28 May 2013


Back in April we went out with some friends to Katsuren-jo or Katsuren Castle ruins.  It's one of many, many castle sites on the island, and none of us had been to this one yet. It was a gorgeous day for an adventure!

There are many legends of this site and one of the most famous lords in Okinawan history, Lord Amawari.  One interesting version of history (1450's) is about Amawari as a sickly child who was abandoned in the mountains to die and instead survived and married the daughter of King Sho Hashi.  After becoming a powerful ruler of the Katsuren region, Amawari attempted to overthrow and kill King Sho, resulting in defeat and his own death.  Moral of the story: don't fuck with the king.

The castle was pretty easy to get to, you sort of head out into the middle of nowhere, following signs for "Katsuren-jo" and viola! you've found it!  It's a free historic site, with plenty of parking below which is always appreciated here.  We started with a steep long hill up to the base of the castle.  The view from here was awesome, you'll see in a few moments.

At the base of the ruins were a few sites, including a cave (there are caves EVERYWHERE on this island). The word Ujinuji means "a place of refuge in time of danger from enemy attack".

Next to the cave was what was left of a large palace.  Based on the structure and location in the castle, it was likely the most important room in the building (but unknown what for), built nearly entirely of limestone.  

I know you can't get enough of Aaron's unique pixelated face.  It cracks me up every time I edit it.  Maybe I should just make him a pixelation on a stick to hold up. Ha!

Once we got to the top, we kinda forgot to continue reading about the castle, and instead took in all the views.  Talk about a great location for a castle...you could see everything from here, especially with the Pacific Ocean on both sides of it!  In the background of this photo are a few islands that we plan on exploring soon.

On the other side, a view of a few towns on the main part of Okinawa Island.  I think I see my favorite fish market!!!

We walked back down and scrambled our way up another hill to grab another view and see the castle (ruins) in it's entirety.  I feel like I could have stayed up here all day.  It'd be a great spot for a picnic and a book and just hang out.

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22 May 2013

Cultural Awareness Activities

Living overseas with the military definitely has it's benefits, especially when you don't speak the local language.  I often feel like I'm 'cheating' over here because of it, especially that we live on base (*sigh*).  I basically do everything I can off base, but I do also take advantage of what we have going on in our little American world inside this fence.

It actually blows my mind how many people I meet here who do NOT go off base unless it is absolutely necessary.  Honestly, I'm not sure if I feel bad for them or just want to call them stupid.  Maybe a little of both.  Asides from taking advantage of everything Japan and Okinawa have to offer (how often do you get to move and live in another country for FREE!?!?!?), that's gotta make for a really fucking boring few years.  A lot of people WILL NOT drive off base.  What the hell people?  Seriously.  Sheesh.  Yeah, it might be a little scary the first time, but just do what everyone else does, close their eyes and step on the gas.

Kidding.  I'm just kidding.

There is no excuse not to do stuff here.  When I get bored, I drive to a part of town I haven't been, park it, and wander.  I'll look up online of a store/restaurant/site I haven't been to, and I'll check it and it's surroundings out.  It's the same exact thing I do in the states when I move to a new area.  So you can't read anything? Big deal!  Just be polite, use common sense, and get out there...you'll figure it out.

Okay, enough on that tangent, I'm sure it'll be brought up again.  Back to my original meaning for the post.  Most of the bases here offer tons of stuff to do.  I guess, even if you didn't leave the base, you'd be plenty entertained if you involved yourself.  One department here (on almost every AF base) is the Airman and Family Readiness Center (A&FRC), which is kind of your one-stop-shop if you (military members & dependents) need practically anything.  They cover a million topics from career services (jobs/volunteer/resumes/education), relocation, transition (going in or out of the military), personal finances, emergency assistance, deployment readiness & transition, etc.  The offer classes almost everyday, and they are all FREE.  I've utilized this quite a bit in the past, and I'm sure I'll be using them again in the future.  I've taken new-to-the-military classes, finance classes (there are lots of different pays/taxes/investment options to watch out for in the military), relocation (military moves are crazy different), federal resumes (that'll make your head spin!), Space-A travel, and others.  I often go to these classes and come home with tons of notes and handouts and go over everything with Aaron.  A lot of information and benefits are out there for us, and you wouldn't know it if you don't go looking for it.

Well, another thing the A&FRC offers here is Cultural Awareness classes.  A woman from Okinawa works there and teaches a variety of things from a Japanese for Busy People class (which I took when I first got here), Japanese craft classes (like the one I'm going to show you now), a Kimono wearing class (ditto), and she even will go to a Japanese grocery store with a group to show you how it works and what's available (I've already got that covered thanks!).

I signed up for the Washi Craft class, where we made a Japanese candy dish.  I expected this 'class' to be a little different, more of the history and culture of washi, and maybe something a little more custom I guess.  It was still fun, and I met some new people, and it only took an hour.
We sat down at our stations and were basically just there to put it together step by step.  Okay, that's fine.  But I started to ask questions, because that's why I was there. Washi is a type of paper created in Japan.  Different types are made from different barks of trees, and traditionally, it's made by hand.  It's very unique feeling, much thicker than regular paper, and it has a wonderful texture to it.  It's also much more stretchy than regular paper, and has been made into clothes.  There's a new washi product called washi tape that you're probably more familiar with, it's getting really popular in the states, where it's freaking expensive.  I can get it for crazy cheap over here if anyone needs some!

I also learned that washi craft isn't really something that Okinawans do regularly, it's more of a mainland Japan thing.  It's something adult women will get together and do.  As far as the things you would 'washi', I would compare it to the modpodge craze, whatever you could and would modpodge, you'd washi!

Here's my finished candy box.  I sprayed it with acrylic and will probably put it in my bathroom once I get shelves in there.

Later that week I went to a kimono wearing class.  Here we did learn a lot about the culture and history of the kimono in addition to learning to wear them.  After learning about them and actually trying to get into one, I would actually consider buying one while we are here.  They are very comfortable.
We learned a whole bunch about them, and I'm sure you could wiki it, but I thought I'd share with you some interesting facts I learned.  A kimono is made from a entire single bolt of fabric, and each one is approximately 14 inches wide and about 38 feet long, and it's hand sewn.  If you were to want to clean it, you would bring it to a professional kimono cleaner and they would take all the stitching out, clean each piece  and then sew it back together.  There are also something like 10 different types of kimonos for women, each varying in material and pattern based on formality.  It was interesting to learn what an average Japanese person would wear these to today, mostly weddings and festivals, but there are still some people in certain areas of Japan that wear them daily.

It's also crazy complicated to put on.  There is a whole system, and I guess there would have to be if it's a one sized fits all outfit and should look the same on everyone.  Here our instructor is helping me into mine.  We put ours on over our cloths, but typically a kimono outfit would have an undergarment, which is like a thin lightweight kimono (think a slip!) to go underneath, obi (the large 'belt' looking piece), socks, sandals and other accessories.  To properly wear and adjust a kimono takes around 30-45 minutes and a very formal wedding kimono could take nearly 2 hours with multiple people helping.
I didn't do a very good job with my figure in the kimono.  The point is to have very straight lines, no chest, hip, or butt curves.  For those that have curvy hips, you're supposed to wrap a folded towel around your waist under the kimono to create a straight line.  I failed on all parts of this.  Here's a picture of me & my friend KayCee with our group.  Thanks for the photos KayCee!!!
When it's all finished (well, as well as it was going to get in this class), the kimono is very comfortable to wear.  It's snug without being too tight, and it makes you sit and stand up a lot straighter.  This helps when sitting because you aren't allowed to lean back into a chair while wearing a kimono.  The shoes were another story!  It was pretty funny to watch all of us with our giant American feet wear these tiny wooden shoes.  They have a little platform on them and are made to wear on either foot.  All my toes were hanging off and gripping on to these things for dear life!

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13 May 2013

Azalea Festival 2013

It recently came to my attention that people were having some trouble commenting on my blogs with the program I was using.  I have since reverted back to my old commenting system, so hopefully that works better for you! 

The second weekend in March, we took a trip with ITT1 here on base.  We had never taken an ITT trip before, so we figured now's a good of time of any.  Being new on the island we got a 10% discount on tours (offered to people here 90 days or less), which was even better.  A little before 9am we met the bus, and boarded for a little over an hour.  Our tour guide was great! She was Okinawan working with the base for years, and had some really funny stories to tell along with history of places we were driving past and other events and places she recommended us to go to.

Located on the East coast of the northern part of the island about 45 miles away (see map below), is an amazing little hill top with over 50,000 azaleas grown and taken care of by the village people of Higashi.  With a great view of the ocean, there were tons of trails winding in and out of azalea gardens and mangroves.

There were some great viewing areas all around, and actually, my favorite spots were down in the valley walking along the mangroves being able to look up at the azaleas.

Love these trees!

The festival lasts for about 3 weeks, and along with beautiful views and trails, there is a small area (that doesn't interrupt nature) where they have food stalls, flower demonstrations, a small farmers market and live music.  Of course we had to try some things while we were out.  Lunch time after all, don't want anyone getting a case of the hangrys.

We split an order of nikumaki onigiri, which, if you love onigiri like I do, this will blow your mind.  It's simply a rice ball wrapped in meat.  You can't go wrong with this, trust me.  Mine was pork, but they come with beef also.  It's a thinly sliced piece of meat marinated in a delicious sauce, wrapped around a rice ball and then baked or fried, it's then coated in more sauce.

We also split some takoyaki.  This is a go-to snack/street food in Japan, you'll see takoyaki stands EVERWHERE.  It's delicious so no wonder why.  It's a doughy ball filled with octopus (tako), green onion, and ginger which is cooked in this special grill pan.  After it's done cooking, it's coated in a takoyaki sauce which is like a bbq sauce with mayonnaise and bonito flakes.  There are a lot of variations of this, but the dough and octopus stay the same, otherwise it would be a different dish.  I really enjoy takoyaki, but with a little less sauce.  This guy was drowning in it.  Just my preference though.

More adventuring.  Aaron had a good time trying to read all the Japanese signs.  He was able to pronounce a lot, but we had no idea what the translation was.  That didn't bother me at all, I was busy taking in the views and taking pictures.

I have never seen this many azaleas before, it was awesome!

Once we made it to the lower area, there was a small stream and a boardwalk around the mangroves and some beautiful trees.  I could have stayed here forever.

Towards the end of the trail, as we were making our way back up to the entrance, we spotting this elderly couple taking photos of themselves.  It was so cute the way the man was pushing his wife up the hill (which was pretty freaking steep to be pushing ANYONE up, never mind doing it at that age).  They reminded me a little of my grandparents, how sweet they were with each other, and I really love this picture.

1ITT (Information Tickets & Travel)
A service offered on our base (and many other bases) that supplies information and tickets for events off base.  Trips usually include transportation.  They also offer discounted tickets to many things including special events/activities/hotels, and can make reservations for flights and hotels off island.

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08 May 2013

April Monthly Recap

Only a week late with what I was so excited to start doing. Our monthly recap!!!  Below you will find random photos of random experiences in random order that happened randomly in the month of April.  Sometimes were purposely left out because I intend to do a full blog post on, some I will expanding on in other posts both here and at Kacey's Kitchen, and some experiences aren't here because we didn't take pictures!  Enjoy!

If you are looking for a pet, they sell chipmunks at Tabata, a hardware store right at Naval Kadena.  I know.  A chipmunk, for the low price of $100(ish).  A freaking chipmunk!!!

Earlier in the month some of the squadrons here celebrated what's called "Warrior Week".  It's a moral event/tradition involving heritage room crawls (aka a bar crawl), pranks, gifts, a banquet, and yearly awards. I barely participated by helping sew and stuff tiger tails (Aaron's squadron is the "Young Tigers") which were eventually placed on squadron commanders cars in the middle of the night.  I also helped by making some tiger fudge as gifts.

My friends KayCee and Erin (and little Kaylee) came over to help with the tails.  Well, Kaylee managed to play with every item in the living room while Erin did a nice job sneaking up on her pulling out some dvd's.  

Because if you didn't understand the words 'rest room', or a picture of a toilet, someone sitting on a toilet should get the point across.

One day I randomly ran into Shin Koyamada at the Foster Exchange.  Running into the store for a can of spray paint, I managed to stand in a line of only 5 people waiting for an autograph and photo.  Koyamada played opposite of Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.

Driving over to a fabric shop, I ran into some insane traffic.  I eventually arrived to the source, a building had collapsed into the main road. Whoops. It appeared to have been undergoing construction or demolition already...but I don't think they intended it to fall where it did.

I found an amazing store called ETWS here on the island.  A strange big store that's half housewares half Spencers gifts, with some interesting costumes.

After lunch and a stroll on the beach, we found some rubber shisha dogs.

Please clean away your dog's dung.  With a picture of a pooping dog.  Nice job Japan.

The sunsets here are gorgeous.  What's great about living on this little tiny island is, we can drive 20 minutes to the beach to watch the sun rise, and 5 minutes to the beach to watch the sun set.  While having dinner and drinks one night with friends, we caught this beauty.

A monthly roundup wouldn't be complete without an appearance from the cat.  Never before has she been interested in the dryer, but lately, she wants to climb in it all the time.  We'd like to say she's helping us do laundry, but we know that could never be the truth.

Aaron spent a couple of days working in Guam.  'Working'.  Here's his view from the hotel room.

Here's a photo from my seat at the warrior banquet.  It was held in a hanger and TONS of people we there.  I think something like 6 or 7 squadrons and all their spouses.  Here they were presenting some awards, looks like we may have won something here with how many of our team is standing.

The base offers lots of free (and paid) classes/presentations.  I took a 3 day Japanese For Busy People class and followed it up with a Washi paper craft class.  We made a Japanese candy box.  Might not have been the most exciting hour ever, but it's a great way to get out of the house and meet people.  Know I have no idea what to do with this thing.

Another class I took was a Kimono wearing class. We learned a little about the history of them, and then we each got to learn how to put one on.  It takes forever, even for people who wear them often, depending on the style it could take up to an hour or more to put on.  Fun Fact: A kimono are typically made from a single piece of fabric that's almost 40 feet long.  I'd post more photos, but they weren't at ALL flattering.  This was a lot of fun to do, and now I would actually consider buying one, and actually wearing it.

Oh man, the signs here are great.  Good thing it was here, otherwise I would have tried to pet a snake.  Or not.

Exploring on the island is always amazing.  There are lots of castle ruins on the island, and this was the first one that we checked out.  I'll do a little blurb about this later.

Believe it or not, not every day is sunny and perfect here.  In fact, there were a few weeks in April where it rained and poured every single day.  I used this time to do some crafting.  We have intentions to build our own dining room table at some point, and in the meantime, I found 5 chairs in 2 different styles for FREE (only 1 style shown).  They needed to be stripped down, re painted, and reupholstered.  I'm not sure on the colors of my finished product, but it works for now, and much, much better.
 One of my favorite beaches here.

Beach time always calls for ice cream time.  A famous American ice cream shop here adopted by Okinawans.  Everyone loves Blue Seal...and I mean EVERYONE.  They have some amazing flavors, mine is Ube (purple yam) and Aaron's is Beni-Imo (Japanese sweet potato), both are purple, the beni-imo has a smoky flavor.  Plus, look at their cute cones!!!

Another exploring day (aren't they all exploring days?) with some new friends, we checked out Okinawa World, which is a little heritage park filled with underground caves, craft/heritage village, habu museum and demonstration, and Eisa dancing.  More on that later, but I just wanted to share with you these awesome Shisas! I want to build one!!!

More snake signs.  BTW, there are a shit ton of snakes on the island.  They will bite and kill you, and they will eat your children.  Just saying.  Also...don't throw stones or trash at THIS snakes.

Another beach (I keep showing you pictures at low tide) on the East China Sea side of the island.  This was a great little spot.  When the tide is down you can walk out really far...all the way to the dark part of the water past those last rocks/coral.  Lots of locals were here this day picking scallops.

When on a beach with millions of hermit crabs, the only logical thing to do would be to race them.  We held 2 races, mine lost both.  Next time, Aaron's not allowed to pick out my crab.  We did have couple cross the finish line though.  It was waaay more exciting than it should have been.

Well, even though that doesn't show you everything that we had done this past month, I hope it gives you a little window into our daily life.  I'm excited to share with you some of the food we've been splurging on over at Kacey's Kitchen soon.  Keep an eye out!

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