Okinawa Sunrise

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

An Okie in Oki wishes you a Merry Christmas!

Some news and a Christmas greeting!

We'd first like to wish all of your a merry merry Christmas! We hit it a day before you so we knew it was going to be a good day. Otherwise you would have heard from us :)

I also wanted to let you all know that I am no longer a house frau! A kept woman no more! I got a job with the University of Oklahoma. There are a number of US schools that have set up shop here on the island offering Associates, Bachelors, Masters degrees and a number of non-degree courses. For the most part, the programs are of interest to members of the armed forces who are looking to improve themselves while in the service and take an extra step in their military careers or better prepare for life post-military. Either way I think its a noble endeavor and I'm really happy to be a part of it. I'm the site manager for OU on Kadena Air Force base (about 10 minutes north of Camp Foster where we live). Although this doesn't bode well for my Japanese immersion and eventual planned for fluency and life as a sushi chef, I think it will be very exciting!

So I will try not to let my posts wane! Hope you're enjoying the pics and updates!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Tokyo Part VI: Asakusa again and a serene end to the journey!

We made it back to Asakusa without incident. Since we have flown through the area at a breakneck pace with the tour group, we wanted the opportunity to have a proper nose about the shops. Since it wasn't bucketing down as it had the day before, the market was substantially busier!

I considered bying the headband in picture 1 for days when I feel the need to channel Ralph Macchio. I kept myself to just a few gifts and souvenirs which is pretty miraculous for those of you that know me well enough to know what happens when Natalia the tourist meets Natalia the shopper.

We ended the night with Chinese Dim Sum back at the hotel which, for those of you keeping track means we went the whole day without any authentically Japanese cuisine (forgive us!). The next morning there was a beautifully clear view fromour hotel room window which I think would rival the one from the Tokyo tower (Tokyo's erector set version of the Eiffel tower). Also nearby is the Hamaryku gardens. We made this our last stop before we hoped the monorail back to the airport. It's incredibly serene for being in the middle of the downtown, more so than central park since there is no jogging, game playing etc, just walking. Some high powered Tokyo business man and his three flunkies where seriously pushing their luck on this account by power walking through the place in track suits with cell phones and briefcases. Had we not been leaving on a jet plane, we would have paused in the small tea house in the middle of the lake for a green tea. Next trip I guess! Who's coming with???

Tokyo Part V: Yanaka Ginza and under Tokyo

We got a little lost on our way out of the park because of the sorry excuse for a map in my guide book. But cooler heads prevailed and we finally made it to the shopping area known as Yanaka Ginza. We stopped for an Indian curry for lunch and then wandered about the little shops and stalls. One dauchsand (picture 1) waited patiently for its driver outside a bakery. The place was also crawling with cats! Probably because the store where I photographed this little girl put out platefuls of chicken!

We then approached the subway again with not a little bit of trepidation. That morning we had realized that not all underground train lines in Tokyo are operated by the same company. Meaning that what we thought was a subway day pass was in actuality a some lines day pass. Planning your routes is hard enough without trying get your money's worth by sticking to the lines you paid for. Without the pass, you have to use the map to figure out where you are, where you're going and calculate your fare accordingly. As you can see from picture number 5, thats not always an easy task! While Adrian and Dad figured it out, I was distracted by what I thought was the pretty nifty sight in picture number 4. Its my old world meets new piece for the collection!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tokyo Part IV: Ueno

Day 2 and back out into the world which met us with much nicer weather. For a December day it was extraordinarily warm and we were able to see that the warmer autumn had left lovely fall leaves on the trees.

Stop number one was Ueno park, one of the largest parks in Tokyo. Jam-packed with shrines and statues it was peppered with people about their Sunday walks and worship. Picture 4 was our first stop where we couldn't resist another looksee at the prayers. We also took advantage of the many good luck charms and cell phone jingly janglys on sale inside.

The lovely stone and copper laturns in pictures 2 and 3 respectively lined the way up to shrine number two whose name I am afraid to say I have totally forgotton but there it is, just the same, with Dad and me in picture number one!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tokyo Part III: A dangerous place to shop til you drop

Between shopping and more shopping we paused for Sushi at a Sushi go-round! I did indulge in one $10 piece of Sushi which was indeed impressive. I was trying hard to do some math on this after seeing on television earlier that day a CNN business report from the Tokyo fish market. I would have gone in person but the market runs from 5 to 7 AM, no thankyou! The reporter followed the morning fish auction where a tuna roughly the size of ME sold for about $30,000. FOR FISH! So I was trying to figure that if the entire thing gets sliced into pieces the size of my thumb would get the chef his money worth!

The sushi restaurant was right on the edge of Ginze, the fifth avenue of Tokyo! Although I don't think that the Japanese celebrate Christmas as a rule the stores certainly do! We mostly window shopped given that most stores were a little outside our price range!

After a rest and a bath back at a hotel we hit the streets again for grub. Its important to remember when seeking out a restaurant in Tokyo that the city lives vertically as much as horizontally. We wandered up and down the same street twice, royally confused and sure we had the right spot, until we realized we was just 7 floors up. Its lucky that we found it because the meal was certainly worth it. It was Benny Hanna style, hibachi, but far and away above Benny Hanny quality. Adrian and I had our first taste of Kobe beef (good but not earth shaking) and some lovely shrimp and fish.

Then to bed for a packed Sunday!

Tokyo Part II: Gardens and city bustle

From the Meiji shrine we proceeded through the city center past the Japanese government buildings. We ended up in the east garden of the Imperial Palace. The Palace itself is the private residence of the Emperor and two of his sons and their families (including a new born son who saved the Japanese from having to seriously discuss the possibility of allowing the Crown Prince's daughter to be Empress). The interior courtyards to the palace are open but twice a year, once on January 2nd and once on December 23rd, the Emperor's birthday. Apparently these gatherings are absolute mod scenes!

The East garden's were very peaceful. Old Samurai guard houses still stand and large stone walls go 50 ft high and down into surrounding moats. My favorite feature was a path with trees sent from each of Japan's 47 prefectures. I thought the palm was Okinawa's contribution but sadly no. Picture 1 here attempts to show how the garden is a little slice of serenity and history in amongst downtown skyscrapers. It's the kind of contrast you see a lot of in Tokyo.

Any guide book will be dotted with the phrase "rebuilt after world war II". It makes you wonder exactly how much wasn't able to be restored and how much was lost in the carpet bombing of the city. One of these reconstructions is the Asakusa Senji Temple. Buddist this time, not Shinto.

Religion strikes me as something that I in particular would find very costly here in Japan. In addition to the variety of trinkets, talismans, good luck charms and cell phone accesories that are sold within the temple itself, many walks to temple's are lined with market stalls and shops. Asakusa really takes the cake in that respect (and sells them too! I was stuffed with potato cakes by the time I walked the 250 meters to the temple entrance). The Japanese are very into their tiny little statues and souvenirs. I could have walked away with dozens of tiny dolls and figurines if I wasn't in the company of two more sensible family members, both of whom you see in picture number 2 at the entrance to the market! Picture 3 is my pops at the temple itself. Picture 4 is the a Pagoda (a word I find it oddly fun to say in a South Dakota accent, give it a go!)
I can't tell you much about it because it was raining hard and I chose dry feet over knowing its historical significance, may the gods of knowledge forgive me!

Final picture is a rickshaw driver. I was tempted to take a ride but our nice warm tour bus beckoned!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tokyo Part I: Get me to the shrine on time!

We are back in Okinawa warming our toes and fingers after a wonderful, if chilly, weekend in Tokyo. We left Naha airport (80 F and blue skies) and landed at Tokyo Haneda airport (50F and overcast). Our first challenge was navigating the Tokyo monorail and metro. Our first time proved pretty uneventful as compared to our later efforts to get around to see the sites...more on that later. We arrived at Shimbashi station at prime happy hour. As soon as we were off the metro it was the Tokyo you always imagine. Suits and designer skirts shuffling quickly out of offices and into trains or bars. Despite that, we thought we had great luck in finding helpful souls to direct us to our hotel. But it truth it was par for the course for all Tokyoites. Every person we spoke to throughout the weekend dealt with my spotty Japanese and pointed us or actually walked us in the right direction!

We met my Dad at the hotel and got a good nights sleep since our tour bus left at 8:30 AM! Stop number one that morning was the Meiji Shrine. The largest and most visited Shinto Shrine in Tokyo. The three days after New Years see about 3 million visitors. The walk there was long and rainy but with a great pay off! The fourth picture is Adrian and I sheltering at the shrine with the gate in the background. The third picture is us purifying ourselves to enter. First you use the ladle to pour water over your left hand, then clean your right. Then you pour water into your hand and use that to clean out your mouth. Thats where you catch Adrian, in mid-spit. It is verboten to bring the ladle to your lips.

Squeaky clean, we then moved on to look at picture number 5. The plaques shown are available for purchase and then hung with wishes in all languages. It was fun to get a little insight into the minds of the English speakers. One wisher, who I hope was in Tokyo on business with his boss lurking over shoulder wrote on his plaque that he hoped for strong midterm growth and the meeting of their year end goals.

We were also lucky enough to catch the begining of a wedding procession. I really can't understand why any Japanese bride would chose a white wedding gown over the beautiful kimono that is part of a tradition ceremony and that you can see a little of on the far right of picture number 1. You can also see the set up of the wedding tea ceremony in picture number 2. Sadly, being on a guided tour we had to move on to the next site and didn't get to see the whole shebang!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The world of work

My curiosity about the Japanese school system has been peaked since my last post and the uniform sightings at all hours on all days of the week. I haven't yet established if school is indeed 7 days a week but I have made certain other discoveries which I profoundly regret I have no pictures to illustrate.
Finding 1) While girls uniforms adhere pretty strictly to the sailor moon house of style, the boys are not so...lucky? Some I have seen are swathed in something I can only compare to a darker collared Doctor Evil get-up! 4pm seems to release a parade of little Mussolinis onto the streets of Kintanakagusko or Chatan-cho!
Finding 2) Before they move into the head to toe uniforms of elementary and senior school, Japanese kindergardners wear colorful hats with flaps in the back that look like there were all heading for bee-keeper training school. I first saw a lot of pinks and blues and thought they were just to distinguish the boys from the girls but now the greens and the yellows have me very confused.
Finding 3) I can confirm that even if students are not in class all week, they are worked very hard. I sat in yesterday on what's called a cram school class. After traditional school, students head to extra private classes in a variety of subjects. I caught up with them after abacus class. Yes, abacus. Ancient counting device. I'm told, but can't confirm, that its important that children be able to compute large sums without the aid of a calculator. Not the fastest way, but the smarter way. I joined them for English class, natch, since I might take up the offer of teaching them when their current teacher is on maternity leave.

They were really too adorable for words and thought that I was a very curious large person who couldn't do something so simple as speak Japanese. I was surrounded and just got by asking over and over if they could speak English. My heart went out to one little boy who I think had one cram school class too many. His little head was bobbing up and down throughout the lesson and it seemed that little weights had been tied to his eyelids. He was trying sooooo hard to stay awake and failing hopelessly!

Stay tuned and I'll let you know if I accept the job. Other interviews are currently scheduled!