Posts Tagged With: History

Snakes, Caves, and Habushu: Oh My!

Simultaneously one of the coolest and creepiest adventures we’ve had thus far here in Okinawa, was our trip to “Okinawa World.”  This park is a major tourist spot in Okinawa, so naturally we had to check it out. The first stop inside the park was to the Habu museum. The Habu viper is a mean, poisonous snake indigenous to the island, and this museum was dedicated to it. P1030501

Here are about 100 habus just chilling in a tree in a lowered fenced-in pit outside the museum. As you can see, these are not friendly beasts. Inside the museum we saw everything from the insides of a dead habu (because who wouldn’t want to see that)?:

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… to a dead habu eating another dead habu:

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… to two dead habus mating:

P1030499Even worse than the dead habu displays was the habu show. In the early 1900s, in an effort to control the habu viper and cobra populations, mongoose were brought over from India and introduced to the forests of Okinawa.  Later, people made a sport of fighting mongoose and these venomous snakes. Over time, the mongoose population devastated local indigenous species and as a result, the Japanese government is working to eradicate them. Anyway, inside Okinawa World’s habu museum, there is a mongoose-snake competition, although today it is a bit different than it used to be. According to the pamphlet that was handed out, in the year 2000, they switched from a mongoose-cobra “death match” to a friendly swimming competition between the mongoose and a sea snake.

After the swimming competition, (which, as you can see, the mongoose dominated… the fear of drowning is probably an excellent motivating influence) the snake handler brought out a habu viper and made it attack a balloon. After that, she brought out a very angry cobra and slapped it a few times in the back of its head so that it hit its head on the floor. Of course, everyone but Casey and I laughed. I decided this was the last time we would ever see this show.

Next, we ventured beneath the earth to see the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed. Gyokusendo cave is a 5-kilometer long cave where we were able to see over a million stalactites and stalagmites. It was an amazing limestone labyrinth.

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The lights illuminating the pools of water made for a gorgeous sight.

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The pictures do not do this an ounce of justice. It was, in a word, amazing.

After the cave, we wandered around the rest of the park and saw everything from sad animals in tiny cages to a traditional Ryukyuan village, to a glassblowing shop, to strange local fruit trees, to an Okinawan distillery where they were fermenting Habushu, or Habu Sake. This is a type of awamori where they ferment the liquor and then put dead snakes inside it. We’ve seen this sold all over the island in bottles with a snake inside, but this was much more intense than that.

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Stay tuned for more adventures!

Always, Amanda

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Categories: Nature, Okinawa | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Lives Lost Underground

It is no secret that the relationship between the United States and Japan is a complex one, but living in Okinawa has provided me with a new perspective on the alliance. Okinawa has had a fairly rough history for such a peaceful people. On their own they lived in relative peace for many years until the Japanese stepped in and claimed them. With such a strategic location, it is no wonder Okinawa has for centuries now been a popular geopolitical asset. The impact this has had on the people here, however, has at times been no less than tragic.

I will save my international political rant on the current state of affairs for another day. Living in a foreign country while on orders from the US military has revealed things to me that I would never have found in a history book or on CNN. I have seen first-hand the results of international politics, but being an American has still allowed me the naive comfort of being sheltered from some of the worst stories history has to offer. Until I ventured underground in Okinawa.

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This is the monument outside the Japanese Naval Underground, where the Japanese forces dug a tunnel system towards the end of World War II. The Americans were winning the war, so the Japanese Navy literally went underground. These tunnels were by far the most ominous place I’ve been in my life.

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This is the room where the Japanese Navy decided that committing suicide en masse was preferable to surrendering to American forces. You can see the marks the grenade shrapnel left in the walls where many men met their deaths. It is a strange thing to be an American in a place such as this, but forcing myself to witness these places has helped me come closer to understanding the complex dynamics of the relationship between these countries that now mean so much to me. May we not forget those who came before us and the sacrifices they made to bring the world where it is today.

-A

Categories: Culture, History, Okinawa | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Castles and Ruins

On our first weekend in Okinawa, our new friends Claira and Slade picked us up from the hotel and introduced us to some Okinawan history! It took us awhile to find it, but deep in the hills we found the historical site of Nakagusuku castle, a 14th century fortress with a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape.

                 

The castle was constructed without the use of any mortar or cement, which is incredible considering the longevity of the structure. They carved the limestone so that each piece would fit perfectly with the adjoining pieces. Not only has it survived the intense weather of the last 7 centuries, but it also survived some fierce battles in WWII!

This is one of multiple castle sites on the island, although it is one of the best preserved. In the ancient Ryukyu period (between the 14th and 17th centuries), Okinawa was divided into 3 kingdoms. The kingdoms co-existed peacefully for many years, thriving on trade with China, until at some point one ruler conquered the rest in a story I’ll have to save for a day when I have my facts straight. 🙂 When Japan annexed Okinawa (then known as the Ryukyu Kingdom), these castle sites became designated as National Historic Sites.

                  

From the top of the enclosure, you can see where the Pacific Ocean meets the East China sea.

               

We had a great time checking out the ruins of Nakagusuku castle, but then our friends told us they had more to show us. Walking distance from the castle was the creepiest place I’d ever seen… the old abandoned construction site of the Royal Hotel.

                 
Apparently, this hotel was being built in the 70s, and was supposed to be the most extravagant hotel on the island. Weird things started to happen during the hotel’s construction, and the construction workers came to believe the site was haunted. I’ll have to explain Okinawan spirituality more in depth in a later post, but I will tell you that they believe that the dead remain on the earth, and their spirits can and do cause harm to the living. Whether the owner of the hotel went bankrupt or was encouraged by an unfriendly spirit, he committed suicide and the hotel has not been touched since. (Except by graffiti artists and copper collectors)!

                

I have no idea how someone managed to get a car onto the 3rd floor! This would not exist in America- it would either be bought and taken over by someone else or torn down. We were able to climb concrete staircases without any siding up 5 flights- a law suit waiting to happen (in America, that is)!

The view from the top was amazing! If I were an Okinawan ghost, I’m sure this wouldn’t be a bad spot to haunt. Stay tuned for snorkeling, flying, shopping, driving, beer-drinking adventures!

Categories: Culture, History, Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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