Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thursday - June 29th

We went to some castle ruins on the coast...

I'll leave it up to you to choose a caption for this following picture (it might help if you click on the photo for a larger view to better see Aidan and Angie's facial expressions)...

We were searching for a beach (guess why), and after following some winding narrows roads, we eventually came to a small overgrown path leading to the sea shore. Along the side of the path there was this sign. I'm not sure what it said, but it sure seemed important.

This sign was much easier to understand and was much more entertaining.

I forget when this was taken, but I found it amusing.

Then Angie borrowed my camera and I ended up with lots of pictures like these.

Phew! I got my camera back.
There were some people parasailing over the cliffs at the beach near Odo Coast.

There were also a few people wandering on the coral hunting for stuff. This person was holding a big net, so I assume they were catching stuff to eat, although I'm not certain. Many of the people at this ocean spot weren't very friendly so I didn't find out what they were looking for. I said my best "konichiwa" to every person as I walked past them, and not a single person returned the greeting or even looked my way. While there was a large parking area for the beach, there weren't any signs or anything pointing out this area and we just discovered it by accident, so maybe the local people were disappointed to see Americans on their secret beach.

While walking on the rocky beach, there were these small critters running around all over the place. They moved quite fast and it was kind of creepy. It was even creepier once I got a picture of one and saw what it looked like up close.

Uh oh. Angie took the camera again.... Can you guess who isn't afraid of the sun?

Angie took a really cool picture of a colorful hermit crab. I've never seen one with blue eyes before.

At night we went to Kokusai Dori, a crazy street in Naha with all sorts of shops and stores. At night it's quite colorful with all the signs lit up. I had the best vegetable yakisoba at a little shop on the street. It only had two tables in it and some stools along the counter where the food was being cooked. I was surprised there was no one else in the place since the food was sooo "oishii" (delicious). It was so good we went back again on Friday night.

At the parking garage, there was this funky picture advertising a tatoo studio. No, no one got any new tatoos (yet)...

I'm a day behind in my updates. Hopefully I'll get a chance to write some more later today about what we did yesterday (Friday).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A week in review

Ok, so we've been in Okinawa for almost a week. Here's what we've done so far.

Day 1 (Thursday 6-22) Arrived at about 9:00 PM. Friends of Angie met us at the airport and gave us a ride to the house where we are staying. (That was very nice of them and was a huge help in getting settled after our 20-something hours of travel. Thank you!)

Day 2 (Friday 6-23) Got up early enough to see the sun rise. Went back to the airport to pick up our rental car as the rental office was only open until 8:00 PM so we couldn't get the car last night. I had my first experience driving on the left side of the road. Holy smokes I thought I was going to die from the nervousness! But, I eventually got used to it. A friend had given me very helpful advice of remembering to make sure my body is always near the center of the road (since I am sitting on the right hand side of the car) and so I was pretty much always on the correct side of the road. I made the obligatory turn on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal mistake a few times to the great amusement of Angie and Aidan. (The wipers are on the left of the steering wheel and the turn signal is on the right - just the opposite from the US.)

We were scheduled to pick up the car at 10:00 AM and we actually managed to get to the airport on time, but had trouble picking out the correct rental car van among all the other vans and only discovered the correct sign as the van was driving away. We waited for about 20 minutes for the van to come back, but it never did. Lots of other rental car company vans came and went, so we eventually decided to call the company. More nervousness for me. I really have anxiety about talking on the phone to strangers. (Yeah, it sounds silly when I describe it now.) And this was even worse since I know no Japanese and I was calling a Japanese office. But, it had to be done, so I tried not to think about it and just made the call. I think since I've started taking karate I'm handling this nervousness a lot better. In the past I would do everything I could to avoid stressful situations - asking other people to do things that made me uncomfortable. Now I just go ahead and do things regardless of how nervous I might be. It definitely makes life a lot more enjoyable as I am experiencing things I never would have in the the past.

After we got the rental car, we stopped for lunch and had some sushi. The tuna was quite good - probably the best tuna sushi I've ever had. Unfortunately, the rest of it wasn't so good.

We also got a chance to stop at Shureido, a great store for karate supplies and THE place to buy a karate gi. The shop is quite small, but is packed full of all sorts of interesting items. I definitely want to go back there again.

The rest of the day was spent getting our bearings to the area, grocery shopping and other such mundane tasks.

Day 3 (Saturday, 6-24) It was Aidan's birthday today, so we decided to do whatever he wanted for the day. Surprisingly, he didn't suggest trying to find some underground Okinawan fight club to get in some sparring matches. Instead, he suggested we go to the beach. He really loves the water. I think he's part labrador retriever or something. Any time we stop near the water, he ends up in it.

The original plan was to take a ferry to a nearby island, but it turned out the ferry only ran at 10:00am and by the time we found our way around Naha to the port, it was 10:30. Our change of plans was to head south. We ended up finding a nice coral beach in Itoman and spent most of the day there looking at all the unusual marine life there (I've already posted some pictures earlier, so I'll just add a few here).

On the way there we heard a really cool song on the radio. I have no idea what the guy was singing about, but I found his singing style very sad, yet hysterical at the same time. Here's a clip... The full song rang on for at least 10 minutes. I really need to find this on CD.

Day 4 - Sunday (6-25) It being Sunday, there weren't really any dojos we could visit that would be open, so it was another tourist trip. This time we went to Hiji Falls, which is a waterfall in the northern portion of Okinawa.

Along the way we stopped at a scenic viewing point and Aidan couldn't resist the pull of the water. This is where he cut his foot.

It was a very hot hike at the Hiji Falls even though most of it is in the shade of the jungle. It is a jungle after all. It seemed this was the day for dropping things. At the start of the hike I dropped my camera and cracked the body and broke a piece off the lens. Fortunately it still works. Later on in the hike, I was taking the polarizing filter off my camera and dropped it. I got to see it bounce a few times on the rocks before rolling into the rapids of the nearby river. Gah! Oh well. At least it wasn't me bouncing on the rocks or going downstream in the fast moving water.

Oh, and guess who decided to go in the water again?

On the way back from the Hiji Falls, we found a nice cafe that was a combination of woodworking shop and curry rice restaurant. While waiting for your meal, you could browse the handmade wooden items for sale. The curry rice was excellent. Much better than anything I've had in the US - and Angie claims it wasn't even as good as the curry rice she's had in Naha. Now I definitely want to try some curry rice in Naha.

We also saw an interesting rock formation on the beach that had a tree growing out of the top of it.

And guess who went swimming.... again.

Day 5 - Monday (6-26)Our first official day at a karate dojo! We visited the Seidokan Dojo in Okinawa City where Taira Sensei teaches Motobu-Ryu Udun Ti. The class runs from 1 to 3, but we got there a bit early and were provided a bit of extra extra before the actual class started. I recorded two hours worth of video of our class, but didn't take any photos, so unfortunately I don't have anything visual to post. The class was a lot of fun doing lots and lots of rolls and the heat wasn't really too bad.

After class, Takamiyagi Sensei offered to take us to visit Master Toma, the sensei of Master Odo, our sensei's sensei. Along the way Takamiyagi invited us to have a snack with him at McDonalds. On Okinawa, it is typical for your host to order your food for you, so you never know what you might get. In my case, I got to have a cheese burger. Being a vegetarian, I haven't had a cheese burger in about 6 or 7 years! But, it would have been quite rude to refuse food I was being offered, so I ate it. It was actually pretty good - or maybe I was just really hungry after a two-hour karate class.

It was a great honor to be able to meet Maser Toma - someone who has contributed so much to the teaching of the form of karate I study. It was also a bit sad to see him living in such poor conditions. His house is basically a small shack. Pictured below is Master Toma and Takamiyagi Sensei.

Later that night, we went to the Shudokan Dojo, the dojo of Master Odo, to practice. This is the dojo where my sensei originally learned karate many years ago, so it was a strange feeling being there. (You can even see the same punching bag he used sitting in the corner).

It was also a real eye-opening experience when we actually started to practice. We only practiced for an hour at most, yet it was the toughest most physically demanding thing I've ever done. The dojo has no air conditioning and as I've mentioned before, Okinawa is very hot and humid. Even though it was night-time, the air was so hot, muggy, and stale that after just a few minutes I felt like I was going to pass out. No matter how hot and tiring a class has ever been at the dojo back home in the US, it doesn't come close to what it felt like in this dojo. I now really appreciate what dedication the people who train in Okinawa must have. It's a real struggle.

On the way back from the dojo, we heard some drumming off in the distance and tracked it down. It turned out a group of people were practicing using these giant drums. It was really cool sounding with the drumming and shouting. Unfortunately, it was also dark so I couldn't get a good photo. This is a the best I could do. Maybe if you squint and shake your head it might look good.

Day 6 - Tuesday (6-27) We tried to located a dojo that teaches the same style of karate that we practice back home. There is a dojo located near Zakimi Castle ruins that is run by a student of Master Odo's, so we tried to find it. Unfortunately, while driving around the area we found 4 dojos, and given all the signs were in Japanese, we weren't certain whether any of them were the one we were looking for. We took pictures of the signs and hope to get them translated to figure out which dojo, if any, might be of interest to visit.

Oh, and along the way someone wanted to stop at a beach and ended up going swimming. Guess who.

Day 7 - Wednesday (6-28)Spent 4 hours at the Motobu-Ryu dojo. The first hour was "dance technique" which as the name implies involves dancing. Yes dancing. It was actually quite interesting and fun. Yes, I the hater of dancing used the word fun to describe this dance class. All the steps involved using the Udun-ti movements, just coordinated with traditional Okinawan music, so as you were doing it it was almost like doing kata. To an outside observer, it probably looked like we were doing Tai-Chi. After the hour of dance technique we had the regular pain session of Motobu-Ryu. I didn't get to do any rolls today. It was all just painful joint manipulations. Not that I'm complaining - this is all very handy stuff to learn. It's just that I really enjoy doing the rolls.

Here are a few pictures taken after class.

Mowing the Lawn in Okinawa

Apparantly, if you have a small enough lawn, you don't need a lawn-mower in Okinawa. As can be seen here, they just use small hand clippers to trim the grass. Seems like a lot of hard work, especially in the hot sun.

3000 words

Monday, June 26, 2006

Okinawa "People" pictures

No, these aren't pictures of Okinawan people. Some people complained that there aren't any people in the pictures I've posted so far. So here are some pictures of the travelers...

This is a picture of Aidan and me at the Odo Coast in Itoman. I'm trying to get into the Okinawa style of dress of being covered from head-to-toe even when swimming, so I'm even wearing long pants. Yeah, I look like a total geek. But at least I'm not getting burned by the nasty sun. Later on I added a T-shirt under my hat to hang around my face and neck. It's what the Okinawans do and it does seem to help reduce the heat from the sun quite a bit.

On the way back from Itoman, we stopped at A&W. (Yeah, shame on us for getting American fast food while in Japan. But we were just getting a quick snack, and I love root beer.) At the exit to the restaurant, there was this sign that said, "If your visit was swell, ring the bell." As you can see, Angie thought her visit was swell.

On Sunday, we drove up north to go to a waterfall. On the way we stopped at a scenic view-point parking area. Aidan decided o go swimming without his shoes. That's a big mistake on beaches with lots of coral. Here Angie is cleaning out his wound and patching up his foot. Good thing I packed a first-aid kit.

To get to the waterfall, it's about an hour hike on a trail through the Okinawan jungle. Here's a suspension bridge we had to cross:

And here's a lizard we saw along the way. (Ok, that's not a person picture, but he sure is cute!)

Oops! Out of time. More pictures later. (Oh, don't forget, you can click on the pictures to get a bigger view.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Okinawa Seaside

While heading back from the coral shores of Odo Coast in Itoman, I snapped this picture. It was on a very steep road that runs alongside a golf course.

Earlier in the day, we decided to head for the sea. We didn't have any particular place in mind, so we wandered south. While looking for a place to eat lunch in Itoman, we saw a sign advertising food so we followed it. As we approached the place we quickly realized it wasn't a place we wanted to eat at since it was some sort of posh resort or country club with a golf course. (Much too expensive!) But it was on a high hill overlooking the ocean and offered great views. We decided to explore the area a bit and it turned out there was a very narrow road running along side the golf course that headed to the seaside. (This is where the above picture was taken.) At the end of the road, there was a small public parking lot and an etrance to the seashore.

It turned out to be an awesome place that is part of Odo Coast. It is mostly a jagged coral covered shore, but when the tide goes out, a whole bunch of tidal pools are formed that you can walk around. In the pools were all sorts of marine life - very colorful fish, sea cucumbers (or something very similar), sea urchins, crabs, etc. We spent about 5 hours exploring the place.

Probably the most exciting part of the day was when I discovered I was about to step on a sea snake. Here's a picture of it:

I was in the water and was attempting to climb a large rock and noticed this bright blue and black snake swimming near my foot. Fortunately, before heading for Okinawa I had been warned about the various dangerous marine critters in the area and knew immediately to stay away from this. Sea snakes are poisonous. Had I not known about it, I might have thought it was just a very pretty eel. It was interesting to watch as it swam in and out of little holes in the coral outcropping occasionally bringing its head to the surface to get some air.

The scarey part about this is the large rock the sea snake was swimming around was an nice spot for climbing and jumping into the water. For a couple hours there were some teenagers hanging out playing in the water at the base of this rock occasionally climbing up it and jumping into the water. And they didn't know there sea snake was there! When I explained to them what I saw (as best I could since they only understood Japanese), and they then saw it for themselves as we pointed at it, they immediately got out of the water.

I took a bunch of other pictures of this area - it was quite beautiful. Hopefully I'll have the time to upload them later on today.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Okinawa Sunrise

Here's a pretty poor picture of the view of the first sunrise I saw on Okinawa today (errr... I guess technically it's now yesterday for me, but if you are reading this in the western hemisphere it could still be today, or it could be last week or much later depending on when you actually read this, but I suppose that's not really relevant).

After travelling for more than 24 hours straight (and losing almost 2 days in the process due to the international date line crossing), two friends and I arrived in Okinawa. We arrived at our final destination exactly on time, but we never would have epxected it based on how it began. I started out at about 4:15 am with my sister and nephew making the hour long drive up to Boston so a car wouldn't have to be left at the airport for three weeks. (Yup, I'll be away for three weeks, so now would be a good time to break into my condo if you feel so inclined. Unfortunatetly, if you choose to, don't expect to find any good loot - all the stuff I own that has any theft value (laptop, camera, ipod, video camera, bazooka, etc.) was taken with me on my trip.)

After picking up my two travel companions, we got to the airport at about 6 am. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:00, so we figured we had plenty of time. When we checked in (after about a 30 minute wait in line), the woman at the ticket counter said she had to put us on a different flight due to bad weather in Chicago that was expected to shut down that airport. So, we checked our bags, got our boarding passes and casually wandered towards the security gate check-in area. (Speaking of wandering, I sense this story is probably going to ramble on for a long time, so you might want to stop reading now before you get sucked into this gripping saga of airline intrigue and high-speed chases and lose track of all time on the computer and don't do what you actually planned for the day. Yes - no, actually, I mean no, that story isn't going to be that gripping, but it will be long, so you've been warned...)

Anyhow, as I mentioned, we casually wandered away from the ticket counter and headed towards the security line. Along the way, we decided since we were three hours early for our flight, we had time to stop at the restrooms befor the security gate. Since I didn't have to use the restroom (yes, all these details are indeed necessary for the proper telling of this story), I had a few minutes to myself while waiting for my friends to return from the restrooms. Being the somewhat obsessive person I am, I tend to check, double-check, triple-check things when I travel. "Do I have my boarding passes - yes, the kind woman at the ticket counter just gave them to me 60 seconds ago - but maybe I lost them on the way to the restrooms. Lemme check - yup - I have them. And are we heading for the right gate - yes, the kind woman also just told me gate 25 (no, I don't reallt remember now (2 days later) if it really was gate 25, but that detail isn't important to this story. But, the fact that I just looked at the boarding pass is and important detail, as you will soon see.) Ok, so I have th right gate, there's the security line for that gate just over there. Good. Things are going well. Let me double-check the time. Maybe the flight doesn't really leave at 9:00 like I remembered. Hmmm... nope, it appears the flight leaves at 6:55am. WHAT?!?! 6:55??? But it's already past 6:30 and my friends are taking their sweet time in the restrooms thinking we have another 3 hours! Holy smokes! How did this happen??"

Then it dawned on me - the sinister woman behind the ticket counter had mentioned in passing that she was putting us on a different flight. What she neglected to mention was that it was already boarding and would be leaving in less than half an hour from now! And we haven't even gone through security yet! I can only assume this was all part of some evil scheme of hers. Fortunately, due to my over-sized bladder and lack of a need to use the restroom, I thwarted her evil plan (or scheme, as I called it in the previous sentence) and we quickly ran through security. Actually, we attempted to quickly run through security, but the evil she-devil ticket lady must have also bewitched me as I twice failed the "walk through the metal detector" test as I forgot to remove all metal objects from my person. (I always thought it was three strikes and you are out, but the security person firmly assured me in the case of airport safety, it's two strikes and you're out. I find that odd with Boston being the hometown to the Boston Redsox and lots of baseball fans. You'd think they'd at least show some support for the team. Or, even if they are Yankees fans, they'd at least show some support for the sport of baseball in general and stick to a reasonable common phrase. Think of all the children who are going to grow up confused in little league, standing at the plate waiting for the next pitch, wondering to themselves, "I have one strike. Can I safely let this next pitch pass? Was it two strikes and you are out, or was that only applicable to airport security?" Yes, it could happen. It's how society gradually disintegrates. You let one little thing slip and the next thing you know, little Johny doesn't wait for the better pitch and instead swings too soon, pops up to center field and loses the game for the team. From then on, it's all down hill. He turns to drugs in his teenage year looking for escape from his failure in baseball, and who knows where it leads? Instead of going on to be successful doctor and finding a cure for cancer, he becomes a burden on society.)

Anyhow, as I started to say, once my second attempt to pass the metal detector test failed, I assume the voodoo practicing, fire breathing ticket lady's befuddling spell must have started to wear off as it suddenly dawned on me after repeatedly searching my empty pants pockets that I had slipped an ipod into my shirt pocket. I tried to expain this to the kind security guard, but it was at this time that it was explained to me that it's two strikes and I'm out. So, I was politely, but firmly, escorted to the special screening area where I got to get an extra thorough search for more metal objects on my person. All the while my two friends found great amusement in the fact that I was the cause of a problem at security. And meanwhile, the clock was ticking on towards 6:55 when the flight departs. So after it was confirmed that I pose no threat to airline safety and I got my complementary "pat down" to confirm the very high-tech metal detector wand was actually working properly, we were again on our way, running through the terminal to catch our flight. As it turned out, we got there just in time - there was still a line of people waiting to get on the plane.

So, we boarded the plane and waited for take off. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. And at this point I could go on and on about how long we waited and how it was an emotional roller-coaster as the pilot announce we were taking off, only to announce a few minutes later that he was after all mistaken and we weren't rally taking off because the airport in Chicago was completely shutdow, and how we got off the plane, then back on, and waited some more, etc. etc. And, I suppose I did pretty much just describe that in a nut shell, so I'll leave it at that. In he end we waited about 2 hours before we finally did take-off. Which meant we ended up leaving at almost the exact time our original flight was supposed to leave. So we arrived in Chicago just in time to catch our connecting flight. And wonders of wonders, our connecting flight was just two or three gates away, so we didn't even have to run around.

Looking back on the situation, it was definitely a good thing that we got to the airport early for our initial flight. Otherwise we would never had been able to get on an earlier flight, and we would have missed our connection in Chicago and probably would have had to wait a day later to catch our flight from Chicago to Osaka. And in the grand-scheme of things, I suppose it wouldn't have really made a huge difference, other than the fact that I never would have been able to take this photo (you do remember the photo I was originally talking about at the beginning of this writing, right?). It would have been a different photo of a different sunrise, and with one one less day of travel, I wouldn't have had a chance to write this long rambling description of my day of air travel.

I supposed there is a lesson to be learned from all this - maybe "The early bird gets the worm", or "Two strikes and you are out." I dunno. On a more serious note, I guess the one thing I did realize from this experience is how a Zen approach to life is really quite helpful at maintaining a peaceful disposition. Even though there were a few unexpected delays and problems, I didn't find myself worrying too much about it and I think I remained upbeat through the whole thing. A few years ago in the same situation I would have been a nervous wreck. Now I tried to just remember there's no sense worrying about things you can't change.

The Kempo Hakku

If you buy a gi from Shureido, they usually include a large tri-folded cardboard insert that has a funky picture of Bodhidharma along with a bunch of text written in Japanese. I never knew what the Japanese text said, until today. I was visiting the Shureido store in Naha (picking up a bunch of stuff!) and when the saleswoman was packing up the items, I noticed she included an extra piece of paper with the tri-fold cardboard insert. I was hoping it might be a translation of the text and when I opened my bag of goodies I was happy to see it was indeed an English translation! Here's a picture of the text (with my numbered annotations), along with the English translation (click on the image for a larger view):

Title: The Kempo Hakku (The eight laws of the fist)
1. The mind is one with heaven and earth.
2. The circulatory rythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.
3. The way of inhaling and exhaling is both hardness and softness.
4. Act in accordance with time and change.
5. Techniques will occur in the absense of conscious thought.
6. The feet must advance and retreat separate and meet.
7. The eyes do not miss even the slightest change.
8. The ears listen well in all directions.

I've been told I really need to work on number 5. I tend to think too much with my karate.

There's a pretty good web site here that has a less stylized kanji version of this. If you visit that site, you can move your mouse over each line and a pronunciation along with an English translation will appear for that line.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


At karate class we just had a special seminar on the basics of using the nunchaku. Wow! Talk about a challenging weapon. And I thought tonfa was difficult to learn. At least when learning to use tonfa you don't normally run the risk of accidentally knocking yourself unconscious. But that is a very real risk with the nunchaku if you aren't careful. The seminar was a lot of fun, albeit a little bit painful at times. Everyone I talked to afterwards was happily describing the various self-inflicted injuries they received. (I whacked myself in the side of the head once and hope to never do it again. It hurt quite a bit and I still have a small lump from it.) I don't know of anyone who didn't accidentally hit themselves at least once. It gives you a good appreciation for how dangerous these things can be and how careful you need to be when practicing with them.

Another very serious consideration with these weapons is their legality. Depending on where you live, they may be illegal. I know in Massachusetts they are illegal, so to my young friends in Boxford i must say don't even think about it! In Rhode Island there is a statute that allows the use of martial arts weapons for education purposes. Actually, the statute allows the use of any weapon for educational purposes, not just martial arts ones. The statute (11-47-43) is an exemption from the provisions of statute 11-47-42 which specifically forbids the use of "the so called 'Kung-Fu' weapons", along with a long list of other weapons. (Yes, the state law really refers to martial arts weapons with that exact phrase - the so called "Kung-Fu" weapons. Pretty funny...) So, at least where I live I know its OK to have these weapons for karate class. Just to be safe, I always carry a recent receipt for payment for my karate class and I carry a copy of the RI statute number, and I only carry my karate weapons in my gym bag with my gi and I keep it out of reach in the back of my car, so it's clear I'm not planning on using them outside of class.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer, so don't base your actions on what I describe here and assume everything will be ok.