Friday, September 20, 2013

So Long Summer

Hey everyone. I'm back from my approximately month long summer break. How have you all been? Love to hear from you in the comments section down below!

So this summer. This has been an interesting summer. It started out pretty slowly and I was REALLY glad for the break from school. But after a little bit of time I really wanted needed something to do with at least part of my time. To that effect I put an ad on Craiglsist looking for a D&D style tabletop group. Not only did I find a group, these guys are like my best friends now. We're currently playing a Diaspora campaign on the Fate system. With this group I also saw Pacific Rim and the new Star Trek movie. Lined up for next weekend, on top of our AD&D campaign is Wolverine.

What can I say, sometimes I need to feel American and do things with an English speaking group.

In our group we have 4 Americans (including Chelsea and myself), 2 British people, 2 Canadians and a Norwegian. Everyone is super awesome and we have space-tastic adventures.

Aside from that I've been preparing to start my JET program and looking into getting back into Japan as soon as possible after graduation. As you all know by now, I'm on the Japan Lover side of the divide. I'd like to call it my home. For a few more years minimum at least.

I also started learning how to make Kanzashi this summer. I have nothing fancy to show off. I'm not even technically using the right kind of fabric for it, but I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it. The basic concept is you take squares of fabric and fold them into different patterns. Then using rice glue you put the whole thing together, cover your hole in the center and attach it to whatever you're going to attach them to. I'm still a newbie, so I'm sticking to normal hair clips. Maybe I'll upgrade and do dangly flowers later.

I forget if I've already told you this, but I also spent a couple of days out in Yamanashi with Ayumi's family. The night we arrived in Otsuki there was a festival going on so we stopped and watched before heading to her house for unagi.

It was an awesome couple of days. Ayumi, her dad and I drove out and went to the sunflower fields.

I also learned that in Japan there are these magnets you stick on the back of your car and on your windshield when someone new is driving. I assume this is like a permit status thing, but I'm not really sure. Anyways, I learned this because Ayumi was driving.

And she drove us up a canyon.

At the end of the canyon we walked a bit and went out to see a waterfall.


 On the way to the waterfall we stopped at a museum and I met a guy.

After seeing the fall we took a walk down the path for a while. I swear though. The places Japanese people leave money. There were one yen coins stuck all along the cracks of this path and out on rocks over the river there were stacks of them as well. Apparently this was done by people making onegais, or like wishes in this case. But still.

On the way home I had a passing encounter with the world's biggest Taiko drum.

Had lots of snacking along the way and mom made... oh goodness... I forget the name of it, but it's like Okonomiyaki but with potato stuff. The next day was time to go back to Tokyo, I was sad, but I had a great time.

Me and my Japanese mommy.
This past week I was in Okinawa.

For the first night we (yep, the usual gang) stayed at a hostel called CamCam in Naha. It was literally 3-4 blocks away from the Miebashi station on the Yui rail and I recommend it. We stayed in these, how do I describe them... cubbies. You know, like for shoes, only human sized. They were actually pretty big, if not super comfortable.

While searching for dinner and knowing we wanted to eat Okinawa Soba we asked an older lady where she recommended getting it. Well, she got off our bike and walked us over to a nearby restaurant and helped set us up with dinner, drinks, etc. After that we ate the best soba I've ever eaten. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it. The woman working the restaurant was really cool and one of her regulars played his shamisen for us. If you're ever in Naha, I highly recommend hitting up this place.

Briana approved.

Day 2 we headed out to Chatan where our hotel was located and after check in, our first stop was, of course the beach where we all, of course, got burned.

After generously reapplying sunscreen we headed back out to the water. This time in kayaks. It was my first time ever kayaking and I nearly dumped Chelsea at the end, but it was super fun. Unfortunately we couldn't go again another day because of winds.

Can you spot our resident photo bomber?
After heading back to our hotel and showering we were in the middle of dinner when we met Danielle. She is a really cool girl from Israel and we hung out at the Mihama American Village and went out for drinks afterwards.

The next day Chelsea and I took a bus out to the Yomitan area where we were hoping to find a kind of theme park based off old life and crafts in Okinawa. After wandering around hopelessly unable to find the place we changed directions and headed for Castle Zakimi. After walking for about an hour in the insane heat and humidity we finally arrived at the base of the castle and decided to hit the museum before we went to the castle. Inside was really cool. We learned about the Ryukyuan turtleback tombs and the evolution of farming equipment and even how they made their clothes and what plants were used for the dyes.

Once we had finished with the museum we made our way up the stairs and up the hill toward the castle. After being in Japan for so long, I have come to expect castles, temples, etc. to have certain elements that resemble each other while still being different. I was totally unprepared for the remnants of this castle which blew me away. It was nothing like I've seen on the mainland. In retrospect, this makes sense seeing as Okinawa was it's own kingdom for the longest time, but it was still surprising.

After wandering around this castle for a bit, Chelsea feeling like we'd stepped into a Spyro game and me like we'd wandered into Scotland or something, we took a castle to Zampa point. Up here was a lighthouse and very jagged and pointy rocks surrounding the cliff looking out over the ocean.

At this point was at least three couples have their wedding photos done and I decided to snap a photo of one set.

 Now kids, this is dangerous, so don't try it. At the far side of the couple just above and to the right there was like a bowl shaped area cut out of the side of the cliff. Down here were some fisherman. I don't know how they got down there, or how they get back up, but it was really cool to see people doing some ocean fishing. While on the point, you see that a lot in Okinawa. People picking up a pole and fishing that is.

On the walk down from the point to the beach I saw this giant Shisa. A Shisa is a mix between a lion and a dog and are the guardians of Okinawa. Usually they come in pairs, but this guy was all by himself as far as I saw. 

After finding a somewhat secluded beach we watched the sun set before heading back to Chatan.

 A couple of days later Briana and I took a trip up to Cape Maeda near Onna. First we went up to look over the cliff. From the right side of this cliff there are stairs descending down and in normal weather conditions you can snorkel all along the base of these cliffs and there is a drop off for scuba divers as well. Due to the typhoon that was about to hit the mainland we had a lot of wind which made the water dangerous to snorkel in at the point so we snapped a few pictures before making to our next destination.

 If you're leaving from the cliff at Maeda you walk pas the shop and back out to the road. Your choices here are straight, left and right. Turn right and walk down the road. It will curve to the left and you'll find a dirt path with a chain across it on your right after about 3-4 minutes walk. On either side of you will be sugar cane plants. Follow this path down and to the left and you'll find yourself at the Maeda Flats.

 At low tide this place is amazing. The water in a lot of places is very shallow and you can walk out quite a ways without ever getting wet past your knees if at all. In other places it's deep enough for children to swim and you can walk around up to about your waist. In yet other spots there are pools deep enough for the many scuba classes to come out and learn how to scuba properly in order to get their license. By hide tide though the shallowest bit of water is about 5 feet and the water comes fairly high up the beach, so look out for your belongings. 

Still snorkeling at high tide. This is right about where that little kid was sitting in the above photo.
 The first thing we noticed upon arrival, other than how far out the shelf extends to the left and ahead of us, was that the now dead coral was cut with these geometric patterns. We hypothesized about why it might be that the rocks were cut like this. It didn't seem to be very natural. After coming home and looking it up we discovered the reason behind this.


According to Okinawa Soba's page, "The square-cut base-lines of the rocks resulted from the villagers along the coast coming to the these flats for the purpose of chiseling out coral "pillars" and other structural stones for incorporating into their homes, public wells, pigsties and etc."

He goes on further to explain how this extraction was done. "During low tide, iron points (or much harder rocks) were used to cut long grooves about 4 to 8 inches deep in the relatively softer coral. The grooves were then packed with wood that expanded during the flooding of high tide. Once the rock fractured deeper along the grooves, iron bars and lever actions finished the job of pulling out a fairly long rectangle for vertical or horizontal use in the building being constructed. They were hauled from the beach to the construction sites using small, horse-drawn carts."

While sad that this process killed the coral, it does make the area look rather amazing. While snorkeling you can see some places in which there is some brain coral in the area, but I have to wonder if the area's coral will ever recover.

After walking around for a while we went and bought a snorkeling mask since there were none for rent and for the first time in my life I went snorkeling. It was amazing to see just how much the landscape changed once I had my face in the water. We saw a lot of different kinds of fish, many of which I can't even name, but we did see some parrot fish and angel fish down there.

Briana and I spent the majority of our day here and, due to a misreading of time tables, missed our bus back into the city. So once the sun started going down with a mix of hoofing it and some fanangling we made it back to the bus terminal and back to our hotel.

 Another note I wanted to make is on the tombs in Okinawa. I want to make this note only because while on the island we saw so many of them. Small, big, almost unnoticeable, everywhere we went we ran into them. The tombs on Okinawa are a style known as turtleback tombs, though why they are called such I'm really not sure.

Anyways, these tombs are generational and if I remember correctly, when you die you are brought to the tomb in a coffin. After your body has decomposed your bones are washed and then put into burial urns and replaced inside the tombs. I thought it was kind of neat, even if I'd prefer not to be buried that way. At least, I don't think I would.

An easy to miss tomb set into the cliff side on our walk back to Yomitan.

Alas, with school starting Monday and an airplane ticket with a firm time in hand, we had to return to Tokyo. Our final day in Okinawa was spent doing a couple of things. First, we ate yakiniku at a viking yakiniku place. It was awesome. Lunch time is the best there. For 980円 you get all you can eat yakiniku, vegetables, side dishes, deserts, etc. for 90 minutes. Be warned, show up early or you may not get a table quickly.

The next thing we did is pedicures. I only mention this because it was my first time ever getting one. After returning to Naha and the CamCam we went shopping on Kokusai dori and it's many adjacent shopping streets.

Of course, the very last thing we did was ride the train back to the airport and wait for our plane. During which time I FINALLY saw the Pokemon plane.

So there you have it. My summer adventures. I'll spare you the details on my space adventures. All you need to know about that is I blew up our opposing ship using only my electronic warfare skills. Computer tech/hacker for the win. Now that school starts on Monday (with a test already set for Tuesday) I need to get back to studying. Only one more fun thing left this summer before it's time to study, study, study and that is tomorrow's Tokyo Game Show! Super excited, even though it means leaving at 6 in the morning.