Posts Tagged With: Okinawa

I Think I’m Turning Japanese

Yesterday marked six months since we arrived here on Okinawa. I cannot believe that we have already been here that long. The time has flown by and I cannot help but worry that the rest of our time here will, too. I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the things that have surprised us about Japan throughout our 6-month relationship with it.

Our top five surprises about Okinawa:

1) I thought all of Okinawa would look like this:

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While much of Okinawa is home to the most beautiful scenery I have witnessed, a lot of it also looks like this:

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It is quite the concrete jungle. If it weren’t, it would be carried off quickly by the typhoons that wreck this island for almost half of each year. We were also surprised by how big Okinawa is! It can be hard to see on some maps, given that it is only 67 miles long by 2 to 17 miles wide. However, the island is packed with wonderful restaurants, adorable little shops, and beautiful scenic views and cultural sites. I am seriously worried we will not be able to see it all before we leave.

2) The Okinawans are basically the coolest people on the planet. They are always look about 10-15 years younger than they are because they are very active and health-conscious in all that they do. They are the most helpful, courteous, environmentally friendly people I have come across, and I am excited to learn Japanese so I can communicate with them better.

3) There are tombs all over the island. You got it, tombs. Okinawan families are both superstitious and respectful of their elders. When their family members die, they lay them to rest in a family tomb where their soul is expected to hang out for eternity. More on this later. πŸ˜‰

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4) Casey and I were both surprised by how quickly we adapted to driving on the left side of the road. This may have been the most terrifying thing about moving to Japan, and I almost cried when Casey forced me to drive out here for the first time. After a few almost critical errors, I adjusted fine. Now, whenever we watch American shows or movies, it is strange to see people driving on the right side of the road. It just looks wrong to me. Read more about our driving adventures here!

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5) I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the uniquely useful little items the Japanese have come up with to assist with even the tiniest of problems. I have no shortage of examples of this, and therefore will write more on the subject later. In the meantime, enjoy the little socks on this chair:

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There are so many things that surprised us about this place, but coming to know Okinawa has been a very exciting time in our lives. I did not choose to land here, but I am falling in love with this island. Sorry, America, but I think I’m turning Japanese. I really think so. (Sorry– I had to do it)! πŸ˜‰

May you find things and people to love wherever you are!

Always, Amanda

PS: Stay tuned for more on our Okinawan favorites! I’ll be writing complete posts on some of these (and more) in the coming weeks!

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Categories: Okinawa | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

A Light Stroll in a Japanese Garden

One of our first outings here on Okinawa was to this beautiful little garden nestled into the city of Naha: Fukushu-enΒ  Garden.

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It was as peaceful as they come, with calm waters surrounding beautiful ancient Chinese architecture. Constructed using material from its sister city of Fuzhou, China, Fukushu-en Garden was built to celebrate the role of Chinese influence on the history of the island.

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We enjoyed feeding the turtles and coy (living symbols of longevity and wisdom in Chinese culture) in the ponds, although the fish were so aggressive that the poor little turtles did not get their fair share of the food, despite our attempts to aim it right at them.

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I am sure we will be back to visit, when we need a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Okinawa streets.

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Where do you go to find peace? I hope there are turtles there, too. πŸ˜‰

Always, Amanda

Categories: Okinawa | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

From the End of the Earth

Over a month ago, before Casey left for an exercise in Thailand (which he returns from today!!!!), we witnessed quite possibly the most beautiful place on the planet. While I am unqualified to make that statement, as I have not in fact visited every location on Earth, I can honestly say that of all the places I have been, this was the first to take my breath away. Hedo Point is at the northernmost tip of Okinawa; so as I stood on the rocky, volcanic cliffs looking out at the ocean, I was overwhelmed by the limitless expanse of clear blue waves.

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May all be well in your world today. May you find peace wherever you are in this beautiful world. I know mine is on his way home, and I could not be happier.

Always, Amanda

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

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.”Β  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.Β  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

Lives Lost Underground

It is no secret that the relationship between the United States and Japan is a complex one, but living in Okinawa has provided me with a new perspective on the alliance. Okinawa has had a fairly rough history for such a peaceful people. On their own they lived in relative peace for many years until the Japanese stepped in and claimed them. With such a strategic location, it is no wonder Okinawa has for centuries now been a popular geopolitical asset. The impact this has had on the people here, however, has at times been no less than tragic.

I will save my international political rant on the current state of affairs for another day. Living in a foreign country while on orders from the US military has revealed things to me that I would never have found in a history book or on CNN. I have seen first-hand the results of international politics, but being an American has still allowed me the naive comfort of being sheltered from some of the worst stories history has to offer. Until I ventured underground in Okinawa.

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This is the monument outside the Japanese Naval Underground, where the Japanese forces dug a tunnel system towards the end of World War II. The Americans were winning the war, so the Japanese Navy literally went underground. These tunnels were by far the most ominous place I’ve been in my life.

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This is the room where the Japanese Navy decided that committing suicide en masse was preferable to surrendering to American forces. You can see the marks the grenade shrapnel left in the walls where many men met their deaths. It is a strange thing to be an American in a place such as this, but forcing myself to witness these places has helped me come closer to understanding the complex dynamics of the relationship between these countries that now mean so much to me. May we not forget those who came before us and the sacrifices they made to bring the world where it is today.

-A

Categories: Culture, History, Okinawa | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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