Unexpected Acts of Kindness – Community in Okinawa

After having experienced living with an elderly couple in the Longevity Village of Ogimi, and then exploring Motobu, also in the northern part of Okinawa and also famous for longevity, we took a short ferry ride to the island of Ie Jima. Ie Jima is a small island not far from Motobu, but its only airports are either for emergency use only or for the US military. As such, it’s a relatively quiet place with ferry service four times a day – at least when a typhoon doesn’t close the ferries, then the shops sell out of food and the island can be cut off from the “mainland” for a few days.

About to board the ferry for Ie Jima

We had already experienced one typhoon during our stay at the Farm, but prior to boarding the ferry we had been warned that another typhoon was approaching Okinawa. We didn’t think much of it as we boarded the ferry, despite being warned by the ticket lady that perhaps the ferry wouldn’t be running the next day. Upon arrival, we made our way to the guesthouse we had booked to stay in for a couple of nights. Our intention had been to simply relax on this small island, enjoy some of its beautiful beaches and climb the solitary ancient volcano in the center of the otherwise quite flat terrain. However, once we arrived at the guesthouse the owner began to explain to us the potential for a “river” to be rushing through their lobby once the typhoon hits and of course the island being cut off for who knows how long. While they by no means refused to house us, they recommended we go back to Motobu the same day, while the ferries were still going. That said, the owner did not want us to leave disappointed so he insisted on giving us a personal tour of the island before dropping us a the ferry. So we were able to climb the volcano  and see other Ie Jima sights before returning to Motobu later in the day. We were really impressed with the thoughtfulness and kindness of this guesthouse owner to not only give up two nights of guesthouse income, but to then also give us a personal tour of his island.

But the kindness found on Ie Jima was only the beginning. After returning to Motobu, we contacted the owner of the guesthouse where we had stayed the previous two nights to ask about rebooking with him to wait out the typhoon. He was happy to host us again, but immediately said, “while typhoon is on, guest house is free.”  

As it turned out, the typhoon changed course a bit which meant it arrived almost a day later than originally forecast. So by the time the typhoon had come and gone, and we were ready to make our way down south to Naha, Okinawa’s main city, three nights had passed. And when it came time to leave, before even offering to pay for our stay the owner once again informed us that our stay was free of charge. And once again, we were amazed at the kindness of this strange), who took this time of “crisis” to extend a generous and selfless offer to foreign guests.

I can relate to being nice – I’m a very nice guy – but these unexpected acts of kindness really took me by surprise. They left a strong impression on me, adding to the fondness and love I felt for the families which had hosted us prior to that in Ogimi and on the Farm.

This is our third time in recent years to visit Japan, and each time I have been struck by a culture which is kind, helpful and extremely welcoming of foreigners. Japan has a very closed and unique culture, one that has evolved over the centuries somewhat in isolation, and my sense is that as a culture there is more emphasis on “we” than “I”. Maybe this means less capitalist-focused entrepreneurs than in the West, but it does, in my opinion, result in a culture which fosters community and a willingness to help others. Community is a key element in longevity and well-being.

Hacksaw Ridge

As we moved on from the north to the south we have now spent a few days in Okinawa’s main city, Naha, and visited “Hacksaw Ridge”. It’s a somewhat solemn place which is now surrounded by concrete development, which is pretty much all one sees when looking around Naha. And, ironically, it’s from Hacksaw Ridge where one can see the expanse of the US military’s presence on the island, estimated by locals at something around 30% (along with up to 60,000 Americans).

Next stop – the island of Ishigaki, one of Okinawa’s southernmost islands.  

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