Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Okinawa City and America Town

I have been searching for information on other things to do from Nago and found this blog for a tour guide, which gave all sorts of useful information about Okinawa which I wish I had known before...http://blog.livedoor.jp/marshcnet/

We spent most of the day on buses and it cost a fortune ( 3 people X NZ$60 return trip by bus). We went from Nago  to Okinawa City first and it took 1hr 15mins, all I can say is 'don't bother'. After over an hour of passing American army bases we got to Okinawa City which seems to have been badly hit by the recession, or maybe it just closes up for the winter. No-one in the tourism ofice spoke any English but we managed to get a timetable for the free bus which does a circuit of Okinawa City. Didn't see any reason to get off the bus but the zoo might have been Ok if the kids had been younger. The zoo is at the stop labelled (on the English timetable) 'Children's Playground'.

I did find some nice pieces of kasuri fabric in the shopping street near Goya bus stop (also opposite tourist information).

From there we went to Mihama/America Village on the other side of the island. Pretty deserted, very American. Complete contrast to Okinawa City. Didn't stay long. No-one in the tourist office spoke English - they had to call Okinawa 2 Go, Tourist information 098-916-6180 who translated the bus information to us which was great except that we were specifically told that our bus (number 120) would not go past the Ryukyu Mura park that we wanted to visit. We were sitting on the bus when we heard it anounced by the onboard bus info system so we hopped off the bus and found it was a lovely place worth visiting. The bus trip up the West coast to Nago was much nicer than the trip down the East Coast past the army bases. That coast is all prettified and covered in resort hotels, nice beaches and cute eateries.

My recommendation for Okinawa? Stay in Naha! If there is more than one of you, hire a car.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Some interesting things

Pucho flavours in Okinawa - from top - mandarin, Pineapple, mystery flavour, a different version of pineapple
 My kids are mad on these chewy sweets called 'Pucho'. They are chewy fruit flavoured sweets with small jelly lumps in them. Everywhere we go we have to go and check out the flavour available in the local convenience stores, because there are different Pucho flavours in different parts of the country.

Appropriately, Okinawa is the only place we have found pineapple flavour and  Shikuwasha flavour (a tpe of orange grown in Okinawa).  We also try to find the local flavour for the chocolate bar -  Kitkat. In Kyoto the flavour is green tea, in Okinawa it is purple yam. The Kitkats here are purple coloured but to me they taste like white chocolate. In Takayama which is north of Kyoto, Kitkats were white bean paste flavour. You can also get red bean flavour and Oolong Tea flavour.

Cigarette warning signs

How does the Guide Dog know where the toilet is?

A big cushy Kokeshi doll

Thigh length furry boots

A very low beam in Matsumoto Castle. Even I had to duck and James could see over the top.

Chiraumi Aquarium, Okinawa

I took the kids to the Aquarium today. It is variously listed as the largest or second largest in the world. My son remembers that the Genova Aquarium in Italy we visited a few years ago listed itself as the second largest in the world as well.

This aquarium is amazing because of the huge Whale Sharks they are breeding. Here is one swimming overhead. It is like a small cruise ship.

There were lots of amazing real fish and then in the grounds some weird flower sculptures including this one.

There were amazing dark clouds, not much rain fell but it is still quite cold and windy.

For those fabricaholics out there, Nago is a fabric wasteland. The only shops of any interest are bakeries and second hand musical instrument shops and both shop types are really only interesting to my kids...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Nago, Okinawa 16/1/11

Er....I don't recommend this place at all. After  a couple of hours walking around we hopped in a taxi and went to 'Pineapple Land' which is what the kids call 'incredibly cheesy'. We rode in a special pineapple car which runs automatically although you can pretend to steer. After the ride in the cart, you get to taste pineapple wine, biscuits, fruit drinks and cake. The food is the best bit, the rest is good for a laugh only.

Pineapple car

Pineapple soft toys
Then we went to Fruits Land. The butterfly house was semi-okay.

The Chrysallis looks like it is made of gold.
At this stage the kids and I are wondering whether we should have stayed in Naha but if the weather improves and the shops open (it is Sunday today) things may improve :-).

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Hi from Okinawa. I see that all the previous posts have got themselves in a mess with dates but we are in Okinawa now and it is the 15th of January.
Fuji from the plane (14/1/11)

All I can say about Okinawa weather in January is that it seems a bit like Wellingtons weather. We were promised warm weather but it is nasty, the wind is blowing and the rain is going sideways.

Today I have been to see the underground bunkers where the Japanese Navy officers committed suicide as the Americans invaded during WW2. I went there because I have some Japanese friends whose father was one of the officers who died. His poor wife was left with 8 children to bring up alone.

I got horriby lost getting there and had to hail a taxi and pay heaps to get back to civilsation - so much for following the brochure instructions to catch bus 33.

Then I went to Shuri Castle which was the centre of the Ryukyu Kingdom, who were the rulers of the Okinawa Islands before the japanese. from there I walked down the hill to see a Bingata fabric workshop and couldn't find the other two I was hoping to see. I then walked all round the market and in and out of every fabric shop. I didn't buy any fabric because it is all in big rolls, or is small pieces of incredibly bright 'fake Bingata' which is so bright it looks like Hawaiian fabric. The real Bingata is so much more subtle!
Bingata display at Shuri Ryusen studio

Bingata at Shuri Ryusen Bingata studio

Geta sandals in the market

Bingata in the market (on the left)

Kimono fabric rolls and geta sandals

Window stacked with kimono fabric
The fake bingata is luridly coloured machine-printed cotton (see the yellow item in the photo below)

Then I went to the Naha City Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts, followed by the Okinawa Prefectural Art Gallery and Museum. There are good examples of hand stencilled Bingata kimono in both museums and a good video showing in the Craft Museum on how the fabric is decorated. First a stencil is cut, then rice paste is squeegeed through the stencil and allowed to dry on the fabric. Coloured dyes are pasted onto the fabric where there is no paste resist, then after all the fabric is coloured in, the dye is fixed then the paste is washed out. The colours are often beautifully shaded from light to dark within the coloured areas.

My feet are dead and I feel like I need tomorrow to recover. We are off to Nago which is further North as my husband is going to a conference there.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kyoto (9/1/11) and daytrip to Takayama

We have been in Kyoto for the last 2 days. Tomorrow is the day when the 20 year olds dress up and go to the shrine. We saw some of the girls today (maybe they can't get time off work tomorrow) wearing the brightest kimono (garish really) with their hair in an 'up-do', tons of makeup and with white fake fur draped around their shoulders. I didn't like to take a photo. Maybe tomorrow when there are more of them.

This is a bit out of sequence but I forgot that one of my sons and I did a day trip up to Takayama from Kyoto to see snow. I have been to Takayama before in Spring but it looks very different at this time of year. No cherry blossom, no hordes of people and man of the shops are closed but it is still lovely, but bitterly cold after dark - I thought my nose might freeze.

Okinawa 14/1/11

We are now in Okinawa for the next 7 days. This place is really different from the parts of japan I have seen before. The temperature is about 18C as compared with minus figures in Kyoto and snow on the ground in some places. The colours are brighter, fabrics look more like Hawaiian fabrics and people seem louder. The prices also seem much cheaper. We have quite good sized rooms in a business hotel for the same price as the one room in the scummy hostel which 3 of us squeezed into last night. The room was so small that two of us had to get onto our beds to allow the other person to walk into the room. My husband stayed at a rather better place than us as he had to fly to Okinawa from a different airport. I don't have any photos but wil post some tomorrow.

from Nago, Okinawa

Kyoto 10/1/11

t has been a bit hard to update the blog because of a lack of internet access. We had a house to our selves in Kyoto which was great but the internet either wasn't working or when it did work the whole family seemed to get there before me. Anway, now I'll do a bit of a catch up.
We travelled down from Matsumoto to Kyoto and moved away from the snow on the ground but it was still freezing in Kyoto and it did snow on oe of the days although it didn't settle.

One of the highlights of our week in Kyoto was Seijin-no-to, which is 'Coming of Age day' when 20 year olds dress up on kimono for women and traditional outfits or suits for the men. (20 is the age when you can legally drink alcohol and smoke cigarrettes). The women appeared incredibly overdressed and were wearing heaps of makeup, hair extensions, fake fox furs, incredibly bright kimono with furisode sleeves (very long). It reminded me of NZ girls dressed for the school formal.
It was interesting to see them all dressed up in traditional clothes with a ciggie in one hand and talking into the cellphone with the other hand. By the end of the night there were loads or rather 'trashed' 20 year olds all over Kyoto.

The same day, our Japanese friends took us to a shrine in Osaka which is dedicated to the god of commerce - Ebisu. People were being given branches of bamboo then buying charms to hang on the branches. We got swept along with the crowds but didn't managed to get too near the money collection point or the branches. We had to throw our money into the collecting  box over peoples heads!
Above you can see someone with one of the branches getting ready to buy charms to hang on it. The lanterns have pictures of the God Ebisu, my friend says Ebisu, God of Commerce (only in Osaka :-) has poor hearing so you have to shout hard to get his attention.

So many people! About the population of New Zealand goes through this temple during the 3 days of the festival

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year in Tokyo

New Year in Tokyo is about going to the shrine on New Year's day and about shopping. Today was bedlam as the shops opened after a day off yesterday. There were people queuing at the door for the shops to open and for the Fukubukuro or 'lucky bags'. I bought one which had clothing adding up to about 5 X the price of the bag. Only one item didn't fit. I was careful to choose a shop which had clothes 'free size' i.e big. Only one item was too small and one was far too big but the other three items are really nice.

This kitten which is trying to climb out of the cage via a very small hole, costs about NZ$2000. The price is reduced for New Year sales.

Snow Monkeys

We woke up this morning and looked out of our hotel window and the world had turned white. It doesn't really snow in Wellington, New Zealand (well it does occasionally but doesn't stay on the ground long), so this is very exciting although, at the end of the day it was getting a bit cold and some of the novelty had worn off.
Photo by Chris

Photo by Chris

We went up to see the snow monkeys at Yudanaka Monkey park. It was pretty cold and there were a lot more monkeys in the onsen (hot pool) than there were in October when I was here.

 The monkeys carry on their daily activities such as grooming in the hot pool. When they get too hot they loll on the sides of the pool with their arms out of the water just like people in the Rotorua hot pools in NZ.

 Altogether it was a pretty amazing day. The monkeys were in fine form with little ones chasing each other in the snow and the adults all sitting in the hot pools. Tomorrow we are off to Kyoto for 6 days.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tokyo continued...

Today was our last day in Tokyo and we all went in different directions. My older son and I started off at the National Gallery of Modern art and saw a great exhibition of  dolls, then we went to the Mori Art Museum and saw weird skeleton-like sculptures by Odani Motohiko.

Then Chris went off to find Jazz cafes in Shinjuku. My younger son dissapeared in the Ginza Sony display room and my husband is somewhere up in the hills - he got tired of Tokyo crowds.
 Above is a photo taken in Shibuya, showing the crowds as wel as a large poster for the band 'Bump of Chicken'. I must find out what sort of music they play sometime.

Tokyo is still New Year sales mode. Lots of shops have Lucky Bags or 'Fukobukuro'. As you have no idea what is in the bags, it is best to find a shop which has mostly things you want,  like socks!
Here is a Fukobukuro (I hope that is spelt right) from a kimono shop. There are two bags - 5000 yen and 10000 yen ($75 or $150). I'd love to know what is inside.

We saw Mt Fuji from the roof of our hotel today. It is amazing how clear the sky is in Tokyo in winter.
Yesterday we went up to Matsushima on the train. It is about 3 hours North of Tokyo by shinkansen and local train. Long train journeys are great for  giving our feet a rest from walking.
I love seeing the trees with strings to stop the  snow breaking the branches. Below is a picture of some handmade snowboots.

The photo above is of octopus flavoured icecream at icecream-town in Namja land, Ikebukuro. This is in the local big shopping area to where we are staying.

I hope to be able to add more info and photos when I am able to find a more comfortable position to use the internet. It is hard typing when sitting on a high chair with the computer on a coffee table. More later!