Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not Quite Vegas Baby!

Last Saturday night, we were feeling lucky (okay and let's be honest, bored). After wandering into a smoky noisy Pachinko parlor once (Japanese slot machine place) and being totally confused, we decided to hit the slots on the base. I know, it's sad, but options are limited when you live on an island only 60 miles long. 

We timed ourselves to see how long it would take to gamble away twenty dollars, and thanks to my slot machine strategy, we were able to play for a whole twenty minutes, rather than five if I had left it up to Sean. We chose a Japanese themed machine to work in our favor, but alas, in the end, "Silk Kimono" was not kind...


Yomitan Village and new food love

One afternoon, I went with an Okinawan friend to a nearby potter's village. This village is basically a scattering of little workshops with various local vendors selling their wares. What makes it even more interesting is that many of the vendors live right there and share their home and work space. Yes, we made the mistake of walking into someone's living room, but we apologized! Anyway, we spied some interesting buildings including this one slanting up the side of a hill!

We visited several of the shops and I bought a few pieces of pottery as souvenirs. I love the rustic style of this pottery with Okinawan motifs like fish or animals.  

One of the best parts of this day was the lunch we had at one of the workshops. It was just a small family run operation, but I think it's my favorite meal I've had here on island.

This was a fairly typical local lunch with seaweed soup, fried rice, Japanese root vegatables, and tofu, but it was delicious. I also discovered something called Jimami dofu here, which is Okinawan style tofu made from peanuts. I know, sounds weird. However, I promise you, it's wonderful and creamy like a dessert. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Exploring the Okinawan South

In the mood for something different, over the weekend we headed south and drove along the coast to visit a few scenic spots and enjoy views of ocean.

Our first stop was the Ryuku Glass and Ceramics Factory where they sell beautiful dishes, vases, planters, and tiles among other things. The pottery is mostly brown clay and rustic and earthy looking, while the glass reminds me of Murano glass from Italy-- vibrant, sparkly, and colorful. The factory has an open workshop where you can watch the glass be heated in a 1300 degree oven and then transformed into a plate or glass right in front of you. (We did buy a few things including 2 gorgeous thick glass mugs, and wouldn't you know, I already shattered one, not even in our possession for 24 hours)

From there, we visited the Peace Memorial Park, a monument to those lost during the Battle for Okinawa, March-June 1945 . Both of us had read about the battle and learned about the Japanese and American losses, but it was more than overwhelming to see the actual sheer number of marble tablets honoring the names of the deceased including 107, 539 Japanese miltary.  

Also, one area of the park honors by name the 12,000 Americans who perished during the battle.

We were very impressed by the serenity of the monument overlooking the ocean.

Our final stop was lunch at Cafe Carumba, aka Thai in the Sky. What a cool place! Perched up high on a cliff and surrounded by flowering plants and foliage, this restaurant serves all kinds of Thai and Japanese dishes made with herbs they grow in their own garden. In fact, we could smell the freshness of the herbs the minute we got out of the car. 

We ordered Typhoon pork curry 

Tom Yum Seafood Soup

Last, Larb salad

After our meal, we sat outside the restaurant and enjoyed the view.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cherry Blossom Season

Over the weekend, we attended the first of many cherry blossom festivals this season. Japanese people are crazy for this time of year-- some even travel as far as mainland Japan for a first glimpse of the flowers since they don't start blooming there for a few more months. Okinawan cherry blossoms, we've learned, are different from mainland. They are a Taiwanese variety that are bright pink rather than pale pink or white as they are in Kyoto.

We got there by snaking up a one way mountain road lined with trees along the way. This road was really gorgeous, especially on the way down (which we couldn't capture since the camera unexpectedly ran out of battery!)

Once we got to the park, we had a small picnic with bento boxes from Hotto Motto. We just discovered this fun shop which sells a variety of prepared lunches perfect for picnics or to take to work. I love them because they give a little taste of everything.  

They also had ice cream stands up there selling "cherry blossom" ice cream with lines of people waiting to buy. We suspect it must be like Girl Scout cookie time in the states-- it only comes once a year with limited supplies.

More pictures of cherry blossoms to follow soon!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!/ Year of the Bull

We started the new year off in Japanese tradition by visiting a nearby shrine.  We chose one that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is probably gorgeous on a brilliant clear day. In any case, the shrines this time of year have a fun carnival like atmosphere-- souvenir shops, food stalls with corn dogs and fried noodles, lots of people milling around, and children dressed up in kimono.

This particular shrine seemed to have a baby theme, and while we're pleased with a "good" outlook fortune for 2009, we couldn't help but wonder about the visitor category. Just who exactly is HE and why is it going to be a big surprise??? 

Other excitement at the shrine included being chosen for an interview by a local TV news station. I made the mistake of saying that I spoke a little Japanese, so I probably looked like a deer caught in headlights when they asked me a question and I stared back at them blankly. In the end, they had to translate it all in English and I have no idea if I made it to the 6 o'clock news or not, but now I have a little fantasy that it did. Next year I am showing up prepared with a memorized sound bite in Japanese.


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