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.