As I was strolling around Kokusai street in Okinawa on my first night in Japan, I heard a familiar piece of music which caught my attention. I eavesdropped on a dimly light pub and found out that it was the Beatles’ famous song, Give Peace a Chance.
“Everybody’s talking about
Revolution, evolution, masturbation,
flagellation, regulation, integration,
meditations, United Nations,
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
Oh yes! I realized Okinawa is the right place to say Give Peace a Chance as over 200,000 American and Japanese combatants as well as the local civilians lost their lives during the Second World War. Since then it came under the US under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty. Only it reverted to Japan in 1972, after 27 years. Nonchalantly I peeped inside the pub, and a Japanese damsel greeted me with “Irasshaimase!” But I retracted and opted to stroll further down Kokusai Street. Being in the main street of Naha City, Kokusai Street is a favourite spot for large numbers of city dwellers and tourists who flock there for food and shopping. Established in a swampy area after the Second World War, this area developed fast, making it the symbol of postwar reconstruction. Called the “Miracle Mile”, the street is lined with souvenir shops, jewellery stores, boutiques and restaurants.
Again I heard “Irasshaimase!” I turned back and saw a smiling Japanese nubile beckoning me into a restaurant. It would surprise you to hear it more often than you could imagine. You don’t need to set foot in a store or restaurant to receive a big smile and a robust “Irasshaimase!”, it’s everywhere in the street. I found this act of salutation to be a big practice of the merchants on Kokusai Dori. There are young, vibrant faces posted in the entranceways or even on the footpaths of almost all the tourist stores to greet pedestrians, hoping to entice them to hop into their store for shopping. This is what Okinawa offers you in its typical Hawaiian-Japanese hybrid style.
Getting into Okinawa seems to be more difficult and expensive than other parts of Japan. Located between Kyusyu and Taiwan, major Asian cities such as Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila and Tokyo are all within a 1,500km radius of Okinawa. Travelling from Kathmandu to Okinawa via Osaka is quite tiresome and time consuming, for it’s Japan’s southwestern most prefecture, consisting of 50 inhabited and 110 uninhabited islands scattered over an area 1,000 from east to west and 400km from north to south. After flying two and a half hours from Osaka to Okinawa, we found ourselves at Kokusai hotel. Named after famous Kokusai Dori (Kokusai Street, also called “International Street”), Kokusai is one of the busiest downtown budget hotels. Vibrant as any other Asian city, Okinawa greeted us with a variety of cuisine that I could hardly eat, as I am a vegetarian. But Robin Marston, managing director, Hotel Summit devoured everything he had as he has been living in South East and East Asia for the last forty years. He really enjoyed eating the seafood with a chopstick or a fork. Since we had one more day with us before attending the Skal Asian Area Assembly in the Busena Terrace Beach Resort in Nago city on May 25, 2001, we opted to stay back in Naha city of Okinawa. I have many fond memories of walking endlessly up and down the mile-long strip of Kokusai Dori, seeing the brightly lighted billboards and the Orion beer lanterns strung from every lamppost which needs another write up.
Thinking I would not get the chance to enjoy the beach until tomorrow, I approached Ambica Shrestha, managing director of the famous heritage hotel- The Dwarika’s, who was with us for the assembly as President of SKAL Club Nepal Chapter, for a jaunt to Tropical Beach as Marston who had just rented a car seemed to have lost his way back to the hotel. We hanged around the beach for a while enjoying the sublime beauty of the beach and watching the tide waves touch the stones.
Next day we headed to the Busena Terrace Resort, a drive which took almost more than one and a half-hours from Naha city in a car rented by Robin. It was a very memorable journey cruising along the beautiful coast line. Without checking twice, we opted to stay at the Busena Terrace Resort. The Skal Club of Okinawa, the host club, had made splendid arrangements with the Assembly being held at the Busena Terrace Resort, — this is where the politicians and financial wizards of the G 8 including the then president of USA, Bill Clinton and Russian President, Vladamir Putin, met in July 2000. Set against one of Okinawa’s northern most scenic spots, the Busena Terrace captures the essence of indoor-outdoor living through an open-air style architecture where a spacious interior blends harmoniously with the resort’s natural surroundings.
Okinawa was looking its best although there was, sometimes, light rain with the fineness of Scottish Dew or Irish Mist. It made everything fresh and green. Before getting down to the serious business of the Assembly, Skålleagues were welcomed at a cocktail function and entertained by a delightfully noisy drum corps. Pounding the huge Japanese drums, and maintaining the right rhythm, is not as easy as it looks but the Okinawa Youth Drum & Dance Corps gave a display of great polish and determination. The Three days ended with fun and parties. Watching the dolphin’s magical display was real fun. Having French fries at KFC in Nago city, remembering the late husband of. Ambica Shrestha, who was very fond of KFC was memorial.
After dropping Ambicaji and Robin off at the airport, I got back to Kakusai hotel again on May 28 for a night’s stay. Walking down, doing some little last minute shopping (Okinawa is not as expensive as Osaka), I retired to my hotel and started reading about Okinawa. Influenced by the American lifestyle, especially Hawaiian Okinawa attracts approximately 4.12 million overseas tourists each year from places such as mainland Japan, Taiwan and Korea. Okinawa, which has a rich natural environment and distinct culture, was the site of intense ground battles that engulfed the local residents during the Pacific War. Because of the fierce barrage of U.S. bombs and artillery fire, this battle, known as the Typhoon of Steel, reduced the once rich green islands to ashes. In addition, irreplaceable cultural assets, passed down from generation to generation, were burned to the ground. The people of Okinawa had experienced the horrors of war.
Although Okinawa’s reversion to Japan did occur, many of the bases continued to provide facilities for the U.S. military under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty despite pleas from the people of Okinawa.
At mid-night I looked down the street from my room, the pubs and bars were still open entertaining guests. But for me it was my last night in Okinawa as my flight to Osaka was scheduled in the morning. Before falling asleep, I suddenly remembered a few lines of John Lennon’s song- Imagine, and murmured it till I fell asleep:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
( I visited Japan from May 23 to June 2, 2001)