Cherry Blossom Viewing

My time in Japan has come to an end.  However, there were a few things I decided I needed to do before I left.  Seeing the cheery blossoms was one of those things.  As often happens in my time overseas, a holiday snuck up on me.  (In Japan many of the American holidays are not celebrated or advertised in shops as much as American malls do so it is easy for American or Christian holidays to sneak up on an American in Japan.)  This holiday was Easter.  So during Holy Week I was trying to decide what to do for Easter so far from family and with my friends busy.  Then it occured to me: this was the first year in the three that I’ve been in Japan that I was in the country during April.  April in Japan in cherry blossom season. What better thing to do on Easter than to view God’s gift of cherry blossoms for the first time?  The closest place to my house for viewing cherry blossoms is Kamakura,  Japan, a twenty minute train ride from my place in Yokosuka, Japan.  So I got on the train

Me posing in the Yokosuka train station with the blue pillars behind me.

Time for a ride!

 in the late morning, arriving in time for me to look for lunch.  So, what to have for lunch?  Kamakura is a lovely town built up as a tourist town with a large temple built as a royal shrine when Kamakura was the capital of Japan and the other end of the main street is a lovely beach.  Since it was a tourist town, I could have gotten most of the Japanese dishes for lunch that day.  However, I wasn’t in the mood to search for a fancy lunch with unusual flavors so , after a walk to see what was available, I sat down at a conveyor belt sushi place.
Plates of raw fish over a square of rice, two pieces on a plate, circle the table around the chef creating the pieces
A conveyor belt sushi place is simply that: a room built a round a central bar-like table with the chef inside the island table and a continual selection of two pieces of sushi on plates passing on a conveyor belt.  If you see a set of sushi you like, you pick it up and eat the sushi on the plate.  If you don’t like what you see, you can order request a specific fish and the cook will prepare it for you.  You can order a drink, like soda or a beer, and you pay by the color of the plates you have stacked next to you.  If you come with a family or a group, there are tables with benches along the conveyor belt in most places so you can still eat off the conveyor or order what you want.  My most interesting pieces were some small octopuses.
Two pieces of white octopus with the tentacles spreadover rice on an orange plate
They were a little tough to chew but their textured tentacles kind of tickled going down.  I liked the taste, just like I enjoy most sushi I’ve had but it was interesting having the unusual image to look at as I ate it and the odd texture.
After the meal I went to the main walk way in town, the parkway of the main rode.

A red and silver two seat carriage pulled by a man.

A Japanese rick saw next to its driver. I saw this on the road in Kamakura and had to get a picture.

It is the long walk up to the main temple in the town and is the walkway lined with cherry trees and paper lanterns.
A large tori-i gate protected by a huge stone lion on each side.  Through the gate is a walkway lined with cherry trees in bloom.
The entrance is protected by two stone lions in front of the first Tori-i gate.  I went on a Sunday towards the end of the cherry blossom season so there were a lot of blossoms already spent
Cheery petals along a cement path
but I still saw plenty of lovely flowers.
A pathway lined with cherry blossoms and white paper lanterns
One of the other big things about Kamakura is Hato Sabure, literally Dove Shortbread, a gourmet bakery on the main street of Kamakura.
A yellow paper bag with a "dove" (looks like a white chicken)under some red Japanese lettering.
While most known for their Dove Shortbread cookies and the distinctive bag you can see carried throughout the town, they also make an assortment of other cookies.
A number of colorful cookies and bars on display
As I walked around the shopping area, I saw a lot of mom-and-pop boutiques
A shop window with vintage looking items behind glass that says MOM&POP
and found this interesting cat
A large stuffed black cat similar to the one in Kiki's Delivery Service leans on a wall next to stairs
outside a two story store specializing in movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  The store was named after his movie My Neighbor Totoro but also features things from his other movies such as the cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service which sits outside to draw in visitors.
It was getting late and I had work on Monday so I got back on the train
A picture of the inside of the train through a door between cars
to go to Yokosuka but I want to leave you with one more picture of those lovely flowers Japan is so known for.

A few branches of cherry blossoms in clusters

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Naval Museum In Kure, Japan

After my stop at Kintai Bridge and Miyajima Island, I had one more stop to make before my day was up: the Maritime Museum in Kure, Japan.  It is built around a scale model of the Yamato battleship, the biggest battleship ever made.  The Yamato and her sister ship, the Musashi, were “the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed” according to Wikipedia.  The ships were designed to combat the fact that the US outnumbered Japan ships by attacking numerous ships at once.  Yamato’s keel was laid in late 1937, sea testing began in late 1940 and commissioned  a week after Pearl Harbor was attacked.  Built in secrecy (which was rather difficult due to US intelligence abilities), the real fire power of the Yamato wasn’t discovered until the end of the war.  Although the ship was built for war, it was used as a transport protector at least as much as it was a flagship.  It was present at the Battle of Midway but was to far away to participate.  Although present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea but only shot at Japanese planes, by accident.  It wasn’t until the Battle of Leyte Gulf that the Yamato finally did significant damage before being chased off by a spread of torpedoes.  As the war came to an end, the Japanese Admiralty made a desperate attempt to protect Okinawa by sending much of there surface craft (ships) to the island.  Yamato’s orders were to “be beached to act as an unsinkable gun emplacement and continue to fight until destroyed.”  It might have lengthened the war if the ship had made it.  Instead the Americans learned of the planand sank her and much o her strike group in-route.  She went down with most of her crew and the fleet commander onboard.

The term “Yamato” came from an old Japanese province.  It had become a term for Japan itself in mythology and many Japanese citizens believed that the war could not be lost as long as the huge ship was able to fight.  Is it any surprise that a museum was created to lament the loss of this flagship and the empire it represented?

That was a good history lesson, let’s get on with the tour, shall we?

I got off the bus a block away from the museum and walked over a walking bridge to the museum.

A Japanese submarine towering three or four floors above the cars driving by it.

A Japanese submarine on display outside the Maritime Museum as seen from the walking bridge.

In front of the museum you can see a huge statue of Neptune and a number of nautical items like the anchor and propeller seen here. Nautical sculptures in front of the Maritime Museum   Inside the museum we bought our ticket and had the option of paying for the audio tour or going through the exhibit alone.  I opted to go by myself instead of trying to keep up with the audio tour and take pictures.  In the first room, the one the museum is built around, sits the 1:10 scale model of the Yamato battleship.
The Yamato battleship scaled model as seen from front to back.
The 26.3 meter long model is a 1:10 scale (that’s one-tenth for those not used to building models) of the 72,800 ton ship that was over 860 feet from bow to stern was revealed in 2005 .
A closer version of the superstructure of the Yamato to indicate size compared to aperson.Can you see the scale?
This is a plastic model of a Japanese military man standing next to a gun on the main deck of the ship.
This guy is the scale of a real person compared to the ship.  Talk about a huge ship, especially for the time.
The Yamato battleship taken from nearly the back of the model.
Here is the ship from behind.  If you look closely at the guns in the middle of the picture you can see the scale sailor.
A model of the Yamato showing an airplane about to take off from the back of the ship via a slingshot method.
While the ship is covered in guns for attack or defense, it could also slingshot a small airplane off the aft of the ship.
A model battleship behind glass
Here is a smaller model of the Yamato to show you just how much they managed to get on this battleship.
Wax Japanese sailors in World War 2 outfits shoveling coal into large heaters.
I didn’t stop to read too much (we only had an hour and I wanted to get all the way through the museum before we left) but this scene implies the Yamato was run on coal.
A model Japanese ship behind glass.

Two model ships, one an aircraft carrier, behind glass.

Four model Japanese World War 2 ships behind glass
The museum had a lot of miniature ships
A model airplane from World War 2and airplanes from World War 2.
The wing and body of a full-size silver Japanese bomber.
There were also much bigger items to examine, like this airplane
A line of torpedo tubes of various shapes and sizes behind a railingand these torpedo tubes.
Four model battleships in a display case.
Another display case on the tour showed off more miniature naval craft.
A colorful playroom for childrento pretend they are sailors at sea.
The last room on the tour was a child’s play room designed to give children (and the young at heart) a hands on experience with naval technologies
A blue and white table with large wooden blocks.
like this Build-Your-Own-Boat table.

I had fun seeing the sights around Kure, Japan but I’ll have to remember that twelve hours is not a very good time limit for being in this gorgeous area.  I’m not sure I’ll ever go back by myself but the history and beauty of the area is something I won’t soon forget.

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Hiroshima Island, Japan

We had signed up for the tour in Hiroshima assuming that we would be seeing things connected with the atomic bomb dropped there years ago.  That’s what you get for signing up for a tour without doing your research first (or fully reading the description).  Most of us on the tour assumed we would be going to the bridge first, the bombing place second, and the museum last.  Instead of going to the memorial after the Kintai Bridge tour, we went to Miyajima, a lovely island just outside Hiroshima, Japan that I thought was called Hiroshima Island. (Thank goodness for the internet to correct me.  🙂  )

After the bus ride from Kintai Bridge, I noticed the famous O-Torii Gate on the water and snapped this picture:

A distant view of the red Tori gate in the water in front of the shrine.

As we pulled up to the ferry station, this guy was ready to greet us.

Ametal diety in green with lots of gold fringe overlooking the road to the ferry terminal

Most of us had to stop at a nearby 7/11 to get out cash so there was a delay in the plan.  I think our group missed the planned ferry and had to get on the one that came a half hour later.  Anyways, this is what we saw as the ferry arrived:

A Japanese attendant counting the passengers as the ferry approaches the pier.

One of the things that Hiroshima is famous for are their oysters, according to our tour guide.

Oysters grow underwater from floating planks

Oyster farm in Hiroshima, Japan

While on the ferry for the twenty minute ride I took a few more pictures of the floating Tori.

A large red Torii gate in front of a sprawling Japanese shrine

My favorite picture in front of Itsukushima Shrine.

Once we got to Miyajima, we instantly saw a deer.  Deer?  In Japan?  Yeah, I was surprised as well.  Apparently they are mainly in Miyajima and Nara, Japan.  Deer are sacred creatures in Japan as they are considered to be messengers from the gods.  Not surprising then that deer are so used to humans and all our antics.  We were warned not to feed the animals but that they have a habit of eating any food or paper in their reach.  The Wikitravel site said they will even go through someone’s backpack that people are wearing if they smell something good.  Beware of the deer!

A wild deer poses for a human who is bent over trying to get the perfect picture.

Needless to say, the deer have the run of the island

A deer is calmly exploring behind two food booths as no human pays attention.

Can you see the completely safe deer near the food?

and are a huge draw for pictures.

People form a loose circle around a japanese deer to get the perfect picture

Smile for the camera!

I wasn’t too hungry when we got to the shopping arcade (their way of saying a few streets and restaurants that open into the same street) since I’d picked up a snack at the 7/11 when I got cash.  I decided that it might be smarter to just buy munchies for the two hours we had instead of a full sit-down lunch.  These fish cakes wrapped in bacon (one was a cheese fish cake and the other was an asparagus fish cake) seemed like a good idea when I bought them.  By the time I was halfway through them both I was sick of the fish taste and they were pretty filling.

Two dough rolls wrapped in bacon on sticks for easy eating

Okay, meal done, I figured I’d probably be good for the afternoon and went strolling on to see the shops.  There I saw a lot of the usual Japanese souvenirs, a lot of dried fish,

Packets of dried fish in barrels next to each other.

and whole oysters for sale (or just decoration, I can’t read Japanese and had little interest in buying raw oysters).

Oyster shells next to a box of oysters in their shells

There was also this umbrella with water dripping down it that I found rather amusing but an interesting advertising option.

A pink cloth umbrella with black edging under a constant trickle of water.

I wondered for an hour before I suddenly realized I was hungry.  I hadn’t seen anything amazing and wasn’t quite in the mood for fish after those fish sticks so I went for the local specialty: okonomi-yaki with oysters.

An image of a menu describing the local version of the dish.

Yes, I took a pic so I could remember what it’s called.

They took my order with a group of people who sat down with me in the family run restaurant and cleaned up the grill from the last batch of customers.

The noodles cook on one side of the huge grill while the vegetables and pork cook on the other side.

This could be interesting…

On the left you can see the vegetables cooking under the thin flour pancake.  The pork is cooking in the middle of each round of veges and meat for the center is cooking under each lid.  To the right you see the Chinese noodles heating up.  They come in single serving packages the cooks rinse and set out on the grill like this.  Then they add a clear liquid and toss each serving like a salad, adding sauce I think is soy sauce near the end of  the tossing.

A cook using two spatulas to toss a set of noodles like one would mix a salad.

Once the veges are cooked and the noodles tossed correctly an egg is cracked on the grill, the veges and noodles are stacked on top of each other with the flour pancake on the bottom.  A quick flip puts the egg on the bottom and the pancake on top. The egg cooking behind a finished stack of egg under veges, meat, and pancake. The dish is left to finish cooking the egg while the rest of the batch is duplicated.  Then the entire pile is flipped onto a deep plate, cut in half, then in thirds the other way, a sauce is added along with the desired meat, and it is all served to the customer.

A close up of Okonomi-yaki with oysters in the center.

My Okonomi-yaki

It was interesting.  I’m not sure I would go out of my way to find okonomi-yaki done Hiroshima style again, it was a lot of flavors and textures mixed together in a confusing blend for my simple Midwestern palette, but it wasn’t bad.  I didn’t force myself to eat the whole thing, though.  I left at least one square because it was filling, along with my earlier snacks, and I had less than twenty minutes to meet up with my tour group again.  However, I did take time to get desert.

A cup of ice cream squeezed out of it's machine driping with dark red berry sauce


This berry honey on soft serve was too much to pass up after weeks with tasteless food and a long day of traveling.

I met up with the rest of the group and we headed to our next and final destination for the day.  However, I’ll leave you with one last glimpse of Miyajima Island as we saw it from the ferry.

A picture of hills aligned in such a way to resemble a human face and chest.

Can you see what I see?

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Kintai Bridge, Japan

The day started out in Kure, Japan where we got on the bus for the tour.

Kure as seen from over a highway fence with mountains behind under a cloudy sky.

As we neared the bridge I saw this over the barrier.  The gold at the points of the roof are statues.

A Buddhist Shrine seen over a highway fence with tiny golden Budhas on the 3 roof points.

As we approached the bridge, this is what I saw out the bus window.

Kintai Bridge as seen through my bus window showing four of five arches.

My first view of Kintai Bridge

Kintai Bridge was built in 1673 after a monk from China showed the local lord a picture of a bridge with five arches in China.  The next year the bridge was destroyed by floods so a special tax was established and the bridge was rebuilt according to a schedule.  The tax to maintain the bridge is now a toll to cross the bridge or enter the nearby museums (which I couldn’t do thanks to time constraints).

We pulled into the gravel parking lot and spilled out for an hour of independent exploring.

All five arches of the bridge as seen from the gravel parking lot.

The bridge is built on stone arches

A stone support for the wooden bridge

with wood arches in the center three arches.  The side two arches are supported by wooden beams

A view looking up of the wooden walkway supported by a woden arch.

and the ends go on the rock of the riverbank.

The end of the wooden bridge goes into a short by nearly sheer drop to the riverbed.

I climbed the short set of steps to the bridge, paid the 300 yen (about $3.50 US dollar) it cost to cross the bridge and come back, and this is what I saw:

A view next to the wooden railings of the top of the first arch of the bridge.

I crossed the center arches not on smooth wood but on wooden stairs.

A lady and child coming down wooden stairs on the bridge in a photo taken from the floor of the bridge looking up.

Even short flights of steps look long from an ant’s view. 🙂

Across the bridge I found a Kikko Park, a Japanese garden  dedicated to the third feudal lord of the area who had designed the original bridge centuries ago.

A tarnished brass statue of a 17th century Japanese fuedal lord.

Kikkawa Hiroshi’s statue at the entrance to Kikko Park.

If you look closely at the picture you can see the landing for the cable cars going to Iwakuni Castle in the upper right corner of the picture as well as some trees in bloom behind the statue on the right of the picture.  We didn’t have much time to investigate the area but here is a link to more things in the area if you go sightseeing to the Hiroshima area in Japan.

A tree with pink blossoms are clear in front of the picture while the castle behind is a blur.

If you look in the center of the picture you can see Iwakuni Castle through the blossoms.

I’m not sure if that tree is an apricot tree or a cherry tree but I like the image it presents.

A gray tabby cat hiding under the tablecloth of a display table.

This feline is hiding from the wind under a display table.

I saw this cutie and had to take the picture.  Stray cats are so common here in Japan that they are often viewed as wild birds are viewed in the States.

By that we had to get back on the bus for our next destination, Hiroshima Island but I took one more picture before getting on the bus..

An arch of the wooden bridge under the distant Japanese castle on a mountaintop above.

This is an arch of Kintai Bridge with Iwakuni Castle seen above it.

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Snorkeling In Okinawa

When I was in Okinawa visiting my sister, she took me to her favorite place for snorkeling.A beach with smallwaves crashing against distant rock formations.She said that she often goes to that spot or one nearby to unwind after a long day at work but doesn’t often go snorkeling there.  High tide in Okinawa is early morning (that day it was at 5 am) or near when the sun goes down and visibility goes way down.

I had never gone snorkeling before so I had trouble putting on all my gear, especially the mouth piece.A close-up of my face as I try to figure out how the mouth piece fits in my mouth.Snorkeling was fun, except that I forgot one thing.  I hate having my face in the water.  It took me a number of tries to force myself to relax, even enough to float on top of the water and look down.  My sister mentioned afterwards that the last time she had come, her friend had brought a lubricant she put on the goggles.  Yeah, my sister didn’t realize how important that lubricant was until our goggles fogged up almost immediately.  It didn’t help my fear of being underwater that things were blurry since I couldn’t wear my glasses with the goggles and I could only see clearly near the edges of the mask.  However, I did see some little fishies that traveled close enough to be seen.  I didn’t leave the cove that we were in for deeper water (I needed to be where I could stand up every time I got water in my mouthpiece or too much water in my goggles) where the better coral is so I didn’t see much besides small coral formations, rocks, and adventurous fish that seemed partially transparent underwater.  Still it was rather nice to float at the top of the water and look down.  I can see why people would get up early to snorkel or spend hundreds on trips to the best snorkeling spots in the world.  I doubt I’ll ever do it again since my terror wil probably ruin the effect for my companions, but it was a fun experience.Me leaving the water with my snorkeling gear in my hands and a rock formation in front of green slope behind me.   After snorkeling we returned our gear to my sister’s car and went to the public restroom nearby.  It was still early so we decided to explore the area and found a hiking path that led down to a picnic area and a lovely spot for pictures of lava rock that had eroded into various shapes with moss growing on it and water in the background.A moss covered rock formationA side view of me overlooking the waves crashing against moss covered rockA view over rocks to a long bay with a city beyondAll in all it was a lovely day although that night the typhoon hit that took out our power for a day, an odd thing on Okinawa where typhoons are so common.  Due to the storm the rest of my trip was limited but it was fun to see my sister again and explore the beautiful island of Okinawa.

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Okinawan Dinner Theater

On Thursday night my sister and I went to a dinner theater in Okinawa.  We got to eat little bits of really good food (small portions of a lot of dishes equal a full multi-course meal) while the performers did traditional dance to entertain us.  My sister and I know very little Japanese so we couldn’t understand the singing and never did figure out what the story they performed was.  However, as my sister reminded me we had learned at the kabuki play last year, the Japanese theater pays less attention to the story and more attention to the image.  The imagery of the dancers in Japanese traditional outfit dancing around the stage in time with the strong or soft spots in the music, singing along occasionally, was definitely striking.
A rectangle of tofu in a bowl with a sprig of herbs next to a small salad The night started out with us being late so this is what awaited us when we showed up.  Most of the other patrons were already on their second helping but there were also two other sets of people that came in after us, so we didn’t feel too bad.  My sister said that Okinawans are not known for being early, or even on time all the time.  The dinner theater seemed to have taken that into consideration because the meal started at 6:30 while the performance started at 7:00 pm.  The meal was rather good with sushi, a few different types of salads, a very good chunk of meat (in the covered bowl), and tempura fish.A few delicious dishes from our Okinawan meal  My sister didn’t much like the idea of eating a full fish, scales, head, fin and all.  Since I ate mine (stopping at the fin) she gave me hers to eat and thought it was hilarious that I actually ate the fish.My sister's picture of me eating the full fish  Hers was a little more salty than mine had been but otherwise it was fine, as long as I didn’t see the face as I ate it.  Somethings are just better to not think about while. or after, you do them.
Not long after the fish incident, the lights dimmed and the stage lights started to dance around the stage in alternating colors.  Then two ladies came out and knelt with their backs to us.Two ladies in traditional outfits bowing with their backs to us.  As they started to dance on the darkened stage, they clicked together two wooden blocks in each hand, adding a nearly cymbal-like sound to the music playing through the hidden speakers. Two lady dancers clicking wooden instruments as they danced. After they walked off stage two male eisu dancers walked on and started their dance. Traditional eisu dancers high stepping around thestage. Eisa dancers are people, often men, who dance with drums, hitting them in tone with the music in a traditional Okinawan dance.  One of the dancers broke his drumstick in half.  The broken half he kicked to the back wall and the half he held, with the tassel, he used to hit the drum.  It probably wasn’t as loud or perfect to hit the drum with the tassel end but it still worked for the show.
The males ending their dance as the women come on stage.Soon the two lady dancers came out again, this time in peasant outfits and the eisa dancers went backstage.  The ladies danced with flower branchesTwo ladies dressed in traditional Japanese outfits dancing with flower branches. and finished with scrolls that said something in Japanese. Two ladies finished their dance with open scolls They left and the shisa dog came out to prance about the stage.Two men ina shisa dog coming on stage  It was rather impressive when you think of how perfectly in time they were to have the person at the head of the body snapping the wooden jaws shut with the dance and the two people able to coordinate enough to roll around on the ground like a real dog would.  Shisa dogs are popular in Okinawa due to the belief that the mix of dog and lion creatures are protective wards that protect houses.   The shisa dog on a walk through the tables of patrons. After a little while the shisa dog turned on glowing eyes and walked down the steps to walk among the tables.  Yes, it did try to eat my sister.The shisa dog character pretends to eat my sisterNext the ladies came out for a brief dance before the older one left the younger one to dance alone. A lady in traditional Okinawan dress dancing alone with clappers in her hands. After a short dance with the clappers, the other lady came out to dance alone as a warrior. An Okinawan lady dancing in traditional male outfit Soon the other girl came out in warrior outfit and they danced a short dance together.  Soon they were replaced by the two male eisa dancers and a female eisa dancer. Two male and one female eisa dancers This time the men had the big drums and the girl had the small drum.  They danced around the stage in their high stepping drum danceThree eisa dancers jumping and dancing around the stage until the two men left the lady warrior to dance alone.  Then the two ladies came back on to dance with her. Three dancers, one in eisa gear and two in traditional Japanese female outfits The two lady  dancers then went into the crowd and brought people on stage.  My sister went up while I stayed put to take pictures.My sister dancing with dancer in traditional Japanese outfit  Soon others joined my sister on stage and they all danced. Two lady performers dancing with the audience on stage Then the shisa dog joined them The shisa dog among the dancers on stage. for a minute before going out among the tables again to see what trouble it could cause. The shisa dog actors walking among the tables with glowing eyes. The dog went back on stage and the show was over.  The cast bowed (yes, the male eisa dancers were the two parts of the dog)The dancers of the performance taking their bows and we got to take pictures with the cast. My sister and I posing with the men in the shisa dog costume and the lady dancers. After picture time, the “dog” stood up, shook itself off,The men in the shisa dog costume making it look like the dog shakes out its fur. and trotted off stage.The shisa dog trotting off stage  Show complete.
The night was not complete for us though.  On the walk back to the car we found these cuties.My sister and I posing with baby statues dressed like animals.  The baby “animals” are permanently attached to the bench while the dogs are stuffed animals advertising the doggie shirts sold at the store behind the camera.  If you look closely you can see the babies are  bigger versions of the old dolls that were popular in the US years ago (as in they were going out of popularity when I was a kid) but they have maintained their popularity in Japan and are a popular souvenir item in various outfits and a popular craft seems to be to create outfits for these small baby dolls.
A shop with a lot of life size superhero statues in the windowsWe also passed a store that sold souvenirs and was decorated by super heroes and other popular icons.  You can see Hello Kitty coming out of the roof, various superheros in the window below, and you can’t see Tweety Bird comfortable in a shark’s mouth ( or was it a whale?) in the store along with many other favorites.  I’m not sure what the life size dolls had to do with the merchandise since the store seemed like it was merely a normal Okinawan souvenier store, but it was eye catching.  It was later at night than I like to be out so we didn’t stop to investigate the store.  We took a picture and got in her car, soon we were home and getting ready for bed. hmm, bed…  A late day should mean a late morning but no such luck.  High tide was 5 am and we were going snorkeling the next day so no sleeping in for us.  (Okay, just a little)

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Okinawan Naval Underground

I’m no history buff when it comes to World War 2 so I was relatively surprised to learn that Okinawa was the site of a huge battle, the Battle of Okinawa.  When my sister suggested that we visit the tunnels of the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, I jumped at the chance.  To show you where we areA view of Okinawa from a hilltopthis is the view from the visitor’s entrance on top of the tunnelsA tunnel leading down to theheadquartersand this is the stairs we went down to get to the headquarters.

A picture of men digging through stone with pickaxes and an old pickax below it.The 450 meter tunnels were cut by hand with pickaxes by hand to hold the 4000 men they would hide.  Earlier in the battle the sailors had built and fortified these tunnels as the headquarters of their navy.  When they were ordered north to another position, they had destroyed the weapons that were hard to carry, like cannons and other big guns.  When they arrived to their new headquarters, they found barely any protection and begged their leaderA gray picture of the Japanese rear admiral in uniformRear Admiral Minoru Ota to return to the tunnels for a final stand against the Americans.  Finally he agreed and the Navy sailors that could still move went back to the underground headquarters.

The tunnels were powered by 3 generators kept in spaces like this one.

A gray sketch of many men standing up and leaning on poststo fall asleep.

Space was so tight the petty officers, at least a few hundred men, had to sleep standing up, leaning against poles.The petty officers had two rooms this sizeA wooden structure of purely wooden poles for the men to sleep onand this is a recreation of what they had to sleep on.  Their motto by this time in the war was “Do Without Until We Win” and this headquarters is a good example of that ideal.  Even the Rear Admiral went with that ideal.A small stone room with a single desk and a vase of flowersThis is his office/dinningroom/sleeping quarters.  Although he was the only person in the complex to have his own room, he got much less than most officers would demand now a days.  There medical area was merely a cave in the wall where supplies were kept and there might be enough room for a new patient to be laid on the floor to be treated.A room hardly larger than many people living room carved of stoneThe code room was the biggest room in the complex and where the Japanese codebreakers would work for hours trying to break the American code or communicating with their own forces.A fake wooden suppoort recreated to look like real woodMy sister is pointing at these in the ceiling beam.  She thought they might be some sort of code, I thought they may have been counting the days they were in the tunnels, similar to a calender.  Then we realized that the room had been redone and the supports were merely a form of plastic made to look like wood.  The marks are probably a recreation of how they bent the wood or something to do with building.A poster showing men running out of the tunnel poorly armed near a tunnel openingThis is one of the main exits where the sailors  ran out poorly armed to fight the incoming Americans.  The Battle of Okinawa is known for its kamikaze attacks.  Although used throughout the Pacific war, kamikaze attacks were a huge part of the Japanese defense strategy.  With few planes and barely any weapons remaining, kamikazes,both on plane, on land and when possible by water on small speed boats were used.  It was common for sailors to be sent from the tunnels with a few grenades, a sword attached to a stick as muskets were scarce, and orders of where to attack.  A lot of Americans died due to these attacks but so did a lot of Japanese.  They also used the local populations who mostly willingly fought for the Japanese.  (The Wikipedia article says they were sent out at gunpoint to attack the Americans but the Rear Admiral sent a message back to Tokyo saying how willingly the civilians helped the war effort, even as they lost their homes and lives.  He was requesting that the government look kindly on the Okinawans in the future.)

This s one of the few tombs on the site for all those who died in the tunnels.  In the middle of June the highest ranking Japanese sailors, including Rear Admiral Ota, shot themselves in an honorable suicide inside the tunnels.  When the tunnel was finally excavated years after the war, they found 2,400 people dead inside of the 5,000 men the rear admiral had brought back from the other position.

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Today my sister and I created a project using the Okinawan technique called bingata.  Look here to see my experience with bingata and here to learn about the art.  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!

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I’m Off To Oki!

The time finally came for me to take time off work and go travel.  My first stop is Okinawa, Japan to see my sister.  To get there I needed  to take the train from my town to Narita International Airport outside of Tokyo.  I left my place an hour before my train was scheduled to leave.  My schedule was to get the 9:57 train to Tutsuka, a stop one beyond Ofuna.  (Keep that in mind, it will come in handy later.)  I knew the schedule had the train to Narita leaving Ofuna at 10:15 to get to Tutsuka at 10:18 to continue it’s ride to Narita.  I knew Ofuna was a huge train station so I decided to catch the train at the assumed would be the smaller station.

I got on the 9:44 train and thought to find my track and wait for my train.  I followed the sign to Narita Express, waited for the train, and got on the spiffy Narita Express…to Ofuna.  Yep, I got on the wrong train.  Luckily I had time to grab my backpack and my suitcase and hush to the other track.  I managed to get on the correct train right before it left the Ofuna train station and sat down to wait.  The train was supposed to pull into Narita at 11:58, it puled in at 12:45.  From what I could tell a bullet train had thrown off all the trains in the system by breaking down.  That slowed my train down but I had planned for that.  Thanks to previous experiences nearly missing a plane at Narita due to assuming the schedule,I had gotten the schedule for a train route arriving at Narita over two hours before I needed to board so being nearly an hour late arriving at the airport didn’t bother me.  As I hurried through the airport to find the domestic flights I passes a Japanese who had decided to cause a scene.  He was screaming (in Japanese) and swinging a large metal something to keep the airport cops away.  I walked around the attendants keeping us away from the scene and saw as I went up the elevator that about four cops had finally gotten the man on the ground and they were restraining him.

I finally found the check-in place for my plane and realized they were already checking baggage and all for the flight.  I got through the line (had to check my suitcase since it was too heavy to be in the car) and looked at my clock.  I had an hour before the flight started to board and I was hungry.  Having been to Narita before, I headed for the shopping area above the international departures terminal for lunch.  I walked around the area and saw mostly sit down restaurants.  Since I couldn’t be sure I would get my food in time to enjoy it, I settled for McDonalds.  I couldn’t read the menu and pointed at a fried burger.  Turned out their fish fillet was a shrimp fillet.  Not bad for lunch and I had a half hour to wait.  I tried to call my sister but she was busy so I went through the security checkpoint.  I didn’t realize that I could bring an open bottle of water through the check point so I threw out my half empty bottle, only to have them ask if I could take out my water for the x-ray machine.  After informing them I had no water in my bag, I got through and my sistercalled me back just as I walked through the checkpoint.

I called her back after I’d put all my stuff back in my bag and gotten out of the loud area.  We talked as I walked to the gate and we hung up after I told her it looked like my plane would be on time.  We were supposed to start boarding at 2:25.  At 2:45 a lady came down and put a note up, all in Japanese but the numbers 1600.  The plane would take off at 4:00 pm.  Um, okay.  Boarding started a little after 3:30.  I was told to come back at 3:50.  They wanted to board the back of the plane first and I was near the front of the plane.  I got back in line a little before their assigned time and we got on buses.The front of a bus, or airport limo, that took us to the plane.

The bus took us to the plane and this what I saw:A small passenger plane with a van in front of itYep, they were just finishing loading the luggage and the meals were still being loaded.  We sat on the bus for about twenty minutes before they let us on the plane. I got to my seat at 4:21, yes, that is after the plane was supposed to have taken off.  We all got in our seats and I started to dose on and off.  The plane finally took off at 5:30.  Yay.  After some turbulence and some awesome views of the sunset over JapanA strip of red between clouds with a clear blue sky above the clouds   Unfortunately our altitude and the fact that the window reflected the image of me inside the plane after dark kept me from getting any really awesome pictures.  It was fun watching the clouds go by because they reminded me of ghosts: just wisps of white floating in the air outside my window.  I ate a bento box and got a bottle of water as my meal and finally got to Okinawa at 8:05 pm.  After picking up my checked bag I headed to the arrivals area to hug my sister and we were off to her house and her two cats.  (Her husband is away on emergency business for now so he probably won’t be here for my visit.)  Ah, travel time wth family.

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Cigarette Vending Machines

Yes, you read correctly.  Last week I told you about the Japanese drink vending machines that are everywhere.  This week I’ll show you some of the cigarette vending machines in my neighborhood.A cigarette vending machine next to a cigarette storeThis is a cigarette vending machine next to a cigarette store.  They sell the cheaper or more common cigarettes in the vending machine open 24/7 while the tobacco store next to it is run with regular store hours.An electronic card reader next to the coin input on a cigarette vending machine.Travelers beware though, you can’t just go up to a cigarette machine and get a pack of smokes.  You need to have a card that the reader next to the cash/coin input reads to see you are of age.  Putting in coins without having a card will get you nothing.A closeup of a cigarette vending machineThese equate to roughly $5 a pack, if you have the card.

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