Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mesmerized

Mesmerized by graffkeith
Mesmerized, a photo by graffkeith on Flickr.
Here’s an old photo from a few years back that I really liked. This is a young lad mesmerized by a street performer during the regular Sunday street festival on Kokusai “International” street in Naha, Okinawa’s capitol.

One of the things I like about Kokusai Street is the connection to the past it still holds. The main Ichiba or “market” for the city is located here. The area is now covered to allow shoppers to escape the brutal Okinawan summer sun. But many of the old shops still retain the old charm of a time not so long ago.

Some stores, especially the further away from the main entrance you go are not much larger than a coat rack with homemade wares hung for display. The whole market is alive with the sights, sounds and smells of a fond memory and well worth a visit.

A few years back when the large and modern “Shin Naha” New Naha district opened its doors with modern shopping malls, the old market was threatened with extinction. Many stores either closed their doors for good or moved to the newer and potentially richer hunting grounds of the modern shopping district.

The local merchants aware of the threat petitioned the city fathers and made way for the weekly closing of Kokusai Street and the establishment of a street festival. Now, with a few exceptions, the street is closed at noon on Sunday’s and local bands, street performers and small merchants by the hundreds take to the streets, literally, to show their stuff. The move has been a boon for local businessmen and women and for the moment has saved the old business district and its charm for at least a little while longer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Live to Party


The Okinawan people have a reputation for enjoying one of the longest, if not the longest lifespan on the planet and I think I finally figured out why that’s so! Admittedly, there are a lot of different theories out there and I’ll even go out of my way to say that some of them may have some merit. For example, there is the Okinawan Diet Program where you only eat till your stomach is 80% full. That one is written by two doctors from Canada and a local professor from the nearby University of the Ryukyu’s. They could have just listened to Dr. Laura before they yanked her off the air. She always said the secret losing weight and a healthier and subsequently longer life was to “move more and eat less.”

Then there is that old dude on the late-nite TV infomercials selling his coral calcium supplement stuff. On that one, I’m a bit confused. It seems that the “greenies” are all up in arms about the loss of coral reefs here in Okinawa and anything that might remotely be a strain on the environment but, they seem to not notice that this guy and his company are ripping up the reefs around Miyako-jima in pursuit of the stuff faster than that hypocrite anti-capitalist and all round commie from Hollyweird, Michael Moore, can rip through a seven course meal at a five star restaurant.

Guess the coral calcium guy isn’t trading his company on Wall Street or else he’s figured out that the greenies don’t watch anything other than the Discovery Channel and the left wing nut job screamers on that alleged cable “snooze” network MS-LSD, MS-DNC, PMS-NBC or whatever the hell it’s called. He’s off their radar screen, at least for the moment. As soon as someone figures out he’s exploiting the environment without Al gore’s expressed written permission or worse yet, makes a profit at it, they’ll be on him like stink on you know what!

So while I’ll admit that what you put into your body has an effect on your health, my theory as to why the Okinawan people live so long is quite different. Just this last weekend, my in-laws had a special celebration. One thing I’ve learned from living in Okinawa is that Okinawan’s will go out of their way to look for an excuse to celebrate and throw a party. So my in-laws both turned 72 years old this year and as it just so happens, here on Okinawa that calls for a celebration called “Koki!” Koki is a celebration for having lived 73 years. But, you may have just noticed, they are only 72 this year. So were they cheating you ask, no, at least not really?

You see here in Okinawa, even though this is technically Japan, they still do things based on the old Chinese ways and the Chinese way is to count the years from the beginning vice the western practice of waiting till the end of the year before counting it. So here in Okinawa, if your 72 by western standards, your 73 in Chinese years. Not quite the same thing as counting in dog years but it does come in handy when your filing for social security benefits or those all important AARP discounts!

Then my brother-in-law, the cop, showed my wife a list of all the different parties that we have to look forward to celebrating in the coming years. I say that we have to look forward to them because just like this one, we’ll all be chipping in to pay for it. These party years start at age 61 or 60 in western years. This is the age when most folks retire here in Japan. Maybe that’s why there isn’t a name for it on the list. For the first one, it’s sort of here’s your gold watch now don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out!

The next big party is Koki at 73 and then there’s Kijiyu at 77, Sanjiyu at 80, Beijyu at 88, Sotsujyu at 90, Hakujyu at 99 and Hiyakuga at 100. Conspicuously absent on the list he showed us was a party that I had heard about and had seen on the local news media. It’s called the Kajimaiya at age 97. I guess when you get that long in the tooth; you can be forgiven for forgetting a few things here and there. That being said, there are probably a few other special dates missing from that list. When we remember them, I guess we’ll just have to throw a party.

So my theory is that everyone loves a good party and since Okinawan’s, based on my living here for all these years and my astute scientific observations, love to party more than most folks should be allowed to by law. That is why they live so long. They just have too many good times and an awful lot of partying to look forward to.

This year we started out with a nice luncheon for the whole family at a local Chinese Restaurant and then we headed out for some Karaoke. I’m glad we had the opportunity to do so before George Soros and the Rothschild family decide that they’ve stolen enough of the rest of the world’s money and the whole system crashes and burns. The next big party is four years from now. If by chance all them conspiracy theorists are right, by then we’ll be lucky just to eat water. I just hope there’s a few greenies left that haven’t been shipped off to the concentration or excuse me, the “re-education” camps so that it’s still clean enough to drink.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Don't Mess With Texas??

They say everything is BIG in TEXAS. Everything that is except for the Okinawan "Kenjinkai" association. And this particular group was from Dallas. the "Big D" of all places! Still it was nice to see them here in this picture and that they were "Big" enough about it to show up. They were just one of many Kenjinkai groups that were big enough to show up for the Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival held in Naha, Okinawa from October 12th through the 16th.
Funny thing about it in my mind was that from all of the groups in America that came to celebrate their heritage here in Okinawa, one of the smallest states, Hawaii, had the biggest group and the Biggest state, in their own minds, Texas had one of the smallest if not "The" smallest delegation. I can't say for certain but I even think that the delegation from Sweden was bigger than this group. Don't mess with Texas??? Ha!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Second American Invasion of Okinawa

Just another picture from the opening parade from this year's Worldwide Uchinanchi festival in Okinawa. Just like it was some 66 years ago, the American's invaded Okinawa unopposed. This time there were no bullets flying, no rockets red glare, no bombs bursting in air but, this time the reception given by the locals was a lot more warm and friendly.
 This smaller group was made up of Okinawan descendants living in Arizona and was one of many Okinawa Association and Kenjinkai groups from across the USA. Quite a change in climate if you ask me. The humidity had to be killing these folks but you couldn't tell from the expression on anyone's face. They were away from home and at the same time, they were home at last.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Far East Meets Midwest

Just wanted to use this opportunity to give a shout out to our friends with the Chicago Kenjinkai visiting Okinawa for the 5th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival. For those of you who follow this blog and those that don't but happened to be unfortunate enough to stumble across this page, you'll note that we have a link to the Okinawaology blog on our E-zine blog list. That's written by Mr. Tom Corrao of Kenosha Wisconsin.
(Click on the image to enlarge)
We thought somehow that Tom wasn't going to make it to the festival this go round but we were wrong. Though you can't see it very well, Tom is bringing up the rear at the top left corner of this picture and carrying a video camera. Though he hasn't posted in some time, probably due to getting everything ready for this big trip, he does put out a pretty interesting blog so if you feel or want to, why not click on the link provided and say hi!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Welcome Back Kenjinkai

Remember that old TV sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter?" It was a story about a former high school loser who ends up going to college and becoming a teacher, only to end up working right back at the very same high school he almost got kicked out of. In case you forgot, it's the one that starred a very untalented comedian named Gabriel Kaplan as the teacher, Gabe Kotter, and an equally untalented and very young (pre-Saturday Night Fever) John Travolta as Vinnie Babarino, high school degenerate and supreme leader of a group of losers who called themselves the Sweat Hogs..
(Banners from every village, town and city on the island. Click on the individual pictures to enlarge)

What does that old and very horrible TV sitcom have to do with today's post, other than the theme of homecoming and the similarity in the title, not a damn thing! But yesterday was a big homecoming of sorts here in Okinawa. You see about a hundred or so years ago, when Okinawa was very poor and the people were pretty much oppressed by the Japanese who conquered them a few hundred years prior, the land couldn't sustain the population so some of their leaders decided it was time to pack up the few toys they had and emigrate to other lands.
(This is just the Brazilian Contingent sign bearers, the main body sort of lagged behind and went on and on and on and on)

Many people went to Hawaii where they worked the land and invented the "Aloha Shirt" by modifying old Kimono's and Yukattas. Still others went to places like Brazil, Argentina, Peru etc. Here they were promised land in a homestead type deal. If they cleared it and made it work, the land was theirs to keep. Unfortunately, more often than not, the land they were promised when they got there was the most inhospitable swamps or desserts in the entire country.

The really cool thing about it was that in spite of the hardships, they did make it work and today, all of these countries and more have significant populations of people with Okinawan ancestry. Wednesday, October 12th, 2011, 509 years after Columbus discovered the America's, many of the offspring of these Okinawan pioneers returned to the land of their fathers for a big celebration.
(You can't have a contingent from Brazil without Samba dancers!)

Today's pictures are just a few of the big welcoming parade for their triumphant return home and what a return it was. The Brazilian faction was huge and the number of people in it was probably close to the number of troops in three Marine battalions. There was hardly a dry eye on "Kokusai" International Street as they all marched on by.

The celebration is called the 5th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival and for the next few days and nights, Okinawa will be rocking with excitement.

Travel Photo Thursday for 13 Oct, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy Mainstreet (Photo Essay)

I've been reading a lot in the news lately about people occupying Wall Street. I'm told that these people are all upset about how "The Man" has been robbing them blind. Similar protests have sprung up in cities across America. In some cases it has gotten violent and people have been arrested. It's such a big thing that it's become a part of the U.S. presidential campaign with the current "occupant" praising them and one of his opponents telling them (paraphrased) "don't go getting upset, go get a job." I say that all of these people are rank amateurs.

These people can't hold a candle to the folks in Okinawa! They've been occupying a section of Highway 58, the main street in and out of the capitol city Naha, every year for years. More importantly, each year they occupy it, it gets a little "bigger" crowd wise and "heavier" as it pertains to the issue they're dealing with. It's such an important event here that each and every year it has Guinness Book of Records implications!

The main difference between occupying "mainstreet" in Okinawa and occupying Wall Street in the U.S. is here in Okinawa, the people are happy! Even the ones without jobs are happy about it. Everyone looks forward to it and instead of going head to head with the authorities over the issue at hand, everyone seems to be in concert to make sure that it's properly dealt with and that a good time is had by all.

Of course I'm talking about the Great Tsunahiki or the Naha Great Tug-O-War! The crowd estimates each year is in the "hundreds of thousands" where in the U.S. we're talking dozens and in rare instances, maybe even a few hundred people. Like I said, in this instance, the American's can't hold a candle to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Okinawan people!

The giant rope weighs in at around 42 tons. It takes weeks to manufacture it and it has to be hauled in to the Kumoji intersection by special trucks the night before. It's divided into a eastern half representing the male and a western half representing the females. After a bunch of karate demonstrations and a bunch of banging drums and gongs, the rope halves are joined with the female end looped over the male end and they're locked in place with a giant wooden peg.

Then they dig up two ancient Okinawan kings and they're brought out from the far ends of the ropes on platforms. These aren't the real kings mind you, that would be a little gross if you were to ask me but rather they use local folks in period costumes. Once they get near the center, they issue challenges to each other, do a little choreographed sword play and then they're taken away where they can enjoy copious amounts of awamori sake while the rest of the crowd plays with the rope.

Lastly, a big golden ball suspended above the intersection is popped open, a bunch of streamers and confetti fill the sky and everyone grabs hold of the rope and pulls with all their might. The task, they have 30 minutes to pull the rope a distance of about 3 meters. If neither side is able to do it in the allotted time, the match is declared a draw and everyone cuts off a piece of the rope for good luck and either goes out to celebrate or goes home. Most folks opt for the former as this event coincides with the Naha "Matsuri" or festival.

As soon as the crowd disperses, the big cranes come in to load the remnants of the rope onto trucks and haul it away for storage until next year. Hey, it's 40 plus tons of straw weaved into a giant rope, you didn't think they made it from scratch each year did you?

Anyway, like I said, the American's occupying Wall Street are rank amateurs when it comes to occupying anything. They could learn a lesson or two from these Okinawan folks. They'd probably have a whole lot more fun if they did it the Okinawan way!

This year's "Great Tsunahiki" will take place on Sunday the 9th of October. Everyone's invited to come on down to occupy mainstreet for a few hours of fun!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Slick Stone

A couple of weeks back we took a trip to a little village spring in far southern Okinawa called Nakandakarihijya (try to say that three times fast). That day we had beautiful blue skies that gave us some really deep dark contrast shots and high winds that gave us lots of photos with camera shake in them. This time, it had rained for three days straight, there was no wind but there was also no sun.This time there were three of us and the results as well as the events that took place turned out quite different.

We had been there for about 10 minutes doing light readings, taking a few shots and praying the skies didn't open up on us when a car pulled up and a middle aged fellow got out and helped a much older lady out of her seat. As she started to make her way over to the alter (that's the little concrete looking thingy Ryukyu Mike is standing in front of in the one photo looking like he's Moses getting ready to part the Red Sea in) I told her to be careful as the wet stone pavement was quite slippery. More slippery than snot on a door knob would be more like it but, I didn't know how to say it that way in Japanese.

She smiled and nodded and then proceeded to give Ryukyu Ryu an earful. I guess she thought he was a local and being that he's half Okinawan on his mother's side, she could be forgiven for thinking so. Anyway, the message was abundantly clear that they were going to the alter to pray and didn't want to be disturbed by those two "gaijins" or foreigners with the cameras, meaning Ryukyu Mike and I.

Mike was busy shooting the bath area of the spring so Ryu and I backed off and chatted while she and the other fellow went and did their business. The last time Mike and I were here, I tried doing a few shots with the HDR feature of my camera. The results were mixed at best so this time I wanted to try something new. The wet stones gave me an idea to try a few low angle shots of the place to see how they would turn out. I'm a whole lot happier with these shots than the ones I took last time. You can check the links provided to that other post and let me know what you think too.

My submission to Travel Photo Thursday for 6 Oct, 2011.