Japanese 101

If I truly want to “turn Japanese,” I’m going to have to learn the language. Easier said than done.

When in doubt, point and smile

Before moving here, I knew how to say hello, thank you, goodbye, and dog in Japanese. As you can imagine, these four words will only get you so far. I spent a fair amount of worrying about how I would get my dogs through customs in Tokyo without knowing the language. My plan was to use the international gesture of crying while saying “inu, inu, inu” (Japanese for dog). Fortunately for me and the dogs, everyone I encountered in Tokyo spoke English.


I'd Rather be Boating

Living on a tiny tropical island surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see, I thought I should learn how to navigate the seas. Plus, boats are cool.

The Air Force marina offers low-cost boat rentals to military and DoD civilians. The only catch is you have to take (and pass) their boating class. They offer both power boating classes and sailing classes. Fred and I started with the power boats.

The marina

We heard while signing up for the class that the instructor


A Lot of Bull

The word bullfighting usually conjures up images of flashy matadors and red capes.  Not in Okinawa.  Here the bulls actually fight each other.

Mano a mano

Having studied abroad in Spain, I was familiar with traditional Spanish bullfights.  Matadors were big celebrities there.  They wore fancy outfits and stabbed weakened, helpless bulls to death.  I never thought it was very fair.  The Okinawans came up with a better idea to even the playing field - let bull battle bull.


Neo Park

Friends of ours told us about a park in Okinawa where you can, among other things, take llamas for walks.  Say no more - we are there.

The park is called Neo Park and is up north in Nago.  It's difficult to describe Neo Park because it is different from anything you'd find in the states.  I'd put it under the general category of zoo, but it definitely had a bit of a twist.

Upon entering the zoo-like park, you first find yourself in a giant aviary with a pond in the middle and bird poop all around.  It is filled to capacity with all sorts of birds.  There were flamingos, different types of cranes, and a multitude of large birds that I had no idea what they were or where they came from.  As Fred was stalking the birds to take their pictures, I felt I was being stalked by the birds as they swooped dangerously close to my head.  Alfred Hitchcock would understand why I had to leave this exhibit quickly.

These birds wanted to kill me

After narrowly escaping with my life from the bird exhibit, we entered the Amazon exhibit.  This too had some scary birds, but not as many.  It also had flying foxes (giant bats) and some fish.  According to Fred, the flying foxes can be seen all over the island.  I have yet to see one.

Finally, we made our way to the "petting zoo" area with the llamas.  You pay an extra 200 yen to enter this area.  It was the best 200 yen I've spent so far.  In the states, petting zoos are usually filled with goats, rabbits, and maybe a pig or two if you're lucky.  But at Neo Park, the petting zoo begins with dogs!  I've noticed that the Okinawans really like dogs, especially little dogs.  Probably because little dogs are cute, and the Japanese are all about cute things.  Fred and I laughed when a group of Japanese girls walked in and  squealed with excitement upon seeing the little dogs.  I'm not sure which was more entertaining - petting the dogs or watching the Japanese girls flip out.

On to the main event - the llamas.  There were three llamas wearing dog collars tied to stakes that you could walk around.  While this is amusing in itself, what made it more amusing is that tied to a fourth stake next to the llamas was a poodle.  Picture this - llama, llama, llama...poodle?  I sang the Sesame Street song to myself, "One of These Things is Not Like the Others...".  Furthermore, the lone poodle had Japanese katakana letters shaved into his poodle coat.  I'm not sure what it said, but I'm certain whatever it said was funny.

After the llama/poodle exhibit, we checked out the huge pigs.  I was disappointed the pigs were not available for walking.  However, one of the employees came over and gave us some hot dogs buns to feed to the pigs.  I learned pigs LOVE hot dog buns.  If only they knew what we humans use hot dog buns for...

It was hard to tear myself away from the petting zoo, but all good things must come to an end.  The park concluded with some wallabies hopping around, peacocks, more assorted birds, and finally a lemur exhibit.  Unfortunately, the lemurs were in cages.  I would have liked to pet them too.

Impressing the ladies


For more photos from Neo Park, click here.


Semper Fi

Even though I am a civilian living in Japan, the U.S. military presense is felt everyday.  The island has approximately eleven U.S. military bases, most of which are represented by the U.S. Marine Corps.  We enjoy many perks because of this, and one we got to enjoy this past week was a visit from the Commadant's own U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps and USMC Silent Drill Platoon.

The Commadant was also present on the island to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Their first stop had been Iwo Jima, followed by Okinawa, Guam and Pearl Harbor.  The guests of the ceremony included veterans from the battle, high ranking officers, the major general here on the island and Japanese officials.  There were even some women in kimonos.

Iwo Jima Veterans


The Battle Colors Ceremony took place on USMC Camp Foster (where Fred works).  The Drum & Bugle Corps began the ceremony by marching on the field in precise unison wearing their brilliant red uniforms.  They performed a number of different pieces including patriotic marches, some Frank Sinatra and a medoly from the musical Hair.  Then the Silent Drill Platoon took the field, also with exact precision.  With no verbal commands, the platoon went through a series of manuevers with their rifles, twirling them around and throwing them dangerously close to their platoon mate's heads.  With the power of my iphone, I snagged a couple videos.  As you'll see, I really need a proper video camera.

The Drum and Bugle Corps taking the field

A little Mozat

Marching off the field with color guard and silent drill platoon following behind
After the ceremony, we were fortunate enough to have dinner with two member of the Drum & Bugle Corps and I got to ask all my burning questions about military ceremonies.  I learned that the group as a whole does over 500 ceremonies every year.  Based in D.C., they are also the ones who perform at military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.  Interesting fact - the Body Bearers for the Marine Corps have to be able to bench press 225 lbs. 20 times and squat 275 lbs. 20 times due to the weight of the caskets.  I also learned that members of the Color Guard must be 6'4" or taller to bear the colors.

These guys are tall - a job requirement

The general on the right - yes, she's a woman

Whether it's stopping your car on base for evening colors, standing before a movie for the national anthem, or attending an event like this, you are always reminded here of the men and women surrounding you who are serving our country.


Vampires Beware

If I ever fear there is a vampire lurking about Okinawa, I now have a refuge, and it involves lots and lots of garlic.

Fred and I heard about a restaurant in town that specializes in all things garlic.  While the restaurant is named Arin Krin, most Americans simply refer to it as the Garlic House.  I felt pretty optimistic about this place.  I also felt confident when we pulled up and saw the exterior of the restaurant covered in graffitti-style cartoon garlic heads.  How could it be bad?

It was obvious when we walked in that this place was popular with Americans.  In fact, I think there was only one table of Japanese in the whole, garlicky place.  It was also obvious this place was serious about garlic from the aroma wafting about.  Definitely vampire-proof.

The menu was a mix of western and Japanese cuisine, all with garlic of course.  We went a little crazy and ordered four different dishes to try: garlic potatoes, garlic pasta, garlic pizza and garlic eggplant with tofu.  Holy garlic!  If you don't care for garlic, you would be disgusted with this establishment.  I, on the other hand, could have moved in and stayed for awhile.

A little bonus entertainment for the evening was Fred's trip to the bathroom.  When he came back, he was laughing and told me I had to go to the bathroom.  So I did, and took his picture.

As you can see, this bathroom wasn't exactly designed with people of Fred's height in mind.  Despite the vertically-challenged bathroom, I'm sure Fred and I will be back for some garlic delights.  



While it may not be totally Japanese, Yogurtland is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Okinawa.

Yogurtland is a self-serve frozen yogurt chain that began in California in 2004.  Since then, two shops have popped up in Okinawa, of all places.  I'm guessing the large number of Americans here has something to do with it, but the Okinawans seem as equally excited by Yogurtland.

Fred took me to my first Yogurtland when we spent the day in Naha, Okinawa's capital.  I had only been in Japan for a week and was very excited to find out I could get frozen yogurt here!  The other Yogurtland is closer to where we live in a city called Chatan.  Below is a picture of American Village where the Chatan location resides.

Yogurtland is completely self-serve, from selecting the flavor or flavors of yogurt you want to choosing from a number of tasty toppings.  The toppings are a mix of good ol' fashioned western-style treats to some more traditional Japanese sweets like azuki beans.  Does anyone remember Koala Yummies?  I used to love these when I was a kid, and then at some point, they seemed to fall off the face of the earth.  Welcome back, my delicious little Koala friends.

I've heard several funny stories about "dumb" Americans trying out Yogurtland for the first time.  The price of your yogurt is determined by weight, not by the size of the cup you pick.  I heard of a family of four that was unaware of this pricing system so they generously piled on the yogurt and toppings.  When they went to pay, the total for their 4 frozen yogurts was over $40.  It is hard to control yourself, especially around Koala Yummies, but I still try to stay in the $3-$4 zone. 

Below is a quick video we took last time we were there.  Okinawans and Americans coming together for a tasty treat.  Yogurtland, you do rule.