Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Life in the Slow Lane (A Long One)

Travel Photo Thursday for April 28th, 2011

A couple of weeks back I blogged about a trip up to rural Kijioka in Ogimi village located on Okinawa's Northwest coast to shoot the Iris fields in bloom. In that post, you can see it right below this post, I mentioned how Okinawan's are noted for their longevity and how in this particular little hamlet, they live the longest overall.

Many have written books on the matter to include "The Okinawan Diet" plan and there is that guy on late nite TV hawking the benefits of Coral Calcium as the key to a long life. He's even got crews digging up the coral around Miyako jima to get it. I have little doubt that both ideas may have a little to do with it but based on my years of living here, I have another theory for the phenomena. Here on Okinawa, people, particularly the country folks, just don't give a shit!
The old gal on this bicycle above was totally oblivious to the terrorists, er make that tourists, in the rented cars behind her who came to her little village to see the flowers and spend their hard earned money. She wasn't being rude, just enjoying a ride back from the fields on a beautiful spring day!

Now when I say that they don't give a shit, I don't mean that in a derogatory way! Perhaps a better way to say it is they've learned to live and love life in the slow lane. I suppose I could have just said that right from the get-go but, I probably wouldn't have gotten your attention quite the way I did when I said they just don't give a shit!

That also doesn't mean that they don't have people down in the big city to the south who sit on their hands and do the minimum just to collect a pay check. That is true for some, my brother-in-law is a prime example of that but, they also have their fair share of folks down in the big city who, like other folks in big cities everywhere, worry about everything! Especially the stuff they have little or no control over! The late comedian George Carlin did a great rant on people like that called "Saving the Planet!"!

After we spent a few hours in tiny Kijioka, shooting the flowers and enjoying life in the slow lane, we, Ryukyu Mike and I, headed up the back roads into the mountains. Anyone familiar with Japanese road construction, particularly in rural areas knows that the back roads are usually quite narrow. Up in the mountains, they're often not much wider than the car you're in and instead of a shoulder or curb, they have these deep cement drainage ditches called a binjo. Suffice it to say, you really have to be careful not to round the corners too close or you may end up being there for a while waiting on a wrecker to pull you out. It can be even more fun if you meet up with another car heading the opposite direction.
That's Ryukyu Mike taking a picture of a roadside binjo, in this particular shot, you'll notice a set of steps built in to help the littler forrest critters climb out of it.

We were looking for the mythical Yonbaru Kuina. They are found only in the far north of Okinawa's main island and are endangered to a certain extent by man's encroachment in the area. Okinawa faces frequent water shortages so up here on this end of the island, they've built a bunch of dams to collect it and pipe it south so the city folks down there can wash their cars, take hot showers and make ice cubes for their sake. There are also all kinds of roads through the mountains, many that lead to nowhere and all this construction has taken a toll on this very rare and endangered species.

I had never seen a Yonbaru Kuina in the wild and heard that this was a good place to find them. When I saw all the little steps for them to climb out of the ditches, all spaced about 100 meters apart and the little steel plate bridges for them to cross over them was proof enough to me that I was in the right place. I figured that even if I didn't see a Kuina on this trip, I had to take a picture so you would know that I'm not Bullshitting you.
Now the Yonbaru Kuina doesn't fly and while the adults are large enough to jump over these barriers, their younguns ain't. So to help preserve the species, an intervention was needed. That meant spending a lot of taxpayer money to build all these little steps and bridges for the birds. Of course if the government hadn't wasted all of the tax payers money building all these roads to nowhere with the deep binjos or at least done it right the first time, they wouldn't have needed the intervention in the first place. Oh sorry, there I go again, taking the Austrian School position instead of the more popular but, utterly wrong, Keynesian economic view. To see what I mean, check out John Stossel's "The Broken Window Fallacy."
Here's another example of our government tax dollars NOT at work (Click on the image to enlarge and see what the yellow sign says).

Another problem they have on Okinawa is the Mongoose. You see Okinawa is also home to the deadly venomous Habu snake. Way back when, someone got the bright idea that if they imported a bunch of Mongeese, I guess that's plural for mongooses, like they did in Hawaii, they could get rid of the snakes. But once again, someone down in the big city worrying about everything and not knowing nothing overlooked something very, very important. Mongeese, mongooses, whatever, are daytime animals and Habu's are nocturnal hence, they rarely ever meet.

Now there's still as many Habu's as there ever were and maybe more. The mongooses/mongeese are everywhere too. In fact, there's so many of them that now they are threatening the Yonbaru Kuina's even more than the all people, the habu's, the dams and all the roads leading to nowhere combined ever could. So what was the next solution? They hired a bunch of folks to go out in the woods to trap them.

Now they could have saved a lot of time and money just by hiring a bunch of local guys to trap the Habu's in the first place. Guess they figured that Mongooses were cheaper. That's what happens when city slickers who worry about everything but don't know nothing and have no idea what they're doing get involved.

Sometimes I think we would all be a whole lot better off if we left everything alone and went about our own business like that old gal in the first picture. She was just as happy as can be! My guess is that is just one of the many reasons why the Okinawan folks who live out in the countryside, particularly in tiny Kijioka live so long. They have learned to live, let live and love life in the slow lane. And you didn't even have to buy a book to find that out.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes! Well, er, make that a week...

It's Official! The Iris fields of Kijioka are now in bloom.

This first picture was taken on Saturday April 2nd. We couldn't have asked for better weather for our tasks. The day was sunny yet cool and although it warmed up as the day went along, you just couldn't have asked for more. Well, except for maybe some more flowers in bloom!
While on this trip, there were only a few iris' already flowering, there were plenty of buds to see. But who wants to see photos of flower buds? The weather was right, the lighting was right but alas, the flowers weren't! You can see what I mean in the photo above. Ryukyu Mike, a man who is clearly "outstanding in a field," had to get up close and personal just to get a decent picture.

Still, the evidence was clearly there that while the lighting was right, our timing wasn't. We would have to make one or more trips back to get the images we wanted! The photo below was taken exactly one week later on April 9th. This time we had plenty of flowers as well as terrorists, er make that tourists to fill up our SD cards with photos of. Unfortunately this time, the lighting just wasn't quite right. But, as you can see, that didn't stop the visitors and photographers from stopping by to get a photo as well as stopping to buy! The locals do sell flowers if you're interested!
In addition to all of the flowers that were in bloom on this trip, there were even more buds visible on the flower stems. That means that anyone heading up to the northern part of the island next weekend shoud see them at their peak!

Kijioka is a small sub-village and part of the Ogimi Village governmental unit. To get there drive north along Okinawa's West Coast on Highway 58 past Nago City. You will pass through Shioya and past the Ogimi Village hall. Look for the signs for the Bashofu Weaving Center and drive along the narrow back streets till you get to the iris fields. There are signs in Japanese but if you don't happen to read Japanese, don't worry, Kijioka is really small and eventually you'll find it.

If you happend to go up on the weekend of April 16th & 17th, just follow the hoards of terrorists till you find it!

By the way, just a quick side note for personal interest. While Okinawan's in general are known world wide for their longevity and spryness well into their senior years, Kijioka is THE one place on Okinawa that is known for where people live the longest!

By the way, this is my submission to this week's Travel Photo Thursday

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Impromptu Concert in Naha

This week's submission for Travel Photo Thursday

These days it seems the faster you go the behinder you get! I'm behind at work, I'm behind in my house duties (for the guys that means yard work) and I'm behind in my play. Long gone are the days of staying out all night drinking and cavorting like a horse's ass. Even though some might say that I still fit the description of the latter, very well I might add, these days for me, play means getting out with my camera and taking pictures.
(Click on the picture to enlarge)
This particular day was just two weeks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan. The previous weekend, several well known Okinawan celebrities had gone to Kokusai (International) Street in Naha, Okinawa's capitol to raise money for relief efforts. Many musicians held concerts right in the street and collected money from the passers by. Our hope was to go there and document it so we could post about it in our blogs.

Who is the "our" I'm referring to? None other than that world famous wildlife photographer Ryukyu Mike. Mike has a unique approach to wildlife photography. You could say it comes from his "Many," with a capital "M," years of personal experience living the wild life! His philosophy is who better to shoot wildlife than someone who lives it. As you can see from the photo, it's taken its toll on him. He's the one on the right. Hard to believe from looking at him that he's only 36! Let that be a lesson to you. Like they say, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time!"

We parked on the back side of "Heiwa Dori" or Peace Street at a little parking garage I know. From there we walked up through the marketplace toward the main drag, Kokusai Street. It was unbelievably quiet for a Sunday. A testiment to how our glorious leaders have done their best to mis-manage the economy and blame it all on the business people. You know, the folks who perform services for the rest of us, pay all those confiscatory taxes and if they have a little left  over, hire people for jobs who in turn spend their money on stuff they want and need who in turn pay more taxes!

As we approached the center of the market, we noticed a young fellow playing a flute that was carved into a bamboo broom handle. He was putting on quite a show and had a little fellow and his parents enthralled. So much so that he even made a sale. No not the big broom handle looking thingy but a smaller wistle that the lad could annoy his parents with.

right behind him he had several Sanshin's on display. The sanshin is sometimes described as a three stringed lute but it looks and sounds more like a banjo. Several of them were covered with the traditional snakeskin and he also had two Kan-kan sanshin on display as well. Kan-kan sanshin are made out of old cookie tins instead of the traditional hand carved wood resonating chamber and covered with snakes hide.

You see the Okinawan people love to party. You could say they're party animals of the first order. Perhaps that is why Ryukyu Mike feels right at home here. As party animals go, I guess it's true when they say that it takes one to know one. Anyway, what is a party without any music? When the Battle of Okinawa ended in 1945, this island was totally devastated. People were lucky to have just the clothes on their backs.

But the people that survived the hell that was, needed to get on with their lives. So they made due with whatever they could find! If you ever come to visit, you must check out some of the local museums. Here you'll find cook pots made from artillery shell casings, fishing boats made from airplane gasoline tanks and of course, the Kan-kan sanshin. That's what the fellow above on the left is playing.

By the way, we never did see any celebrities on this trip. It was rather cold and rainy that day. How cold was it? So cold that you can see that Ryukyu Mike isn't decked out in his traditional "Wife Beater" T-shirt and trademark frip-frops! So after a good hot meal, we got a few shots of a local Eisa group performing and collecting money for thr relief efforts. I made sure to put a little in the pot myself and we headed home for the day. If I ever get caught up, I'll try to post some pictures of the Eisa troupe. There were two folks in that group that put on a hell of a show.

To be continued...