Saturday, October 22, 2016

Postcard from Japan: Part Two, Wed., Oct. 19, 2016

Palm trees, tropical plants, heat and humidity make Okinawa very
similar to Hawaii.  Like Hawaii, Okinawa has a native language that
in conversation combines with Japanese, especially for food.  This
view of the bay and the China Sea (Taiwan is directly west) is from the
front of the  Hoffman's house.
Caroline has a big bag of lunch edibles she’s gotten at a food store (onigiri---- seaweed wrapped rice with salmon or other things inside--- a very typical easy to eat and carry lunch; also bottled tea) which we attempt to eat on the drive to the first place she wants to take me.  Other than riding in taxis or buses in Tokyo, this is one of the first times I’ve been in the front seat to really feel what it’s like driving on the left.  The highway is open with very little traffic, a great view of Naha as we speed (literally) north on a beautiful sunny day.
View of bay from inside Hoffman's house.

From the airport, Caroline takes me to her good friend, Betty Hoffman, who with her husband Gil, have lived in Okinawa for 50 years.  She also has become a champion of Okinawan culture, especially the arts of the islands.  The Hoffman’s built a spacious modern house overlooking the China Sea (west side of Okinawa) about 25 years ago which incorporates Okinawan travertine stone walls and floors, wood walls, and many Okinawan art work.  It’s lovely to meet and talk with Betty as she shows me around her house, explaining the art work. 
Artwork at the Hoffman's house.

My camera is beginning to dislike the heat and extremely high humidity.  Some of the images I take either don’t upload or disappear into nowhere.  New batteries (same AAs as in the US) and a stay in air conditioning revives it. 

On the way to the Minchku hotel where I’ll be staying the night, we stop at a market that features local farm produce.  Every vegetable and fruit has to be explained and fortunately Caroline knows what they are.  (Unfortunately, my camera isn’t working yet so no pictures.  Dragon fruit is one of the most interesting as it is hot pink, a fat oval ball with little pointed scales around it every once in a while.  The inside is a brighter pink with tiny black seeds throughout like miniscule polka dots and a subtle sweet flavor.)

This arrangement is in the tokunoma, an alcove
reserved for calligraphy scrolls or flower
A scroll with a Bengata stenciled
print of a banana leaf on hand-
woven banana fiber.
We have to arrive at the Minchiku to check in before 7pm.  My room is all tatami mats, no chair, but a very low table on which is the TV.  An overhead A/C unit is on.  A large window overlooks the water and beach.  (I didn’t realize that the A/C unit is controlled with a remote--- the first time for me.  In Tokyo my mother-in-law has the same unit which I later discover is also for heating.)

The elderly couple who own the hotel don’t seem to have many guests anymore and are doing a favor for Caroline who they know.  They invite Caroline to stay the night also which helps her, and I, tremendously so we can continue visiting during the evening.  The next morning, they actually refuse payment for the rooms!  I made fabric coasters using my handprinted fabric as my omiyage (presents) to everyone and I offer her a group of them. 

The evening at the Minchiku is interesting.  The owner doesn't serve meals anymore but we all walk down to a very small local soba shop which is also on the beach.  Their specialty is Okinawan soba that resembles a very thin fettucine.  This version is vegetable stir-fry on top (with a little bit of chicken).  It's very filling, and after traveling all day, I'm back to my room and reading and probably asleep way too early.  

We have breakfast there the next morning (I am definitely not hungry yet) of rice, two pieces of fish, spam (still very popular here), broccoli, pickled daikon, and a big bowl of the local seaweed soup.  Most of my breakfast goes into a ziplock bag, especially the rice/fish/spam, to take back to the hotel's white dog who is leashed and rather thin.  He's dig a little pit for himself in the sand to keep cool.  All the dogs and cats here seem to not be feed very well and Caroline is an animal lover.  (She keeps cans of cat food in her car to give to stray cats she finds.)  The food seems rather bland compared to mainland Japan and even the US.  But the ingredients are fascinating.

Norfolk pines in front of the hotel.  
This area feels so remote and idyllic.  The roads are very narrow (half the width of a standard American driveway) and often dirt.  The lush greenery of flowering bushes and trees is so thick that it’s continually pruned back to form a solid hedge in between the low stone walls surrounding and separating houses.  The houses seem rustic but are often built in the native Okinawan style of wood rather than the newer ones of cement.  (Cement is the answer to typhoon damage.)  The fragrance from the flowers and the sea is lovely in the breeze.  I wish I could include all the sounds and smells/fragrances to make the visual even more meaningful!

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