspective may be the best solution to your problems.
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