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Flashback Friday

11 Apr

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A few years ago, we spent the night on Zamami Island, off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

This tiny island was so low key with only few sunbathers on the beach. In fact, it’s the perfect kind of island that shuts down once the sun goes down.

I still remember how quiet and peaceful it was there, and how beautiful and clear the water was!

I did forget this one funny detail, though… we stopped at a small cafe and had a drink after dinner.

There we found the funniest magazines that featured cat centerfolds! Only in Japan, folks…

You can read another post about a special experience we had on Zamami Island here.

 

Flashback Friday

4 Apr

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The other day I was browsing over old photos and came across some pictures we took one day when we lived in Okinawa, Japan.

It’s so interesting how our minds forget some details, but when we look at a few pictures, suddenly we can remember so many things we hadn’t thought about in years.

Anyway, these photos brought a smile to my face.

On this particular day, we drove north to pick mikans (tangerines) since it was mikan picking season there.

We picked as many tangerines as we thought we could reasonably eat and then we stumbled on a beautiful old Japanese tea house.

After that, we headed back to our house but saw a sign on the road advertising a “Snake vs. Mongoose” showdown.

Apparently, they don’t do those shows anymore as they are somewhat inhumane, but instead they presented a series of snakes to curious onlookers.

A Japanese snake handler demonstrated all kinds of trick with the snakes and asked for volunteers from the audience.

There was no way I was letting a snake breathe down my neck, but Sean posed for a picture.

I can’t believe Sean let that snake so close to his face!

Unique Eats: Alice in Wonderland Cafe in Tokyo

15 Jul

Are you an Alice in Wonderland fan?

If so, you’ll get a kick out of this themed restaurant I visited in Tokyo, simply referred to as “Alice.” Japan has a collection of such restaurants  with unique settings. Popular with both men and women, they feature tapas plates and drinks. Other bizarre versions include prison, ninja, and mental ward hospital themed restaurants. ( More to come on the ninja restaurant! ) Continue reading

Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Japan

15 Feb

Are you a fan of Valentine’s Day? Well, depending on how you feel, you’ll either LOVE or HATE how it’s celebrated in Japan.

The Japanese take this holiday and make it into 2 Holidays.

February 14 is Valentine’s Day, but there’s a catch. It’s for women only to share over the top love to the men in their lives. That means gifts, chocolate, and special treatment for the boyfriend or husband… AND get this, male coworkers!

But wait, there’s more!

March 14 is White Day, and this is when the men are supposed to reciprocate with flowers and gifts.

Incidentally, this year Japanese candy companies are expecting profit sales, as Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday which translates into chocolate gifts for office coworkers and colleagues.

Geez, a commercial holiday if I ever saw one…

Okay, but there is one thing I like about Japanese Valentine’s Day. Once a year at Hakone Hot Springs, they fill one of the hot baths with molten chocolate. Bathers glide in and then relax and smear chocolate all over themselves and maybe eat a little of it.

Totally bizarre and not quite sanitary, but you know what? I’d do it once in my life… What about you?

A New Year in Japan

15 Jan

A few images from January in Japan…

“Don’t go to Futenma,” Misako warns.

“The goddess there is very jealous.”

“You might have relationship problems this year.”

I’m living in Okinawa, and my friend Misako is giving advice. It’s New Year’s Eve, and everyone at the party we’re at is talking about where they’re going for hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year. All over Japan, people flock to shrines to honor Shinto deities and make wishes. Read the rest of my published article about New Year’s Day in Japan …

Technicolor Island Culture

10 Nov

One of the things I love about Okinawa is that there is cultural festival almost monthly. I previously wrote posts about the 10,000 Eisa Parade and the World’s Largest Tug of War.

Those are certainly larger events drawing crowd, but a week ago, I attended a smaller event too, with no less pomp and pageantry. It was a procession of 1,500 locals donned in ancient island costumes, a tradition going back hundreds of years. Take a look at the gorgeous colors and textures of this parade… Continue reading

Forgive Me, Trash Collectors of the World

5 Nov

Even when we think we’re open-minded,  we can be proven wrong. It happened to me last week in Japan. There I was thinking I was all free of judgment and stereotypes… then Bam! Exposed! Let me explain.

I regularly go to an Ikebana class, which I enjoy very much, but no one else in my life seems to value or pay much attention to it. My husband barely notices when I bring flowers into our house,  and when I participated in a flower exhibition last spring, I couldn’t even GIVE AWAY the tickets to friends! In my experience, most people have a ho-hum attitude towards flowers.

So, last week I went to my ikebana class and I created a gargantuan scary arrangement. I say scary because the branches were huge and seriously out of control, and could poke your eyes out.

Anyway, I walked out of the building with another woman from the class and we waited at the curb holding our flowers.

Just then a Japanese trash collector drove around the corner in his truck coming our way.

He noticed us from a distance and took on the strangest expression. Looking our direction, he got a wide eyed look of wonder or surprise. I turned around to look behind me, thinking that something had happened to catch his attention.

But nope, nothing. Just us holding our arrangements.

The trash collector pulled up in front of us, stopped, and rolled down the window. He grinned the biggest grin I’ve seen, and gave us a thumbs up.

“Sugoi!” (Super!) he said enthusiastically and then drove away.

I stood there stunned, and then laughed in surprise. I never expected a trash collector to even notice flowers, let alone be excited by them.

Sorry trash collectors of the world. I will never judge you again…

When have you been surprised by someone and your expectation proven wrong? Do tell…

Why Locals Make Travel Special

18 Oct

Zamami Island is 40 km from Okinawa in the East China Sea. With a population of only 500, it is a secluded home to crystalline waters, colorful coral beds, and island tranquility.

What stands out the most, however, when I consider Zamami, is Kazu’s family.

My husband and I visited Zamami a few months ago, and we randomly chose the Patio Reef Guesthouse upon arrival at the ferry port. At the guesthouse, we were greeted by a rowdy group.

“Today is my birthday!” Kazu announced, “Please join us!”

Flattered by the invitation to spend time with them, we sat down and shared celebratory glasses of awamori, the local rice wine. The rest of the night full of laughing, conversation, and revelry passed in a flash.

We teased Kazu about his love life and gave him advice for finding Miss Right. The family told us the legend of a dog who swam weekly from a nearby island to Zamami to rendezvous with its canine “girlfriend.” And at one special moment, the group spontaneously broke out in traditional song as one member played the sanshin.

When they brought out the birthday cake, Kazu said to us, “Your timing is very lucky. Now we eat cake.”

I can’t agree more… we were lucky that night.

The next morning, Kazu’s entire family drove us to the ferry terminal. Waving and smiling, they bid us farewell.

What happened on Zamami Island with Kazu and his family is exactly why I love travel.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday travel blogging competition.

Where have you found locals to be wonderful and unforgettable? Do you have any special memories of time spent with locals during your travels? Do share!

World’s Largest Tug of War

12 Oct

This past weekend with 25,000 of my closest friends, I participated in the Naha Tug of War. This is my favorite cultural festival, mainly because it is a bonding event open to the entire community of young, old, local, and expat.

Each year, the crowds face off in a test of ultimate strength. The goal is basic. Pull as hard as you can and bring your side to victory. Continue reading

Sushi Etiquette: Are You Breaking the Rules?

26 Aug

Luscious tuna sashimi bowl in Okinawa

One of my favorite things about living in Japan is access to fresh high-grade quality fish.

Almost every week, I meet a friend at a conveyer belt sushi restaurant, where the plates of delectable tuna and salmon meander by us slowly. It’s such a kick at the end when the server tabulates cost by waving a computerized wand across the stack of empty plates.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to eat sushi. In fact, I used to make so many “mistakes” from just not knowing any better.

What about you? What’s your sushi awareness? Continue reading

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