Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shikinaen Royal Garden & Spirit Graveyard

Shikinaen Royal Garden & Spirit Graveyard

We wake to another clear and sunny day. In an effort to chase the Monday Blues away, Art suggests a bicycle ride to the Shuri Castle district. I love that area but suggest we ride to Shikinaen Royal Gardens instead. It’s within Naha, one of the 9 World Heritage Sites on Okinawa, and John and I have never been there. After surveying the map, Art leads the way. Our map doesn’t show elevation and I can tell that Art is concerned that the gardens might be at a high elevation. The three of us set out and it’s a lovely “ride” even the last part where I push my bicycle up a seemingly endless roadway. At the start of the steepest incline, John peddles fast and calls back to me “challenging” me get my ”f** a**” back on the bike and ride. Within 50 feet he too is pushing his bike up the hill. I have been the tortoise in this bicycle “race” of ours. Mostly it’s easy and fun, but when the going gets steep, I put my feet firmly on the ground and walk.

Entrance into this World Heritage Site is 300 yen each and we step into a lush and historic botanical garden. We have the gardens mostly to ourselves. We wander the manicured paths under overhanging gajumaru trees. Vines and tendrils drip down from the trees reaching the root structure and it is difficult to determine roots from vines. Ancient Ryukyu lime stone walls define the pathways and dappled sunlight shimmers on the stone path under the shaded canopy of trees. Central to the garden is a large pond with two stone bridges built out to a small island in the center of the pond. A rokkaku-do, a hexagonal gazebo is the focal point of the island. Unfortunately the wisteria is not in bloom but the garden is beautiful, serene and genuine. Koi fish, carp and turtles glide inches below the water’s surface. We stroll away from the pond, back into the lush growth within the garden when John loudly exclaims and points to a spot low on a tree trunk. A split second later I spot the 8” long emerald green lizard. John has my camera and leaps over the railing to take numerous shots of this jeweled lizard but the lizard is camera shy and scurries off into the foliage. Minutes later John spots one of his relatives camouflaged in the grass on a steep embankment. John does chase and catches it. He has the lizard in a firm grip and the lizard does his best to bite John, but John quietly assures his reptilian friend that he will not be eaten and the lizard settles down for a photo shoot. To John’s dismay, and the lizards relief we will not allow John to take him home to join his menagerie.

We visit the Udun Palace within the gardens, a recreation of the formal wooden house that was originally constructed at the end of the 18th century. This house was a second residence for the Ryukyu Royal family members and foreign guests. We remove our shoes and walk soundlessly along polished wooden floors and are able to experience the tatami rooms with their shoji screen walls, the rustic kitchen and even the bathrooms emptying over the pig sty’s.

Once again it is a breeze, literally, to bicycle home and we stop for lunch along our route. Lunch is not particularly good, but the matronly owner takes a liking to John and after he orders his second “American Hot Dog” she brings him an unexpected complimentary plate of cold spaghetti with a cold salsa sauce. John is already full, but realizes he must eat this gracious offering and does so smiling.

I take leave of the boys at the Heiwadori Market Place. There are a couple of special birthday’s in March and I want to shop for gifts. I know this covered market labyrinth well but have seldom been here on my own. I am looking especially disheveled today, sweaty, with helmet hair and my green folding Newton Bicycle in tow. It’s only when I catch a glimpse of myself in a shop window or mirror that I feel my age, but alone here in the narrow side alleys of the market I realize that I am an oddity. I retrace my path to my favorite tiny shops and then stumble upon an alleyway between two alleys. I carefully walk my bicycle along this narrow space crowded close and between the back sides of two market streets. I pop out into an open area with a half dozen small tables; all occupied by what I surmise are the owners, friends and employees of the shops bordering this space. I feel as if I have stepped into a party uninvited as heads turn in my direction. I smile and nod and wish to be invisible.

I don’t find what I am looking for on my shopping trip so I bicycle back tired and deflated. My web site is still down. I am emotionally down.

Just above our apartment on the hillside dropping down to the fish market is a cemetery. John and I began to explore it last night, but we were spooked away when we turned a narrow and overgrown path and saw a homeless encampment amidst one of the large tombs. John and I backtracked through the labyrinth of tombs and we found a spot where we could watch the sunset. We could see the Zumami Islands silhouetted grey, as the sun dipped vermillion red below the horizon.

Tonight I ask Art if he will walk with me up to this cemetery to watch the sunset? The pathway begins just steps away from our apartment. Art leads the way and we wind a narrow and overgrown path through the tombs and startle the homeless man who sits reading in the late afternoon sunlight. Art greets him with an assured “konichiwa.” and we walk past. The city disappears and we are suddenly in a wild and spirit filled place. Nature has taken over and vines and lush foliage encroach upon the tombs and two small limestone caves are gaping open. Art asks me if I want to climb up and look inside? We scramble a short 10 feet up and look into the opening of two graves? There are 5 or 6 large, broken and cracked. earthenware jars. Art surmises that these might have once contained bones. I am amazed that these artifacts are still present and as intact as they are.

We retrace our steps back past our “friends” encampment. Art clears his throat and the man looks up from his reading and asks Art if he speaks Japanese? When Art responds in the affirmative, a lengthy discussion enthuses about following a spiritual path. When Art is finally able to tear us away from the conversation, Art observes that he might be more inclined to believe this man’s path if his housekeeping were better. The clutter of bottles and debris in this man’s house was quite offensive.

Art and I walk a pathway out to the edge of the cliff. We step up onto the wall of a tomb. The sun is close to setting and the smooth curve of the highway overpass glistens above the industrial harbor. In the midst of this tightly urban place, there are sweet spots; one just needs to notice them. The sun sets in a pale glow, the Zamami Islands backlit grey against the horizon.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Monday Okinawan Blues

Monday Okinawan Blues

It’s Monday and I’m feeling disconnected and lonesome. My web site has been down for a week and my e-mail crashed three days ago. Living in Okinawa is really quite lovely and we have a nice little apartment by the harbor to call home. Art is being especially kind and patient, but I’ve always been extremely independent and to now be so dependent on him is difficult for me. The internet and my Marty Magic Web Site give me daily ties to family, friends and my business back home. It gives me connection and a sense of control.

So today I focus hard on finishing my second one of a kind dragon wax. This dragon entwines and protects a triangular piece of Druzy Chrysocolla. I was going to cast it in sterling silver, but I have so many hours invested in it and I think I will cast it in 18K gold. I hope that one day soon my web site will be back up and I will be able to post a photo of this piece along with a photo of the wax original I created last week of the Guardian Dragon wrapping around a Fire Agate.

Art and John are out much of the day while I work on waxes. I listen to Earnest Hemingway’s, A Farewell to Arms. Listening to this book on tape most likely contributes to my melancholy mood. The narration is wonderful and I am lost in concentration meticulously creating dragon scales to this classic and tragic love story.

At 7:00 P.M. the three of us walk out to dinner. John skateboards along side of us but his board gets away from him and propels itself into traffic on Highway 58. John has enough sense not to lunge after it, and the oncoming car slows and inches over the skateboard without smashing it. The consequences for this is that John must carry, not ride his board. At 14 John challenges everything and the three of us bicker all the way to dinner. Did I mention that the weather has been lovely all day and tonight is delightfully balmy?

Tonight’s destination is a particular restaurant that we passed several days back. Art leads us along a labyrinth of streets towards Kokusaidori and we find the restaurant two blocks off the main avenue. It glows invitingly and we are not disappointed with the food or the ambiance. Our waiter is not particularly helpful and Art struggles to translate the kanji menu., but Art chooses several of the nightly specials and all are excellent. Art drinks “sours,” I drink sake and John drinks cola. Dinner is a splurge at $55.00 for the three of us, tax and tip inclusive.

Sated, we are again a happy family and catch a taxi home.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Starbucks Sunday 2- Video Arcade

Starbucks Sunday 2– Video Arcade

We still have Tadashi’s car and in keeping with our new Starbucks Sunday tradition, we drive to the Shintoshin Starbucks inside the Naha Main Place Mall. I take a laptop computer along and we settle ourselves at a table by a wall outlet. As we sip our high octane drinks, I blog while Art and John practice kanji. March 3rd is the Hina Matsuri, or Doll Festival and as in retail establishments world wide, the mall is decorated to promote this festival. When I tire of typing, John and I wander into the mall and check out the “Doll Festival Displays.” Table top glass “shadowboxes’” of Emperor and Empress Dolls are available for sale. As I understand it, this festival is for “girls” and historically was an excuse to celebrate when children often died young and everyone tolled the land. Many households display these glass encased miniature dolls in the weeks leading up to the festival in the same way that one might put up a Christmas tree. The price tags on these displays range from a couple of hundred dollars to two thousand dollars. The montages are beautiful and elaborate.

Time gets away from us. We have 1:00 P.M. plans to meet with Hatori, Mitsuro and Asahi, cousins of Art’s. Art telephones them at 12:30 and we postpone our meeting until 2:00 P.M. This morning I dressed hurriedly and now I feel the need to be more presentable before meeting with them. I annoy and frustrate Art and John by insisting that we go home so I can change. At 2:00 P.M. we are back at the mall for our rendezvous’. We meet at the noisy, vibrating, Video Arcade inside the mall. Asahi (13 years old) and John (14 years old) play shooting and driving arcade games. Art and I resign our selves to feeding 100 yen coins into these hungry machines for the next hour. Asahi’s mother, Hatori, is feeding the machines as well and takes me by the elbow and directs me into a photo booth where she pushes buttons, lights flash and ultimately a glossy photo pops out of us. This takes me back to being 13 years old on the Santa Monica Beach Boardwalk. A section for over 18 years old only adjoins the video arcade. Pachinko machines flash and “ping” most machines occupied by mesmerized players.

It is a grey and drizzly “Starbuck Sunday” so we might as well spend the day inside the mall indulging in retail therapy and this bright artificial “arcade bubble.” By 3:30 P.M. we are all hungry so we exit the mall, John “slip sliding” on the wet sidewalks and cross over to a restaurant for a bite to eat. Asahi doesn’t skateboard and John shows off, skateboarding on the slick sidewalks without a board. The restaurant has the easy glossy picture menus of a “formula” chain. I choose the “healthy” chicken and my entrée tastes too good to be healthy. We have brought a few gifts along and John gives Asahi a game of Tangos. The two boys play several hands of this “card” game and soon the adults are trying to solve the geometric puzzles. As Art pays the bill I notice that for sale beside the register are 18”tall pressurized cans topped with Donald Duck heads. To my amusement and amazement I discover that they are helium filled cans for kids to inhale and talks like a duck. Weird!!

Art needs to return Tadashi's car and hurried arrangements are made in Japanese for John and I to go to the supermarket with Hatori and Asahi.We are finished our shopping in 30 minutes, but we need to wait over an hour more before Mitsuro will return to pick us up and drive us back home. With plastic grocery bags in tow we wander the electronic section of the mall. The exercise section of this store is packed with Sunday afternoon browsers. There are 12 different brands of massage chairs all of them are occupied by extremely relaxed potential customers. Each chair has a coin slot and for 100 yen one can test one for 15 minutes. Adjoining is an array of exercise machines. I have never seen the” horse style” machines that are straddled like a horse. Various programs can be chosen and your steed will perform at your desired level of exertion. There is a waiting line for the vibrating “diet” machine. I am amazed by the array of blood pressure machines, scales and foot massagers to choose from! We flow into a section with electronic keyboards and pianos and Asahi and John flip switches and play the instruments. At Hatori’s request a composed young sales women sits at an expansive key board, flips switches and adeptly plays the melody line to accompany an artificial background orchestration. Although I am not impressed by the piano, I am impressed at her grace and composure as families browse the instruments and their children play ear shattering arrangements.

Hatori’s cell phone rings; Mitzuro is waiting in the parking garage. We take the escalator up to the 4th floor, pile into his tiny van and are chauffeured home. It’s after 6:00 P.M.

My Marty Magic Web Site and e-mail are still down.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Onna Coast

The Onna Coast lies on the East China Sea and stretches from Yomitan to Nago. This pristine and breathtaking stretch of coastline is home to the finest beach front resorts on mainland Okinawa.

Tadashi arrives at our apartment a little after 10:00 A.M. He is lending us his Honda for our day trip. Art drives and Tadashi supervises Art’s first foray onto this reversed system of traffic flow, signage and turns. John makes wise cracks from the back seat expressing doubt in his Papa’s ability to navigate the mirror image traffic system. We stop at a small pastry shop and pick up some morning buns and Tadashi drives the few final twists and turns to his apartment. Tadashi’s and Shoko’s upstairs apartment is sunny, small and tidy. Shoko makes coffee and serves the drinks and morning pastries on their low table. We meet Johnny, their timid calico cat, and I sit on the couch and look at their two thick wedding albums. The first album is filled with many wonderful candid photos of the wedding party as well as formal shots of the ceremony, performed in a Western style wedding chapel. Shoko is breathtakingly beautiful and Tadashi so very handsome. They change wedding attire three times during the wedding. Shoko wears a frothy white wedding dress and Tadashi, a tuxedo for the chapel ceremony. Following the chapel ceremony they change into formal Japanese kimonos and then change a third time for the wedding “party;” Shoko wearing a brilliant red dress, low cut and trimmed with satin roses. When I open the second album of formal studio shots, tears well up in my eyes and Shoko hands me a Kleenex. I very much regret not being able to attend their wedding. Our daughter, Alisha’s wedding to Sterling was just last April and looking at these wedding albums brings all sorts of emotions to the surface.

It’s noon before we are on the highway heading towards the Onna coast. Art maneuvers the car cautiously but with switches reversed we tease him each time that he turns on the windshield washers when reaching for the turn signal. The weather is gorgeous, sunny and in the mid 70’s. The color of the ocean is that delicious tropical turquoise, deepening to a brilliant blue towards the horizon. Sea stacks jut from the water, each outcropping lushly covered with foliage. We pull over to explore a few beach resorts and coves. On our first stop, after descending a long set of cement stairs I realize that I have forgotten my dark glasses. The white coral sand is so brilliant that my eyes tear in pain. I step into the scrubby palms that shelter the beach to look for hermit crabs and shade my eyes. There are no hermit crabs but a littering of tin cans and bottles washed up and trapped in the roots of these lovely palms. As beautiful as this coastline is, it is marred by many engineered breakwaters of cement, stone and the enormous interlocking cement “jacks.” The engineers have even bridged some of natural sea stacks together with these
breakwater monstrosities. There are still sweet spots that are left natural, but between the luxury resorts and the seawalls, much of this coastline looks artificial.

We pull into the Moon Beach Resort and walk through their lobby and out onto their pristine beach. We don’t look at the rooms, but the cavernous lobby is outdated and the overall feel is a bit sad. It was one of the first beach resorts on Okinawa. The prices however aren’t outdated and I am surprised at the rate sheet. Even off season, mid week rates start at $175.00 for a single, including breakfast. An off season double room is about $200.00 and a triple is about $250.00 per night. During high seasons a double room will cost close to $500.00 a night. The hotel beach and grounds are beautiful and John would love to stay here for a few nights but to his disappointment we hop back into the car and meander further up the coastline.

We stop for lunch along a straight stretch of beach with many picturesque offshore island sea stacks. The tide is low and the stakes of a seaweed farm are protruding from the back lighted ocean. Our restaurant choice is a bad one but I will not make lunch the focus of today’s blog. After lunch we want to walk down onto the beach. It’s not easy to access the water but we maneuver up and over the highways’ unbroken steel railing, cross two opposing lanes of traffic, stride over a 50 foot expanse of geometrically arranged cement and stone, and walk down the dozen shallow steps of the seawall, to reach the tidal flats. At high tide, the water reaches up to the seawall, but at low tide the flats are exposed and the mucky sand is alive with minute sea snails. Shards of broken shells and worm casings lie exposed. All is a yellowish green and although not beautiful all is quite interesting.

Further north is the world class Busena Resort and Marine Park. The Busena Resort was the site of the 2001 G8 summit. We pull into the manicured grounds of the resort, the white sand and turquoise water shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. Architecturally the hotel is unimaginative and corporate, but the setting is breathtaking and the amenities more than likely first class. The resort is located on a land spit just south of Nago. The walkway to an underwater observatory extends some 300 feet out over the water and glass bottom boat rides embark dockside from a pier adjacent to the walkway. We buy the package; underwater observatory and glass bottom boat ride. Adult ticket prices are 2,000 yen for the combo, somewhat less for students and children. We descend the iron spiral stairway to the observation pod below. Portholes offer a view of a clear underwater world and we are delighted and disappointed at the same time. There are hundreds of Taman, schools of needle nose fish, several brilliant parrot fish, a smattering of colorful reef fish and one lone puffer. (I need to mention that we have recently snorkeled in the Galapagos Islands, the Zamami Islands, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Hawaii. 35 years ago I snorkeled along the Australian Great Barrier Reef.) My expectations may be unreasonably high. We climb back up the iron stairway to catch the 4:15 P.M. glass bottom boat ride. I am as fascinated by the whale shaped boat and the delighted children peering intently down into the viewing window as I am by the underwater world that we are gliding over. We see many fish, but very little live coral. We are delighted to spot several large anemones each hosting one or two clown fish.

We decide to return home tonight. We haven’t traveled much distance but the day has been full. Art retraces our route back down the coast but the traffic is slow and he decided to cuts inland to catch the toll Highway back to Naha. We zip along the toll road at close to 60 miles an hour. We reach Naha in less than an hour and Art navigates side streets back to our apartment only turning on the windshield wipers a couple of times!

My web site is still down.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cherry Blossoms in Yogi Park

Cherry Blossoms in Yogi Park

At noon, Art returns from his morning karate class. I’ve been working on waxes all morning, the day is clear and sunny and. Art suggests that we ride our bicycles to Yogi Park to see the cherry blossoms. Early in February, the Cherry Blossom Festival is held in Yogi Park but unfortunately we were in the midst of getting settled and missed the festival. For the past two weeks John has been riding a very used, mini folding bicycle. His wheelies and jumps have derailed the chain and all but destroyed the bicycle. We stop at our corner bicycle shop and buy John a folding Newton just like mine. John wishes for a more expensive, heavier duty bicycle, but we need him to choose a folding bicycle, so John is settles for the white version of the Newton. He does wheelies, rides down stairs and bounces off of curbs. We may be purchasing yet another bicycle before the end of this trip.

Our lunch stop is impromptu; a hip, amusing and odd “Dart Café.” It’s 1:30 P.M. and if there was a lunch rush, it is over. Again we are the only customers. The café is bright and small, a 15 foot bar on one side displays bottles of hard liquor as well as sodas. Several glass topped tables are centered between the bar and two electronic dart boards. Art orders us the advertised “set” lunches. We haphazardly throw darts while we wait for lunch and John and I scrutinize a tiny alcove where specialized dart sets are available for sale. I especially like the Alien and the Pirate dart sets for a mere 1,400 yen. ($12.00) John is intrigued by the (titanium?) weights that can be added to the shaft of the dart. The weight sets of 4 are cost well over $100.00 a set. The young and stylish bar tender/waiter delivers our lunch sets, beautifully arranged on small plates in a minimalist sort of French/Japanese style. John’s pasta defies gravity, piled higher than wide and topped with a sprinkling of mindfully arranged olives and diced tomatoes. Art and I order a pork and vegetable “set.” We expect a sir fry. Our small plates are delivered with a “bird nest” of shredded cabbage, (also defying gravity) a dab of potatoes salad and a small and very delicious portion of fatty pork morsels mixed with fresh vegetables. Miso soup and rice are served in separate side dishes. Ice tea accompanies all of our meals. Each of our “sets” is 650 yen and the total for the three of us is about $16.00 tax and tip included.

We bicycle to the park. The cherry blossom trees are in full bloom and line both sides of the canal. I am not the only person taking photos. I am amused by all the locals with their camera phones. A group of rest home patients, supervised by their nurses sit in the shade of the trees. In another part of the park, a group of artists are painting the cherry blossom trees and their instructor moves from one student to another critiquing the work. Most of the painters are older and John observes that this is probably a pretty good way to spend ones retirement. We are in the park an hour and as I take photographs, John races his bicycle over the bridges and does wheelies and spins near the patients in wheelchairs. If they remember his antics they are talking about him tonight!

Art leaves John and me at the park and rides off to meet a business contact. John and I bicycle a few blocks down a busy street turning off and back into the Tsuboya pottery district. I suddenly have my bearings and feel quite at home and delighted that Yogi Park is now part of my known territory. Art navigated our way to Yogi Park by an interesting and somewhat circuitous route, but the park is just a few blocks up from the covered Heiwadori market place. Our afternoon goal is to purchase John a pair of new shoes. His already well worn skate shoes are terminal; last nights “sidewalk skating” in the rain opened the holes in the soles and John was literally “walking on water.” We pop into the covered marketplace and John searches for size 12 shoes. It is hopeless and John suggests that he join the Abbott family and give up wearing shoes. (Dear Abbott family friends, I hope you are smiling as you read this?!)

We exit the market place via a side alley. John knows that I enjoy browsing in a small and beautiful dress boutique just around the bend and he tells me that we are not stopping there. Happily there is a shoe store just across from the boutique and John concedes that I may browse while he looks for shoes. Why is my son such a control freak? There are no shoes to fit John, but I find a beautiful cotton tunic that fits me. I am only able to put a deposit down on the tunic since we need our cash to purchase John’s shoes. Okinawa has a cash oriented economy. Even supermarkets do not take charge cards and only high end and chain stores accept credit cards. We exit the marketplace without finding shoes for John. John waits patiently as I walk back the labyrinth of covered stalls and pay in full for my tunic.

John and I power ride back to our apartment and arrive home a little before 5:00 P.M. My web site is still down. I work on waxes for awhile but when Art returns at 6:00 P.M. we bicycle out again in search for shoes for John. We ride up to the Shintoshin District and just off the main promenade is a huge Shoe “Box.” A “Box” is basically a large shop, usually a big chain store. The store is immense with every possible type of shoes for men and for women. It takes us nearly an hour, but we emerge triumphant with white, size 12 skate shoes for John. The light is fading when we leave the shoe store and we bicycle leisurely looking for a place to eat dinner. It’s Friday night and this fashionable district is a happening place, busy with pedestrians. Restaurants and shops glow invitingly. There are some very stylish and upscale restaurants that we would love to eat at, but bicycle “helmet hair” is most likely not the accepted attire. The mall, “Naha Main Place,” is buzzing with couples and families and we put our name on a waiting list at a Tonkatsu Restaurant. We survey the menus while we wait for a non smoking table. The Okinawan’s take their jobs very seriously. A gracious wait person comes outside and takes our order as we wait for a table. He has a computerized order pad and is sincere and meticulous in getting our order exact. Our table preference is of great concern to him. Do we want a Western Style table or a Japanese style tatami room table? We choose a Western Style table and our meal is served shortly after we are seated. The food is somewhat formula, but beautifully presented on the usual lacquered trays. We eat heartily, pay the most reasonable 4,600.yen check ($40.00) and bicycle home satiated and exhausted.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Walking in the Rain

The weather here certainly differs from one day to the next. It is almost a relief waking to gray skies and drizzle. John is sick and and needs time to recuperate and I need some time to create new jewelry designs. Art has been going to Karate on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but this morning he goes to a 9:30 A.M. class at a different dojo. My morning routine always begins with e-mail and I discover that both my e-mail and website are down. I have some things to mail and walk to the post office and call home to inquire about my internet server. I am assured it will be up soon. I spend the afternoon working on a one of a kind dragon that will wrap around a piece of druzy quartz. John curls on the couch, crumpled Kleenex littering the floor and watches God Father Two. We recently discovered a nearby video rental store where the videos are 100 yen for a week. This translates to .80 cents for a movie for a week. The rates at the video rental in Shintoshin are many times more than this. If John were not sick there would not be an afternoon movie, but we take pity on his boredom and I remember that just this morning I mailed a fat packet of his home school work to his adviser back home.

At 5:30 P.M. the three of us walk uptown to Shintoshin, our goal being dinner at the Galleria Food Court and marketing on the way home. The Galleria is on the top floor of the upscale Duty Free Mall. It drizzles lightly as we walk. John is feeling better and takes running starts to slip and slide on the slick tile walkways. Two weeks ago we went to the Galleria Food Court and were confused and intimidated by the system and left without eating. Tonight it seems easy, affordable and not the least bit intimidating. It's basically a food court with a lot of of attitude. We split up, each of us with a scan card and make our selections. I have a Thai curry over rice and fried fish with sweet vegetables. The fish concoction is too fishy, but the curry is good. Art orders Italian, and John goes for a Hamburger. Art has an 8:00 P.M. Karate class so we are pressed for time but we will eat here again when we have time to sit at leisure on the covered patio with a flowing stream and soak in the stylish ambiance. The rain is a bit heavier when we leave the Galleria. We walk to the nearest supermarket, one of three in a long strip mall in Shintoshin. We push our mini shopping cart along the aisles picking up several large bottles each of jasmine tea (Sanpin Cha) water, makings for tomorrow night's dinner and two umbrellas. Between the rain and our heavy liquid load, we catch a taxi the mile back to our apartment. It's about a $5.00 taxi ride. Art hurry s off to his 8:00 P.M.Karate class and I'm writing this not very excited blog of our day. My e-mail and web site are still down. Bummer!!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mangroves, Mongoose and Black Face Spoonbills

Mangroves, Mongoose and Black Face Spoonbills

We discover a mangrove wet land in the heart of urban Naha today! Rain was predicted for today but when we awake the skies are blue so we hop on our bicycles and head in the direction of the Manko wetlands. We ride south towards the airport, along Hwy 58, until we come to the Kokuba River and turn inland. Naha city planners have created a narrow but beautiful parkway for pedestrians and bicyclists along both sides of this waterway. The sleek monorail glides above Naha on the northern side and the park and quay follow the contours of the river on both sides. We come upon an immense cement crab facing the river shading a picnic table and picnic benches beneath its belly. We take a break and John climbs this 20 foot cement beast and I take photos. The crab is reminiscent of the huge cement dinosaurs that popped up in the U.S. during the 50’s and 60s’ intended to attract customers to “diners” and gift shops. I am delighted and amused by this riverside monument. Further on we come upon an outdoor “exercise area.” Sparkling metal and wood exercise equipment is stationed along the riverside. Art and John do sit ups and stretches. There is even an oval acupressure footpath with signs clearly instructing how to use the “bumpy nubs” on the path. An elderly man is barefoot and walks mindfully around the small oval footpath holding onto the stainless steel rail enclosing the path. A bit further on we arrive at the Manko Water bird and Wetland Center. This center is in the heart of urban Naha. The Highway contours one side and apartments and businesses encroach on the other. What used to be a natural lake is now mostly landfill. We park our bicycles and enter the center. We are one of two groups of visitors and we are greeted almost desperately by an extremely enthusiastic employee. The English version of their short 10 minute video will start soon but in the meantime the dossier shows John and me how to use a page scanner on the edges of certain bird books to produce the bird’s songs and warbles. This technology is something I have never seen before, even in world class museums, and John and I spend several minuets immersed and fascinated by it all. Upstairs is an observatory with a dozen high powered telescopes and we each choose one to scan the mangrove wetland below us.

It’s 1:00 P.M. and we are hungry so Art asks our “guide” where we might eat nearby? A minute later he hauls his bicycle outside and peddles ahead of us leading the way to his recommended lunch spot. We are in a neighborhood and he takes us to a tiny two table family owned restaurant. The place is no larger than my kitchen and there are a few paper “specials” stapled to the wall. Nothing here that costs more than 350 yen and the menu is extremely limited. The owner, woman about my age is behind the tiny counter and cooking at the two burner gas stove. Art translates our options and within minutes a plate of “Mexican” fried rice is set in front of me. Art orders shrimp friend rice and John orders a hot dog and toast. I’m desperate for protein and vegetables, but it’s as if I am in someone’s home so I eat every bite of the carbohydrate laden meal. For desert Art orders shaved ice for John and a sweet bean zenzai for himself. The woman puts ice cubes in an ancient machine that vibrates and rattles the small room. Shaved ice is the end product and John chooses three syrupy flavors to pour onto his pile of ice. The bill totals 1300 yen, ($10.50) including three small pies that Art purchases to go.

Next we bicycle to the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. I am not happy that these Navy headquarters are on the highest peak in Naha but when we finally achieve our destination, the view is tremendous. The day is still sparkling clear and sunny and I eventually catch my breath from the long ride up to the peak. After paying our entrance fees we climb hundreds of steps back down into the underground passageways of the Japanese headquarters during world war two. John is especially fascinated with the labyrinth of tunnels but over 200,000 people died in the battle of Okinawa, and I just feel sad. The resounding message here is the tragedy of war and the value of peace.

Our ride back down to Naha is a breeze, literally! Within minutes we are peddling past the wetland center and over the suspension bridge where we stop and look down onto the mangroves below. Its low tide and the marshy wetlands are exposed; mangrove roots, discarded bicycles, rubber tires and trash. The area is a strange mixture of rich natural habitat and encroaching urbanization. Gazing down from the bridge we spot a mongoose and a white heron. Overhead an osprey circles catching updrafts in the late afternoon. We find a stairway descending from the bridge down to the tidal flats but when I step onto the sand I start to sink. My fantasies of walking out into the mangroves will not be realized here. We begin bicycling home following the northern side of the river but stop abruptly when Art spots a lone black faced spoonbill in the wetlands below. There are less than 300 of these birds in existence and we watch for sometime as he “scoops and spoons” the liquid mud and sand in search of his evening meal. I take many photos and wish for a better lens on my camera.

We all arrive home at 5:00 P.M; exhausted. Yesterday, John started to feel sick and as today progressed John’s health declined. He now has what Art and I had a few days ago. I deposit John on the couch and peddle back out to the market with an empty backpack. I return with my backpack filled with groceries and cook dinner in our apartment. Art and John are watching a video as I type today’s bog. It’s been a lovely impromptu day!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My First Wax Original Dragon Designed in Okinawa

I haven't blogged for the past two days since I have been focusing on creating new jewelry designs and happily (or unhappily) the overcast weather has helped me to focus on my artistic talents. I've just finished carving my first wax creation in my temporary Okinawan studio. It's a dragon guarding a beautiful fire agate that I purchased at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show. I use dental tools and heated wax pens to create my designs and the different colors of wax have different working properties. I don't have a ruler, but the piece is about 1 3/4" across and high. It will be cast in 18K gold and the golden dragon will guard this spectacular piece of Arizona Fire Agate. The price is still to be determined but will be somewhere between $4800 and $5600.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Starbuck Sunday, Shinto Shrines & Tsushima Maru

Starbuck Sunday, Shinto Shrines and Tsushima Maru

Most mornings I brew coffee in our apartment, but this morning Art suggests that we walk to the Shintoshin Starbucks for a Sunday coffee. It’s easier than usual to wake John with the promise of a sugary high octane drink and we walk the 15 minutes to the Shintoshin district. John grabs a breakfast sandwich at McDonalds along the way and I pop into the supermarket to pick up a bento box of sushi rolls. It’s difficult to eat well when traveling and I don’t want to be tempted by the Starbuck pastries. As a rule, I prefer to explore and sample the local cuisine but when a good cup of coffee is in order there is a Starbucks in most every international city. One of my most memorable cups of coffee was a cappuccino sipped on a blustery day at the Shanghai Starbucks. Alisha and I had separated from the “boys” and exhausted from walking, the wind and the cold we slipped guiltily into a Starbucks. The familiar surroundings, the aroma, and ultimately the rich taste and the impact of the caffeine revived and cheered us. This morning we sit for over an hour in this Starbuck bubble, pouring over Okinawa maps and guide books.

We walk home stopping in at the market for a few supplies and then grab our bicycles for an afternoon ride. Our first stop is Fukushuen, the Chinese Garden. The garden is a recent recreation of a Chinese Garden and although pretty, it lacks that authentic feel of gardens and pagodas centuries old. The pools are filled with koi and turtles and John buys fish food and sits on the edge of the water scattering pellets. The water churns with their frenzied feeding as the koi literally pile on top of each other struggling to swallow the pellets. A white crane stands on the shoreline and couples stroll along the manicured pathways. The cherry blossoms are in bloom, but it’s too early in the season for the full springtime burst of color.

We bicycle a bit further to the Naminoue beach, the only public beach within the city of Naha. It’s a small and pristine crescent of white sand, framed and protected by a seawall retainer constructed of immense cement “jack” shaped forms. Almost every public beach and harbor is framed by these perfectly arranged and interlocking cement “jack” seawalls. The freeway looms above this beach and we see our first homeless encampment in the adjoining park. There is a tidy row of camping tents and what I surmise is a communally shared cook tent. On the cliff above the beach is the Naminoue Shinto Shrine. We bicycle to the entrance and walk the path to the top of the cliff where we have a view of all of Naha. While Shinto is the native religion of mainland Japan, it’s not a native Okinawan religion. Various Shinto festivals are celebrated here and today families are tying paper prayer requests onto a line strung between two trees and dipping long handled metal cups into the flowing water fountain to drink.

Nearby Asahigaoko Park and Naminoue Shrine we come upon the Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum. This museum is dedicated to the lives lost when the passenger liner, the Tsushima Maru was torpedoed by the U.S. submarine, Bowfin on August 22, 1944. The Tsushima Maru was evacuating school children and teachers from Okinawa to mainland Japan and 1,484 people died, 767 of them children. The ship sank in 11 minutes with only 177 survivors. This small, well curated, memorial museum lists the names all those lost at sea and a great wall displays the photographs of the children. The tragedy is carefully documented by extensive diagrams showing the position of the submarine Bowfin in relationship to the Tsushima Maru and the other two evacuee vessels which made it to mainland Japan safely. All three ships were guarded by the destroyer, Hasu and the gunboat Uji. The submarines’ log of events is also documented. Strings of paper peace cranes decorate the museum, their message being to teach the importance of Peace to future generations through the tragedy of the Tsushima Maru.

We eat a 3:30 P.M. lunch at a simple soba restaurant across from the shrine. It’s starting to drizzle, so we bicycle home.

Takaaki comes by at 6:30 P.M. and plays chess for his first time with John. Takaaki drives us to an Izakaya restaurant in the Shintoshin district were we meet with Tadashi and his brother Shigeru. An Izakaya restaurant is the Japanese version of a “tapas” restaurant. Takaaki orders for the table starting us off with a shared plate of tofu and goya champuru. Goya is an Okinawan vegetable that looks somewhat like a fat spiny cucumber. Its’ taste is bitter and it is rich in vitamin C. (If one is very brave, goya juice is readily available.) On a previous visit, I made the mistake of ordering a large bowl of Goya for myself, but I am acquiring a taste for this local dish and tonight I enjoy eating a small plateful. The next plate to arrive is a dish of fried rice with a raw egg on top. Tadashi takes chopsticks and mixes the egg into the rice and we each help ourselves to a small serving. We share a plate of Okinawan fatty pork which is a bit like chunks of thick undercooked bacon. There are skewers of chicken yakatori and a small bacon pizza. A hot pot of fungi, vegetables and chicken skin is brought to our table and with difficulty I dish out 6 small bowls of the broth and veggies. We end with a plate of nigiri sushi. Throughout dinner the men discuss

Tadashi drives us home and he and Shigeru come upstairs. Shigeru meets John’s beetle Frack and holds him without hesitation. Shigeru had stag beetles when he was a boy. It’s been a great day and an enjoyable evening.

Tsuboya Shisa

Tsuboya Shisa

After our usual morning routine spent with the computer and with e-mail we leave the apartment on foot and walk in the direction of Kokusai Street stopping at a flag store where we purchase and Okinawan flag as a gift. A bit further on is Shurei-do martial arts supply store, the best one on Okinawa. Art is looking for a karate gi but they are temporarily out of his size. Art want to visit the Tourist Information Bureau off of Kokusai Street to introduce himself and to gather information. It is just around the corner from the Starbucks on Kokusai Street and we pick up brochures and maps. We wander down Heiwadori Street (Peace Street) again and Art buys another sweet bean fish cake hot off the griddle. (They are really very delicious, so be sure to try one if you have the opportunity.)

The covered market ends at the Tsuboya pottery district which is one of my favorite areas in Naha. The main street of this interwoven district is lined with Okinawa pottery shops. Most of the buildings here are the old wood houses with red tile roofs and each gateway is guarded by a pair of Shisa. A Shisa is neither dog nor lion, but a guardian creature unique to Okinawa culture. A pair of Shisa, one with its mouth open and one with its mouth closed is sentry to most every home and business on Okinawa. They come in all sizes and styles and there are several pottery studios in this district that make them. There is a major studio on the main street where you can watch specialized craftsperson’s meticulously sculpt and incise the clay into these magical creatures. We don’t visit the studio today, but I have watched them work on several other occasions and have always felt welcome.

Today we wander uphill and discover the ruins of an immense hillside pottery kiln that was shared by the artisans of this district many years ago. Broken earthenware vessels and pottery shards are embedded in the embankment and a cat lounges lazily on the sun warmed roof tiles of the ancient building. If you poke down narrow side streets or walk off the main street along a stone path you will discover many small pottery studios and sweet spots, lush with tropical foliage. Many of these intertwined streets have walls hewn of Okinawa limestone. You will also see monstrously ugly cement apartment buildings crowding and dwarfing the ancient tile roofed houses, and expensive cars sit in the driveways of many of these ancient homes.

It’s 3:30 P.M. before we start home and we are hungry. Many places have already stopped serving lunch and are not yet open for dinner so we resort to a non-descript 24 hour Okinawan eatery. John orders an ebi fry, (fried shrimp) I order a vegetable and beef champuru (stir-fry) and Art has a tonkatsu-don (a bowl of rice with breaded pork cutlet.)

Back at home, I work on waxes until nearly 7:00.P.M. and then relax with John and his beetle Frack and watch a bizarre Japanese T.V. program. The premise of this program seems to be that the T.V. crew barges into a “victims” bedroom and puts a stag beetle on the sleeping victims’ nose. The beetle pinches on hard and the T.V. crew uses a stopwatch to time the victim to determine how long he can withstand the torturous pinch. (I am concerned that some of the beetles may get hurt with all the thrashing around and hysteria this “Beetle Fear Factor” program generates.) John thrusts Frack in my direction and I start in fear. I am not yet ready to hold John’s new pet, let alone be timed with one pinched to my nose!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Yakitori Dinner

Yakitori Dinner

I plan to spend a full day carving waxes, but start the morning with a brisk walk to the fish market for some exercise and to buy some fresh sashimi and sushi.

Art takes off on a long bicycle ride and John plays online chess while I work on my dragon pieces and listen to a book on tape. John tells me I need to carve a different type of dragon’s head and I think he is right. I work for over 4 hours on just the head of the new dragon. Eventually John tires of online chess, bungees his skateboard to the handlebars of his bicycle and rides to the skate park. I continue working several more hours on my dragon and try not to worry too much about John.

Art and John both return safely. Art bicycled to Chinen on the south eastern point of the island to the Sefa Utaki. This utaki or sacred site is one of Okinawa’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. He is exhilarated.

We have dinner plans with Rena tonight. Rena lived with us for a year in Santa Cruz, some 6 or 7 years ago and I am very much looking forward to seeing her! Back home, I would have most certainly cooked dinner at home but we want to take her out for a meal and ask her to choose a restaurant. She drives us to a district where there are dozens of yakitori restaurants dotting the side streets. Red paper lanterns denote these establishments and glow invitingly. They are primarily drinking establishments that serve small plates of skewered meats and vegetables. The first one she chooses is full so we drive to another one. These places are notoriously small consisting of just a bar and a few small tables. This yakitori has one of its 4 tables vacant. The bar is filled with customers, and the air hangs heavy with cigarette smoke and the smell of frying meats. Rena orders a number of small plates for us to share. A bowl of cabbage is brought to the table. She tells us that traditionally you eat a little yakitori, then a bite of cabbage. John inhales his portion of each plate served. We order three glasses of different kinds of sake and the waitress brings three small empty glasses on tiny saucers. She fills each glass to the brim and overflows the sake into the saucer below. We have“sake” tasting, sipping from the saucer and each of us chooses one glass. (John orders another soda.) There are many young couples out tonight and they talk and smoke and drink. Their ashtrays are filled with cigarette butts. I realize I am not in “Kansas” any more but I am enjoying every minute of the second hand smoke.

Rena calls a daiko taxi and we ask her if they are expensive? She tells us that they cost less than a regular taxi after hours. After midnight taxi fares increase. Its 11:30 before we pile into our regular taxi and head back home.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Work Day

A Work Day

I wake slowly and I can tell the worst of my cold is behind me. I finish yesterday’s blog and work on Marty Magic business from half way around the world. My daughter, Alisha is doing the hands on work, but I am connected to the day to day questions and there is a lot to do today.

By 11:00 A.M. I am at work carving new dragon waxes to wrap around the gemstones that I recently purchased at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show. My work space still isn’t ideal, but I spend a productive three hours and am happy to be back in the groove. I am working on two dragon designs at once. One dragon will be cast in sterling silver and wrap around a triangular piece of chrysocolla druze quartz. The other dragon will be cast in 18K gold and be the guardian dragon around a most spectacular piece of Arizona fire agate.

During the morning and into early afternoon, Art works on his web site, while John reads his novel and I carve wax. Shortly after 2:00 P.M. we ride our bicycles up to the Shintoshin district to eat lunch and we once again run into our usual dilemma. John wants to eat at McDonalds, I am craving protein and vegetables and Art wants to please us both. We end up at “Fresh Burger.” John whines that a soft drink and fries are not included in his meal. I order coleslaw and a side of chicken; not their forte. Art inhales a mediocre hamburger. We will not go there again.

After lunch, Art and John ride to return the rented videos and I go to the super market on my own. The majority of what is available are precooked, “deli” selections of salads, sushi, fried and marinated meats and sweets. All are arranged neatly in open refrigerated cases and packaged in the same way our meat selections are in the U.S. Each item is presented on a shallow Styrofoam or plastic tray and wrapped with clear plastic. The label is in the bottom right with the price per pound, and ultimately the cost of the package clearly marked. From previous experience, I know that most Okinawan kitchens are very small making elaborate dinners difficult to prepare. I surmise that because of this the supermarkets offer these vast arrays of prepared deli items. Everything looks fresh and tasty but can buy only what I can carry home in John’s backpack so choose my selections carefully, pay and peddle home.

I spend another two hours working on my dragon waxes before cooking dinner. I wash and cut the home grown potatoes and spinach given to us the other night. I sauté the potatoes in garlic and olive oil and then open a package of precut, marinated beef mixed with green onions. I add the meat to the potatoes, cook quickly and serve. John actually compliments me on my dinner, eating heartily and telling me that I cook much better in Japan. Whatever spices and marinade mixed with the packaged meat is the secret ingredient.

A little before 8:00 P.M. Art leaves for his Karate class. John watches the Japanese Version of “Do You Want to be a Millionaire?” in the company of his beetles. I am brave enough to hold the female, Frick, but am still too afraid to hold Frack. John is disappointed. Later John walks over to watch the karate class.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rainy Day Valentine

Rainy Day Valentine

We wake up to grey skies and rain. The weather matches our under the weather state of health and demands little of us. Art is now sick, but a day behind in the symptoms. He grimaces when I tell him he that he will feel worse tomorrow. I doubt if John will escape this bug but remains healthy so far. We spend a quiet morning in our apartment writing, doing homework and sending e-mail.

Last night was John’s first night with the beetles in his room and he tells me that they were really annoying. Apparently they are nocturnal and Frack kept pinching at a flange of plastic inside his cage and made a clicking sound all through the night. Frick scratched on the inside of her cage until John finally got up and threw some clothes over their cages. Nevertheless, John still seems to love his beetles and at this very moment is holding Frack and admonishing him gently for disturbing his sleep.

Art reads about a senior graduation art exhibition at the Ryukyu Arts University. It’s quite a distance to the Shurijo district and between our health and the rain a taxi seems to be in order. Our taxi driver is talkative and he converses with Art switching between English and Japanese. The streets are wet from rain and we pass through districts unfamiliar to me. It’s lovely to be speeding along in our taxi bubble. The rain lets up when we get to the University and we spend nearly two hours looking at the student exhibition. The show is spread between various rooms and exhibition halls and the art is remarkably good. John gets into it and has some good comments and asks good questions.

The University is below the Shuri Castle in the oldest and most picturesque part of the city. Art chooses a charming restaurant for our Valentines Day lunch. It is 2:00 P.M. and we are dining late. We remove our shoes and place them in covered cubbies before stepping up into the restaurant. The restaurant is an old, single story house with the traditional tile roof and open beam ceilings. Tatami mats cover the floors and shoji screens divide the rooms and open onto a lush and serene garden. The gravel in the garden is raked to perfection. There are no glossy pictures on the calligraphied menu and no plastic display food to choose from. Art does his best to translate the minimal menu. He orders me a tofu champuru (a mix of tofu and vegetables) and himself a bowl of soba with Okinawa pork. Our meals are delivered on simple trays with additional bowls of miso soup, cold seaweed noodles, rice and pickled vegetables. All is mindful and delicious. John has eaten three “American corn dogs” earlier and just nibbles off of our plates. Our two meals are only 1,750 yen or about $15.00.

I am feeling considerably worse but the misty day is beautiful and we take our time walking in the gardens below Shuri Castle. There are few people out today and we have the park almost to ourselves. We wind our way slowly down an old stone walkway that will eventually lead us back down to the bustle of modern Naha. The stonework is all hewn from Okinawan limestone. Stylish Mansions are on either side of the ancient stone street. We take a side path and find ourselves in an utaki. An utaki is a “spirit place,” a small, sweet and magical spot. This one is tucked behind several hillside mansions and there is a small grove of huge akagi trees (Bishofa Javanica) dripping with the morning’s rain. Sections of an old stone pathway and stone wall frame this magical spot.

We arrive at the bottom of the walkway and search for a post office and grocery store. It’s nearly 5:00 P.M. and both Art and I are feeling drained. We know that once we get back to our apartment we won’t want to leave to go out to dinner even if it is Valentines’ night. We take a taxi home and Art tells John that we will try to rent a movie for us to watch this evening. Art and John ride bicycles to the nearbye Tsutaya, a bookshop, music and video store in the Shintoshin district. They manage to sign up for a Tsutaya video card and return with two movies, Zoolander and Lost. We watch Zoolander with Japanese subtitles. Tadashi comes over at 8:00 P.M. with two cell phones for us. He has added us to his cell phone plan and we will pay him accordingly.

In spite of feeling poorly, today was a lovely day. I turn in but Art and John stay up and watch an episode of Lost. I hope I feel better in the morning.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Settling into a Routine

Settling into a Routine

We sleep until almost 9:00 A.M. My muscles hurt from yesterday’s ride and my sore throat is turning into a cold. We spend a quiet morning in our apartment. I make coffee and send e-mail. Art goes out for a ride returning with sashimi and sushi. There is a fish market just a few minutes from us. Following Art’s directions, John and I walk the 10 minutes to the fish market. Our route is below the freeway overpass and we walk past many tombs. These family tombs are either cut into the cliff side or freestanding. They are usually about the size of a one or two car garage and have a “turtle shell” style roof. The tombs contain urns with the washed bones of the deceased. We see these tombs most everywhere; tucked between houses and apartment buildings, along road sides and cut into cliffs. The warehouse is in an industrial part of the harbor and houses about 50 stalls. It is sparkling clean and well lit. Some vendors are selling prepackaged sashimi, others whole fish, octopus, crabs, lobsters and even rock fish and fugu. I imagine that this market is predominately a wholesale outlet but I’m delighted to have the freshest source of seafood available to us within walking distance.

Back in our apartment we each attempt to get to work. Art works a bit on while I organize my wax table and begin to work. I don’t have good light and the chair is too high for my desk. I wander the apartment, moving available lamps and try to adjust the height of my table to my chair. By sitting on the bathroom stool and piling three of John’s text books on top, I achieve the correct height, but I am not going to be able to work without a good lamp. Art agrees to bicycle out and buy me a clip on light while John and I set out to Heiwadori Street to purchase a beetle. I take out our city map but it is all in Japanese and will not do me much good so I wing it and we ride our bicycles down Highway 58 cutting inland in what I hope is the direction of Kokusai Street. I am right on target and we arrive at the market within 15 minutes. Yesterday we discovered that it isn’t the season for Rhinoceros beetles so John has decided to adopt an Okinawa beetle. This end of the market is quiet and John gets the attention of the beetle vendor who lethargically rises and helps John choose his beetle. The man takes several beetles out and one pinches onto his finger and he grimaces from the pain. I realize that am not going to want to hold this beetle. Naturally John wants the biggest one available and ends up choosing a species from Indonesia. The tiny plastic cages are partitioned in half and it isn’t until John pays for his beetle that the vendor points out that there is a female beetle buried deep in the bedding of the other half of the cage. The female beetle is much smaller and has no pinchers. John is delighted that he gets two beetles for the price of one.

We now need beetle food, bedding and a larger cage so John and I ride in what I hope is the direction of Shintoshin and the Pet Box. Without a map, I decide that the best approach is to follow the Monorail, so we ride along the road beneath it and soon arrive at the Shintoshin Station. We know our way around this district and it’s just a few blocks to the Pet Box and the supermarket. At Pet Box, John shows the cashier his beetles and asks if he can put the male and female together? Through sign language she communicates that they will fight, so John purchases a larger cage for Frack and decides to use the smaller cage for Frick. He chooses the necessary beetle accessories and pays with his own money. John is anxious to get his beetle condo’s set up so I allow him to bike home on his own while I go to the supermarket. This is my first solo shopping trip and I take my time choosing the food and deciphering the labels on the laundry detergent and mouth wash.

It’s late afternoon before we are all back in the apartment. John busies himself with his beetles and then sits on the couch watching preschool television, holding Frack. I hope that John will learn something from this Japanese equivalent of Sesame Street and I plug in my new clip on light sit down and do waxes to the drone of the television. I am sneezing and my nose is running and I am feeling sick. I take a cold and flu capsule. I work for an hour but accomplish little and it’s almost dinner time so I busy myself in our tiny kitchen and cook our first dinner at home. Art helps me decipher the control panel on our washing machine and I do two loads of laundry. The stacking washer and dryer are beside the sink in our bathroom and are tiny by American standards.

Art leaves to go the the Makishi Dojo to find out about Karate Classes. He returns shortly, we eat dinner and Art and John go back to the Dojo for an 8:00 P.M. class. I am drugged from the cold and flu capsule but I manage to fold the laundry and wash the dishes before falling into bed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Biking for Beetles

Biking for Beetles

Art takes off on his bicycle early to get a hair cut and to pay for the internet wireless card that he “purchased” for me yesterday. I am able to connect to the internet thanks to this amazing card but yesterday Art wasn’t certain that it would work in our apartment and Willcom allowed him to take the card home and try it before paying. (Art just told me that Tadashi “signed” for him, but this company preferred that Art make sure it works first, rather than issue a refund.)

Shortly after noon the three of us take off by bicycle following Hwy 58 N. in search of a shop that supposedly sells Rhinoceros beetles. The weather is perfect. The skies are bright blue and there is a cool breeze. The temperature is about 75 and there is no haze or smog. Peddling along the sidewalks paralleling Hwy. 58 is not scenic, but it is interesting as we ride between one city and the next. We take a break to walk on the snow white sands of Tropical Beach by the Okinawa Convention Center in Ginowan. The Yokohama Stars, a professional Japanese baseball team are doing their winter training on the sand. I have my first chance to dip my feet into the clear turquoise waters. I think we should go to the Zamami Islands tomorrow and take advantage of this incredible weather.

We continue riding north along the busy highway stopping at several pet stores and garden shops that carry beetles. At each stop, Art inquires about other stores that might have beetles. We peddle on and on. All that we can find is beetle larva. There are several places that have the Rhinoceros Beetles, but they are still in larva state. I am trying not to be squeamish, but this larva is about 4” long, seemingly translucent and with leg “buds.” They will mature in May or June. John is very disappointed.

Around 4:30 P.M. we turn around and peddle back towards home. We stop at Urasoe City and call Tadashi. He and his wife Shoko live near by and we find that we are invited to his parent’s home for dinner. We have stayed with his parents on other trips, but I was not expecting this and I am hot and tired and wish that I had with me, the small gifts that I brought from home. We always feel welcome here. We meet Tadashi’s and Shoko’s new baby, Rinka, for the first time. He is 2 ½ months old and beautiful! Holding Rinka makes me miss my grand daughter, Molly, all the more. We sit on the floor and eat small dishes of freshly cooked vegetables, homemade soup, homegrown potatoes and spam. I am very much at home, very full and very tired. After dinner and much conversation, Tadashi loads our bicycles into his father’s van and drives us home to our apartment.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunny Sunday

Sunny Sunday

My throat was on fire during the night but my hoarse voice disappears with my first cup of coffee brewed in our very own apartment. Art loads my computer into his backpack and takes off by bicycle for the internet café. He is hoping to get me connected at last. He returns an hour later with three days of my e- mails downloaded. A bouquet of flowers chocolate or champagne couldn’t have made me any happier! We still can’t connect at our apartment but I am able to answer important messages that I can send later at the café.

Mid morning John, Art and I ride our bicycles back over to the internet café. John does homework diligently, while Art installs a Japanese Font onto my computer so that the internet card he wants to buy may finally work for me. Tadashi is picking us up at 1:00 P.M. to take Art back to the company that supplies these cards. Tadashi arrives promptly and we all pile in his small Honda. John and I are dropped off at the head of Kokusai Street while Art goes with Tadashi to get the internet card. It’s a beautiful lazy Sunday and Kokusai Street is blocked off to traffic. This is the first time I have been on Kokusai Street when there isn’t traffic and everyone is out strolling and enjoying this beautiful sunny Sunday. A crowd gathers around a juggler and tables are set in the street where families are eating and watching the parade of people. A pair of shamisen musicians gathers another crowd and I take photos of an elderly man in the crowd dancing happily to the traditional Okinawan music.

Our main purpose in coming to Kokusai Street is for John to look at the beetles in the market place again. We turn into the covered Heiwadori market, in search of lunch and beetles. The plastic food in the restaurant window is looking very monotonous 6 days into our trip and this may be the first time I have gone into a local restaurant without Art, but we must eat. The menu has no pictures so I motion the waitress outside and point at the two “sets” that John and I want. John orders a large bowl of soba with Okinawan pork. I order an eggplant and tofu stir-fry. I choose this in an attempt to eat something healthy but it is swimming in oil and there are pieces of spam mixed in. I am not surprised by the spam since spam is an Okinawan favorite that we have encountered in many dishes, but it is not my favorite. I push the spam to the side and pick cautiously at the contents of my bowl. We pay the 1,390 yen for our two lunches. ($12.00) and continue down the market in search of beetles. At the next fork in the market John spots the beetle stand and the merchant is kind enough to take the little “buggers” out of their plastic enclosures for John to admire. I take quite a few photos.

We decide to walk home, but are not completely certain which direction to walk. John suggests we follow the canal. The monorail runs high above the canal. We head in the direction that we hope is the Shintoshin station. After walking for 30 minutes I realize that we are going in the opposite direction. We get our bearings and wander back home in the late afternoon sunlight. (Dear Daddy, I know you are grimacing as you read this. I promise that next time I will take a map with us on our excursions.)

When John and I get back to our apartment I see my computer set on the table and it has internet connection!!! Art’s bicycle is gone, a good indication that he is out riding and enjoying the afternoon.

Deciding on dinner is often a challenge, but tonight we walk to the top of the hill and stop in at the first restaurant we find. It’s a small 10 table “steak” house and it’s very busy; a good sign. The décor leaves much to be desired, but the menu looks good and I really don’t want to walk back to the Shintoshin district tonight. Dinner is surprisingly good; not anything that I would recommend in a guide book, but it includes soup, salad and desert and the filets are flavorful, tender and wrapped in bacon. The total bill for the three of us is $3,600 yen; about $32.00.

As I type my blog tonight, Art and John are watching Romancing The Stone. It’s funny to hear “Jane Wilder” speaking in Japanese. I hope some of the language rubs off on John.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Internet Crisis

Internet Crisis

Saturday, February 10th.

It’s good to wake up in our own place. I sip cold tea and write last nights blog. We don’t have internet in our apartment so we load our computers into our backpacks and set out to walk the 20 minutes to an internet café. We arrive there just after 9:00, order our coffees and find a corner of the café to call our own. Art’s wireless works perfectly, but mine is somehow disabled. I stay calm, but I am pretty stressed out over this situation. I am wired on coffee but my wireless is dead. Art spends the next hour trying to solve this dilemma while I walk to find a pay phone to call home; at least my phone card work.

Two hours later we leave the café and hike back towards our apartment. We stop at Pet Box again to look at the Rhinoceros Beetles and eat a mediocre lunch at a strip mall restaurant. The day is deteriorating rapidly. 35 years ago I might have looked cute when I backpacked through Europe, but I feel self conscious and discouraged today.

Art has been looking for a bicycle for me these past three days so after dropping our back packs at our apartment we walk in the other direction to buy a bike. $160 later, I ride a folding Newton home.

Tadashi arrives at 3:00 P.M. with the solution to my internet connection. He drives us to a business that sells special wireless cards. John and I wait patiently for over an hour as Art and Tadashi work with the salesmen trying to install the card into my computer. It doesn’t work. Next Tadashi drives us to our local strip mall to help me purchase denatured alcohol. If my computer doesn’t work, I want to at least have fuel for my alcohol lamp so that I can begin to carve waxes. Tadashi has been of great help this afternoon but he is a brand new father and we know he needs to get home so we tell him we will do some grocery shopping and walk home. (Did I mention that we are carrying our backpacks with our computers again?) We are all tired, indecisive and cranky. We buy some prepackaged salads and sashimi for dinner, walk home, and as I type this are spending our first night together in our new apartment. Art is watching bad Japanese television and John is doing Algebra homework. I hope that tomorrow holds something more exciting to write about.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Our morning routine at the Super Hotel is becoming less super each day. We pack after breakfast and spend time on our computers until we must leave for the 10:00 A.M. cleaning crew. We have three hours to kill before Mitsuro will come to help us move into our apartment. The weather is changing and the morning is very breezy. Art goes to find out about the cost of minutes for our borrowed cell phone and I want to buy Valentines and so John and I walk to the “Naha Main Place” mall where I choose a few tiny Valentines. I have looked for Valentines for the past three days but apparently Valentines only come in a mini size. Traditionally the women give the men chocolate on Valentine’s Day and it is the candy that is most important. We still have more time to pass so John and I walk over to Toy’s ‘R Us. Although there are some amusing and unusual action figures, this huge box store is generally boring. We reconnect with Art who suggests we find a place to eat some zenzai. Zenzai is shaved ice with sweet azuki beans. Special zenzai’s are served with pieces of fresh fruit and tiny mochi balls. Today’s mall version leaves much to be desired. I’m afraid I am coming down with a cold. My throat is sore and I feel hot and light headed. I am grateful to be sitting and drinking hot tea. I watch the boys consume their icy treats.

Mitsuro arrives early to help us move. John and I sit in the parking lot of our Super Hotel while Art and Mitsuro make the first trip to our new apartment. There isn’t room in the van for all of the luggage and all three of us. 30 minutes later Mitsuro is back to pick John and me up and take us to our new home. The apartment looks better than it did two days ago. It has been cleaned until it sparkles and most every possible necessity has been provided. I was not expecting that dish soap, sponges, shampoos and soaps, irons and hair dryers, paper towels and toilet paper, towels and laundry baskets etc. would be included in the “furnished” price. The apartment manager even offers to let me switch the kitchen table from the apartment next door into ours. It is a simple rectangular wood table with 4 straight back chairs that will make a perfect work space. Mitsuro drives us to a nearby market. The breeze has blown in a weather front and it’s pouring rain! At the market Art and I each take a mini sized shopping cart and fill it with basic staples to set up our kitchen. I spend the afternoon unpacking and settling in.

Takaaki picks us up at 6:00 P.M. We are going to dinner at Aniya. We ate there in April and it was a marvelous dining experience and tonight is almost as good. We remove our shoes and place them in cubbies along the side wall. The tables are low, Japanese style, but the floor is cut away under the table for our legs. Takaaki has called ahead and they have his “Keep” bottle of awomori on our reserved table. Beside his bottle of awomori is a pitcher of water with lumps of charcoal inside for purification. Beside it is a bucket of ice. Aniya’s is a Japanese “tapas” restaurant and Takaaki orders small plates for us that we share. We start with marinated pieces of Japanese Eggplant and another dish of marinated tako. (Octopus.) A salad plate with paper thin strips of pork is next, followed by two different chicken dishes and finally a tempura platter with an assortment of shrimp, scallops, bamboo shoots, scallions, and mackerel. John orders a grapefruit moose for dessert and Art has a crème brule. Half way through the dinner Takaaki mixes drinks from his bottle of Awamori. Aniya is a hidden gem with mindful, gourmet food. The dinner for the four of us is 12,500.yen; about $110.00. Remember that in Japan this includes taxes and service. Takaaki tells us that he has ordered a daiko taxi and apologizes that he will not be driving us home. A daiko taxi is a “drunk driving” taxi. Driving under the influence is not tolerated in Japan and it is common to call this special taxi service after just one or two drinks. Two drivers arrive in the daiko taxi. One driver drives you and your car home while the other driver follows behind in the taxi. Takaaki drives off in his daiko and we catch a regular taxi home.