Upon landing at Naha Airport I was excited to see Kira waiting for me when I finally managed to make my way out of the baggage claim area. After hugging and laughing she led me to her car and very soon we were driving the Okinawa Expressway to her home. Like so many Japanese families Kira’s live in an apartment. There I had the pleasure of meeting her mother who greeted me politely but warmly. At the door I was urged to remove my shoes and put on house slippers. Over the course of the few days I stayed with Kira and her family I quickly got used to doing this.
Kira and I spent the afternoon catching up, laughing and reminding each other of the fun times we had together at school. It wasn’t long before her father arrived home and Kira introduced me to him, a somewhat reserved and very polite man. Gohan, the Japanese word to describe dinner (meaning rice or meal) was already set so I was invited to sit down. Kira’s family eats in the traditional style of sitting on the floor (I was given a cushion for comfort) at a very low table. All of the food was served in gorgeous fine porcelain bowls in my honor. Kira explained that they often used less fragile dinnerware for everyday meals but that her mother wanted to honor my arrival. Kira’s mother is a great cook and the food she served for dinner that evening was so yummy! We had soup, salad, rice and steamed fish.
After dinner Kira and I talked about where I should go and what to see the next day. As the wedding was a couple of days away and I was not part of the bridal party I was free to explore but unfortunately Kira was too busy to accompany me, however her mother did take me to the fresh market the next morning. What an amazing place. There were all sorts of fresh vegetables, fish, meats, and fruit. Kira’s mother doesn’t speak English as well as Kira but managed to convey to me that she shops there daily so that food is always fresh for meals.
- Katsuren Castle Ruins
- Mini Mini Zoo
- Kira’s Wedding
After a breakfast of the equivalent of an American cereal with cold milk I left their home and made my way to Katsuren Castle Ruins. What is left of the castle stands on a hill with great views of the houses and land to the South, the sea and mountains to the North. The castle has a rich history and although I enjoyed looking around and taking photographs it was sad to see that so little of the original castle remained.
After leaving the Ruins I traveled to Mini Mini Zoo. I have seen quite a few zoos on my worldwide travels but I have a fascination for seeing the animals that are native to each country. This is a very modest zoo but still worth visiting if you have the time while in Okinawa. There are lots of small animals to see but not much in the way of larger animals. What I did find particularly interesting was the fresh egg shop and the bakery. Before leaving I succumbed to the sweet offerings and took ‘home’ some sata andagi which are very much like donuts, thinking they might be nice for dessert that evening.
The day of the wedding we were all excited and busy. Kira admitted to being a little nervous but happy to be finally marrying the man she loves. Kira gave me a quick rundown of what to expect, explaining that she and her parents wanted a traditional Shinto wedding. I was to be one of the very few guests to attend, which she explained is a great honor.
When we entered the shrine where the ceremony was to be conducted I was amazed at how ‘Americanized’ it seemed to be. I don’t quite know what I expected but it was very modern in design. Kira and her soon-to-be husband, Akira, stood in front of the priest, Akira in a black jacket and hakama, and Kira in a beautiful white kimono. The priest asked the gods for their blessing for the couple and then Kira and Akira each sipped from three cups of sake. This ritual is called sansankudo and acts as a purification. Afterwards both sets of parents drank from the cups of sake.
The entire ceremony lasted only about 20 minutes and even though I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said by either the priest or Akira when he said his vows I could tell that it meant a lot to everyone there. It was a very quiet, formal ceremony. Just as in a Western wedding the couple exchanged wedding rings.
After we left the shrine we joined guests at a reception, where speeches were made and food was served. Again, having no understanding of Japanese I was left ignorant of what was being said. Fortunately later Kira explained much of it to me. I can see why Japanese is considered such a difficult language to learn though. Everyone was very relaxed and happy, with many people congratulating the newly married couple. It was exciting to see Kira marry the love of her life and I truly hope that she will have a wonderful, long and happy marriage. She deserves it!