24 March 2013

Toguchi Beach - Okinawa, Japan

It didn't take us too long to find a beach to explore.  Actually, it took us about a week, which really surprised me I didn't insist on going to one much, much sooner, but we were really so busy.  I guess that's what happens when you move to another country.  

Toguchi beach isn't too far away from our house, only about 6 miles, it still takes about 20 minutes due to traffic, slow speed limits, and insanely tiny roads to navigate and squeeze multiple cars through.  When you first arrive at the parking lot, there is a cafe (which we haven't tried yet) and a playground.  The playgrounds are different here, with cement slides and roller slides!  There were a bunch of families playing the day we went, so of course we avoided them and photos.  But I do want to go down the roller slide, so you'll get photos eventually.  Just past the playground are walking paths to the beach and some really nice picnic pavilions.

And something that made my day...seeing 2 cats playing on the beach.  You can see this guy running off with something in his mouth.  Cats are everywhere in Japan.  Literally, everywhere.  Some of them are in rough condition, but others are pretty cute and it's hard to remember that they are wild.
The tide was low when we arrived, and we saw many fishermen standing waaay out in the water, and families out harvesting seaweed.
There are numerous caves here, like on most of the island, and the rock formations are beautiful.
This beach is on the west side of the island, the East China Sea.
This photo doesn't show it, but the island is also COVERED in coral. Coral, coral EVERYWHERE!!!
Shrines and large tombs can be found everywhere on the island, on business property, on the side of the road, in peoples yards, and on base.  It'll be interesting to learn more about them.
Along the path are multiple places to stop and rest, and small yet beautiful picnic pavilions. This one here is way out on a point overlooking the sea.
On the other side of the parking lot, there is another walking path, stairs to the water, and different levels of grass to sit on and enjoy the outdoors.  See that big rock way in the back in the photo below?  Just past there is a quiet beach with finer sand and places to enjoy the water.
Here's some families out in the tidal pools collection sea weed and other things.
Oh, and don't take the hermit crabs!!!
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19 March 2013

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

The weekend we arrived on the island, it was an American holiday weekend, so we went to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium that Monday with our friends KayCee, Jake, and Kaylee.  They hadn't been there yet, so it was a great exploration for all of us.  We thought since it was still a work day for Japan, it wouldn't be busy, but I felt like every person on the island was there!  Even so, we were still able to see a ton of things and take some great pictures, and I know we all want to go back!
The aquarium is one of the largest in the world, one of the few that have multiple whale sharks in captivity, and the first aquarium to successfully reproduce manta rays.  It's definitely one of the main attractions on the island, and after being here once, we know why.  We ended up buying season passes, which pays for itself in 2 visits, and it's a good thing we did.  I don't think we were able to see even half of the exhibits on this day, and it's just over an hour away, so we'll be able to come a lot.
There is more than just an aquarium here, it's a whole park/village.  You park above everything which overlooks the ocean, and as you walk down 23909 (or so) flights of stairs, there are beautiful gardens and flower displays everywhere!  Literally walls and walls of flowers and plants.
Ocean themed plant displays!
 These guys were my favorite!
But it wasn't just flower and plant displays.  They have a dolphin theater (we caught the end of a show, you'll see below), Sea Turtle pools, Manatee pools, Arboretums, Oceanic Culture Museum, restaurants, and more.
Walls and walls of orchids everywhere!
I can't even imagine the amount of time, work, and money that goes into these displays.  They were endless, everywhere you turned, more flowers!!!
Once you actually make it to the Aquarium, which takes quite a while going down all the levels, looking at all the flowers, and taking pictures, there are even more photo ops and activities you can participate in before actually paying.
After we got our photos taken for our annual passes, we headed straight in and pet some starfish and other safe-to-handle creatures.  I think Aaron really liked this part.  I took his picture and walked away, and when I turned around, he was still petting things.
For a while, it was a pretty standard aquarium, different displays for different fish, a bunch of larger tanks with varieties of fish, etc.  It was really nice that everything was both in Japanese and English, so we were actually able to read and learn about the local sea life.  That's were I focused my time on, reading about and watching the local creatures.
Of course, I forgot exactly what everything was called... so I'll just call these water snakes 'creepers', because let's face it...that's exactly what they are.
My favorite though are the squid of course.  They were quite popular with everyone else also, so I didn't stay too long watching these guys float around.
But just long enough to get a few shots in.
The main exhibit was next, and it was pretty freaking cool.  I wish I was able to take better pictures, but either my little p&s camera doesn't like dark places or I don't know how to adjust the setting properly or a combo of both, but KayCee got some amazing shots with her DSRL, so maybe I could borrow some from her to show you (*hint *hint KayCee if you're reading this!).
So...if you don't know why it's so awesome that we saw a whale shark here it's because they are fucking enormous.  They are the largest known fish, and only around 15 or so are in captivity in the world.  They average 30 feet in length and weigh about 9 tons.  There isn't a whole lot known about them yet, no one has every seen a whale shark mate or give birth (they can carry 300 pups at once!), so having them in captivity is a pretty big deal.

In the same tank (which is so large you can barely call it a tank), they have giant manta rays, which are beautiful.  The 'wing span' on these are around 20 feet wide, and it was amazing to see them swim along the glass.
Speaking of the glass, they had a little display about this tank that held a handful of mantas and the whale sharks.  After all, it is curious how they build something to sustain all of that.  This one large tank (Kuroshio Sea) holds nearly 2 million gallons of water, and has a glass panel 27'x74' long!  The glass is an incredible 2 feet thick! Another cool thing about the aquarium is that all of the water is pumped in from the ocean, 300m offshore.  They pump in the new water, filter it into the tanks, filter it out of the tanks and back into the ocean.  The aquarium also generates 4 times more of its own power than it uses commercially.  Totally worth the 3,600 Yen ($39.15).
We finished off our day at the aquarium with the last few minutes of the dolphin show.  It was pretty impressive with a variety of dolphins and the ocean right behind.  It'll be nice to go again to watch the whole show.

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10 March 2013

Japan: The First Days, Part 2

Back to our first weekend on the island.  We had to start things off right by trying out these way too cute eggs from Japan.  Slightly smaller, sold in packs of 10, and delicious!!! 
The yolks are so much brighter than US eggs.
The Okinawa marathon was being held on base, so we walked around cheering runners on, and exploring a little of the base by foot.
We were so excited to be able to go to a sushi-go-round within the first few days of being here.  Our sponsors wife took us out one night to one of her favorite go-to spots.
If you're not familiar with sushi go rounds, it works like this.  You sit at a table or booth that has a little conveyor belt going past it.  The sushi chefs work in the middle preparing awesome stuff, and they put it right on the conveyor belt.  The dishes are color coded based on price.  I think here the prices ran from 100 yen to 580 yen, or something like that.  What else was cool about this place was you could also order off the menu if you don't see something coming around that you want.  Here they provide you with a menu and a little slip of paper and pencil.  You have to write down what you want in Kanji and the waitress will take your slip and place your order.


At least I only had to copy it from the menu.  There were a few very complicated Kanji combinations that I didn't try writing, but I would really like to try those dishes, so we'll have to go back.  That won't be a problem for us. We loved this place.

Another cook thing was they had a hot water faucet at each booth.  See that little black round thing on the 'wall' of the booth?  You pressed your mug against that and steaming hot water came out.  They had a container of green tea powder there for you also.
One of my favorite! Hotate aka scallop. I had to really resist not just ordering a ton of these and nothing else.
Here were our stack of plates for 3 people.  I think it cost around $50 for all of us.  We were stuffed, but it would have been so easy to do a lot more damage.  Each plate has a 'chip' in it, and when you are done, the waitress will come over to the table and scan the stack of plates and the computer automatically calculates it!
We walked around town, checking out a little mall, our first 100 yen store (basically a dollar store on crack), and headed down to Comprehensive park where we fed the carp!  Those bastards are aggressive!!!  By the time we did that, it was dark, so I don't have any pictures, but we liked it there so I'm sure we'll be going back soon.
Here's a little shot of the arcades.  They have a shit ton of arcades and pachinko parlors!  We've been to the arcades and peeked into a pachinko parlor, but maybe one day we'll get brave enough to go partake.
And the required kitty update.  Sammy was able to stay with us the first few nights because we had a pet friendly room, but we had to kennel her after day 4 since we had to switch rooms.  She was still doing great, just tired of moving and traveling.  Here's her cuddled up with Aarons sweatshirt.  And I don't know why she looks cross eyed sometimes...it's just how she is.  But only sometimes.

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07 March 2013

Japan: The First Days, Part I

Our first few days on the island were HECTIC!!! We decided to start things off right by waking up early that first morning and going with our friend KayCee to watch her coach youth softball.  It was nice to get outside and relax. 
We walked around a bit during the game and found our first humorous sign...Turkey Leg Dog!!!  Poor guy, first he's born with a turkey leg, and then he's not even allowed to hobble on the track! Sheesh!

We watched the game for a little longer, and headed off with Jake (KayCee's husband) to go get us cell phones.  Conveniently 2 of our best options had a kiosk/store in the Exchange1 mall, so we got to check that out, and compare plans (both companies had the same exact plan), phones, and service quality.
 We easily made up our minds when I questioned one of the sales people about their service having dead zones on base.  She shrugged and agreed that yes, there are dead zones.  Dead zones aren't cool, and if your sales person agrees with the complaints...it's time to move on, so we did just that, and moved on to the original company.  We had heard people complaining about the prices, but for 2 smart phones and comparable plans that we were use to, it wasn't much more a month than we were use to.  Having the convenience of maps, email, and apps to communicate back home with, it was definitely worth it to us.

KayCee met back up with all of us, and we all headed out to lunch.  By now we were starved.  So we all went off base to Taj Okinawa, a place none of us had been to yet!
I think we all ended up getting a lunch special, but with a different type of curry each.  This giant feast you see below cost 900yen which was about $9.89 that day.  It also came with a brothy soup with pasta and veggies in it, and a drink of your choice.  I chose lassi, which is a yogurt type beverage. It went really well with the spice level of curry I chose.  Check out that nan! It was HUGE!!!
We headed back to base where we picked up our cell phones and met some more folks from the squadron at a BBQ/kids birthday party.  We may have done some other things, but KayCee knew I'd love to check out one of the produce markets off base, so we went there next.  I loved it, and it turns out to be even more awesome because it is only a few minutes right outside the gate we live near.  I've already been shopping here a few times.
Still being my first real day in Japan, I couldn't resist buying one of my favorite Asian snacks.  Steamed buns!!!  Right in front of the market are a handful of vendors making food right there and selling it.  I got a spicy pork steamed bun.  I LOVE THESE THINGS!  I think this cost me 100 yen ($1.09) and was worth every penny/yen.
Before I show you what else I got, thought you might be interested in a receipt.  Or not.  It's the little things here that I notice and enjoy.
Another favorite snack/side is seaweed salad.  There are tons of different variations of this, and I don't know what this was called, but it was seaweed with a soy sauce based dressing and sesame seeds.  I planned on mixing it with some other veggies, like cucumbers and peppers, but we ended up just eating it like it was in our hotel room.  This was from an additional stand at the market, and I think it cost somewhere around $3-$4.
Okay, I don't know what's up with their carrots here, but they are HUGE.  That is a normal sized DINNER fork right next to it.  You could seriously damage someone with this.  I also thing you'd have to alter recipes that call for 'one carrot'.
Another favorite Japanese snack is onigiri.  I could eat this for every meal.  I'd love to blog about onigiri over at Kacey's Kitchen, but they are basically a snack made of rice and seasonings, sometimes fillings. The rice is mixed with herbs or veggies and rolled into typically a triangle shape by a salted hand.  I've never had one I didn't like, and I particularly like the salmon filled ones.
Later that evening we had dinner at KayCee & Jakes.  It was nice to help KayCee in the kitchen again (we'd often have each other over for meals while we were in Oklahoma together), and we had some time to catch up while the boys entertained the baby (their baby - not that you needed me to clarify) and catch up themselves.  The night was awesome, they had another couple over for dinner, which was awesome to be able to meet and hang out in a low-key setting.  We met so many people in 24 hours I barely remembered where we went, never mind names and faces!

Don't worry, I don't plan on writing our entire 3 years in such detail, I just really want to share our first few experiences on the island, and then I'll be more selective on what I bore you all with!

'til next time!!!

I describe this as the military department store.  It's THE place to buy stuff you need.  Depending on the size of your Exchange, you can get cloths, furniture, household supplies, gifts, tvs, etc.  I think ours here is one of the largest Exchanges in the world. Don't quote me on that though.

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