Nature

Earth Day, Nippon-Style

In three days, I am getting on a plane in Naha and making the long journey over to the US. I could not be more excited to see my friends and family in the states, but I must say that this trip makes me very nervous. I am an awful traveler; I worry about leaving my husband, furry children, and my life for almost 2 months; and, regretfully, I’m not sure I want to be in America right now. Don’t get me wrong– I am a proud American military spouse who believes in freedom, sweet tea, and the American way. But the last week has left me glued to the news, biting my fingernails in concern over the events that have transpired: potentially homegrown terrorist attacks, the explosion of a poorly regulated factory, a failed attempt on the President’s life, and a Senate that is more concerned with the NRA than the people they represent. I believe that we will pull through all of this, but watching the process unfold in such frustratingly terrifying ways from almost 10,000 miles across the world has been difficult, to say the least.

On a lighter note, I wanted to celebrate something the Japanese do very well: protecting the Earth. As today is Earth day, I thought it appropriate to discuss the Earth-friendly things I have noticed during our 6-month love affair with Okinawa.

First of all, as I discussed in my earlier post on the variety of flower festivals on Okinawa, the Okinawans celebrate their plant life like none other. With beautiful gardens and fancy tropical greenhouses dedicated to orchids, fruit trees, lilies, and many other plants; there is no shortage of daily celebrations of Okinawan flora. The Japanese have even made an art form out of cultivating beautiful little bonsai trees.

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In addition to this obvious reverence of the Earth, they are in general very conscious of reducing the impact of their daily routines on the Earth. Here are just a few examples: Japanese toilets have two different flushing options, depending on the type of business you’ve made there. I’ll leave the details out, but as you can imagine, one of these options uses less water than the other, making for a more Earth-friendly flush. (Now, if only I could figure out which is which)! Another common bathroom tactic they employ is to not use paper towels. Some bathrooms have hand dryers, while others have nothing at all. I realized recently that people carry hand towels in their purses to use when drying their hands, so they will never have to use paper towels! I am not so big a fan, however, of their half-ply toilet paper…

The Okinawans typically do not have what they consider unnecessary appliances in their homes, such as dishwashers and dryers. Every day I drive past tall apartment buildings with elaborate laundry hangers they use to dry everything from rugs to socks. Finally, their “do more with less” mantra manifests itself in the cars they drive. The government of Japan subsidizes driving smaller vehicles with better gas mileage through their road tax system. For example, Casey drives a Toyota Camry, which is going to cost us about $230 a year in road taxes. I drive a Daihatsu Naked, which is designated as a Kei (mini) car, and will only cost us about $30 a year because of its tiny engine. As a result, most cars on Okinawa are tiny, adorable, and environmentally friendly. Read more on this here!

Most importantly, the Okinawans recycle everything. There is a mandatory, very complicated system of recycling on the island, which on base military only kind of have to abide by. Everything placed in the trash must be burnable, and everything placed in recycling must be clean and label-free. Here is a picture of a McDonald’s trash can, where they have clearly noted the baskets each piece of your trash belongs in:Image

Everywhere you go, businesses do what they can to recycle and reduce their impact. We visited Orion brewery yesterday, and they indicated that they recycle 100% of their waste by donating, reusing, and recycling. If running a road race on Okinawa, the race workers will hand you a water cup and then pick it up off the ground where you left it so that they can dip it in bleach water and refill it for the next runner. (I could do without this one, however, because some people have gotten very sick from drinking too much bleach while trying to run a marathon…)

Overall, while not perfect, the Japanese work together to do their part to keep our Earth clean today and every day. What are you doing for our Earth?

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Categories: Culture, Nature, Okinawa Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Snakes, Caves, and Habushu: Oh My!

Simultaneously one of the coolest and creepiest adventures we’ve had thus far here in Okinawa, was our trip to “Okinawa World.”  This park is a major tourist spot in Okinawa, so naturally we had to check it out. The first stop inside the park was to the Habu museum. The Habu viper is a mean, poisonous snake indigenous to the island, and this museum was dedicated to it. P1030501

Here are about 100 habus just chilling in a tree in a lowered fenced-in pit outside the museum. As you can see, these are not friendly beasts. Inside the museum we saw everything from the insides of a dead habu (because who wouldn’t want to see that)?:

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… to a dead habu eating another dead habu:

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… to two dead habus mating:

P1030499Even worse than the dead habu displays was the habu show. In the early 1900s, in an effort to control the habu viper and cobra populations, mongoose were brought over from India and introduced to the forests of Okinawa.  Later, people made a sport of fighting mongoose and these venomous snakes. Over time, the mongoose population devastated local indigenous species and as a result, the Japanese government is working to eradicate them. Anyway, inside Okinawa World’s habu museum, there is a mongoose-snake competition, although today it is a bit different than it used to be. According to the pamphlet that was handed out, in the year 2000, they switched from a mongoose-cobra “death match” to a friendly swimming competition between the mongoose and a sea snake.

After the swimming competition, (which, as you can see, the mongoose dominated… the fear of drowning is probably an excellent motivating influence) the snake handler brought out a habu viper and made it attack a balloon. After that, she brought out a very angry cobra and slapped it a few times in the back of its head so that it hit its head on the floor. Of course, everyone but Casey and I laughed. I decided this was the last time we would ever see this show.

Next, we ventured beneath the earth to see the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed. Gyokusendo cave is a 5-kilometer long cave where we were able to see over a million stalactites and stalagmites. It was an amazing limestone labyrinth.

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The lights illuminating the pools of water made for a gorgeous sight.

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The pictures do not do this an ounce of justice. It was, in a word, amazing.

After the cave, we wandered around the rest of the park and saw everything from sad animals in tiny cages to a traditional Ryukyuan village, to a glassblowing shop, to strange local fruit trees, to an Okinawan distillery where they were fermenting Habushu, or Habu Sake. This is a type of awamori where they ferment the liquor and then put dead snakes inside it. We’ve seen this sold all over the island in bottles with a snake inside, but this was much more intense than that.

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Stay tuned for more adventures!

Always, Amanda

Categories: Nature, Okinawa | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Okinawan Sky

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Just had an awesome day of exploring the northern part of Okinawa with my hubby, followed by dinner by the waterfront at Pizza in the Sky. While the pizza was great, the sky was downright inspirational! Thought I might share it with the world!

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These were just taken with my iPhone, so needless to say, they don’t quite capture the beauty of my current slice of paradise. More on our adventures later!
Always, Amanda

Categories: Nature | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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