Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nippon Extremities: Okinawa X (Miyako)

March 4, 2003

I had hoped the waves would make us late, but we were awoken at 3:50a.m., twenty-five minutes ahead of schedule.  None of the disembarking passengers were young, so all the college students I'd seen would get to sleep until Ishigaki.

I walked away from the ship, following a few people into the darkness, backlit by the headlights of huge forklifts moving containers around.  It was a little like Close Encounters.   When I hit the island proper, I walked up the main street in a drizzle, thinking about where to catch some more sleep.  Somehow I found myself right next to my hotel.  There was a man in the genkan getting ready to board the ship I just left.  The door opened, and I dropped onto a sofa in the lobby...  Around six, I surprised the owner.  She kindly let me check in early, and I was able to sleep in my own room until nine.

I hopped a boat through choppy, rainy waters over to Irabu.  The fifteen minute ride was quite fun, like something in an amusement park. Until my coffee dropped into my lap.  On the far side, no one seemed to know where Senningama was, so after a free cuppa, I went back to Miyako.  Over and back within the hour.  With the lousy weather, there was nothing to do but the laundry.

I found an utaki right across from my hotel.  A temple nearby had a wonderfully technicolor garden, or at least the remains of one.  Below the adjacent shrine, a pretty girl petting a dog didn't return my greeting.  Despite my better judgment, I lunched at A&W, then strolled around, looking into shops, but nothing in Hirara interested me.  I did find an utaki, completely overgrown with busy birds.  Here, as before, was evidence of recent activity, probably a day earlier.  There were dozens more nearer the water, around graves and below the overhang of cliffs.  I followed them out of town, clapping and bowing every couple of minutes.  The last one was in a park, next to three hollowed-out, colorfully painted canoes.  A boat called Nirai Kanai was moored nearby.

I walked through the sugar cane fields past the occasional house.  An old farmer saved me from the light rain, driving me the last kilometer or so to Sunayama Beach.  On sunny days this beach would be breathtaking, but today the surf was angry, not inviting.  A cove lined up beautifully with the north point of Irabu.  A few utaki pointed out caves in the rocks and vice versa.  I wondered how pro climbers would do on these sharp, porous walls with their great overhangs above the swells.  A sign warned me of the possibility of sharks and jellyfish.  I later found out a surfer had been killed here the previous year.

I headed further on up the road and through an immense area torn up by construction.  Whatever was going up would be huge.  I passed through a small village and was picked up at its far end.  The driver was going all the way to the north end of the island.  It turned out that he knew Yuki and probably Jeff, two friends who years ago had lived in Yonago. The country got wilder heading north, mostly overgrown jungle.  We crossed a long four kilometer bridge to Ikema-jima.  Even in this cloudy weather, I could see down to the sea floor.  The darker reefs and long blue channel looked like patchwork, bordered by small farms cultivating seagrapes.  

I was let off in the middle of a village, but had no idea where I was going.  I asked a couple of people, then finally at the post office.  I wandered through the village's narrow lanes, the stormy seas banging off the reef beyond.  I walked along a sea wall, passing two old men and an inquisitive dog. The former were smacking balls back and forth across a field in a sport that looked nothing like gateball.  (Does an elderly person smile slightly when asked to join a game for the first time?  The youth of this country make fun of the game. When does it become cool?)  

As I approached Raza Cosmica, I saw a bearded guy drive out of the driveway and wave as he passed.  The house was a huge adobe structure with turrets, sitting on a hill high above the sea.  The backyard was walled in with a few chairs for lounging.  There looked to be no place to get coffee and when I asked the woman if I could have a look at the inside, she refused.  Twice today I had traveled long distances to see nothing.  I sulked back to the bus stop and climbed aboard.  

We took a roundabout route down the east coast, a few of the villages containing many old buildings.  I also didn't really mind the one story concrete boxes with verandas on top.  This has become my image of an island house.  People were finishing work in the cane fields this late in the afternoon.  Crushed and broken stalks littered the roads, and each one we passed tricked me into thinking it was a dreaded habu.  Off the coast a bit was Ogamijima, with its 20 residents.  I wanted to go, but found out that only women can enter the island's utaki.

Back in Hirara, I chilled out a bit, then met up with Jeff at 7 o'clock.  He lived in a former dive shop, very wide with two raised platforms, the one on the right contained his bed, and the other had a long wooden sofa along the perimeter, with a book shelf above.  To one side was a small alcove with CDs and a stereo, like a DJ's booth.  It all looked made from a single piece of wood.  Everywhere was decorated with batik.  I had met Jeff in Yonago about 9 years before.  His girlfriend Yuki had lived there, and Jeff would come up for frequent visits from Kobe.  I was dating an America woman who had also been living there, and after the earthquake both she and Jeff had been made refugees, so they both spent a lot of time in Yonago that winter, and the four of us hung out a fair bit.  I hadn't seen Jeff since about that time, but he welcomed me without hesitation when I'd called a week before.  

We ate at an izakaya, then as we were leaving, heard music coming from a small bar up a nearby alley. The bar was closed, but a few of Jeffs's friend were inside, rehearsing for an anti-war rally in Naha.  The singer's Dylan imitation was dead on.  We had a beer as they worked through a few tunes.   
Back at Jeff's, a few people had gathered for their weekly poker night.  I merely watched, choosing to instead play a small djembe in time to the music.  Tired after a long day, I started to make my way back to my hotel just before midnight, but was intercepted at the door by Anzei, a local girl who had the look of a hippie.  Just then her friend arrived, another hippie girl just back from Jamaica.  Thus started an adventure of being dragged around town for three blurry hours.  I do remember doing karaoke somewhere.  I also remember playing congas on stage with a local band somewhere else, as Anzei a trained dancer, spun and gyrated around the floor....

On the turntable:  Steve Reich,  "City Life"


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