Okinawa 2.0 - My Family Travels

This photo captures the sun setting from the shores of Tropical Beach during the Lantern Floating. People of all ages gather on the beach to release their lanterns. Each lantern contains a message from a participant, which can be wishes, thoughts, or even a picture of one’s family.
Pathway to Araha Beach, one of the hotspots for friends and family to enjoy swimming, walking along the seawall, and also a popular site for taking wedding photos.
A small section of hanging lanterns during the Lantern Festival. This festival is an annual event and consists of numerous multifaceted lanterns. Snow cone shops, lantern statues, and music enchant the quiet landscape.

Back in 2017, I was finishing up school when my father asked me how I would feel if we moved during my senior year. I was a junior at the time, and had been attending the same high school for the past three years. However, being in a military family also means moving every several years. Without needing to think twice, I eagerly supported the idea of moving one more time before I go to college.

A couple of months passed, and my father left for Japan, soon followed by the rest of my family and me. Upon arriving in Okinawa, which is a smaller island a few hundred miles away from mainland Japan, we settled into our new home, and took in the tropical environment. The island felt different this time around, slightly deviating from what I remember when my family and I moved here for the first time when I was a young child. I was yearning to explore Okinawa, and witness what did and didn’t change in the past six years. From what I’ve seen, the once humble American Village expanded into a thriving area, filled with more arcades, hotels, and restaurants. On the other hand, a vintage ice cream store named Blue Seal has been serving some of my favorite flavors since the mid 20th century! Small bands and artists still perform in front of a stone staircase, where captivated crowds gather to enjoy whatever they have to offer. The last time I visited that area, the people of a religious group were testifying and singing hymns, while audience members danced in the middle of the square. Okinawa is filled with various festivals, traditions, and enriching activities that are open to anyone who is interested. Recently, I attended the Lantern Floating, which is a Buddhist event that consists of Taiko drummers, spiritual dances, a ceremony, and finally the release of hundreds of lanterns into the Pacific Ocean from the soft sands of Tropical Beach.

Like nearly every corner of the earth, Okinawa is home to a handful of fast food joints, but I find the unique restaurants of the island to catch my eye more often. Places like CoCo Curry House and Gen offer some of the best curry and soba I’ve ever tasted, and the small “sushi-go-rounds” are definitely an island treasure. In context, the latter is designed to allow the cooks in the kitchen to place the fresh sushi on a conveyor belt, which winds between the table rows in the dining area. When a customer sees the sushi they desire, then they simply remove it from the belt and enjoy. No matter how many times I’ve visited a sushi-go-round, it still excites me when I see my favorite kind of sushi arrive at my family and my table.

Unlike our first PCS to Japan, I had one year of Japanese under my belt when we arrived, which has been really essential in terms of navigating through the island. I recently finished my second year of Japanese here, and even connected with other Japanese students through my class. We help each other to learn Japanese and English, relative to our first language. While I’m out and about with friends, I take every opportunity to further immerse myself in the language and lifestyle, which spans from complimenting people on the streets to ordering meals and asking for directions.

Okinawa is the only place overseas in which I’ve lived, and it continues to provide a special opportunity for me to understand a unique culture while experiencing such a nostalgic island.

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