Building bridges

Travel Trends & Culture - July 25th, 1975
Why Hawaii When Okinawa’s So Near?

with Yurie Horiguchi

Last week I was in Oki­nawa. No, I’m not going to talk about Expo ’75. The mass media is taking care of that. Nor was I there as a tourist, nor on a pournalistic or publicity mission, but merely on an assignment in my main job, which is conference interpreting.

So I had the best of all worlds. All expenses paid, and both before and after the one-day conference, plenty of time to look around, and become com­pletely captivated by the beauty of the islands.

One of my working col­leagues was a Hawaiian Nisei, so she knew whereof she spoke when she wonder­ed why all the Japanese go to Hawaii or Guam for holidays in the sun when they can get as much, if not more, in Okinawa.

Snobbism has a lot to do with it, of course. Okinawa, in the bad old days of the early century, was so poor that hundreds of Okinawans parked up and immigrated to………….. Hawaii. And Japan, for decades, paid next to no attention to the island they had annexed, except to ex­tract ts sugar-cane yields and fruit crops.

The islands are so green and beautiful, with quite a lot of what the islanders call “passing rain,” that I thought it would be rich in vegetables too. But it seems not. The top-soil is poor. So the Okinawans, like the Hawaiians, need to import many staple foods from the mainland, and they now suf­fer from mainland inflation.

But when you are on holi­day who cares about such problems? The beaches are spectacularly clean, with pale golden sand. The most crowded beach I saw last week had about 20 people.

You can SCUBA dive or take a glass-bottom boat to watch the hundreds of vari­colored tropical fish at play amongst the coral reefs. The water was as warm as an indoor heated swimming-pool and as clean and as clear as looking through a glass.

They haven’t heard of pol­lution yet on Okinawa.

I stayed at the Moon Beach Hotel, about an hour’s drive from Naha airport. It is brand new, with rooms built around central patios, with all but a few looking out over the emerald-blue sea. I sound like a travel folder? I really can’t help it! The sea actually IS emerald blue.

Pineapples, papayas and other tropical fruits are run of the mill. So much so that our hotel decided that since it was hosting such an important conference, it had to serve peaches flown in from the mainland!

More snobbism. Give us pineapple! we begged. Give us papaya! Then too we were offered steaks (imported, of course) when the local markets abound with glori­ous fresh fish.

My colleagues and I dis­dained the western-style cafeteria and ate only at the Japanese (Okinawa?) res­taurant in the hotel.

Here we were served heap­ing plates of mixed sashimi (raw fish) for ¥1,200. We also had lobsters, grilled Ja­panese style or boiled and served cold with mayonnaise for ¥1,500. Large cray-fish (taisho-ebi) were especially delicious as tempura. Most teishoku or “set” meals were priced at ¥1,800, consisting of choices between grilled or boiled fish, ginger-pork, etc., with miso) soup, pickles, rice and a dessert – – fruit.

We went touring in an air-conditioned taxi before re­turning to the airport and home. We bargained with the driver of a private cab—-they call them kojin-taxi (as they do in Japan too)—and he offered to give us a four-hour drive at ¥1,700 per per­son (we were four).

He took none of the tourist-bus routes, but what he called the “southern coast” drive which follows the coastline. We admired the lovely hibiscus seemingly growing wild, and the ubi­quitous sugar-cane fields.

He took us to a pottery factory and a place where coral was being polished and set, the larger pieces on stands and the smaller ones as jewelery. This place also boasted of the largest single piece of pink coral ever found and it was on display.

The Japanese really should try taking a holiday in Oki­nawa. There is no language harrier unless you try to talk to a fisherman or farmer.

A lot of English is spoken on the island, too, thanks to the late (and seemingly somewhat lamented) Ameri­can occupation after the war. Our taxi driver spoke perfect G.I. English.

The return fare from To­kyo is cheaper than going to Hawaii or Guam. It is ¥53,000. Hotels right now — especially the new ones — are about as expensive, if not more so, than on the Ja­panese mainland, but we predict that next year, after the Expo boom is over, they will be begging for clients, at half price. Go then.

Before I forget — about those poisonous snakes on Okinawa, called habu, a species of viper with enorm­ous fangs which penetrate the deepest arteries, causing almost instant death…. Have I put you off?

There was a lot of talk about them after the confer­ence ended, and my inform­ant, one of the Commission­ers General, who has rented a house in Naha for the Expo duration, told me that these snakes are only dan­gerous after nightfall.

That is when they come out from the brush, or wher­ever they hole up days.

The consensus was — stay home at night. Or, in all events, don’t go exploring the woods at night no matter how beautiful the moonlight is. A warning to prospective honeymooners.