Posts Tagged With: Okinawa

Barley the Okinawan Explorer

I met up with some friends at a gorgeous little beach on Hamahiga island today, and Barley tagged along to do some exploring.

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Since he was a puppy, he has always loved the feeling of his ears blowing in the wind. He is such a goofy little guy!

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Since Barley loves the water but not necessarily having to swim, I tempted him with some carrots to come see me away from the shore. Watching him swim took me back to his puppy days in Pensacola, when we took him out on the bayou and tried to distract him from crab chasing so we could get him to swim.

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After retrieving his carrots, he promptly headed back to shore to relax on the beach. Shortly after, he made some Japanese friends and tried to eat some coral.

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Overall, it was a great time on the beach. This little dude brings me such joy, although the bath I gave him afterwards was much less fun (for both of us).

May you find new and wonderful things in your world today, and maybe even let your ears blow in the wind a little!

-A

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Categories: Barley, Exploring | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

A Walk through the Okinawan Jungle

About a month ago, Casey and I took a trip to Bios no Oka, or Bios on the Hill, a park celebrating Okinawan flora. It was a very hot and humid day, but I just had to check this place off my Okinawan “bucket list” with my adventuring life partner. 😉

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We ventured through all of the paths we could find, climbing beautiful sets of stone staircases along the way. Casey showed off his skills on stilts (after which some adorable elderly Japanese women smiled and told him to be careful).

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We then took a leisurely boat ride guided by a funny little Japanese man. I know that he was funny because he must have been telling jokes in Japanese while he led the tour down the river, as the rest of the boat passengers kept laughing. I could understand almost one out of every ten words he spoke, so unfortunately his jokes were lost on us.  Fortunately, we were there for the scenery rather than the comedy show, so all was not lost. (It did, however, renew my motivation to achieve fluency in Japanese).

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Along the way, we saw gorgeous orchids, a sad ox taking a bath, and a beautiful woman in traditional Okinawan garb.

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After our boat ride, we trekked through this awesome bunch of lily pads, along a little bridge built out of rope and 2 x 8 boards, dodging banana spiders all the way.

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Overall, it was a great day spent with my love. I am always inspired by the respect and reverence the Okinawans show for the land they call home. We have so many more adventures to share here, and I am already dreading the moment when we leave this gorgeous rock.

With love and lily pads,

Amanda

Categories: Okinawa, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Hiking to the Falls

A few weeks ago, Casey and I went out with a group of friends to witness one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. About an hour north of the base where we live is Tadake Falls, a gorgeous waterfall hidden in the Okinawan jungle.

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We trekked along a small river, climbing slippery rocks and dodging giant wasp-like horse flies and floating palm-sized spiders. (This monster was floating along on a raft fashioned from a live grasshopper).

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At various points along the river, we hiked over slippery rocks and swam across fairly swiftly-moving portions of the river. Casey, unable to resist an opportunity to play Tarzan, stopped to jump from a small cliff into the river.  When we arrived at the waterfall, I was amazed at how massive it was.

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This definitely made the list of places in Okinawa I will never forget.

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The Other Side of the Road

I recently came back to Japan after a 7-week-long trip to America, in which I watched two of my best friends get married and met another one’s new baby girl, among many other things. I am just now adjusting to my own life here in Okinawa again, and am finally ready to get back to blogging!

The most difficult thing this trip forced me to unlearn and relearn is driving! There are so many differences related to driving in Japan and America. First of all, in Japan, we drive on the left side of the road. When we moved here almost 9 months ago, Casey and I had to take a written test in order to receive our SOFA-status drivers’ licenses. We had to learn the laws of the road, but no one held our hands through learning how to navigate this place. The switch to the left side of the road was difficult because (duh), we had been driving on the right side since we were 15! I was so terrified to drive out here, that Casey had to force me to start driving about 2 weeks in. (We went out with friends and he decided to drink, meaning that I became the de facto designated driver. I wasn’t happy).

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Some things to “unlearn and relearn” along with this transition:

1. In Japan, there is no “right on red,” and there are actually different laws out in town and on certain military installations for taking a “left on red.”

2. Fast lane, passing lane, bus lane: all different.

3. Where to look when making a turn at a stop sign: right left right, or left right left? This one still confuses me. 😉

4. Parking lots. Yes, they are backwards, too.

5.The driver sits on the right. Sometimes, I still try to get in on the wrong side. (It’s been 9 months).

6. Most difficult of all: the wiper blades and turn signal are on opposite sides of the wheel. It is common to see new people on Okinawa turning on their wipers when they mean to signal that they are turning. We call this the “Oki wave.”

Fortunately for me, I’ve had an adorable car in which to learn all of this. This is “Turtle car.” She is a 2003 Daihatsu Naked. Yes, Naked. (The Japanese love English words, and often show little regard for the meaning of the word when they choose it. More on that in another post)! She has a whopping 750cc engine, which for you less mechanically intelligent (like myself) out there, means the engine is smaller than the one in Casey’s Harley Sportster. In short: tiny. She has a difficult time making it up hills, or going over 60km per hour, which for you Americans out there is only about 37 miles per hour.

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She is like a mini Hummer, complete with golf cart tires, a rubberized interior, removable backseats, retractable side mirrors (very common in Japan because the roads and parking areas are so narrow), and lots of love to spare. You might be able to see Casey’s Toyota Camry Gracia parked next to Turtle car. As you can probably see, the Camry is much larger, which is why we do not often drive it around Okinawa. While not a large car in America, in Okinawa it is like driving a boat. It has a normal-sized engine, but a bad turning radius and we often have a hard time finding a parking space big enough for it! Also, my car is much cheaper to drive because it is awesome on gas and the road taxes are so cheap because the Japanese government subsidizes efficient cars! Small, or “kei” cars with yellow license plates are common in Japan because the road taxes are about 90% less than that of more American-sized vehicles, like the Camry!

Learning to drive here was much easier than I expected. However, a few things will continue to be difficult, no matter how long we stay here. Roads can be so tiny that you will have stop and sometimes back up in order to allow cars to pass in the opposite direction. The Japanese often do not name their roads and highways, so we rely on landmarks when giving directions. Sometimes, highways have the same name. For example, there are two highway 58’s on Okinawa. Sometimes, the signage can be pretty confusing:

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Overall, however, it can be a beautiful place to drive.

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After spending 6 months in Okinawa, it was time for me to go back to the states for a visit. The idea of driving back in the states was terrifying to me for a few reasons.

1. I would need to relearn to drive on the right, and Americans would be much less forgiving than the Okinawans, who are used to Americans driving on the wrong side when they first arrive on island.

2. Everything moves a good deal faster in America. The fastest speed limit I’ve seen on Okinawa is 80 km, which is about 50 miles per hour!

3. American drivers are significantly less courteous than Okinawan drivers. Okinawans are much better at merging because they actually let people in, and then they often thank each other by flashing their hazard lights quickly in a gesture of thanks. (This is my favorite thing about driving in Japan). 🙂

4. America is much more dangerous than Okinawa. In Japanese culture, it is very uncommon for women to get kidnapped, raped, or mugged. I was going to be driving by myself through some cities which are known for the frequency of these crimes, and could not help but be worried after feeling so safe on my little island.

5. Worst of all, I would need to stop at red lights again. In Okinawa, it is safer to go through a red light than stop short because everyone behind you is already planning to run it. Yeah, sure, you have to wait a few seconds before driving when the light turns green, but it feels so good to run those red lights!

To be fair and balanced, for all you Fox News fans out there, America does a few things better than Japan:

1. Turning lanes. These are important, and Japan should install them.

2. Roads sized large enough to fit cars. It’s easy to forget how nice this is.

3. Fair arbitration of car accidents. In Okinawa, an American involved in an accident will always be at fault. The accident would not have happened if you weren’t on Okinawa, period.

4. Road and highway names make life so much easier.

5. Motorcycles aren’t… terrifying! Out here they drive like maniacs in flip flops with unbuckled helmets! They do wheelies at stop lights, drive in between lanes to speed past traffic, and drive up to the front of the line at stoplights. To deal with them safely, you have to view them as suicidal so that you remember to steer clear of them, literally.

6. Shoulders, bicycle lanes, HOV lanes, parking lots for businesses, and the Jersey Turnpike. (Just kidding, folks. Seriously, it was a joke).

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I dealt with all of my concerns, but in end I made it through my travels. I drove over 3000 miles in my parents’ trusty Subaru Forester, only breaking down once. I sent Americans the “Oki wave” a few times, resisted the urge to thank/thoroughly confuse courteous drivers with a flash of my hazards, and kept the doors locked at all times. I dealt with stop-and-go traffic, speed demons, and road rage just like the old days. And then I came back to Okinawa and learned it all over again.

Love always, Amanda

PS. The turn signal makes so much more sense on the right side. That is all!

Categories: Okinawa Life, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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?

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

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