Friday, May 27, 2016

The Home Base

We were assigned housing on Camp Courtney, the base with family housing that is closest to Matt's work on Camp Schwab (still an hour commute away). As our first experience with on-base housing it was wonderful. Camp Courtney is a small base with the basics: a grocery store, library, gym, and movie theater. It even has its own beach, but Matt and I only utilized this amenity a few times due to our fair skin.

On-base in Okinawa feels like a very drab version of America. We have wide fields of grass (while off-base there would just be another building instead), but all of the offices and houses are the same style and color. The concrete tower where we lived is not beautiful architecture, but it withstood all of the Okinawa weather including typhoons and earthquakes. I also appreciate the tower because we became such good friends with our neighbors! We were even able to visit each other during typhoons thanks to the interior hallways.

I did my best to decorate in the absence of a Target, concrete walls, and limited supply of our own possessions due to weight restrictions. The result was hand-made art and furniture pieces purchased from other families leaving the island. It felt like home to us!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The New Normal

Some idiosyncrasies of living in Okinawa, Japan will always surprise me, women walking with gloves and an umbrella on a hot sunny day for example. (It's to protect their skin from the sun, but it looks hot.) However, other peculiarities have become so normal for me that I almost forgot to share them with you! For example...

1) Vending Machines Everywhere. The Japanese people love vending machines, and while sodas and teas are the most common fare I have also seen hot soups or alcoholic beverages as options. I enjoy knowing that wherever I go on island, if I get thirsty I can grab my favorite garden lemon tea from any Coca Cola vending machine on the side of the road. No having to pull into a convenience store- vending machines are even more convenient!

2) Removing your shoes at certain restaurants.

If there is a place to put your shoes, then you put your shoes there! If the tables are not western style, then you are sitting on the floor and it is rude to bring the gross outside from your shoes to where you will be sitting. It seems to me that the Japanese people wear socks a lot more than us flip-flop loving Americans, but thanks to my constant pedicures at least I have pretty toes. 

3) Toilets with control panels

Whether on the side of the seat or mounted into the wall, I love the control panels that are a part of the Japanese restroom experience. They have a build-in bidet that has been the reason for leaving the bathroom more wet than I expected when used incorrectly. They also play a flushing sound to create a sound barrier. The really high end toilets have a motion sensor so that they raise the lid and light up when you come close and provide a heated toilet seat. I think American public restrooms could learn a thing or two from Japan.

4) The Polite Signs to the Public

Taken at the caves of Okinawa World. I don't think I can follow these instructions.
It is considered rude to be too direct in Japanese culture, so all of the signs translated into English include a lot more pleases than I am used to seeing in instructional signage. 

Now that I finally have a solid handle on what to expect here in Okianwa, I am packing up to return to the stares where I am sure to miss my readily available lemon tea, light-up toilets, and signs that try so hard to not offend me.

The Azaleas

Last year around this time we walked around a private garden on a hillside full of hydrangeas in bloom, but this year we traveled to Higashi to visit a hillside of azaleas that overlooked the ocean. Azaleas always remind me of home since Dad always planted the shrubs in the shady areas of our yard growing up. I did not think Georgia and Okinawa had similar climates, but somehow the azaleas thrived here as well and covered the area in colorful blooms.

The Sushi Go Round

Close to our house we have a Japanese staple- a sushi go round. As in all of these establishments, sushi comes out from the kitchen on a conveyer belt that circles the booths. You simply pick up the mini plate of sushi you think looks yummy and eat! Our local restaurant also has a touch screen so you can order sushi specific to your table. 

I never knew the name of the restaurant- but I knew everything was only 100 yen ($1).

All of the nigiri (fish or egg on rice) scrolling past. 

Matt using a touch screen with pictures to order our favorite eel...

... and it comes to our table on a remote control space shuttle!

Our empty plates - the server counts them to know how much to charge you. Every plate = $1, not too shabby!

The Northernmost Point

We took a road trip to Cape Hedo, the northernmost point of Okinawa where the cliffs meet the Pacific Ocean. To get there we took the expressway until it ended in Nago- the last large town before the island gives way to mountains covered in jungle. We had a ways to go just following the signs until we ran out of road to continue in the same direction. We watched the waves and admired the monuments before eating our picnic lunch and starting the long trip back home.

Since Yoron Island is visible in the distance we found a matching sea bird from our first vacation there!

My favorite monument declared for peace in four different languages. We later saw one in New Zealand!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Sunday Snapshot

The cutest cookie in the shape of a squirrel- an exotic animal in Japan!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Daytrip to Ie Island

During one of our weekly brunch at the delicious Seaside Terrace, Matt and I conversed with one of the lovely waitresses, Yuika-san. Upon learning I had the weekdays free, she invited me to meet her at her second job on Ie island while the lily festival was in full swing. Since I knew Yuika would be working, I invited Alex to accompany me to meet my new friend and travel by ferry to Ie island. We traveled during Golden Week, the first week in May in which every day is a different Japanese holiday. The traffic was not horrible, but the parking at the ferry was! We kept getting turned away by men in orange vests until we were directed into a hotel parking lot up the hill and across the highway from the port. Time was running out, so we ran down the hill, paid for two tickets, and sprinted onto the ferry as they were pulling up the anchor.

The ferry has multiple levels and a garage to transport your cars. 
I told Yuika to look for my tall friend in the crowd of people from the ferry. Not only were we the only two foreigners on the ferry, Alex has bright red hair and stands a full head taller than me. Yuika found us easily and told Alex, "You are tall!" 

Yuika offered us her car to see the lily festival across the island, and while I was floored by her generosity I was more comfortable taking the bus. So off Alex and I went to the festival. Really there were only a few food tents, but we enjoyed eating a picnic lunch overlooking the ocean and attempting to capture the bright colors of the flowers with our iphone cameras. 

After a few hours we took a bus back to the port and confirmed our return ticket. We distracted Yuika from her work (it was a family business, so they did not mind) and talked until it was time to board the ferry. We were turned away, and Yuika translated that the ferry was too full! Fortunately the next one left an hour later. As it turns out I am grateful we missed that ferry because Yuika and her little friend were able to show us this really awesome cave site on Ie island. 

We had so much fun in that extra hour! I am so grateful for friends old and new and adventures with them. I know we will see Yuika again for brunch next weekend!