Ozato Castle Ruins


DSC01740

Ozato Castle Ruins or Shimashi Ozato Gusuku is located in Nanjo in Southern Okinawa.   Although the castle is clearly marked with signs it is not one that is often visited as it does not end up on many “castle in Okinawa” lists.

DSC01728

The site itself is in the middle of a beautiful little neighborhood which looks as though it was somehow shielded from the battle which happened on this part of the island (whether or not that is actually true I am not sure but that’s the feel you get as you drive through). One you arrive at the castle site you will see an open field and can tell that parts of what seems to be the castle’s lowest enclosure has been made into a park. Unfortunately many of the “park” elements, such as restrooms, are in disrepair but to my delight the castle site itself is in wonderful shape.

DSC01656

Although this castle doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s “things to see” it doesn’t lack any of the characteristics that you might come to expect from any other castle on the island. There are clearly enclosures, utaki and other worship sites throughout the site. There is also what looks to be a tomb and even a very interesting statue which was at the bottom of a very long path down the cliff side.

photo-27

photo-28

If you’re in the southern part of Okinawa this is a great place to visit for the entire family. Whether you want to enjoy walking along some of the paths on the site, have a great view of the surrounding city or just enjoy some time outside on a nice day while inside the walls of a 14th century castle you will find this place enjoyable.

 

Shimashi Ozato Gusuku in the Ozato District. This castle was built by Chief, Shimashi Ozato Aji, who controlled the SHimajiri region around the 14th century. Shimashi Ozato Gusuku’s construction, with it’s back to a cliff and it’s strong walls, skillfully makes use of the natural landscape.

In 2003, Shimashi Ozato Gusuku was designated as an historical site by Najjo City

– Nanjo City

DSC01672

Advertisements

Chibana Castle Ruins


Chibana Castle Ruins is one of the forgotten castle sites here on Okinawa. It’s location might surprise you being that it is only a short drive out of Kadena Air Base’s Gate 3. Chances are you many people drive by it every day and don’t even know it’s there. Nevertheless with a little bit of luck you can find it.

DSC01916

 

The site is not difficult to get to and is marked with signs although they are in Japanese. Once you arrive you will see that there is a decent size area for parking. The site itself lacks the spender that you may find at other castle ruins which I anticipate is due to lack of funding, time and interest.

 

DSC01897

There are still signs in place which show what ceremonies were (and possibly still are) practiced in the area however one of the signs which explains the area is now no longer present. The sign once said:

CHIBANA GUSUKU (CASTLE)

This castle was build on a hill 88 meters above sea level in the era of Gusuku and is a site where much Chinese earthware, porcelain, etc. has been unearthed. It is an important region geologically and botanically as it is located at the point where distinctive kind of soil of Northern Okinawa edges the distinctive kind of soil found in the South. It is also the place where Uni-Ufugusuku, a martial arts expert, lived in his later years in the 15th century.

DSC01896

Unlike other castle ruins that you may be familiar with this site has a bit of a different layout. The first thing that you will see when visiting the castle site is a small staircase which leads up to a bed of coral and shells. If you look closely you can see that there is a small alter here. As depicted in the sign you can tell that this is an area where ceremonies take place.

DSC01900

 

You can go up the small staircase, very carefully, however it will lead you to only this small area. To get to the actual height of the castle site you will need to start down the path which is off to your right. A staircase will lead  you up through the foliage towards the top of this hill which sits in the middle of the city. There are a lot of stairs which lead to the top and the climb is not safe for children as some areas lack handrails and stairs are very steep and narrow.

Once arriving at the top you will see that there is some sort of structure. Just a few more stairs and you will find yourself at the top of the hill looking over the entire city from all sides. Like other castle ruins this is a spectacular view on a clear day, it’s almost like you can see forever.

DSC01910

 

On our way back down the stairs I saw a sign which seems to indicate that this structure may have been built in the 60’s. Unfortunately the kanji is a bit too difficult for me to translate entirely so I am not entirely sure but if I find out any information regarding this I will be sure to share it with you in the future.

Sites like this always make me wonder what it is that has caused them to become so deserted. After returning home I did my best to research the area but it was very difficult to find much more then I already knew. One of the interesting things that I did find, however, is that according to some of the local residents the site is haunted. As some of the information I found was in Japanese it is not entirely clear to me what the story is but there were at least 5 separate mentions. There is also mention of a house which is near the area and considered to be haunted however we found no such house on the site. There was, however, a plot of land where a house was being built. Could this be the reason that this location has become so forgotten?

As for me I have a few speculations as to why the site has been forgotten but they all seem to end with more questions than answers. For now I suppose that the Chibana Castle Ruins will remain a mystery at least to me.

PLEASE REMEMBER: 

This site is old, in disrepair and in some areas can be dangerous. Please proceed with caution and watch your step. I do NOT recommend visiting this site on a rainy day or when it has rained recently.

Myth vs Reality: “The US Military Presence Will Ruin My Trip To Okinawa”


Believe it or not there are people out there who think twice about visiting Okinawa because of the US Military presence on the island. Of course one might assume in theory that this could be the case as there are a lot of people on the planet with a number of different views but what brought this to my attention were some people who had made contact with me regarding the subject. All of the people seemed to come from a different point of view. Some had a bad taste in their mouth regarding the  US Military. There were others that were supporters of the US Military but felt that the unrest of the people of Okinawa (mainly around the time of the Osprey and MCAS Futenma situation) would be a concern. Finally there were those that seemed neutral about the US Military itself but did not want a visit to Okinawa that was too Americanized. The concern being that you could not avoid being surrounded my US Military and therefore immersion into the culture would be very difficult.

After a few months of receiving some messages and reading comments of this nature I figured that it would be a great topic to discuss here in one of my Myth vs Reality posts. My thought is that if I can take some of the concerns that people have regarding traveling to Okinawa and shine some light in the right places, mainly the ones that remain dark to someone who has not spent a lot of time here on the island, those concerns can be eased at least a bit. With that said let’s jump right in.

Myth: 

With the large US Military presence on Okinawa it is impossible to immerse yourself in the culture. Everywhere you will go is either a tourist attraction, English speaking or adapted to the lives of the US Military members and their families. This will make it hard to avoid being surrounded my US Military and their families therefore defeating the purpose of traveling here with the intent to experience the unique culture of the island.

Reality: 

There is no denying that there is a large US Military presence on the island and therefore there are a lot of military members and their families out and about enjoying themselves during the short time that they are here. Who could blame them, Okinawa is a tropical paradise! Naturally this results in some areas being more congested with US Military and their family members then others. Generally speaking these areas are around Camp Foster, Camp Lester and Kadena Air Base. However, it’s not just the US Military presence which that has made these spots congested. The location being in the central part of the island is also very ideal for tourists from all over the world. Staying in one of the hotels in the central part of the island cuts down on the distance between all major tourist attractions and historic sites. As you might imagine with the bulk of tourists and the bulk of US Military other things fall into place such as English (which is spoken many times by not only the Americans but the tourists who travel to Okinawa and other parts of the world as a common language). Popular restaurants and other types of “tourist” type attractions pop up as well in these areas. For those who want to immerse themselves into the culture or those who simply are living here  these areas are, simply put, places to avoid. It’s not about any group of people in particular as much as it is about the fact that at least half of the people you encounter are not from around here which can make completing daily tasks that much more difficult.

Once you move yourself away from the areas which are designed as playgrounds for tourists there is quite a bit to see on the island. Many of the traditions and much of the culture which was here on Okinawa before the war has stood the test of time. Of course like anywhere else in the world times have changed and Okinawa has become more modernized but I think you would have to be kidding yourself if you didn’t think that this would happen. Even with some areas becoming modern there are others which still look as they did years ago in the northern and southern parts of the island. In some cases people do not speak Japanese and continue to use the Ryukyuan Language. Rituals and traditional dancing also continue today although like other cultures they happen during certain times of the year.

Overall if immersion and experiencing the culture is your goal this is absolutely possible if you know where to look and where not to look. The unique culture of Okinawa is still alive and well even though there have been changes to the island over the years.

Myth: 

There has been a lot of news coming out of Okinawa regarding the US Military in recent months. Between the misconduct of some military members recently and the deployment of the Osprey to MCAS Futenma the number of protests and unrest among the people of Okinawa seems great. Traveling to the island will result in an uncomfortable situation because as I am American (or of European descent) Okinawan’s won’t distinguish between me and the Military. This may result in a negative experience.

Reality: 

There is a lot of history between the US Military and the people of Okinawa. Simply put: Some people are not a fan of the US Military and others are. No, not everyone is happy with the US Military bases on the island especially when governments (both US and Japanese) don’t do what they promise they will do. When things get heated the people of Okinawa, much like people in the US, voice their opinions with things such as protest, stickers, posters and pretty much any way that they can.

Although there are people who have these feelings in my almost seven years (and yes there have been a lot of protest and unrest during these years) I have never been treated negatively because I was an American. This is not to say that you aren’t going to experience the same types of strange looks that you might experience regardless who you are traveling through Japan. There are people out there who are going to see that you’re an American and have thoughts regarding the stereotypes and experiences they have had with Americans in the past. However, what you will absolutely not find yourself being the target of aggression because MCAS Futenma didn’t move to Guam like it was schedule to nor because of the recent misconduct of a Marine.

Understandably the idea of going over seas and being caught up in some sort of protest is still a bit nerve wracking so there are some things that you can do which will assist you in avoiding those protests. Most of the time the protests are centered around the main concerns such as MCAS Futenma, Kadena Air Base and the proposed location of the base at Henoko. All of these locations, believe it or not, can be avoided without hindering your trip to Okinawa. Another helpful thing to remember is that in many cases the protests are announced in advance which will allow the bases to prepare and others to gather in protest as well. This information can usually be found at various places on the internet and I find myself posting them on my ONK Facebook page as often as possible as well.

When All Is Said And Done:

Your experience in Okinawa is going to reflect your approach. If your approach to a trip to Okinawa is that it is going to be ruined because of the US Military presence on the island then it without a doubt will be. Yes if you curse every plane that flies by you will find yourself missing out. . . on a lot. Yes if you find yourself annoyed by every American family who is just trying to experience the island for the first time and isn’t 100% accustomed to the culture you will not enjoy yourself.

The key is to approach Okinawa with the understanding that like yourself many others are trying to enjoy a place that is new and unique to them. If you keep that understanding and gear your trip to what it is you want to do, such as avoiding heavy traffic tourist areas, you will find your experience in Okinawa pleasurable.

Vegetarian in Japan? Yes You Can!


While making dinner the other night I was contemplating the possibility of living here in Japan, specifically Okinawa, as a vegetarian. I myself am not a vegetarian nor do I have the desire to become one however I do have an understanding of what it is to be a vegetarian and have had vegetarian friends here on Okinawa so I think it’s a safe topic to at least give you my thoughts on that way if you happen to have made the lifestyle choice of being a vegetarian you know what to expect once you get here.

 

Fresh Produce Please

One of the great things about living on Okinawa is that there is always fresh produce. Whether it comes from the main island of Okinawa or one of its outer islands grocery stores and farmers markets are always stocked with what’s fresh at reasonable prices. This makes the local grocery stores and farmers markets the place to be if you’re a vegetarian. Although there are large supplies of fresh produce available it’s important to consider that being in Japan the selection may be different from what you are familiar with. There will undoubtably have to be a slight change in your diet if your main source of nourishment is vegetables making it more in line with what you can find here.

Another thing to consider is that sometimes the fruits you may be familiar with from back home such as watermelon, berries and applies can come with a hefty price tag. This makes things such as a good old fashioned fruit salad a pretty rare dish for those of us living here on Okinawa.

TIP: Just because you can’t make yourself a bowl of fresh fruit salad doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it once in a while. Some grocery stores sell fruit cups at an affordable price. They are perfect for an “on the go” snack or to put in the fridge and much more affordable than making one yourself. 

Totally Tofu

If you’re the type of vegetarian who really likes tofu you’re going to be in tofu heaven. There are various styles of tofu in all price ranges and sizes at pretty much every grocery store out there. Oh and go ahead and throw what you know about tofu out the window. This is not that nasty flavorless stuff that you can’t stomach unless it’s mixed and seasoned 10 ways to Sunday.

TIP: The best tofu out there is the local stuff which is fresh and delivered multiple times each day to the local grocery stores. Usually you can find a sign showing what times the tofu is delivered each day. If you’re lucky and get there as the shipment arrives you can get tofu that’s so fresh, it’s still warm. This is by far the best tofu I have ever had. 

Eating Out – Absolutely No Animal Product 

For those who have chosen a completely animal product free vegetarian (or vegans may also find this information useful) lifestyle eating out in Okinawa is going to be a challenge. The reason for this is because in many cases some sort of animal product is being used in order to cook your food. Most often this product is fish based such as miso soup or even the fish cakes which are put into your bowl of ramen. Eggs are also often used in many dishes.

Unlike in the US specialized orders aren’t very common either. I suppose you might say that it is an unwritten rule that menu items are non-negotiable which can make it difficult if you’re just wanting to avoid one simple item. The good news is that there are restaurants out there which offer vegetarian menus, however, they are far and few.

I do want to make it clear, however, that just because you choose not to consume animal products does not mean that you would have to retreat to a cave while the rest of your friends and coworkers are out on a Friday night at an izakaya. Even at the most non-vegetarian places in town there are options which would allow you to enjoy your time with your friends and hold you over until you could get home and have a completely animal free main course.

TIP: Some restaurants offer a special menu which was designed to offer muslim tourists the chance of eating Ryukyuan food without the use of traditional animal products such as pork and other meats. 

Eating Out – Some Animal Products Are Ok

If you are one of the many who are a bit more lenient with the vegetarian lifestyle and allow yourself to consume some animal products such as eggs, fish and milk you will find that you have a great deal more options then if you were to keep animal products out of your diet all together. For example allowing fish into your diet, even if you were not to eat a fillet but allowed yourself to consume broth made from fish, you would be opening a number of opportunities.

Is Being A Vegetarian In Okinawa Realistic

Yes. You can realistically be a vegetarian in Okinawa. However, there should be a clear understanding that the vegetarian lifestyle (especially the one that is completely void of all animal products) is not something which is common here in Japan. This being said you’re going to find yourself in a position where you are doing more work to sustain the lifestyle then you might have to do in places like the US where options may be more readily available.

Are you a vegetarian living in Japan or Okinawa?

What are you experience?

What do you think?

Let us know in the comments below!

Itoman City Market


 

In a recent trip to Itoman City to observe some of the Lunar New Year celebrations we stumbled upon the Itoman City Market. The market place consists of 3 or 4 buildings all featuring various goods. There is a fish market, farmers market, souvenir shop and food. I was quite surprised to find the location so I thought that it would be something interesting and fun to add to the blog if you happen to find yourself in the area.
photo-14

 

 

There’s no denying that the Itoman City Market is out of the way unless you happen to live in the immediate area. The only other scenario that may lead you in this direction is if you happen to have a late flight and are looking to kill some time or are just exploring in the southern part of the island.Either way I hope that this information will help you decide whether or not you want to make a stop here if you happen to pass by.

Itoman City Market – Souvenir Shop 

The first shop which is likely to catch your eye is pictured above. This shop contains various souvenirs from around Okinawa. Everything from pottery, shirts, salts and soaps can be found. There are also a variety of child friendly items which you may also find at convenience stores in the resort towns on the island.

Although there were a number of products which I have seen a million times between convenience stores and Kokusai Street alone there were also a variety of other goods which were unique. Like many other places where you can pick up something to remember your trip on Okinawa prices vary depending on what it is that you want to purchase. There were items for every budget ranging from the child on a school trip successful business men.

Fish Market 

Itoman is known for being a fisherman’s town and so it seems like a great place to pick up some fresh fish. Like other fish markets here on Okinawa it’s hard to say what to expect because one day the market could be overflowing and the next not so much. What I can say is that there was a relatively large selection at least on the day that I was there.

Food

No market place would be complete without a nice helping of some local quick service favorites. The Itoman City Market is no exception. Here there are a variety of food stands serving up different options to enjoy. Unfortunately, between being on a diet and the large crowds enjoying their early dinner, I did not get a close look at what was available for food options although I do distinctly remember Okinawa Soba and rice bowls of various kinds.

photo-15

Farmers Market 

The last building that we visited was the farmer’s market. Farmers markets here in Okinawa tend to look very much like this with wooden shelves holding plastic bind of produce and other goods. They also tend to be set up like a standard grocery store with aisles as pictured above. There was a large selection at this particular market although being there at the end of the day (any time before 4PM) means that the shelves were almost picked clean of many items.

We strolled through the aisles to see if there was anything we needed for our dinner table. Produce looked very good however we found that although some items were selling at a lower price then we might find at a grocery store in our area some prices were significantly higher.

Other Offerings

Aside from what was in the buildings there were a great deal of vendors outside as well. One of the most notable was a flower and potting supply vendor. They were selling a variety of goods to include various flowers such as hibiscus and orchids. They were also selling potting supplies and flower care products. The prices were certainly reasonable and I would have purchased from this vendor if I had the need. The flowers themselves were also in great shape and well maintained.

The Important Stuff

Now that we’ve talked about all those things that the area has to offer let’s talk about those important details. First and foremost the Itoman City Market has a great deal of parking making it easy for you to avoid wasting time driving in circles. There is also a restroom area in the event that nature calls. On hot summer days you can enjoy a cold drink from one of the many vending machines in the area. For those families which stumble on this market there are grassy areas for the kiddles to play while mom or dad goes to grab something from inside a shop and even tables to rest and enjoy a snack.

Should You Go

If you happen to be in the area and are either looking for something to remember your trip to Okinawa or want to get some fresh veggies for tonight’s dinner I say “GO FOR IT”! However, I would not necessarily say that this is a sight to see on it’s own so if you want to check it out but aren’t already in the area I suggest planning to see some of the surrounding areas as well so that the trip is worth your while.

Springtime Flowers in Okinawa


Recently cherry blossoms and orchids have been the topic of conversation but Okinawa has a lot of beautiful flowers blooming during the spring time. Unfortunately springtime flowers here in Okinawa don’t get their own festivals, aside from the cherry blossoms and orchids that is, so I thought that I would take a moment and share with you some of the flowers that I found today while enjoying some time in the sunshine.

DSC01850

This is by far the best flower that I saw today and one of my favorite flours that I have ever seen around in Okinawa. (Sorry red powder puff you’re now number 2.) This pink flower almost looks like a lily and shares it’s characteristics as well. The color is bright pink, so pink in fact that the image I am posting doesn’t do it any justice. What really caught my eye, however, was the pattern on the inside of the flower. It almost looks like leopard spots.

DSC01892

This little yellow flower doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. They are very small and no you’re not going to get a vase full of them on Valentine’s Day. In fact you might classify them more as weeds then flowers but for me they are a cheery reminder of spring. My favorite time to see these flowers is when they are growing along a coral wall.

DSC01957

Here’s another one that I very much enjoy. These little white flowers grow in bunches. They are white and simple but very beautiful.

DSC01961

These are common flowers here on Okinawa. We saw these today while walking around a stone path. The small bunches of purple flowers added a splash of color to the dull path.

Now I know what you are thinking and no these flowers might not seem like much. However, they are one of the many things that puts a smile on my face and many people just walk by them every day without a thought. Next time you’re out take a moment to look all around even at the little things. You might be surprised by what you see.

 

 

Snack Corner: Curry House CoCoICHIBANYA Chips


 

Ask any of the Americans here on Okinawa about their favorite places to eat on island and you’re sure to hear about CoCoICHIBANYA. CoCoICHIBANYA, or CoCo’s as it’s often referred to, is a curry house here in Japan. The restaurant serves up various curry rice dishes with a variety of toppings but the curry itself is what makes mouths water.

photo-12

 

A few months back while we were on an adventure we found ourselves getting lunch when we stumbled upon these chips at a local FamilyMart. Neither of us could resist and so we picked them up and figured we would give them a try. The chips are CoCoICHIHAN Katsu Curry flavor. Katsu is made of pork or chicken which is usually tenderized and then breaded. The meat is then fried and sliced into strips. Also, since we’re on the topic of talking about things which you might not be familiar with at first glance, here in Japan chips are sometimes served in these cups. You won’t find potato chips similar to “Lay’s” in this type of container but you may find other stick shaped potato snacks or even “Fritos” style chips.

Much like other snacks in Japan they taste exactly like the package suggests; katsu covered in curry. I apologize that I can’t describe it better but those of you out there who have ever had CoCo’s curry know just what I mean. The texture is very crunchy and a bit flaky like katsu is. They are pretty good and if you’re into CoCo’s curry you’re going to like them so I would give them a try if you happen to stumble on them.