Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Okinawa Part 1: "And it was GOOD".

Okinawa, Where we went, what we saw and WHAT did I just eat??
Where we went:

Last Friday a group of seven of us from all around Nagoya travelled to Okinawa-Honto, the main island in the Okinawa prefecture. We went to not only sight see and experience the unique culture of Okinawa, but to also get a deeper understanding of the controversial political problem of the U.S. bases and air fields on the island. I had prepared the previous week by studying up and reading whatever I could find on the controversial situation, but I still got on the plane feeling ill-prepared, especially because it was only a few weeks ago that I learned that there WAS a controversial situation. This blog post is going to be split in two with this post being about the sightseeing and cultural experiences. The next post, I promise, will get political!

Day 1. We visited the main city of Naha in the southern part of the Okinawa-Honto Island.

Day 2-3. We spent these days in the beautiful city of Nago and came back to Naha at the end of the third day.

Day 4. We ventured off the main island to the sacred island of Kudakajima.

Downtown Naha

These beautiful flowers were all over the island

 What we saw:

Okinawa is a really interesting place. The main city of Naha is a built up city which hosts the islands airport, many restaurants selling traditional Okinawan food, many U.S. Military bases, historical sites, monuments and really excellent souvenir shopping. Because of limited time we spent the majority of our time in Naha touring the historical and recent military sites. I would love to go back and discover what else this city is about.

The northern city of Nago is absolutely beautiful. Here we got to do a little more sightseeing. We visited the world famous Churaumi Aquarium, visited a beautiful Sei Ko Kai church and had lunch with the congregation there. We also got to visit some of the beaches and of course the local A&W restaurant which the locals call “AndO”. Outside of Nago we visited the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial. This moving memorial has the names of everyone who died during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. It was overwhelming to see almost 200,000 names of the Okinawan civilians, the Japanese Soldiers, the Koreans and the U.S. Soldiers who died during the 90 day battle.

Kudakajima, an island off the coast of Okinawa-Honto is breathtakingly beautiful. It is a sacred Island in Okinawan culture. During the Ryukyu Kingdom, the priestess and even the King would pray to this island from Sefa-Utaki a beautiful outdoor shrine made from huge boulders and beautiful views of Kadakajima. Because the island is sacred, you cannot take anything off the island. So although the shells were beautiful there, wishing no harm on myself or the Okinawan people, I left them on the beaches.

Churaumi Aquarium.  I could sit and watch the fish for hours.

On the ferry to Kadakajima

Can you see why I didn't want to leave?

One of many shells we weren't allowed to take off the island


There is some serious beauty in this place

I've never seen water so clear before

This is at Sefa-Utaki.  The water that drips off of these stalactites into the pots below is holy water.  

Peace Memorial

One of a pair of Shisa!  I love these little guys.

WHAT did I just eat??

The culture in Okinawa is different than anywhere else in Japan because it only became a part of Japan a couple hundred years ago. Along with Japanese influences, there are also Chinese and Vietnamese cultural influences as well. This is apparent especially in the food. While I was there we sampled every native Okinawan dish we could find. Some of the best were fermented tofu, hot papaya and carrot salad and the local fruits. The foods I would probably not eat again? Raw sea urchin, and pickled pigs ear (I’m told it’s an acquired taste!).  I was so glad to be able to try all the new food!

While we were here we also got a chance to watch some local dances and learn about the Shisa, statues that are placed at the entrance way to houses (and gas stations, military bases, streets and schools) to ward off evil.

A kind of seaweed that we had three different times on the trip

See below the plants?  That my friends, is pickled pigs ear. 
All in All it was an amazing trip and I’m so glad to have been able to experience Okinawa. Keep a look out in the next couple of days for part II of my Okinawan adventure!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming"

Wow!  It has been a busy week.  Thursday-Saturday was the Children's Peace Forum which ran from about 8am-9pm every day.  Then after that Monday and Tuesday I spent at St. Luke's helping out with the English Summer Program there.  I've had the past two days off to get ready for my Okinawa trip.  Today I went to Sakae (Downtown Nagoya) to do some sightseeing and shopping but a lot of my time has been spent reading and learning about Okinawa to get ready for my trip.  I must confess that I don't have much knowlege about US military history and I have even less knowledge about Japanese history.  I've been trying to play catch-up in this lack of my education so that I will be able to form knowledgeable opinions on this trip.  You can bet that I'll be posting about it when I return!

This past week has been a great one.  I enjoy being busy and although I'm looking foward to having a routine it's been really fun getting to do many different things and having many different experiences! The week after I get back I will not only be starting to teach regularly, I'll also be starting my Japanese classes at the YWCA which I'm really looking foward to.

I also wanted to throw out a request for any really good rice recipes anyone has.  Rice is the main staple here and although most Japanese eat it plain, I'm always looking for creative ways to cook it for myself! I don't have an oven, but I do have a rice cooker and one burner.  Any ideas would be appreciated!

Finally, I hate to admit it, but the customer service at Starbucks here beats the customer service at every Starbucks I've been to in the States (a lot of them).  I've been to two different Starbucks here and each time the people who work there have been awesome.  At one they gave me a picture menu and helped me order and at the other one they gave me sample of all their different cold teas to help me order when all I could do was say "Ocha" and point to a cold cup! 

My week in pictures:
We made Gyoza (potstickers) the first night of the Peace Forum

"Strangely Delicious Electrifying Bread"  Turned out to be cake made in a milk carton "oven" that was plugged into the wall!

The Electric Cake was a huge hit with the kids.

We really like to cook at camps!  This is homemade nan.

Playing with Sparklers on the last day of the Peace Forum

I found a really cool bug on my way to church.

Flowing Noodle party at St. Matthews.  You have to catch the noodles as the go by with your chopsticks and then dunk them into your soup. It was SO delicious and harder than it looks!

"Flowing Noodle Party!"



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God"

Happy Wednesday everyone! I have had a wonderful week of sightseeing, getting settled, and having meetings to learn what I'll be doing this year. It is summer break right now in Japan so my teaching work won't start for a couple more weeks. In the meantime I will be helping out at two camps, one is a Children's Peace Forum which will take place this week at the Nagoya Youth Center and the other is a Children's Summer English Program which will be next week at St. Luke's. After that I will be going on a study tour to Okinawa for 4 days to go sightseeing and to learn about the military history there. Then once I get back it will be September and my regular work will begin!

Since a picture is worth a thousand words....here is a photo montage of my week:

Dragons Giants Game at Nagoya Dome! 
Grocery Shopping is always a fun adventure.
Dragons beat the Giants 6-1!  What a great game.

Beetle trading is huge in Japan.

Obon Dancing at the Nagoya Castle.

Nagoya Castle.  Inside is a museum and observation deck.

Studying my Japanese alphabet.  Yes, I bought the duck flashcards!

Delicious homemade bread

Making bread dough!

Best strawberry snowcone I've ever had.

Memorial service for the 35 homeless men and women who died in Nagoya

Oh, Hi there.

Nagoya Dome where the Dragons play.
So Good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"To what should I compare the kingdom of God"

Group A's team flag! Our group name was "Lightning 11"

I have officially been in Japan for a week! It’s been an amazing yet crazy week of getting settled and oriented into what will be my new life for the next 12 months. After the St. Steven’s camp I had one day off then we started a camp at St. Luke’s. It was exhausting but so much fun! The kids were great and really enthusiastic about every single activity. Some highlights from the trip were spending the day at a river splashing about and making sushi with the kids the next day. The kids came from the local community and had a great three days playing, singing songs and making crafts…just normal camp stuff.
The next few weeks are during the “in-between” time where there are no camps and school is not in session. Next week there is a Children’s Peace Forum that I am really looking forward to as well as preparing for a study tour of Okinawa where I’ll be learning about the history of the fighting there and the situation today. I am excited about that trip because it is something that I unfortunately do not know a lot about. Then, after that trip I start up my English classes and helping out at the Mitzuba (preschool aged kids) classes!

Some “firsts” that have happened over the past few days:
-I took the Subway in Japan for myself for the first time.
-I killed my first cockroach ever.
-I joined a gym for the first time.
-I registered as an alien.
-I ordered food by myself for the first time (A delicious strawberry Crepe by the way) which didn’t go so well language-wise but I managed to get the point across!
-Saw my first crazy toilet that makes flushing sounds with a push of a button. I’ve read about these and really wanted to take a picture…but I felt that would be too weird!
-Ran into someone I knew while I was at the mall for the first time. It was really great to be able to say, “I’ll see you tomorrow” just when I was pondering how out of place I must look!
We made sushi with the kids. It was so yummy!
On the last day we made cardboard box houses...total chaos!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Behold, I am making all things new "

After 6 months of thinking, planning and praying about my trip, I am finally in Nagoya, Japan. It was a long uncomfortable flight, but it got me here! I had no problems with immigrations and customs and Chris another YASC missionary was there to meet me and take me to the Nagoya Youth Center.

What's the very first thing I did in Nagoya? We had a campfire with some of the campers at a 4 day camp that's going on in the Youth Center! What's the first food I ate in Japan? A S'MORE! Granted it was with Ritz crackers and not Graham Crackers, but it wasn't too bad. My family always has campfires almost every week throughout the summer in Groton, MA. So I was so excited to have this bit of familiarity on my first night!

The next day was spent all day with the campers doing activities and playing games and after the campers left we had a sushi party!

Here are some pictures of my cute little apartment:

On the right is my tiny bathroom!
On the left is the picture of my door from the inside. The kitchen area is directly on the right and the bathroom on the left from where I was standing.

On the left is my stocked fridge!
On the right is the view of my apartment from the door.

This is the view from my balcony window. You can see downtown Nagoya in the distance.

On the left is the fan I made. That's my name at the bottom!
On the right is an awesome tree the campers made. My group did the part on the far left. It was the "Creative" side!