In Naha, Okinawa: Japanese newlyweds provide a great photo op after their traditional Shinto wedding

Quite by accident on a Sunday morning, I came across a wedding party posing for pictures at the Naminoue Shrine in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the third in a series of posts about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 8 post about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; and April 15 about the sinking of the Tsushima Mara and the deaths hundreds of schoolchildren during World War II.

I had another of those turn-the-corner “wow” moments that seem to happen in Japan as I walked smack into a wedding party posing for post-ceremony pictures at a Shinto shrine in Okinawa.

To the Japanese, a Shinto wedding may be commonplace, but to an American tourist, just this scene provided a glimpse into the very heart of an ancient culture.

The bride was dressed in a snow white kimono, known as shiromuku, the most formal of Japanese wedding attire. Nearly every other person standing in three horizontal rows on gray concrete steps was in a dark suit or dress (with a few splashes of white), including her new husband in a traditional kimono.

The newlyweds pose at the Shinto shrine’s outer hall. I think the cutouts at left are a funny juxtaposition to the formality of the bride and groom’s traditional kimonos.

Further contrast was provided by the bright red triangular roof at the shrine’s outer hall (haiden), the dangling white paper lanterns and the cloudless blue sky.

Most of the bride’s hair and part of her face were shaded by an arched, balloon-like hood, known as wataboshi, which serves the same purpose as a Western veil: To reveal her fully only to her groom. (Wataboshi also come in different shapes and some expose more of the bride’s face.)

She was, in fact, head to toe in white, down to her leather sandals (zori) and split-toed socks (tabi).

The Sunday morning sun was so bright that it made the opaque silk seem like shimmering, freshly fallen snow. I knew a garment of this expense and quality would have some sort of elegant design embedded in the fabric.

Cranes, chrysanthemums and spirals were repeating motifs on the bride’s kimono.

Zooming in with my telephoto, I could see traditional cranes, their long necks extended, beaks closed and wings fully spread, with spindly legs trailing as if taking flight. Cranes are a symbol of peace, longevity and hope in Japan, all sentiments appropriate for a wedding.

Interspersed around the cranes, particularly at the bride’s shoulder, neck and flowing sleeves, were repeating spirals and floral motifs, including chrysanthemums, a flower long associated with the Japanese imperial family. The flower is also a symbol of longevity.

The groom’s black outer coat (haori) over his kimono displayed his round, white embroidered family crest (mon) near each shoulder, once below the elbow on each sleeve and between his shoulder blades on his back. This, too, seemed to have a plant or floral motif.

A man’s kimono is far shorter than a woman’s, and loose striped trousers (hakama) conceal the garment’s hem.

Two braided cords (himo) held his kimono in place, secured at the waist with knots, the shape of which reminded me of a cross between an old-fashioned shaving brush and a blooming flower.

His sandals (setta) and socks were also white.

I had gone to another part of the shrine, and when I returned to the picture area, the bride’s hooded veil had been removed to reveal this elaborate hairstyle. The groom’s family crest is displayed on his shoulder. 

Both bride and groom were holding closed fans, another traditional accessory.

Shinto, “the way of the gods,” is the oldest religion in Japan and has no written doctrine. Its kami (deities) inhabit all forms of nature, from mountains to animals to earthquakes. Many of the ritual, prayers and offerings are intended to ward off evil.

Families may also have an altar-shrine at home for offerings and worship.

A wedding ceremony, officiated by a Shinto priest, is attended by only the close family of the bride and groom. It may take only 20 minutes.

The couple is purified, sake is ritually consumed, and the groom reads the marriage oath. Rings may be exchanged, and the ceremony generally ends with an offering, such as sacred tree branches, to the kami. (Obviously, I didn’t get to see any of this.)

For the reception, usually held at a hotel and running an exact amount of time, the bride would definitely don another outfit, possible a kimono, and the groom might change also.

If the newlyweds were hosting a post-reception small party just for their close friends, another change of clothing would be likely.

I was not the only one engrossed with the formal attire, as other shrine visitors also snapping photos. A few even asked to pose with the bride and groom once they had completed the more formal images.

As their official photographer continued working, I went off to have a closer look at the grounds at the front of Naminoue Shrine, the most important shrine in Okinawa prefecture.

Its name translates to “Above the Waves,” appropriate in that is located on a bluff overlooking the ocean and Naminoue Beach, the only seaside sandy strip in the city of Naha.

(While I was briefly at the beach, en route to the Tsushima Maru museum, I looked up to see the roof finials and realized how close I was to the shrine. I knew it would be an interesting detour — but I didn’t know just how interesting.)

With the shrine’s proximity to the sea, it’s where fishermen in ancient times would pray for an abundant catch, where sailors would appeal to the deities for a safe voyage and farmers would ask for a plentiful harvest.

Like so much else in Okinawa, the original shrine, which dated to Ryukyu dynastic days in the 15th century before the islands became part of Japan in the 19th century, was destroyed during World War II.

Only the torii, the two-railed gate designating the separation of sacred property from the everyday world, is original. At many shrines, the torii is painted a bright vermillion, but that was not the case here, where it was grayish and possible made from concrete.

Near the torii is a statue of the Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) in full military dress.

Shrine visitors write messages on votive tablets, called ema, asking for, among other things, good health and fertility. The ema then hang clustered together on a large board.

At all Shinto shrines, believers (and souvenir seekers) can buy a variety of inexpensive good-luck charms (onamori) and votive tablets (ema). The charms are usually tiny pieces of wood or paper, upon which wishes for good health, fertility, safe driving and other sentiments are printed. They are tucked into a decorative cloth pouch, which can be worn or secured in a special place. Above all, the charms are not to be opened to reveal the content.

Ema, made from very lightweight wood (perhaps balsa), vary in illustration and size from shrine to shrine, but most are small. The one I bought at Naminoue was about 61/4 by 4 1/4 inches and 1/4-inch thick.

Messages are written on the tablets, making similar requests as the charms, and posted on large boards to hang together at the shrine.

When I finished looking around, I returned to the area where the photos were being taken to find that the bride’s wataboshi had been removed, revealing her elaborate hairstyle.

The swept-up style, definitely something reserved for formal occasions, brought to mind the lavish look worn by geisha and maiko (geisha-in-training), who live mostly in Kyoto and Tokyo, not Okinawa.

Some sort of form is helping to give volume to the hair where it curves out over the bride’s ears. 

Bows, combs, golden flowers and other ornaments were tied, dangling and clipped into the bride’s heavily lacquered coif. Even after examining my pictures, I was uncertain if this was her hair or a wig, but I think it’s her hair.

I did pose the question to my Japanese friends in Tokyo, and the older daughter, Hatsumi, told me that this hairdo was achievable in about an hour, using copious amounts of hairspray.

My friends also let me know that the bride’s white kimono was almost certainly rented.

“What use would she have for it again?” Hatsumi said.


Quick reference: Naminoue Shrine, 1-25-11 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Free admission.


The history behind the 5-year Nazi occupation of Guernsey, author Victor Hugo’s lengthy exile and a quirky chapel in Britain’s Channel Islands

Guernsey WWII
This memorial commemorating the occupation of Guernsey during World War II was dedicated in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the island. In a famous speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered on May 8, 1945, he said: “… and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.” The return of British forces was actually a day later. His words are on the back-rest seating area of the memorial. The Weighbridge Clock Tower is in the background.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos, except where noted. All rights reserved.

When the novel “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” was published in 2008, its release brought a flurry of interest in the second most-populated of the British Channel Islands.

With last Friday’s opening in the United Kingdom of the film adaptation of the book, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the island is likely to be ready for its closeup again. (Netflix has distribution rights to the film in the United States.)

Funny thing though: Not one scene was filmed on the island. English locations in London, Devon and Cornwall stand in for Guernsey.

In pre-production, directors came and went — actor Kenneth Branagh among them — as did lead actresses. At one time, Kate Winslet was to star, then it was Rosamund Pike.

Tom Courtenay (as Eben Ramsey) offers Lily James (playing Juliet Ashton) a taste of potato peel pie in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” From left: Katherine Parkinson, Kit Connor, Penelope Wilton and Michiel Huisman. Photo courtesy of Kerry Brown/Studio Canal

Lily James, of “Downton Abbey” and “Cinderella” fame, in the role of Juliet Ashton, plays a post-World War II London writer, who strikes up a pen-pal friendship with Guernsey residents who formed the book club of the novel’s title, and comes to learn of their experiences under five years of Nazi occupation.

The cast is, in fact, a mini reunion of “Downton Abbey” actors. In addition to James, you’ll recognize Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley on DA), Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley Branson) and Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot).

The director is Mike Newell, perhaps best-known for “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

In May 2009, I visited three of the Channel Islands — Jersey, Guernsey and Sark.

The word “charming” is often overused in travel stories, but it perfectly fits these islands, especially Guernsey, with its stacked-stone walls lining narrow country lanes and sturdily built, lovingly named houses (Southernwood, La Manse, Rose Cottage, for example).

I had read the book by then, but my interest was piqued years earlier, when I wrote a travel article in 2005 for my then-employer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about the islands’ commemorations of the 60th anniversary of their liberation in 1945.

During World War II, the islands were the only part of the British Isles occupied by German troops. Nightly curfews, daily restrictions and food shortages were commonplace as islanders, in the best British “stiff upper lip” tradition, did what was necessary to survive.

Castle Cornet
Approaching the harbor in St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Behind the lighthouse is Castle Cornet, more than 800 years old. It has five museums and four period gardens.

Liberation Day is annually observed on May 9, and I planned my trip so as to witness the re-enactment of British troops (in period costume) arriving back on Jersey, and partake of the celebrations in general. I also visited several of the museums and WWII sights on Jersey.

The islands, including Alderney and Herm and several privately owned spits of land not open to the public, lie about 80 miles from the southern coast of England. They are far closer to the Normandy area of northwest France, about 14 miles, than the United Kingdom.

Though allied with France at the time of William the Conqueror, for centuries they’ve been self-governing British Crown dependencies. Their history and customs are a rich mix of both cultures.

About 60,000 people live on Guernsey today, making a living from banking and financial services, agriculture — think namesake fawn-and-white colored dairy cows — and tourism.

Guernsey landscape
Whether walking along the cliffs or treading the sandy beaches, the scenery is dramatic and gorgeous on Guernsey.

Guernsey is an excellent place to unwind. You can be as busy as you like, having a lengthy cliff-top ramble, investigating secluded sandy coves or going fishing. Or you can wander the shops in St. Peter Port — there is no Value Added Tax levied — and enjoy the freshly caught seafood at one of the cozy restaurants. There’s far more to experience than the sights I’ve mentioned here.

From Jersey, I took the ferry to Guernsey and caught just the tail end of its May 9 festivities, many of which were held harborside at St. Peter Port.

Guernsey, like Jersey, has an excellent bus system. A dark-haired Irish lad was often the driver on my route back to my small hotel, La Barbarie (, and we had many brief, pleasant conversations.

Nearly 12,000 German troops occupied Guernsey during the war. Before the assault began in late June 1940, thousands of schoolchildren (most without their parents) were evacuated by boat to England.

So many others decided to flee that the island’s population was reduced almost by half, leaving about 17,000 to endure life under enemy control. Contact between friends and loved ones living islands apart was limited to 25-word messages, their delivery facilitated by the Red Cross.

St. Peter Port
In late June 1940, St. Peter Port absorbed the opening salvos from invading German forces. Far more peaceful today, it’s a favorite place for pleasure boaters to drop anchor.

On June 28, German planes attacked St. Peter Port over two days, resulting in 33 civilians deaths. No military resistance was mounted because the British government didn’t think Guernsey was of strategic value, and was still reeling from the massive evacuation of more than 330,000 British, French, Belgian and Polish troops from Dunkirk, France.

By June 30, the first Nazis, arriving in aircraft, had begun the occupation.

“All clocks and watches are to be advanced one hour as from midnight of the 2nd 3rd July, 1940, to accord with German time,” said order number six (of 17) from the Commandant of German forces, as reported on the front page of The Star, Guernsey’s oldest newspaper, on July 3.

At the privately-owned German Occupation Museum, visitors can see a small collection of weaponry, memorabilia (medals, uniforms, band instruments) and a re-creation of a typical kitchen from a Guernsey household. The scene is set after dinner, with the father listening to a forbidden wireless that is cleverly concealed during the day.

A street scene, filled with storefronts and period-costumed mannequins, offers another look at what life was like in the 1940s.

The museum also has an Enigma machine, used by the Nazis to send encrypted messages that they thought were unbreakable. Little did they know that teams of linguists, scientists, mathematicians and others at Bletchley Park in England had deciphered the secrets of the Enigma, led in part by the groundbreaking work of Alan Turing, often credited as being the father of modern computing.

La Valette Underground Military Museum, housed in slave-labor-built tunnels that were planned as fuel-storage depots for refueling German U-boats, has a much wider array of weapons, uniforms and vehicles. Some of the items date to World War I.

The fuel tanks were of great interest after the war when getting oil was still difficult, but the tunnel was closed over the ensuing decades. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the site was converted into a museum.

Military hospitalI also went to the German Military Underground Hospital and Ammunition Store, which has a collection of occupation newspapers, fascinating in and of themselves. (According to Visit Guernsey, this sight is closed until further notice.)

The tunnels of the hospital and ammunition store, in the south-central part of the island, cover about 75,000 square feet, the largest physical reminder of the Nazi occupation.

Slave laborers (many of them POWs) from countries occupied by the Germans, such as France, Belgium, Holland, and others from Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Poland and Russia, along with some Guernseymen, were forced to work long hours on starvation diets, removing 60,000 tons of granite over a 3.5-year period.

Much of the work was done by hand with picks, shovels and sledgehammers, and the occasional use of explosives and pneumatic drills.

The tunnels had a full heating and air-conditioning scheme, five ventilation shafts, three entrances, an electric generating plant and their own reservoir.

The hospital, with space to treat 800 patients, was used for only about three months. Hundreds of wounded Germans were transported from the Normandy beaches after the Allies’ invasion in June 1944.

The concrete-reinforced hospital layout mimics a ladder: Two long parallel corridors connect a series of “rungs,” that housed the wards, operation room, X-ray room, lab, dispensary and staff sleeping quarters. Also included were a kitchen, store rooms, a cinema and a mortuary.

Not much remains today other than some beds and kitchen equipment. When the Germans fled, a lot of the equipment went with them and the British took a much of what was left in 1945.

The Ammunition Store was just to the north (and a tiny bit west) of the hospital. Similar in layout to the hospital but even larger, it was occupied for about nine months. Thousands of tons of tarp-covered ammunition packed the rooms. From the spring onward — the walls were dripping when I visited — considerable condensation would have posed a threat to the ammunition.

Little Chapel 3
Broken china, pebbles and seashells cover the exterior and part of the interior of the Little Chapel, one religious man’s tribute to the more famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes, France.

Less than a 10-minute walk from the hospital is the distinctive Little Chapel, about 16.5 feet long and 10 feet wide (5-by-3 meters), and the dream creation of Brother Déodat of the De La Salle Brothers.

His goal was a chapel in the style of the famous grotto-and-basilica Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes, France. Brother Déodat came to Guernsey in 1904, fleeing France and its laws forbidding religious schools.

In 1914, he built the first small chapel before demolishing it almost immediately. A second stood at the same site until 1923, when, after a visiting bishop could not fit through the door, Brother Déodat decided to start again.

The third, under construction for a number of years, is the one that stands today, though Brother Déodat never saw its completion, having returned to France in 1939 because of ill health.

Brother Déodat spent a considerable amount of time collecting small pebbles and seashells to decorate the chapel’s exterior and interior. Adding to its uniqueness are the colorful mosaics, and many pieces of broken china, including discernible English Wedgwood, adorning the chapel and steps leading to the entrance.

Deep in the countryside, it’s among the most-photographed sights on Guernsey.

Also high on my list of must-sees was the former residence of French author Victor Hugo, who lived on Guernsey for 15 of the 19 years of his political exile, 1856-1870. Among the works he wrote while in residence with his family (and his mistress living down the street) was “Les Miserables” (1862).

Hauteville House, a white, five-story structure and adjoining garden, is up a steep hill from St. Peter Port. From the top-floor, glassed-in porch overlooking the harbor, Castle Cornet and Havelet Bay, visitors can picture Hugo letting his imagination wander as he plotted what was next for his complex, often-troubled characters.

Much of the heavy wooden, ornately carved furniture was of his own design, drawing from his extensive travels in Europe.

The decor is an eclectic mix of styles and furnishings, and much of the interior is very dark, which doesn’t make it photography-friendly.

One room is covered,  including the ceiling, with priceless Flemish- and French-made tapestries. Hidden behind a panel is a darkroom, where Hugo could indulge his keen interest in photography.

Blue-and-white tiles imported from Delft in the Netherlands surround the dining room fireplace, with the squares on the face arranged in two overlapping letters “H” for Hauteville House.

Hugo’s small bedroom and a book-lined corridor are also on the top floor.

The house, donated by descendants to the city of Paris in 1927, is administered by a French team.  A major renovation is under way, and the house is closed for the rest of 2018. It is scheduled to reopen in April 2019.

Visit Guernsey is publicizing walking tours and bus tours highlighting locations from the book, as well as a host of other tie-ins.

Search the website for a link to two You Tube videos to see Guernsey chef Tony Leck preparing the wartime version of savory potato peel pie and a modern one, which is inverted to serve, like an upside-down cake. The recipe for the latter is on the Guernsey website.

For tour details, much more about the WWII occupation and further information about how much Guernsey has to offer, see

For a schedule of this year’s May 9 Liberation Day festivities on Guernsey, see

Quick reference: Hauteville House: 38 Hauteville, St. Peter Port, Guernsey.

German Occupation Museum: Adults, £6 (about $8.40), children £3 (about $4.20) 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily April to October. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays in November to March.

La Valette Underground Military Museum: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, March 1-November 15. Adults £6 (about $8.40), children £3.50 ($4.90). Opposite the bathing pools in St. Peter Port.

Hundreds of schoolchildren died in the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru by the USS Bowfin during World War II

Portraits of some of the schoolchildren and others who died in the sinking of the Tsushima Maru in August 1944 are displayed on the lower level of the Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the second in a series of posts about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 8 post about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery.

“This is our chance.” — message sent from the USS Bowfin, August 22, 1944

With those ominous words, the crew of the American submarine patrolling the waters of the Ryukyu islands prepared to launch its torpedoes, taking aim at a spread-out convoy of five Japanese vessels: Three passenger-cargo ships escorted by a destroyer and gunboat.

What the submariners did not know is that the Tsushima Maru — unmarked and unlighted — was carrying evacuees from eight schools in Naha, Okinawa, and elsewhere, heading to Kagoshima, a port city on the southern coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands.

Of the 1,788 or so passengers, about 800 were children. About 740 teachers, parents and elderly were aboard to provide an orderly, reassuring presence. The crew numbered 86, with an additional 41 gunners.

A scale model of the Tsushima Maru is on the second floor at the museum. The ship was built in Scotland for Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha, founded in 1885. The colorful strands of origami cranes in the background are symbols of hope and peace.

The 6,754-ton Tsushima Maru was not a swift ship. Neither was it new. It was built for Japan’s Nippon Yusen Kaisha by Russell and Company at a shipyard on the River Clyde near Glasgow, Scotland, in 1914. The almost 450-foot (136 meters) vessel presented a big lumbering target for the American sub.

Conversely, the steel-hulled Bowfin (SS 287) was less than three years old. A Balao-class diesel-electric powered sub that measured about 312 feet in length, it was launched at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, on December 7, 1942, a year to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. No wonder its nickname was “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”

The Bowfin was on the sixth of its nine World War II patrols, and under the authority of Commander John H. Corbus for the second time, having left Pearl Harbor in July. It had a crew of 80: 10 officers and 70 enlisted men.

The maximum speed for Balao-class subs was 20.25 knots surfaced, and 8.75 submerged. They generally carried 24 torpedoes.

About halfway to its destination and off the coast of Akusekijima, several torpedoes destroyed the Tsushima Maru between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Passengers who had left the stifling holds hoping for some fresher air on a humid summer night jumped from the listing ship’s upper decks into the sea. Many of the schoolchildren, crammed into berths on lower decks, died where they slept.

An artist’s depiction of the sinking of the Tsushima Maru. (Please ignore the buildings in the right background. They’re a reflection off the glass covering the painting.)

The Bowfin reported seeing secondary explosions, which may have been the Tsushima Maru’s boilers in flames. It sank in less than 15 minutes.

“Teachers and soldiers were grabbing children and throwing them into the water,” said Keiko Taira, then a fourth grader, sharing her memories of the horrible night in a 35-minute film at the Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum, which opened in 2004 in Naha. “We all tried our best to stay alive.”

Some children, wearing their hastily donned life vests, huddled on rafts or clung to flimsy pieces of bamboo, increasingly frightened when sharks were sighted nearby. These conditions are depicted in survivors’ sketches that are on display in the museum.

Leather satchels for schoolbooks were among the few items recovered from the water.

Fishing boats and patrol boats eventually plucked 177 evacuees from the water — some had been drifting for several days. Fewer than 60 of the rescued were children, and about 82 of the crew and gunners survived, bringing the overall total to about 280 (some made it all the way to nearby islands).

The exact total of passengers who left port are unknown to this day because no investigation was undertaken in 1944. Some students didn’t turn up on departure morning, August 21, and others were unexpectedly shoved onto the ship by anxious parents. In the chaos, no one was recording an accurate list of names.

The Japanese destroyer Hasu and gunboat Uji in the convoy also suffered direct hits.

To compound the tragedy, Japanese authorities, fearing a plunge in morale, imposed a news blackout. “You mustn’t mention any single thing to anyone in the neighborhood. It’s strictly confidential,” says a letter at the museum. With the ban in place, families assumed their children had arrived safely at their destination and were informed only after the war of the devastating event and, ultimately, their heartbreaking loss.

The entrance to the ship-like Tsushima-Maru Memorial Museum is on the second level.

This disaster is little known in the United States and the West in general, and no guidebook I consulted before my trip mentioned the museum. No tourist information booklets I got in Naha publicized it either. I found it listed on only one map. And that was just the name, no capsule description or details about the sinking or its aftermath.

Most of the displays are in Japanese, with very little English translation. A map shows the Tsushima Maru’s fateful route and there is some information on the Bowfin’s specifications and a lengthy excerpt from its patrol report.

Also upstairs is a scale model of the Japanese ship, and many long skeins of colored paper and copper origami cranes, a symbol of hope and peace.

Part of the re-created schoolroom on the lower level, across from the victims’ portraits.

Downstairs is a reconstruction of a schoolroom, with desks, a blackboard and a textbook’s cover showing a smiling boy holding a rifle and dressed in a military-style uniform. A girl is seated to his right, in a nurse-like outfit with a Red Cross cuff on her left arm. Underlying message: Even as children, you can help in the war effort.

By far the saddest part of the exhibit is the photo wall, with black-and-white portraits of many of the children who lost their lives. With so few survivors, recovered personal effects, aside from some leather book satchels, were also scarce.

A bronze dove of peace (center) was added to the Kozakura no To memorial in 1978. A plaster replica of the bird is at the Tsushima-maru museum.

Southwest of the museum, across Asahigaoka Park bordering Naminoue-dori Street, stands Kozakura no To, a mostly white memorial with a ship motif dedicated to the children who died. It was unveiled in May 1954.

The Tsushima Maru sinking was not an isolated incident. In the period of July 1944 to March 1945, more than 70,000 evacuees on 178 ships lost their lives.

While the Bowfin crew accomplished its mission, it wasn’t until many years later that the sailors learned that they had sunk a ship loaded with mostly civilians. They had no way of knowing that the Tsushima Maru’s latest passengers weren’t military, which they had been coming into port on August 19.

The Tsushima Maru had arrived in Naha with the cargo ships Gyoku Maru and Kazuura Maru. From China, they had transported a total of almost 9,000 soldiers of the 62nd Infantry Division and about 900 horses for the build-up to the confrontation that the Japanese suspected was inevitable on Okinawa, especially after American and allied forces had reclaimed Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Mariana islands the previous month.

The military increase was the reason for the islanders’ evacuation in the first place.

With civilians on board, Tsushima Maru had not requested safe passage, an option that the Japanese knew was available. Instead, with a naval destroyer and gunboat escorting the three cargo ships, they were all fair game as targets.

The Bowfin was decommissioned in 1971. It was later restored and opened to visitors on April 1, 1981, as part of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Its website mentions the sinking of the Tsushima Maru but not the more than 1,400 who died.

In December 1997, the remains of the Tsushima Maru were positively identified, near where it went down, at a depth of 2,871 feet (870 meters) by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Center using deep-sea detection equipment.

No attempt was made to salvage any artifacts or raise the ship, according to “In Titanic’s Shadow: The World’s Worst Merchant Ship Disasters” by David L. Williams.

Quick reference: Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; closed Thursdays, and December 31-January 3. Adults 500 yen (about $4.65), ages 13-18, 300 yen (about $2.79). Entrance is on the second floor. 1-25-37 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa.

Find out more about the USS Bowfin, and the route of its sixth patrol at

In Naha, Okinawa: Sea grapes and other local specialties, a hit-the-spot lunch, and a ramble through the pottery district

A very satisfying lunch of three triangular rice cakes (known as onigiri), salad, mackerel teriyaki and vegetables from Kitchen 33 in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the first in a series of entries about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa, Japan, Tokyo and Guam.

Sea grapes, seaweed soup, a tulip-shaped deep-fried minicake, dark brown sugar cubes and mango gelato: This may be the oddest combination of food that I’ve ever eaten for breakfast while traveling in Asia — and that covers some ground.

Live sea grapes sway in a tank at Heiwa-dori arcade. They’re sold in small clear-topped plastic containers and have a short shelf-life once they’re out of the water.

I didn’t eat them all together but rather while grazing as I explored the Heiwa-dori arcade, which intersects with the even-larger Makishi Public Market, on a March morning in Naha, the largest city in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture.

The habu snake, related to the rattlesnake, is native to the Ryukyu islands, of which Okinawa is the largest. Here it’s immersed in awamori, high-alcohol-content sake. Smaller bottles are sold in liquor stores. Yes, people really drink this.

Heiwa-dori is several blocks long, with meandering offshoots, where side-by-side vendors display their wares (often offering samples), ranging from the above items to still-squirming seafood (or fish on ice), all of the pig except the oink, vegetables well-known and other-worldly, rice, clothing, souvenirs, and on and on … and the famous (and deadly) habu snakes, coiled, open-mouthed and seemingly ready to strike save for the fact they’re encased in wide glass jars.

Umibudo — sea grapes — are an Okinawan delicacy, sold in small quantities and sometimes referred to as “green caviar,” quite an upscale nickname for algae. Pop a skinny chlorophyll-heavy strand into your mouth, and squash them: The salty liquid explodes from the tiny bubble-like grapes, indeed, quite like the more familiar fish roe. Umibudo is often an accompaniment or garnish for sushi and sashimi.

This cool cat is a puffer fish, which can be deadly to diners if it is prepared incorrectly.

At the same stall where I tasted sea grapes, the woman gave me a little portion of inky-green seaweed in broth in a rectangular foil dish. This is another favorite on Okinawa, where inhabitants boast an inordinate rate of longevity. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the seaweed evoked the ocean, as did the broth. Not as salty, but with that definite day-at-the-beach aftertaste. (I think this might have been mozuku seaweed, which is harvested only in Okinawa.)

The fried cakes, “sata andagi” locally, were much less healthy. Think not-too-sweet, hush-puppy-heavy dough, eaten alone or with a cup of coffee or tea. For about the equivalent of 60 cents, I nibbled on the mango-flavored “doughnut” as I continued my wandering.

Eventually, I went upstairs, where fuzzy, black-and-white historical photos of post-World War II Okinawa rimmed the top of the steps. Information was sorely lacking, only occasionally pinpointing the year. There was, however, no mistaking the uniformed American military men in the right side of one photo, ambling past shaky-looking wooden buildings. One picture was dated 1950, and I wondered if the series was showing the area where the market is now, as it grew in size and energy over the years.

Several denominations of blue military currency, referred to locally as “B scrip,” were also on display. It was issued by American military occupiers after the war, and was in use until 1958.

Several open-seating restaurants ringed the second floor, but because this was still midmorning, most were not yet set up for lunch.

Dark brown sugar is being chipped from a solid rectangular bar with an ax. Immediately to the right of the sugar are the Okinawan doughnuts known as “sata andagi.”

At the opposite end was a young woman in a black apron and white short-sleeved shirt, standing at a table wielding a formidable ax, chopping off chunks from a solid rectangular bar of dark brown sugar. The sweetener is another product in which Okinawan pride is evident.

Okinawan brown sugar is said to be higher in calcium, potassium and iron than its relatives produced elsewhere, crediting the coral found in fields where sugar cane is grown, ample sunlight and sea spray for its nutritional assets.

I sampled a few small pieces, and found the molasses flavor quite strong, but in a pleasing way. Many of the market’s vendors sold brown sugar in chunks or granulated, and while on a side aisle, I found sealed 300-gram (about 10.5 ounces) packages for 350 yen (about $3.26).

Nearby the brown-sugar-chipping woman was a small gelato stand, where it also looked like the vendors were just opening. They let me sample a few of the flavors before I settled on mango, again. The Okinawan version of gelato is not to be confused with what you get in Italy.

The man mushed cubes of fresh, bright orange mango, then hand-mixed the pulp into what reminded me more of vanilla ice milk than ice cream. It was refreshing, but not what I was expecting. It was also inexpensive, only about 300 yen (about $2.79).

I knew that if I walked the length of Hewai-dori, at the far end I would be near the Tsuboya pottery area, dating to the 17th century, and location of a museum, ancient outdoor kiln and a street with shops devoted to hand-made ceramic goods. This was to be my post-lunch destination.

After meandering in the market for about two hours, I could have picked up several freshly made items and had a picnic, but I had in mind finding a small restaurant. I saw a sign pointing toward Tsuboya, and as I turned the corner on a side street, came to a halt in front of the plant-laden exterior of Kitchen 33. In white chalk, a blackboard announced “lunch ¥780,” which is all I could understand. The rest was in Japanese. This looked promising, so I went in.

More plants, festooning everything from the light fixtures to the wooden tables. The cozy space had a bar with four stools, two tables pushed together with two orange and two yellow chairs, and a table for two with pale blue chairs, and could accommodate a third patron seated at the end. Above the cooking area was another blackboard; the only words I could understand were “Kitchen 33 set,” and “season menu.”

Behind the light-wood bar was a dark-haired man, maybe in his 30s, in a denim apron and yellow tie, who was busy prepping lunch. He spoke no English. I speak no Japanese, other than a few words of greeting and thanks. (Inadequate, I know.)

This was not an obstacle, in this age of easy translation via smartphone. For the equivalent of about $7.26, I would be served miso soup, salmon teriyaki, salad, rice, vegetables and iced coffee.

Within minutes of nodding my head yes, I’d like to have lunch in this patronless, green-ceilinged restaurant, a couple and a teenage boy sat down at the bar, and then two women settled in to my left.

The background music was a mix of current pop tunes and oldies, all in English, with a British-accented DJ. I couldn’t tell if it was a local radio station, but I did hear the news that Professor Stephen Hawking had died.

In Japan, presentation is as important as the actual food. The square white plate that proprietor Masashi Shio set before me was perfectly balanced. Three thick rice triangles, each with a different coating on the outside edges,were back-to-back-to back on the upper left, across from a tangle of salad greens topped with a dollop of light orange dressing. Below the salad were two V-crossed, skin-on fish fillets in teriyaki sauce, to the left of which was a piece of roasted green bell pepper, a short cylinder of cucumber, and two T-crossed beige “logs” of an unknown vegetable.

I never pinned down what was atop the greens, but smartphone translation came to the rescue again when I was trying to figure out the third rice coating. One was the obvious nori (seaweed) and the second was sesame seeds. The third was slightly sweet and deep purple. My guess was dried purple sweet potato flakes (the purple sweet potato is another Okinawan specialty).

Wrong. One of the women told me it was plum shiso. Mmmm. The logs were “gobo,” or burdock root, a member of the thistle family. Very crunchy but not terribly flavorful. And the fish was not salmon but “saba,” which is mackerel. I rarely (as in almost never) order anything from the ocean when eating out, but even with the tiny bones I had to pick out of the fillets, I enjoyed the fish at this memorable meal.

Thus fortified, I spent the next several hours checking out nearly every pottery-selling shop in Tsuboya. All of them are quite small, selling a less refined version of pottery than some of the delicate porcelain you find in other places in Japan.

This kiln in the Tsuboya section of Naha dates to the 17th century. The stone pillars holding up the red-tiled roof do so without benefit of cement.

I knew of the ancient kiln from my pre-trip research but I found it quite by accident. I climbed the exterior stairs of what I thought was another shop, aiming to get an overview photo of the stone-paved street. It was really a cafe, and through its back window I could see the huge kiln.

One of the pottery shops selling a variety of handmade plates, bowls, cups and vases.

At one time there were at least 10 outdoor kilns of this size, used to fire unglazed water jars, containers for awamori (high-alcohol-content sake) and burial urns. Only this kiln survived the war.

Also distinct are the stone pillars that help to support the red-tiled roof. The columns are comprised of hewn natural stones and fitted together without benefit of cement.

My first day in Okinawa, I intended to get my bearings, sampling local delicacies and take advantage of pleasant March weather. A stop at the tourist information center on the way back to my hotel helped me set up logistics for the rest of my stay.

Quick reference: Makishi Public Market, 2-10-1 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, closed fourth Sunday of the month. Heiwa-dori arcade can be accessed off Kokusai-dori, the main shopping street in Naha, both about an 8-minute walk from Miebashi monorail station. Kitchen 33, Open 6 p.m. Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (no closing time given), noon to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, closed Tuesdays; 1-1-15 Tsuboya, Naha, Okinawa. (Japanese only). Naha Municipal Tsuboya Pottery Museum, 1-9-32 Tsuboya, 10 am.-6 p.m. daily, closed Mondays. Admission 350 yen (about $3.26).

31 months in hiding on Guam: With invaluable help from islanders, U.S. Navy radioman George Tweed eluded Japanese military during World War II

In September 1944, George Tweed returned to Guam and, with a Navy photographer and several of the people who helped hide him in tow, posed at the cave in the northwestern part of the island where he hid for 21 months. He found everything just as he left it in July. This photo of a photo is part of the exhibition at the War in the Pacific Museum on Guam. By his count, Tweed was in hiding for a total of 31 months.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos except where noted. All rights reserved.

“Robinson Crusoe, USN: The Adventures of George R. Tweed Rm1c on Japanese-held Guam” by George R. Tweed, as told to Blake Clark (Whittlesey House, 1945; reissued Westholme Publishing, March 2010, $14.95, paperback)

Within hours of the sneak attack on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Hickam and Wheeler airfields on December 7, 1945, the Japanese military had other targets in its sights.

In quick succession, Wake Island, Guam and airfields in the Philippines, territories all under the jurisdiction of the United States, were bombed.

The Japanese invaded Malaya, occupied Thailand and took control of the international settlement in Shanghai, China.

Two days later, Japanese forces began landing on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most northern island.

Also on December 10, Guam, with only about 750 military in residence (including the Insular Force Guard comprised of Chamorros, the indigenous people), fell to the Japanese. Badly outmanned and for all intents and purposes unfortified, a prolonged fight against the Imperial Army would have been impossible and U.S. Marines put up only “token resistance.”

Two options remained for the 270 or so Navy personnel and 153 Marines: Surrender or head for the bush. (Dependents had been evacuated in October.)

George R. Tweed, a Navy radioman whose job it was to keep all equipment in tip-top working order, chose the latter. An avid hiker, he was familiar with the terrain on this, the southern end of the Mariana Islands. (The other most notable in the chain in World War II history are Saipan, and Tinian, from where the B-29 Superfortresses Enola Gay and Bocks Car would depart to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively, in August 1945.)

Growing up in Oregon, he learned to hunt, be self-sufficient and enjoy the solitude of the outdoors. And, stationed on Guam since August 1939, he’d made friends with some of the Chamorros, who he was certain he could count on to provide shelter should he need it.

There was no question in Tweed’s mind which option he’d pursue. He and a Navy buddy grabbed canned food and other supplies, and with a member of the Insular Force along, jumped in Tweed’s six-cylinder 1926 Reo and drove inland.

Thus began a remarkable, 31-month odyssey of criss-crossing Guam, a Western Pacific island 30 miles long and four to 12 miles wide. An increasingly anxious yet ingenious Tweed lived by his wits and a particular set of skills in evading the Japanese while he awaited the return of the U.S. Navy.

He was confident this would happen. As it turned out, not nearly as quickly as he had hoped, and not before some of the Chamorros, who brought him food, water and tools and reading material, and provided intermittent companionship, would pay a very high price for knowing a most-wanted American — the Japanese put a price on his head — was hiding somewhere on Guam.

The machete that Tweed relied upon while in hiding, and reproductions of other materials he kept with him. The letter at left is illegible in the exhibition.

Tweed, 39 years old and a Navy man for 16 years, moved often in the early months of lying low, living sometimes in a cave, a swamp or a Chamorro ranch or farm. For part of the time, he was with Al Tyson, also a radioman, with whom he had first fled. They were always ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

In some locations, the dense scrub and indigenous trees and plants provided heavy cover. Having recently visited Guam myself and hiked Mount Lamlam on the southwestern part of the island, I can attest to the tropical landscape’s ability to disguise the presence of any humans.

The lack of real news from the outside world led to Tweed asking one of the Chamorro men to steal a radio, which he connected to an old car battery, and from which he also generated electric lights. In perhaps a foolhardy move, Tweed typed up the latest war developments for his Guam Eagle, and copies were distributed among trusted communities with the caveats not to disclose the source and to destroy the evidence.

In Tweed’s mind, his actions were a morale-boosting necessity, not a frivolous risk to himself and the Chamorro helpers. This four-month journalistic endeavor morphed into self-made calendars and furtive notes that later aided in providing a fairly detailed recap of his life on the run.

In October 1942, Tweed settled into an “eagle’s nest”-like crevasse, only four miles from the northwestern tip of the island. When he scrambled onto a camouflaged cliffside perch several times a day, he had an unobstructed view of 20 miles of southwestern coastline.

This was to be his home for the next 21 months, fairly well-stocked with provisions his friend Antonio Artero brought in wide, woven baskets, and supplemented with plenty of papaya, bananas and coconuts Tweed could collect on his own.

With his trusty machete and pocketknife, Tweed made a real table and flat-backed chair (from a hardwood), patched leaks in his “roof” and eventually taught himself how to make shoes from deerskin that Antonio provided.

9781594161117_p0_v1_s260x420He was ever-vigilant, sleeping lightly, with his gun near his head should he need to make a quick escape. Tweed even devised a crude yet effective alarm, connecting 300 feet of shredded and twisted bark and the workings of a deconstructed clock. One of the daylight false alarms was caused by a crow sitting atop a limb near where the cord connected with a small tree.

Among the low points was learning on separate occasions that five of the other Americans who were hiding in less well-concealed locations were eventually captured and executed. While the Japanese were torturing some of the Chamorros, trying to extract information about Tweed, he believed his freedom gave the Chamorros hope that U.S. forces were coming. Conversely, some Chamorros thought Tweed selfish and reckless, encouraging him to surrendered and put an end to their misery.

The longed-for day finally arrived on June 11, 1944, as Tweed — by now 30 pounds lighter — recognized the distinctive hum of American bombers and began seeing a buildup of U.S. Navy ships offshore.

From white medical gauze, he fashioned semaphore flags, and used a three-inch pocket mirror to signal American ships. This went on for about three weeks, with Antonio reminding Tweed that if the U.S. Navy could see him, so could the Japanese.

Throwing caution to the wind, Tweed’s efforts finally paid off on July 10, when one of the destroyers saw the mirror flash, and the flags, and understood this message: “I have information for you.” He warned the ship that it was in range of Japanese coastal guns, attempting to indicate that his contact was not a trap.

Thus began Tweed’s rescue by the U.S.S. McCall and the whirlwind that followed, included his pocketing more than $6,000 in back pay and a promotion. He missed U.S. forces retaking Guam (the island was secured by August 11), but he was back in September, meeting again with the brave and resourceful Chamorros who had hidden him and finding out about those who paid the ultimate price.

Within minutes of the beginning of the assault to retake Guam in July 1944, two officers planted the Stars and Stripes. National Archives

On the initial route home from Guam, he was interviewed by Robert Sherrod, and the article ran in the August 21, 1944 edition of Life magazine.

Tweed’s wife and two young sons were in California during his ordeal, but curiously he never refers to them other than their departure from Guam. He does mention his mother, to whom he wrote regular letters, which he concealed in a coconut shell in case he was captured, and told one of his helpers where it was.

He confided to Sherrod that he wouldn’t be surprised if his wife had remarried after his lengthy absence, but that was not the whole story. By the time the magazine was on newsstands, he had already been granted an interlocutory divorce from Mary Frances Tweed, 27, in San Diego, The New York Times reported. A bit of Internet digging revealed that he and his wife had separated much earlier in 1941.

Tweed remarried in 1945, and was on active duty until 1950 when spinal arthritis forced his retirement. He eventually returned to Grants Pass, Oregon, and ran a TV and radio repair business for 40 years.

He returned to Guam in 1946, and shipped a four-door Chevrolet sedan to Antonio, who had refused any sort of remuneration in the many long months he cared for Tweed.

Hollywood told his story in the 1962 film “No Man Is an Island,” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Tweed, and filmed in the Philippines. The old Navy man also was a guest on the popular game show “To Tell the Truth” that same year. (A panel of four questions three people, trying to figure out the real McCoy from the impostors. Two panelists got Tweed right.)

Tweed (July 2, 1902-January 16,1989) died in a car accident in northern California in 1989. He was 86.

Decades after the end of WWII, former Japanese soldiers were still in hiding on several islands. With Guam liberated in 1944, a former sergeant named Shoichi Yokoi and some comrades took to the jungle. When he was discovered by villagers in January 1972, he’d spent the better part of 28 years in a 10-foot-long tunnel about eight feet below ground, and outlived all the other soldiers. He died at 82 in 1997.