It has been quite a while since I updated last, particularly about my adventures in Okinawa. Chuck has been away playing war games around the Pacific, while I enjoyed two weeks off from school (even if work continued to pound away at my sanity.) My weekends have been full of fun and sunshine, rather than papers and presentations. Here are a few highlights! Continue reading
Since moving to Okinawa, I’ve seen plenty of Buzzfeed-style blogs and lists about what makes it unique, special, or funny. Since arriving here myself almost 1 year ago (!), I’ve come up with a list of my own. Very little of it is scientific, of course. These are just observations I’ve made since moving here last April. I hope they provide a bit of insight into the cultural experience I’ve enjoyed here so far 🙂 Continue reading
Holy smokes!! I hate being this delinquent on my blog, mostly because I really enjoy writing for it, and recounting all my adventures. But my new course for school is kicking my arse with one of the toughest workloads yet. Seriously, I have something due EVERY DAY. What gives? At least the subject matter is interesting!
It’s still January, so it’s not completely pointless to write about New Years, right? There isn’t much to tell anyway… at least now that I feel so removed from it already. Chuck and I experienced hatsumode with some friends, which is the Japanese ritual of visiting a Shinto shrine in pursuit of good fortune in the new year. They don’t see it as a party holiday like Americans do. It’s a time of reflection and prayer. Of course, we did ring in 2015 in true American style as well, with a party at the nearby Officer’s Club, but we did the reflection part too… even if it was as semi-skeptical tourists. (Click the slideshow to see captions.)
The Huffington Post is launching a series showcasing wisdom from around the world — traditions, daily rituals, philosophies, and lessons of history particular to each country — featuring a post each day, translated into English, from one of its international editors. I loved the first in the series, on how the French can inspire us to love life. For instance:
“In 2010, the French gastronomic meal was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, which honors cultural traditions.”
I can totally believe it!!
“In 1982, France’s Culture ministry had the crazy, brilliant idea to tell everyone in the country to go out, play music and dance for one night. Happening every first night of summer, the “Fête de la Musique” is now one of the greatest nights of the year.”
Food, music, and dancing. The French really do have it right. Read about the other 4 cultural and philosophical tidbits here!
One of the first things I noticed while driving around the island was the omnipresence of the rather creepy looking “lion-dog”, or Shisa. Nearly every business, household, and restaurant has two of each – one on either side of its entrance or rooftop. One, with its mouth open in a vicious snarl, is the male shisa (despite the obnoxious assumptions made by certain males in my company), and the other is the female shisa (with its mouth firmly shut, thank you.) As it turns out, these shisas are protectors based in Okinawan and Chinese mythology, intended to shun evil spirits. The open-mouthed shisa wards off the evil, while the close-mouthed shisa keeps good spirits in (although, according to Wikipedia, these gender roles can be “variously assigned.) I am not superstitious, but in the spirit of cultural immersion, I will definitely have to get a petite pair of these guys for my new home! Besides, who doesn’t want good spirits?
The other item I’m seeing everywhere I go – though less frequently than the shisa dogs – is the Maneki-neko, or “the beckoning cat.” Usually made of ceramic, these cats are meant to bring luck to the owner. White cats bring general good luck all ’round, black cats bring good health, and gold cats bring financial fortune. There are a series of beautiful (sometimes heartbreaking) Japanese folktales tying the cat to good luck, which – as a crazy cat lady myself – pleases me to no end. In addition to my shisa dogs, I plan on getting a few of these feline talismans in smaller form, since I find the large ones a bit tacky and overwhelming for my taste. Maybe one in each color!
Earlier this week, our wonderful sponsors organized a group dinner at Yoshihachi, the area’s landmark sushi establishment. Apparently, Yoshihachi has been frequented by celebrities, athletes, politicians, and high-ranking military officials over the years, so of course we had to pay it a visit. Chuck and I had tried quite a bit of delicious Japanese food already, but this was our first authentic dining experience in many ways – most notably that we removed our shoes and sat on the floor before eating, and paid in cash yen at the door for our meal (no credit cards accepted.)
Our new friends insisted we try the blowfish. Rumor has it that it makes your mouth numb and tingly, and if you’re really lucky, it gives you some trippy dreams. Alas – Chuck and I experienced neither – but I’m still happy that we tried it. What was more interesting was the sea urchin. If there is anything that straight up tastes like the ocean, it’s a sea urchin. Delicious!
Mostly, my focus in trying all this amazing Japanese food is mastering the chopsticks. Chuck was already pretty decent, but I’m proud to say I’m slowly catching up to his expertise and may even surpass it! I’m kidding… I’m nowhere near there… but I am definitely making progress. In a land where you can’t just ask for a fork, you learn to work with what you’ve got!
Advice the Japanese give their own countrymen on how to handle the peculiarities of American culture.
“NOBODY IS IMPRESSED BY HOW MUCH YOU CAN DRINK. IN FACT, SHAME ON YOU. THEY HAVE FREE TIME ALL WEEK LONG! THEIR VENDING MACHINES ARE RIDICULOUSLY LIMITED AND DISHONEST. THEY TEND TO HORSE LAUGH, EVEN THE WOMEN. BUT DARN IT ALL, THEY’RE SO WEIRDLY OPTIMISTIC YOU JUST CAN’T STAY IRRITATED AT THEM.”
This is hilarious!! Oh man, Japan’s gonna be great.