Saturday, April 21, 2007



I wake to a troubling e-mail this morning telling us that Mizuho, Art’s eldest brother is sick, but not to worry too much. We are taking the Shulmans to Shurijo Castle this morning and we meet them at their hotel as planned. The logistics of sightseeing with two families is proving challenging and we split into two taxis and are dropped off at the bottom of the wide promenade leading up to the castle entrance. Art is a knowledgeable guide and Annya suggests that we get him a flag to hold up for us all to follow. There are many large groups of Japanese tourists following obediently behind their flag waving guides. Helene’s foot is troubling her, making walking painful and our progress slow but we are able to rent a wheelchair when we reach the ticket kiosk at the castle entrance. The weather is overcast and it is drizzling ever so lightly. A small stage is set in the center of the castle courtyard and a traditional Okinawan Dance performance will start shortly. While Art and Michael buy tickets to tour the interior of the castle, I lead Helene to a chair in the courtyard and indicate to her to save the two adjacent seats. I spot another block of three seats elsewhere and hold these for Art and John. I’ve seen this dance performance before, but it’s good to be seated under a canvas tent, off of our feet and out of the rain. From the expression on Michael’s face, I surmise he is enjoying himself. It’s a 40 minute performance and half way into it, Helene leaves and enters a small information and rest center behind the stage. Art follows shortly and when I enter I find Helene reclined on a raised tatami bench, legs elevated and a dosen, formally dressed in a kimono serving her tea and offering her a pillow.

Before entering the formal rooms of Shurijo Castle, Art steps aside to call home and John and I hang back to wait with him. I watch Michael push a smiling Helene, on her rolling throne past the ticket gate into the inner courtyard. Within a minute, Art is connected to Mizuho’s daughter and his expression changes. I immediately know that the situation is serious. The phone call lasts only a few minutes, and I know by the tears in my husband’s eyes that his brother has died. Art disconnects and leans heavily into the stones of the castle walls.

Wondering where we are, Michael calls Art’s cell phone and we are brought back to the present. Art explains the situation, tells them to go on without us, and the three of us walk in a daze to a castle view point overlooking all of Naha. The drizzle has turned to rain and for a long time we stand in the shelter of a stone archway, gazing over the gray city and struggling to make sense of the news we have just received.

It’s long past lunch; we need to eat and we manage to reconnect with our friends. We walk with them through the lush, rain drenched park below the castle, to a traditional Okinawan restaurant that the three of us discovered on Valentines Day. The restaurant is in an old house, the veranda set around a traditional Japanese garden. Shojo screens open out onto the garden and we are seated in a tatami room on low stools around a rough hewn table. The menu is in kanji and Art does his best to translate the few simple options and orders for all of us. Annya, still sick, wants only miso soup and to return to their hotel. We return to our apartment, emotionally exhausted and with much to figure out.

We connect with our friends on Kokusai Street for a late dinner at “Sam’s Anchor Inn” restaurant. Art will be retuning home via L.A. as soon as possible and we promised John a farewell dinner here before returning home. There are many Sam’s Restaurants in greater Naha; each with a slightly different theme but the common dining experience is watching your chefs skillfully slice, prepare and cook your food on a center grill inset into your table. The six of us are seated in captain chairs around our grill table and our experience begins as our waitress, dressed in a sailor outfit presents us with over sized glossy drink menus. For the first time in 2 ½ months I peruse a menu with accurate English translations and pictures of exotic fruit and liquor cocktails’ served in curvaceous glasses, topped with skewered fruits and paper “umbrellas”. John orders a virgin cocktail which is delivered in a “take home” ceramic shark mug, a red plastic mermaid dangling from its jaws. Our shared flask of awamori is presented in a faux ceramic “dochi bin” which at the end of the evening we give to Michael and Helene to keep as a souvenir. We toast and talk about Mizuho.

Art is friends with the manager of Sam’s and has a coupon for “free” Shrimp cocktails. Six “fishbowls” with dry ice mist swirling blue inside the glass, are ceremoniously served to each of us. A shrimp plate sits atop each icy blue bubble sealing off the opening of the bowl. Salad and soup follow the shrimp cocktail, but the shrimp have stolen the show. Two chefs appear beside a rolling cart with our steaks, lobster, scallops and vegetables neatly arranged and ready to be grilled. John and Annya are captivated by the theatrics of their swirling knives as the chefs slice, juggle and flip the various meats and vegetables. The grill sizzles and steams, our mouths water and we are soon served our various orders. Dinner is good and the experience very fun; perhaps just what we needed to lighten our hearts and minds.

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