Okinawa Trip 2022 – Pre-Flight Jitters (part 1)

by imakerealityCS
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Matthew and Jamie flying to Okinawa

It lasted for two weeks and still somehow doesn’t seem real. Getting the chance to travel to Okinawa, Japan was an incredible experience and hopefully the first of many future international adventures.

Before October 2022, I’ve never traveled to a country that needed a passport before. The only times I ever went beyond the US border were visits to Canada and Mexico (Tiajuana, at least) back when you didn’t need one. Side note: visiting Tiajuana as a kid and traveling with your parents is nowhere near as insane as I’ve heard visiting Tiajuana as an adult can be. Same number of hookers though…weird.

The reason we went to Okinawa was to be a part of the 7th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival – a kind of “welcome home” celebration for Okinawans around the world to celebrate their heritage. I am, to state the painfully obvious, not Okinawan. However, my fiancĂ© is, and her family invited me along; there was no way I’d let this opportunity slide.

I was surprised at how nervous international travel made me. Traveling to a country like Japan (different language, social protocol, etc.) was certainly on my Bucket List, but always lived in the “Someday” category. A lot of things live there – mostly New Year’s resolutions – and to just take the plunge and make it happen was shockingly simple. There’s probably a lesson to that in aiming high and following dreams and pursuing self-improvement, so apply whichever is most applicable to you.

To prepare, I tried brushing up on Japanese, which I hadn’t studied since college way back in you know what, let’s not think about the exact year. I felt I had some bare-bones conversational basics down to help me buy manga and convenience store sandwiches, but no. Hearing native speech triggered that part of my brain to shut down and answer everything with “what…?” In the end, I called it a victory that I didn’t drool. But I’ll learn it enough for a future return visit…someday.

Our trip was part of a tour group that would take us on guided visits to historical sites and participation in cultural activities. Thank goodness, as COVID protocol was still restrictive for visiting Japan and the group was handling travel, hotels, interpreters, and visas. Fortunately, a little over a week before we left, Japan eased up on a lot of the restrictions and we had a relatively easy go of it.

The plane ride to Naha, Okinawa is 9+ hours long. This is actually great news since there are no direct flights from Hawaii to Okinawa and the group was able to charter a direct route. I’ll happily take 9 hours direct over 13-24 hours with a layover. The airline was JAL (Japan Air Lines), and this opened the door to one of my major fears:

Japan and its facilities are not made for people my size.

And don’t go saying “sumo” shit, that’s messed up. I didn’t want to be humiliated by my size causing problems, and God forbid I break a chair in some fancy restaurant in front of my future in-laws.

Fortunately, there was an open seat in our row, and we sat like royalty watching “NOPE” and reruns of “The Big Bang Theory” on an 8″ screen in coach.

9+ hours in an economy airplane seat is no easy task, but I’ve been preparing my whole life for sitting for extended periods of time. I spent most of the flight trying to remember every recommendation I’d heard about what to do, where to go, and what to see in Japan.

In fact, hold on…

OK, so I just checked my phone, and I took about 550 pictures/videos of this trip and trying to go through it all in one post is insane. I’ll break this into parts and try to remember as much as I can.

Aside from a couple patches of turbulence, the flight was uneventful, but the landing was strange. Not from anything physically happening, but perception-wise for me. When we boarded the plane in Honolulu, outside the window were palm trees, the ocean, and blue sky. When we landed in Naha, outside the window were palm trees, the ocean, and blue sky. For a moment, it felt like we’d gotten on a plane to circle the block for most of the day. That changed when we disembarked.

After dealing with our COVID status, passport checks, etc., we were greeted by TV cameras and a crowd of what turned out to be extended family members of people in our group. It was a big deal that there were tourists coming back and that it was for the Uchinanchu.

We were welcomed by local government officials, a mascot character designed for the festival and speeches. A LOT OF SPEECHES. This would be a major theme in the trip. Also, booze:

Airport booze.

It took a while to get to the hotel as herding almost 200 people trying to take pictures on to buses that were about 2 inches narrower than some of the streets took some serious coordination. It was about dinnertime, so we went to a small shop right behind the hotel. They had the “order through a vending machine” format and I had some amazing karaage chicken.

On that note, I didn’t include much in the way of pictures for this first blog of the trip. A horrible way to go about things so far, but there are people who may not want to be shown and it’s awkward taking a picture of a public airport toilet in the mad hustle of trying to get settled in. (A public toilet that was spotlessly clean, had a bidet, AND there was a butt-warming function? It was worthy of a picture in any other circumstance.) So, I’ll pack the next ones up with shots. Until then, here’s a preview of some things to come:

To the next of many,


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