Saturday, April 6, 2013

Japanese Public Restrooms - A love hate relationship

Sooner or later everyone's got to go. In a number of cases, especially if you're traveling through Japan, this means finding the closest public restroom. Public Restrooms or Public Toilets are one of the many things here in Japan that I have a love hate relationship with and so I thought that today I would share with you some of the good, bad and otherwise about Public Restrooms here in Japan.

What you probably already know: 

If you've found yourself researching Japanese toilets you've probably become familiar with two types of toilets the first being the squat toilet and the second being the electric toilet. First and foremost let's take a moment to talk about the squat toilet . The squat toilet is something which could be considered "traditional" or "old fashioned" by some but is still very common today throughout Japan in modern buildings to include tourist attractions and shopping centers. This type of toilet is used by squatting over it which can be great because no contact is made with the actual toilet itself, however, if you have any sort of trouble squatting or suffer from any type of injuries to your hips of knees (like I do) then this toilet can be a nightmare. They are also not often as clean as other toilets because despite being "traditional" in nature I am not convinced that Japanese people actually know how to properly use these squat toilets or prefer to use them. This could honestly be one of those things they keep around to see how tourist react as far as I am concerned because to this day I have never seen a Japanese person actually go into one of these stalls willingly.

The second type of toilet which is known for being popular in Japan is the electric toilet. This is easily identifiable by the 10 to 30 buttons available both on the toilet seat and sometimes on the wall. These toilets will spray, mist, air dry and even sing while you do what you have to do. They can be found in a number of places as well. Although there isn't really anything scary about these electric toilets they can be a bit of a challenge for parents with young children who are now using the "big girl/boy potty" and like to push buttons. I say this because little bums don't cover the area which would normally be covered by big bums and sometimes this can result in mommy coming out of the bathroom covered with water.

The awesome stuff you probably don't know: 

So we know about the toilets but there are also some other pretty awesome things about Japanese public restrooms that you probably didn't know. First and foremost the cleanliness needs to be mentioned. It's safe to say that most public restrooms you visit in Japan will be the cleanest that you have ever been to. The floor is usually dry, it doesn't stink to high heavens and you're not going to look like you spilled water on your lap if you accidentally bump into the sink. For me this is one of the things that I absolutely love about Japanese public restrooms.

For the fashionistas out there you might even find that in public restrooms located in large shopping complexes the stalls are outfitted with changing stations. This is a small fold down platform which you can stand on while changing outfits. I first saw this in Tokyo while in Sunshine City but then a few years later its way down to shopping centers here in Okinawa.

Parent's also have some special features they can take advantage of in public restrooms for when nature calls. One that I imagine would be most useful is a child seat which is located in the corner of the bathroom stall. This small seat unfolds offering you a safe place for you to set your child while you take care of yourself. At least one of these stalls can be found in almost every public restroom. Potty training children or those who are trained but have small bums don't have to worry about falling in as they have a special seat which is child size and can be folded down over the adult size toilet seat. You might even find a child size urinal in the restroom (both mens and women's).

Something else that is pretty awesome, at least I think so, is the use of co-ed bathrooms. These can usually be found at convenience stores where there is a women's restroom as well as a men and woman's restroom. This give women the option of using either of the toilets but unfortunately doesn't offer much for men. . . sorry guys. This is great for cutting down wait time for the restroom when 3 or 4 women are in line but don't want to use a toilet because men happen to go in there. I on the other hand could care less.

Some not so great stuff you probably don't know: 

Like everything else in life public restrooms in Japan have their negatives. One of the things that I find not so great about public restrooms in Japan is the size of the stalls. Although some stalls are large like you might find in the US it is not uncommon to see stalls which are smaller than your average airplane bathroom. What do I mean by small? So small that you have to stand on one side of the stall just to get the door open because there is only about an inch or two of clearance between the door and the toilet bowl. The worst part about these small stalls in my opinion is because there is just no room. It's like all you can do is stand up and turn around.

Another thing that is not so great about public restrooms here in Japan is the lack of paper towels. Don't get me wrong it's true that there are hand dryer machines in some bathrooms around Japan but there are also some without hand dryer machines or paper towels. This usually leaves you with your wet dripping hands wondering what to do next. Do I wipe them on my pants and look like a mess or just walk out of here hands dripping? At times like these I usually find it helpful to bring along a towel of my own. Not only is it something I have on hand during the summertime for various reasons but as a last resort it can be helpful in this type of situation as well.

Finally is the toilet paper. For some reason public restrooms in Japan like to stock up on one ply toilet paper which can make life. . . unpleasant. This is one of the reasons that if I am out for a long day of exploring or traveling I like to bring some toilet paper of my own. Now I realize that this might sound crazy to some of you out there trust me it makes long trips out and about much more enjoyable and worry free especially if you're going to less traveled places where toilet paper might not be accessible.


The Love Hate Relationship 

When all is said and done I have a love hate relationship with Japanese public restrooms. There are some really good things about them and then some not so good things. At the end of the day when you gotta go. . . you gotta go!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The name "pineapple" comes from the words "pine" and "apple" - Pineapple Park

Chances are if you've done any type of research on travel through Okinawa you've seen something about Pineapple Park. This small but popular attraction seems to weasel it's way onto a number of tourist "Top 10" lists and so despite what I had read and learned from friends who had visited the attraction I, after 7 years, made the trip.



Even after having written about such topics as controversial military related issues and Okinawa's unique history I can't seem to find a place to start with Pineapple Park so I suppose that the cost of admission will have to do. It's going to cost you ¥600 for admission if you're an adult and as often is the case children are less. Once you have paid your admission then it's through the entrance and off to the right where you will wait in line.



What's at the end of this line? Well you're opportunity to pay anywhere from ¥600 to ¥1200 on a picture of your family with a pineapple character of course! Say "cheezu" for the camera and then it's off to another line. This line, slightly less anticlimactic than the last, leads you to the infamous pineapple go-cart. This is a standard golf cart which is outfitted with a giant pineapple on the top.


Once boarding your go-cart you will be given the language option (English, Japanese, Chinese or Korean) and off you go in your self driven go-cart. During your journey your virtual tour guide will in your language of choice give you riveting facts like "The name pineapple comes from the words pine and apple". . . . . There was also something about ferns which were similar to those featured in the movie Jurassic Park.





The ride continued on through a variety of different areas all featuring flowers and other jungle type growth which can be found around Okinawa. One nice little area also included a shisa which was standing just before a camera was set up to yet again take a picture of you and your family this time while riding inside the go-cart. You don't know it yet but this one will also cost you  ¥600.


Finally we turned a corner and reached the climax of the ride. . . . the king of the pine. . . at least it's one giant fiberglass pineapple in a field of what seemed to be recently picked or underdeveloped pineapples. I imagine that this would be a site to be seen if you have never been to any of the areas of Okinawa where these are grown for as far as the eye can see. Then in a blink of an eye it was over and we departed out little pineapple go-cart and entered a small gift shop where you could purchase your photos as well as a variety of other items and chow down on some fresh slices of pineapples.

After this first shop it was off to a room which was filled with shells which have been collected from Okinawa as well as other parts of the world. They were quite beautiful and certainly interesting. Personally this could be considered one of the most interesting parts of the entire experience although it has nothing to do with pineapples.From there it's off to another gift shop where you can purchase a variety of shell related goods as well as the standard tourist type things which you can find in shops all around Okinawa.

The next stop is the part where they make pineapple wine. A small series of cartoon images on the wall illustrate the process (no english here though sorry) and then you can take a sneak peak inside the factory itself. A few more steps and you're reached the final stretch of shops. In here you'll see a variety of pineapple related items as well as again your typical items which can be found at other locations around Okinawa. There were cakes and wines which for me did not seem very interesting as they can be purchased elsewhere on island but one thing I did find interesting were the pineapple charcoal facial scrubs and other cosmetic type items. If nothing else they were interesting.

Once you've reached the end of these shops you're done.

Overall I think I can say that this "attraction" is everything I expected: a typical tourist trap. To put it as simply as possible you're basically paying to enter a series of gift shops featuring items which are available at other main attractions throughout Okinawa such as Kokusai Street. I have skipped Pineapple Park for the entire 7 years I have been here and can honestly say that I wasn't missing anything.

TYPHOON SEASON PREP: Stocking Up On Supplies

During a storm it doesn't really matter where you live on Okinawa you are undoubtably going to experience high winds and are at risk for losing power. This of course means that there are some supplies that you should have in your house during typhoon season. Here is a bare minimum list of the things that I personally keep in my house at all times:

- Flashlights 

- Spare batteries 

- Groceries plus 4 days (More info on this below)

- Radio 

- Bottled water

-  Bungie cords and/or tie down material

The list is not long or extensive because it honestly doesn't have to be. There are really only a few things which are very necessary to ensure that you can get through a less than desirable typhoon situation. Before we move on let's talk a little about these things because I am sure that there might be some readers who have questions.

Flashlights are pretty self explanatory. They can be very useful when the power goes out especially at night or if you happen to live in a house which does not have access to natural light. I recommend having one flashlight per family member as well as an extra one. It's also very helpful to ensure that when you hear a typhoon is on the way you take the flashlights and put them in a place which is easily accessible by any and all family members before you lost power. This will ensure that if and when the power goes out you do not find yourself trying to find flashlights or other items in the dark.

As important as having a flashlight may be it is also important to ensure that you have spare batteries so that you can actually use your flashlights. As simple as this might sound I find it important to ensure that you are taking the batteries into consideration when purchasing your flashlights. I recommend getting something which can use standard batteries rather than purchasing some of those big bulky lights which require that huge square battery which no one ever sells or if they do it is very expensive. Personally we have a Maglite which takes D batteries and everything else takes AA so it's pretty easy to stock up on spare batteries and you can always find what you are looking for.

Now let's talk about food, the most misunderstood area of typhoon preparation. There are two main reasons that you need to put food at the top of your typhoon prep list. The first is because in some cases a storm can last for a few days which can mean you really can't head out to the local store and get something to eat. The second is because depending on the severity of the storm food shipments (be they from local farmers or from somewhere else off island) may not make it to the grocery stores. Of course it is also good to have food that won't spoil and doesn't need to be cooked if the power goes out but that's just part of why this area of typhoon prep is important.

So what type of food should you have on hand if a storm is on the way. I strongly recommend 4 days of food (for each family member) which does not require cooking and has a long shelf life. This could be anything from canned foods to granola bars as long as it can be purchased and kept on hand for at least the duration of typhoon season. These items should not be eaten unless absolutely necessary.

You should also ensure that you have enough groceries in your house to get you through the typhoon itself as it has been forecast. This is something that can be done at the first signs of a typhoon in the area and does NOT need to be completed last minute. One thing I like to do is go to the grocery store and purchase items which are easy to make ahead of time and require little clean-up. An example of this would be sandwiches, hotdogs and pasta. I can then prepare them ahead of time and individually wrap them so that I do not have to worry about cooking when the rest of the storm preparations need to take place.

radio is also a helpful tool to have around as it ensures that you can get updates on what is happening with the storm. Here in Okinawa there is an Armed Forces Network here which is in English and can give updates that those who either don't speak Japanese or might want the comfort of Ensligh updates the information they need throughout the storm. This is something I find moderately useful because most of the updates are TCCOR conditions (which I will discuss in a later post) but it is better than nothing.

Bottled water is also important to have on hand as it is during any storm for a number of reasons. You can choose to go out and purchase bottles of water or do things like fill your bathtub. I prefer to do the bottled water and fill my bathtub only if absolutely necessary.

Finally another item which is often forgotten is the bungie cord and/or tie down material. If you're living in a house where you've got stuff which might go flying through the air with the greatest of ease during a storm then it's important to have the materials to tie it down. When you actually purchase as tie down material will vary based on what it is that you have around the house. In my case I do not purchase any type of tie down material because I have the ability to bring everything inside the house during a storm but for those of you who have things like trampolines or even the play houses that your kids can't get enough of out in the yard it is important to ensure that you can get them secured so that they do not cause damage to your property or your neighbor's property.

As I said this is a short list, simple and to the point but it can only be truly useful if you use it the right way DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE FIRST TYPHOON OF THE SEASON TO GO OUT AND PURCHASE THESE ITEMS!!! I am sorry for the yelling there but it's really the best tip that I can give any of you who are proactive enough to be reading this. Most people who get here wait until last minute to run out and pick up these things which often leads to last minute panic buying and of course stores running out of necessary items. Last year, for example, there were reports of items no longer being available to those liv ing off base and then shortly there after other stores ran out of stock as well because they could not keep up with the last minute demand. This can all be avoided by getting things early. It is also a good way to not find yourself spending money on things you didn't need but purchased because you were in that "last minute shopping" frame of mind. I can't say it enough, all this can be avoided by doing this shopping now. 

What are some things you consider "must have's" for typhoon season?

Let us know in the comments below.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Summertime Tips: Tattoos

Who doesn't love summer? Bronzed bodies at the beach, temperatures are going up and up which means people are wearing less and less. For many this is the perfect time to show off the hours upon hours that were spent in the tattoo parlor getting a piece of art permanently etched onto your skin. However, for those of us with tattoos there are some things that should be taken into consideration before you head outside.

Damage From Tattoos: 

Tattoos are made possible by sharp implements breaking skin and jabbing ink. Not very poetic but I think you get the picture. Long story short damage is caused to the  skin which starts to bounce back after a few weeks but take a bit longer to fully heal. Sometimes the only permanent change to the skin is the color where as other times the skin in 28582_1448944585873_1575565_nthe area of the tattoo may never really be quite the same again.

This is important to consider for both those who already have tattoos and those who are thinking about getting tattoos during their time here on Okinawa. If you already have tattoos it is important to understand that those areas which have been "damaged" from tattoos that you have received in the past may react differently than you are used to. For example you may have never found it necessary to wear sunscreen when spending a measly 5 minutes out in the sun while in the US but now that you are here in Okinawa your tattoos get burned even after limited exposure.

For those of you who are thinking about getting your first tattoo while here in Okinawa it's important to consider that the area will also be extremely sensitive during the healing process. This means that you're not going to be "beach ready" a short three weeks after stepping out of the shop.

7335_1250513985232_5814592_nUpgrade to Pro

Keeping Tattoos Covered: 

Tattoos are like fine art. If you're going to go through all the trouble and money of getting one in the first place you might as well keep it in good condition. The best way to do that is to keep your tattoos covered. As a rule of thumb I always have either sunscreen or a UV protective layer of clothing to cover my tattoo (particularly the one on my arm because of its likelihood of being exposed) at all times.

There are a number of products which you can use to protect your tattoos. One of my favorites was the TattooGoo brand of tattoo sunscreen which came in stick form. I really liked it because it allowed me to almost paint on the protection where the tattoo needed it most rather than just lather up the whole arm right away. I also very much liked the stick form because being about the size of lipstick it was easy to carry and therefor not easy to forget. The only problem that I had with this product is that when the summer came around it started to get really mushy and clumpy when applied. I tried some other stick form sunscreens but finally settled for a nice Japanese brand of lotion which absorbed quickly and worked very well without leaving you sticky.

The other option that I often have with me during the summer months is a UV protective shirt which I can use as a pullover. The reason that I like this is because although it gets hot here in the summertime the facts are when you go into some of these stores the AC is enough to keep your freezing and wanting another layer. So having a UV protective shirt or pullover is like a win win. I can wear it outside if the sun gets hot and I want some extra tattoo protection but I can also wear it inside and prevent myself from freezing to death. These types of shirts are also helpful if you are out and about but might find yourself in a place where it may be more appropriate to have your tattoo covered.

Tattoos + Japan = Bad: 

One of the things on the list of grossly misunderstood topics about Japan is tattoos. There are a lot of things that can be said on this topic and I will be happy to talk more about that later but for the sake of this post I want to keep things short.

24361_1425903369857_1556400_nTattoos aside, when you come here to Japan (regardless if it is Okinawa or Tokyo) there needs to be an understanding that it is not the United States (or your country of origin). There are going to be things that are done here which are different from your home country and since you are now here you need to accept those things. One of those things is taking off your shoes another is covering your tattoos when in certain social situations. There are a lot of people out there who will go on and on about how if you have tattoos you will be discriminated against while in Japan. I personally have never found this to be true during my years in Okinawa or travels to Tokyo. That being said let's go through some basics and clear up a few things specifically about Okinawa.

Believe it or not when it comes to tattoos 90% of what you encounter here in Okinawa isn't going to be much different than what you encounter in the US. Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who prefer to skip over facts and history in order to build a case of "social norms are totally weird in Japan". The one we hear most often is that in Japan tattoos were reserved for criminals and yakuza. True? Yeah sure it is. However, tattoos being the mark of a "hard" person is not unique to Japan. In fact in our good ole' US of A there are a lot of the same stereotypes which associate tattoos with gangs, crime and all around tough guys.

Even with all of this being said most of the things you will find you should be covering your tattoos for when in Okinawa are the same things you would cover your tattoos for if you were in the US. (i.e. Formal restaurants, formal events, religious establishments). The only time that you may have to be even more careful if you happen to have explicit tattoos.

The other 10% are things which you may not fully understand but my short response is that you are now in Japan and just like taking off your shoes when going into a home, there are going to be some things you do without fully understanding why. This most commonly includes being in the water whether it is at select beaches, bath houses or water parks. In these cases you will still be allowed to enter (although not always in the case of bath houses because they are primarily nude bathing) but you will be required to wear something that covers your tattoos like a swim shirt or sleeve/sock. I cannot stress enough that this is not discrimination against foreigners, it is simply the way business is conducted for everyone.

Last Work & My Experience: 

At the end of the day having tattoos here in Okinawa is not going to be a bad thing. In fact during my years here the most inconvenient thing about having tattoos has not been covering them when it social situations but rather keeping them protected from the summer sun which is why I wrote this post in the first place. Actually generally speaking I have never had a problem with my tattoos exposed or not.



Friday, March 29, 2013

TYPHOON SEASON PREP: Preparing Dogs For A Storm

With typhoon season on the way I'm releasing a number of blog posts which will have information to help you prepare. This information is based on my past experiences going through typhoon seasons and I hope that you can find elements of these posts helpful. 


Typhoon season brings a lot of concerns but one that many people have contacted me in the past about, and that I have already received a question about for this upcoming season, is how to prepare dogs for typhoon season. Of course unlike cats and pocket pets dogs are taken outside to relieve themselves so how does on go about doing that when it's raining and heavy wind is blowing outside? In this post I am going to discuss some of the things I have done throughout the years to prepare my dogs for typhoon season.


If you chose to have dogs during your time here in Okinawa one of the things that is most important is to ensure that they have proper training not only to be an obedient dog but also so that they can handle any situation which is thrown at them. In fact these elements of training your dog to handle these situations is why I chose to make this the first post in the series because it is likely to take some time. Regarding typhoon preparation the type of training that we will be focusing on today is the dog's ability to "hold it" until you can bring it outside. This will prevent accidents from happening in the house. This training usually starts very young but can be done by slowly increasing the intervals between the time that you take your dog outside. Maybe today you take him outside at 7am but tomorrow you take him out at 7:30am. This is not only helpful during the typhoon season but if for whatever reason you leave the house and don't get back home in time you can be confident that your dog is not going to relieve himself or herself in the house.

Another thing I like to do which helps me with this is training your dog not to "go" unless you're ready for it. This is a very simple concept and also will make your life a lot easier. Contrary to popular belief dogs do not need to go for a walk to relieve themselves. In fact there are a lot of people who think that this is necessary but mistake their dog's habit for marking as their need to urinate. Take your dog to the same spot every time you take them outside and allow them to establish that when we are here it's time to do your business. Also do not allow your dog to mark when on walks by preventing them from excessively sniffing. This will not only prevent your dog from pulling you and frequent stops but it will also teach your dog that marking . . . doesn't need to be saved up for (let's say). They will then relieve themselves all at once rather than feel the necessity to be out for long periods of time. We'll talk more about why this is necessary in the "During The Storm" section below.

Food and Water

Naturally the amount of food and water that you give your dog is going to determine the frequency of trips outside which is why if there is a storm in progress I limit my dogs' access to food and water. According to various dog experts dogs can go for about 2 or 3 days comfortably without food and with limited water. This is reflected in various sources regarding preparing your dog for a long flight. Of course being that I am with my dogs unlike if they are in transport via jet or what have you I can still give my dogs food, I just limit the amount. The way I decide how much to give is based on the severity of the storm and when it is hitting. (I suppose it might also be determined by your location as well). If the storm is going to hit during the time that I usually feed my dogs but will be over by the next morning I may only give them a few bites each whereas if the storm is not very severe I might not have a problem giving them about half a serving each. Another technique I use especially if a storm is going to last for quite a long time is to treat dog food like treats and give a few kibbles throughout the course of the day. This keeps the dogs active, playing and still with something in their stomach.

When it comes to water I have a slightly more structured but similar approach. There are two methods that I have tried and seem to work well. The first is that I leave the water bowl down but only put enough water to cover the bottom of the bowl. This gives the dogs just enough water to wet their whistle but doesn't promote nonstop drinking throughout the day. The second method is to pick the bowl up completely and only put it down about 3 or 4 times a day for about a minute at a time. This gives the dogs the chance to gulp up some water but not get too much where they need to immediately after head outside. Although this would not be an acceptable practice for long term use it is just fine for a few days while a storm passes.

During The Storm: 

Much like children dogs need to be entertained so I usually make dog treats/bones an item to pick up when I am doing my typhoon shopping. I try to pick up something that I do not give them regularly which keeps their mind off the noises from the storm and distracts them from the regular schedule that they might have. They chomp away at the bones or whatever and have something to concentrate on which is very helpful.

I also find myself paying close attention to the radar to see when bands are sweeping through. This will give me a good indication as to when there will be a break in the storm and we can run the dogs out briefly before the wind and rain picks back up. This is why it is important to ensure that your dogs are trained to use a particular area as a spot to relieve themselves. Bands and breaks in the storm come as quickly as they go so it's best to know that you can run out very fast and be back before conditions pick back up again.

It may take a little prep and hard work on your behalf but preparing your dog(s) for the typhoon season is worth every second of hard work. What are some methods that you've used in the past? Did you find anything effective or ineffective? Let us know in the comments below!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Okinawa's Rainy Season: April Showers Bring May. . . . Goya!

If I were to guess I would say the the second least enjoyable season here in Okinawa among Americans (summer coming in at the first) would have to be the rainy season. Usually starting around the April time frame rainy season is Mother Nature's way of saying that summer is on it's way.


What Is Rainy Season: 

As I mentioned above rainy season usually kicks off in April and continues into June. During this time of the year it's common to experience rain (go figure) and a lot of overcast days. According to some travel websites that I scanned in the interest of "science" before beginning this post we can expect rain about 40% of the time during rainy season. Now, I'm not saying that I'm an authority or anything but I will say that it feels like more of 70% of the time. That's just me though.

These aren't your average "drip drip drop little April showers" either. When Mother Nature makes it rain during rainy season she's not kidding around. It's not uncommon for rainy days to include non-stop hours of rain which sometimes last for two or even three days at a time. Most times this can lead to incredibly inconvenient puddles waiting to make your new shoes all soggy or even flooding in some areas.

Why Rainy Season Is A Nuisance: 

I don't know about you but I hate being wet and soggy. More than that I hate showing up to work after 30 minutes of getting ready to find myself looking like I put my clothes on before I stepped into the shower. Then man oh man there is nothing like stepping into an ankle deep puddle on your way into the first stop on your list of places to go for the day.  Sound like rainy season is a nuisance? Well yes it can be. (More about how you can fight back later.) 

One of the other reasons that rainy season can be tough for some, especially those new to the island, is because this is the season when the humidity starts setting in. You've probably heard that Okinawa is hot during the summer months which is fair enough to say but it's the humidity which is the real killer. As the rainy season presses on and the temperatures start to change the humidity starts to increase. This usually means that you start to feel sticky and grimy. This can add to the all around nasty of rainy season.

Fighting Back Against Precipitation:

Rainy season doesn't have to be a drag. In fact there are a few things you can do which will make rainy season much more of a pleasant or at very least a less soggy experience. The first thing you can do is get yourself a pair of rain boots and/or rain shoes. Not only are they are great way to prevent you from recreating the ice capades at the grocery store or on your way back down the hill after taking your dogs outside but they are also a great way to preserve shoes from becoming waterlogged. You can also get them for a great price out in town too! I paid about ¥2000 for mine two years ago and it's worth every penny.

Another very worth while purchase is a good rain coat. No I'm not talking about a wind breaker which is "water resistant". I mean a good ole' "I'm plastic I laugh at the sight of rain" rain coat. I spent a lot of time trying to find what I was looking for without any success until one day I was killing time at my local Makeman (a DIY and garden center) and found the rain suit section (insert heavenly chorus here). Now I know what you're thinking. . . "why do I need an entire rain suit"? Chances are you don't unless you're like us and spend time outdoors a lot and/or ride motorcycles BUT even if you never use the pants ¥3000 is a great price for a rain coat! These are good raincoats too! I know because I have had mine put to the test:

Last but not least is the umbrella. In my honest opinion the umbrella is the "oh sh*t it's raining and I am completely unprepared" option. Although it doesn't offer near the same amount of protection as a rain coat and will do absolutely nothing to protect those shoes of yours it will at least ensure that your head and potentially parts of  your torso are covered. (And ladies let's be honest. . . everything else will dry but if your hair gets wet. . . it's game over.) 

Umbrellas are incredibly inexpensive also. Even at their most expensive you might only find yourself paying something like ¥300 for a standard umbrella. If you've got a keep eye you might even be so lucky as to pay closer to ¥100 or even less. With a price like that I usually have one in the house and one in the car at all times so no matter where I go, or if it stats raining once I leave the house. . . I'm good.

Turn That Frown Upside Down: 

When all is said and done rainy season isn't much to be gloomy about if you've taken the time to prepare yourself. As you can see above just a little bit of effort can make things a lot more bearable during this transitional season. So turn that frown upside down, pull on those rain boots and go splash around in the puddles!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

MCAS Futenma Relocation: My thoughts on some recent articles

There has been a lot of news recently coming out of Japan regarding the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma.    All of the news articles share the same theme and major details. . . a base is in the city, the people want it gone, the governments do not. Add in a lot of overly used buzz words and the options of people who have obviously never been to Okinawa and you've got yourself an article for The New York Times.

Naturally as a person who lives here in Okinawa, in the shadow of MCAS Futenma no less, I have my own thoughts on the situation. As I have done in past blog posts I thought that this would be an interesting topic for me to discuss. So let's get right into it.

Very VERY Brief Background 

For those of you who are reading this and have never heard about MCAS Futenma before here's a tiny nugget of information so that the rest of this post makes some sense. During the Battle of Okinawa an airfield was built and unlike other airfields around the island it was not decommissioned. It was then turned into what we now know as MCAS Futenma. There are a few things which are problematic with the base. The first is it's location. After the war many people returned to their "homes" (land and so on) to find it was now part of the area covered by the base. The result was many people building around the base therefore making Ginowan a crowded place to be. The second problem is the type of training which is conducted at MCAS Futenma. The base is known for conducting low altitude training which ultimately has the helicopters and other jets flying not far above homes, schools and businesses. The complaints have come in many forms. In some cases residents complain about noise as drills are known for being conducted into the late hours of the evening. In other cases residents worry about the safety of the jets and helicopters flying so low. This concern was made a reality when a helicopter crashed into a local university.

Over the years there have been many plans to move MCAS Futenma to another part of the island in the 1996 timeframe however the people of Okinawa, already having 30 something odd US military bases on the island, rejected the plans wanting the base to be moved outside of Okinawa altogether. The governments of Okinawa, Japan and the US have basically been going at it ever since.

Moving The Base Up North

The main focus of this entire debate, all other things aside is that the base is to be moved to a location in northern Okinawa. The plan is to fill in a coral reef and create an off shore runway. Now naturally there are a lot of people, especially those who are concerned about nature and wildlife, who are not happy with this. I imagine that I don't have to explain why so I won't. Of course playing devil's advocate over here there were a number of environmental reports which evaluated the situation in terms that those of us without lab coats probably don't fully understand. There have been a number of people who have been protesting the movement of the base simply for this reason which I think is great because I always support having your voice heard but all of these protests and petitions made me wonder. . . . . Did the people of Okinawa have the same reaction to when the coast was filled in creating what is now Hamby Town and American Village? I do know that Hamby Town was once part of the Marine Corps Base which is now Camp Foster (not sure about American Village). I am also curious to know whether or not there was significant impact on that area or was there no one keeping track back then?

One thing I did want to mention about the article that I read in The New York Times was the statement that referred to the northern part of Okinawa as "the island's jungle-covered northern end". For me this statement is a bit misleading. I have spent a lot of time in this part of the island and this statement makes it seem as though it's a part of the island which is uninhabitable and therefore a perfect location. . . . not entirely true. It should be mentioned that up in this part of the island is a lot of tourism, wild life reserves, mountains and a bulk of military training areas to include something called JWTC or Jungle Warfare Training Camp. There are people who work and live up there. To be clear I am not saying this as a platform to discuss whether or not the base should be moved up there I just think that people should have the proper image painted in their heads.

My Very Brief Opinion 

To be completely honest I am not entirely sure how I feel about moving MCAS Futenma to another part of Okinawa. Part of me feels that it would be a good idea because there is a huge need for some more space in the Ginowan area and truthfully I do not believe that the flying of aircraft as low as they do (which would not be permitted in the US) is unsafe. At the same time I am curious to know how the flight paths (which never quite end up being what the governments agree on) would effect the lifestyle which is happening in the northern parts of Okinawa. Personally I feel that there are a lot of questions which have gone unanswered and I also feel that there is a lot of misunderstandings about the US Military which makes it a very complicated situation.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Never Doubt Obaasan!


I live in Oyama, one of the very congested parts of Ginowan which is sandwiched between the coast of the East China Sea and MCAS Futenma. At one point it used to be a large area full of fields (some of which are still in use today even though the city has grown up around them) but now this is no longer the case. Fortunately there are still a great deal of people who work in their small yards making the best of every available inch to grow fruits, veggies and flowers as I am sure their families did before them (although on a much smaller scale.)

At least four of these backyard gardens are immediately next to my house all being tended by older women (obaasan). Day in and day out they are out there working in their gardens waving to me and yelling out an occasional "konnichia" up at me while I am out on my deck. Like clock work they are out there tending, weeding and sometimes just watching their gardens grow.

Now that it's spring time, however, there has been a change in the attire worn by the obaasan. Rather than just a light covering over their heads they have started to wear their straw hats. These straw hats come in all different shapes and sizes. Some of 384133_10200842905217195_376062264_nthem seem like easter bonnets where as others look like a traditional Japanese style hat with a point on the top. Seeing as how I have a garden now and will be spending a great deal of time out in the sun tending to it I figured I would take the leap and pick one up for myself. After all if wisdom comes with age then these women (easily on their way to 90 years old) have got to have something here right?

Then the other day while I was at my local DIY and Garden Center I spotted it there out of the corner of my eye. I almost missed it because it was on the bottom rack hidden behind the veils of a few other visors and hats that hung above it. I immediately grabbed it saw that it was about ¥500 and tried it on (thank goodness my husband had his camera phone handy lol). Yep this was for me because if nothing else I would at least look super kawaii (and probably a little silly but I'm fine with that)!

Unfortunately as luck would have it soon after getting the hat home I had a day of clouds and then almost 12 hours of non-stop rain. Needless to saythere was no chance to see my hat in action. . . until today. I was so happy to see that the sun had come out I couldn't help myself. I grabbed my folding chain, book, sunglasses and hat then headed out onto the deck. After spending much time on the deck under the sun I realized how nice it was to have a straw hat. Not only did the hat breath really well but it kept the sun off my neck and face. I knew those obaasan knew what they were doing!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Summertime Savings Tips

The summertime is upon us and it's time to start thinking about saving some money, because let's face it everyone wants to save a little coin! Here are a few ways that I find helpful in saving money during the summer season!

Don't let the water run. . . . save it! 

Many houses in Okinawa have what is known in the US as On Demand Hot Water Heaters. Unlike what many Americans are familiar with this type of hot water heater must be turned on for hot water to begin running through your pipes. 

Rather than letting water run down the drain while you're waiting for the hot water to get to your shower, for example, why not collect the water and use it for other things around the house? One thing we like to do is to save our large PET bottles and full them up nightly while waiting for the hot water. We then use the bottles of water to do other things around the house like flush the toilet, water garden plants or even wash dishes. Each time a shower is prepared it can take anywhere from 3 to 4 water bottles before the shower is running hot water so why let it go to waste? Believe it or not this simple task can reduce your water bill.

Unplug your appliances. 

You've got vampires in your house! That's right but rather than sucking blood they are slowly sucking electricity! Appliances like TV's, computers, gaming consoles, hot water heaters (the ones you make tea with) and anything else with a stand by mode are not just sitting there waiting to be used. . . . they are sucking your wallet dry.

Rather than leaving your appliances plugged in unplug them unless you are actually using them. Although it may be a little less convenient then it would be to keep everything plugged in at all times you will see a HUGE drop in your electricity bill the next time one comes around.

Be smart with your AC. 

There is no way around it, Okinawa gets hot and humid. However, its important to be smart with your AC so that you don't end up like the many families who have approached me in the past wondering why they have a $600.00 electricity bill.

Fighting the urge to keep your house as cool as a walk in fridge can be difficult, especially in Okinawa's hottest months, however, there are some things you can to in order to use your AC smarter during the summer months. The biggest tip is to remember NOT to keep rooms AC'ed that you are not using. Although it can be nice to go anywhere in your house without having to wait for the room to cool off it can also be a huge financial burden.

Another thing I like to do is designate a small room in my house as the place to go if the heat gets to be too much. I chose the small room because it's easier to cool and takes less energy. Although it's a small room it's a great place to watch movies, play board games of do other non-physical activities while trying to stay cool.

Unplug your super toilet. 

Look. . . . I get it. . . . no tush should ever have to be subjected to a cold toilet seat in the middle of the night BUT your "super toilet" or heater toilet seat can be unplugged during the summer months.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

6 Things NOT to do in Okinawa

We often focus on what to do while when traveling to a new place but what should be avoid? Figuring that this would be an interesting post I put together a list of 6 Things NOT to do in Okinawa.

Now I have to admit this is a bit targeted towards those people who are moving here for a job or maybe with the military but there are a few important details in here for tourists as well. I hope you find these tips helpful and if you have any of your own please feel free to add them in the comments below!

1. Don't assume you're not understood because you speak English. 

The language most commonly used in Okinawa is Japanese, however, English is also known by a number of people. Sometimes those people are comfortable enough to strike up a conversation in English but others may be more timid and keep to themselves. Regardless it should be common practice to conduct yourself as though others understand what it is you're saying . . . . . because they just might.

2. Don't be afraid to shop around. 

Okinawa has a lot of conveniently placed "deals" for military members and tourists alike. Merchants, dealers and other sales professionals know that you're going to eat up the first thing you see so prices tend to be inflated. Believe it or not this can be avoided by walking to a shop further down the street or even visiting a car dealership which is more out of the way rather than right outside a Base's main gate.

3. Don't limit your travel to your neighborhood. 

Easily one of the biggest mistakes made by those who move to Okinawa (particularly military members who are here for a few short years) is the unwillingness to travel beyond their immediate area. Sure they might travel to Churaumi Aquarium or Okinawa World but all the spaces in between seem to be "too far" or "too out of the way". The unfortunate result is a lot of gems that are missed out on possibly until it is too late.

This isn't limited to tourist attractions or historical locations either. Some great salons, restaurants and other businesses are usually just beyond where some people are willing to go.

4. Don't stick to the guide book. 

A good guide books is always a great place to start but if you find yourself only doing what is in the guide books you'll end up only seeing about 1% of what's here on Okinawa. . . . . . and some of it isn't even the best stuff! I say use the guide book as a stepping stone and don't be afraid to explore the surrounding area and see what you stumble upon. Even as I approach my 7 year mark I still have multiple laundry lists of things to see. . . . and I haven't been much of a couch potato either. In fact most of the wicked cool places on the island are marked with signs and easy to find if you're willing to go off the designated path to or from some of Okinawa's major tourist attractions like Okinawa World or Churaumi Aquarium.

5. Don't forget to keep an open mind. 

There is no denying that Okinawa is an entirely different world then you are used to. The cultural and all around lifestyle differences can be hard for those visiting Okinawa (or living here) for the first time to adjust to. Although you may not find yourself completely understanding the culture or differences in lifestyle it is important to remember to keep an open mind. Those who keep an open mind, even if they do not see eye to eye with some of the cultural or lifestyle differences here on Okinawa, tend to have a better more positive experience then those who brush off or completely disregard Okinawa's culture.

6. Don't "play the gaijin card".  

The term "playing the gaijin card" is usually in reference to someone who is choosing to dismiss culture and/or rules that they are aware of with the intent of getting away with it because they are a foreigner.

Although some people don't see the harm taking advantage of the understanding and tolerant nature of the businesses around Okinawa can often have negative results. Some businesses may change policies or in some cases may even go so far as not assisting foreign customers.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Looks like a fancy restaurant. . . I paid one coin!




My quest to find inexpensive but still tasty meals led me to this dish:



Is your mouth watering yet? Mine sure was when I caught a glimpse of this pasta dish with spicy sausage slices and egg. I was even more pleased to see the price!

One Coin Meal

In Okinawa, as well as other parts of Japan, there are meals referred to as "One Coin Meals". These meals usually come in at or just under ¥500 getting the name from the number of coins required to pay for the meal. Sometimes restaurants have special One Coin Meal days where you can get an entire ramen set, for example, for one coin. Others simply refer to something which can be purchased for one coin as a One Coin Meal. 


So where did I get this meal? Well . . . . Lawson. No need for a fancy sit down restaurant, this was a grab and go! The pasta itself came in at ¥398 which with a drink brought me just under ¥500. Now I am sure that there are some of you out there shaking your head at prepackaged pasta from a convenience store but I have to say this was pretty good. Everything was fresh, sauce was tasty and so was the spicy sausage. The portion was decent size as well, surely more food then you would get at any Italian place for this price.


As for the hubby he went with one of his favorites, katsudon. The meal was the same price (if I remember correctly) and again came in just under one coin after he grabbed a tea. Unlike pasta, katsudon has a few characteristics which can be lost in prepackaged meals. There doesn't tend to be as much juice and the egg is not necessarily the same but every with that being said this meal was very good.




Overall we both decided that we would certainly get both of these options again especially if we are in a pinch for time and want something other than a sandwich or onigiri.

If these options don't look that great to you don't fret, there are a number of different options available at various convenience stores around Okinawa. For specialty dishes like pasta and katsudon, however, we recommend Lawson or Family Mart.

Have you tried one of these before? Let us know what you thought!

'Tis the season. . . . . for awkward tan lines!

It's that time of year again! The time of year when you leave the house in the winter state of mind and return home to find that you've got the first awkward sunburn of the season.


This time of year, when spring time is in full swing, can be a tough one. We're starting to move into warmer weather which means we're wearing less and spending more time outdoors. This means that it's time to break out the sunscreen! Of course the thought of adding sunscreen to your day bag in March is strange for a number of people. I admit even though I have been here for almost 7 years I still have a hard time remembering to put some in my bag.

When to wear sunscreen: 

Many reputable doctor type people in white coats will tell you that you should be wearing sunscreen all year long. I am not going to argue that point because I am not a doctor type person nor do I have a white coat. However, knowing that people generally have more things on their mind then wearing sunscreen every time they go outside, there are some tips which I think you might find helpful.

Cherry Blossom or Sakura Season marks the beginning of spring and so it's the perfect time to start thinking about purchasing some sunscreen and getting into the habit of taking it with you on your outdoor adventures. Don't get me wrong it is still quite cold here in Okinawa during this time of year but it's not uncommon to experience some unseasonably warm days so it's the great time to have some sunscreen on hand.

Once it's warm enough for you to wear short sleeves rather than a jacket it's usually a good indication that you should put on some sunscreen. Of course this can be different for everyone but it can be a good way to gauge whether or not sunscreen is necessary for you and your family.

Sunscreen Options: 

If you're here in Okinawa you have two major options for sunscreen. . . The American Stuff or The Japanese Stuff. Of course this is a matter of opinion but I personally prefer The Japanese Stuff. Japanese sun tan lotions and sprays tend to come in a variety of options for protection, sizes to carry with you and scents. One of the many things I prefer about Japanese sun tan lotions is that the scents do not smell like the chemical "tropical" scents that you get from most of the American sun tan lotions. Another thing I absolutely love about Japanese sun tan lotions is that they do not sit on top of the skin like an oily mess. Every lotion I have tried has always absorbed into the skin while also offering the same level of protection of an American brand.

UV Protection Clothes: 

If you're like me and don't always want to lotion up for every trip you make outside why not consider UV Protection Clothes? These clothes are available pretty much everywhere here in Okinawa. They offer special protection against the sun's UV rays while keeping you cool and fashionable. I have a few different shirts and pullovers which offer this type of UV protection and they are perfect for outdoor activities during the spring and summer time. Price wise they are very affordable as well!

Although the spring is in full swing it's not too late to head out to your local department store, or even konbini, and grab yourself a bottle of sunscreen. Heck grab one for the car, one for the purse and one for the house. Chances are you're going to need it before the winter rolls around again!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Butting heads in Okinawa: Goat Fights



This weekend nestled in the mountains of northern Okinawa was an event that I simply couldn't miss. The star of the event, at least according to the signs, was the shikwasa. Chances are you're familiar with this green citrus because of the sweet and tangy lemonade-type drink available in the vending machines around the island.


Although I absolutely love shikwasa I was not there for the fruit, I was there for the goats.




Why drive all the way to Motobu for goats you ask? Besides the fact that they are freakin' adorable today was going to be goad fights. Goat fights are one of the many little pieces of Okinawa's culture which is kept alive today.


Much like the more popular bull fights, goat fights are goat vs goat. Both goats go noggin' to noggin' until a winner comes out on top. To be completely honest I am not entirely sure what the rules are. From what I could tell once a goat backs down or decides he doesn't want to participate the other goat is declared the winner. This is at least what I gathered from watching.



The goats don't have to participate either. If they don't feel like they are in the mood they are removed from the ring and the next participants are brought in.



When both goats decide to face off it's an amazing site. They not only go head to head but they leap up onto their hind legs and slam their horns together. The beauty and power of these goats is something you have to see to believe.




Overall the entire event was very enjoyable. There was great food, music and a community atmosphere that I have not been around in quite a while. Everyone had a smile on their faces and couldn't get enough of the goats which were all around the site. I can't wait until next year to go back!



Friday, March 8, 2013

Photo Essay: Kanekadan Jomicha Tomb



Every path on Okinawa leads somewhere. . . . this is one of those paths.





"It is not clear when exactly this tomb was built. This tomb was constructed by carving into the side of the mountain; underneath the bridge are three small gates varying in size.

The tomb is worshipped by the people as it is said to contail the ashes of those who held important posts in the region such as niche and noro (female priest of the Ryukyu Religion)as well as men who lived during the nakanuyu times (generally understood as the time of the Shuri Royal Government rule). In 1963, to honour their spirits, the locals reconstructed the tomb and carved the names of the above-mentioned individuals into the entrance stone on the fifth month of the lunar calendar. They also fitted out the exterior of the tomb and are working diligently to preserve it to this day."




















As this site was visited by Mr OkiNinjaKitty on his way from work I don't have much to say about this location other than what I have seen in the photographs. It looks absolutely amazing and I can not wait to visit back again. It's just another fine example of the fact that Okinawa is full of surprises.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Climax Coffee: Step aside Starbucks!

This morning I was on a quest. . . . a quest for pancakes. Usually this quest points me in the direction of the nearest konbini or grocery store to pick up a package of pancakes mix but today it led me to a part of Okinawa often refereed to as Hamby Town. What drew me to Hamby Town was a not so little chain known as Climax Coffee.


The best way to describe Climax Coffee is a spin off gone right. This coffee shop/restaurant/cafe has the feel of a Starbucks or Tully's with slash of originality and a light dusting of Japanese flare.


The Coffee: 

As one might expect from a coffee shop Climax Coffee has an assortment of coffee drinks as well as non coffee drinks which we have come to expect ¥500 a cup places to carry. Options include classic espresso, espresso based coffees, chocolate drinks, espresso tea, espresso tea lattes, tea lattes, milk, tropical fruit juices, tropical fruit soda and shakes.

Most of the coffee drinks are served either cold or hot and come in regular or medium. Other options such as tropical fruit juice only come in regular size and the Italian Fruit Soda is only available in medium.


Today I went for one of my favorite types of lattes in Japan, the Green Tea Latte. The latte was very good although I wouldn't recommend running out and ordering it unless you know that a strong green tea flavor is right for you.


The Food: 

Surprisingly there is quite the extensive menu of food options offered at Climax Coffee. Options include spaghetti, curry rice, hamburgers, panini sandwiches soups, fries and salad. The menu also includes various plates which feature chicken with various sides. Of course not all food items are available at all times of day. Lunch menu, for example, starts at around 11:30 if I remember correctly.

Seeing as we were at Climax Coffee bright and early it was all about the pancakes. After all I was on a quest! The number of pancake options at this place is absolutely unbelievable. Those who are undeceive beware because you've got to choose between milky macadamia, mixed berry, banana chocolate, mango, green tea with kuromitsu syrup or plane. . . . . and that's just the regular menu. Once you've picked the type of pancake you want it's time to choose the size. Most styles of pancakes come with three options (regular, medium and small) and are served with just the right amount of toppings and whipped cream.


Keeping with the Japanese theme I chose the Green Tea Pancake with Kuromitsu Syrup. Russ went for the more American style Cinnamon Apple Pancakes also in size medium.



The pancakes themselves were absolutely delicious made fresh and drizzled with just enough syrup. The whipped cream was also actually heavy cream not the whipped topping that you might expect.


The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: 

Overall the experience was a great one but for those of you who still may be unsure let's go through the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good is that this place not only has good coffee and a wide selection (including seasonal flavors) but also a pretty great menu. It's also earning some more "Good" points for it's wide selection of breakfast options. There aren't many pancake houses here on the island which offer such a wide selection and at such a great price. That brings us to our next "Good" . . . pricing. Although the coffee is just as pricy at any other coffee shop around you can't beat pancakes for under ¥500 yen.

Now for The Bad I really don't have anything to say about the food, at least the breakfast options. The biggest "bad" that I can can honestly say (and I realize that this is a stretch) is the location. This is not one of those places you'll drive by unless you happen to be going down this particular road. Another unfortunate "bad" is that there is seemingly not any parking. In actuality the parking is on the next road over which you might not see if you're visiting in the middle of the day when other parking lots are full.

The Ugly is the parking lot itself. The lot, located on the street behind the entrance to Climax Coffee, is a dirt lot. Sure it might not be a big deal for some but you might want to consider this once rainy season rolls around or if you (like me) are particular about your vehicle.


Everything Else You Need To Know: 

Climax Coffee in Hamby Town opens at 0800 although different locations have different operating hours so check out their website for detailed information. They take dollars, yen and credit card as well. The staff is incredibly friendly and are happy to work with English speaking customers. There is also an English menu available! There are some options for kids and with the various sizes your kiddles shouldn't have a problem enjoying themselves. I did not, however, see any booster seats so this might be something to consider.

Over all I say go over to Climax Coffee and give them a shot!

We want to hear from you! 

Have you been to Climax Coffee? Let us know what you think below.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Yesterday's News: Guilty of rape. . . now what?

As some of my readers may already be aware, late last year two men were accused of raping and robbing an Okinawan woman in her early 20's. These two men, both active duty military members, were temporarily stationed in Okinawa for a training mission. The event took place the night before they were scheduled to depart.

Following the accusation of rape the US Forces Japan were put into a nation wide curfew and drinking ban. Although this move by the US was controversial it was not the first time that something like this has happened and was arguably less severe then in 2008 (if my memory serves me correctly) when US Forces in Okinawa were on complete lock down. (During this lock down military and civilians alike were not permitted in any off base establishments whatsoever. This included but was not limited to stores, shops, tourist attractions or restaurants.) This also did not stop the string of incidents which would follow.

The situation also pushed many of Okinawa's residents, who were already upset about the deployment of the Osprey and relocation of Futenma within Okinawa, over the edge. The message at the already frequent protests was not only "Marines Go Home" and "No Osprey" but now included "No Rape".

Those who serve in the military, and their families, also had their share to say about the situation. Although there were a great deal of people outraged and disgusted by these two men there were also a surprising amount who defended them. This was not limited to currently active military members on Okinawa either. One ex-military member who was never stationed in Okinawa and now lives in mainland Japan even went so far as to make a YouTube video which placed blame on the victim.

After a short while, and the occurrence of more crimes committed by US Military Members, the story fell from the front page and became a tag line at the end of related articles until recently.



The Trial

The two men, Christopher Browning and Skyler Dozierwalker, were tried in a Naha court where they were charged as guilty of rape. During the trial prosecutors noted that Dozierwalker choked the victim from behind and forced her into a parking lot where she was then raped. This was confirmed by surveillance camera footage, presented as evidence, which caught the act on film. Christopher Browning was sentenced to ten years in prison and Skyler Dozierwalker was sentenced to nine years. Christopher Browning was also convicted of robbing the victim of 7000 yen (at today's yen rate just under $75.00 US) Both men will serve their time in a Japanese prison.

Now What?

This incident shook Okinawa and for many I am sure that it is a relief that these men have been tried and will serve time in prison. I am, however, of the opinion that there is more that needs to be discussed before this story turns into a distant memory.

I can't help but wonder what is being done to prevent crimes like this from happening in the future. Are military members and their families really even aware of the consequences for their actions? To be honest I am not entirely sure and the military doesn't have a very straight forward approach to these types of matters either. Just go ahead and check out the UCMJ. You'll see that the consequence for an act of rape is:
"shall be punished as a court-martial may direct".

What does that mean? Well that's a great question. In fact as we're seen in the case of some female service members being raped by their superiors it could mean just about anything or nothing. According to an article on this subject by the Air Force Times in November 2012:
"Military courts often have great flexibility in sentencing. . "

The article goes on to say that a military member who has been found guilty of rape could be fined or have a reduction in pay but ultimately committing this type of crime isn't a career ender.

It is this answering questions without actually providing answers approach which I believe gives some military members and their families the illusion of being above or exempt from Japanese law. AFN Radio and TV are always showing ads about how you could be charged under the UCMJ but usually forget to mention that you could also be charged under Japanese Law. In fact reading about the Browning/Dozierwalker case there was only one out of about twenty articles that I read which mentioned that they will be serving time in a Japanese prison.

Only Time Will Tell 

Unfortunately what happens next will only be told as time passes. My hope, although it might be wishful thinking, is that some changes be made. The sad reality is that with the rotation of people and management in and out of Okinawa will undoubtably put this story out of sight, out of mind until the two are released ten years from now.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Face Masks: Keeping cooties away since 1897


Have you ever wondered what was up with all those people wearing face masks here in Japan?


Chances are if you're from the United States you're probably familiar with this type of mask mainly being worn by health care professionals or those who are suffering from something very contagious. This type of association can sometimes make those who come to Japan a bit uneasy during their first encounter with a masked stranger.

Before you reach for the hand sanitizer and Lysol the children you should know that face masks like this are common here in Okinawa as well as other parts of Japan. So why do people wear face masks here in Japan? There are two main reasons:

Reason #1: Keeping cooties away




The first reason that people might wear a face mask is to keep themselves from catching a cold. This might mean wearing a mask in crowded places like a train station, on a bus or even on a plane. You may also find people wearing face masks in areas where there are bound to be a lot of people including tourists such as Tokyo Disney Land or Kokusai Street. You may also find others, such as those working in department stores, wearing these types of masks due to the number of people they come in contact with on a regular day basis.

Reason #2: Preventing you from catching cooties



Another reason that some people like wearing a face mask is to prevent others from catching their cold. Unlike in the United States just because someone is wearing a face mask due to a cold doesn't mean that they are severely ill nor does it mean that they are necessarily contagious. In face some people will even wear a face mask when suffering from seasonal allergies.

To wear a mask or not to wear a mask . . . . that is the question. 

Although wearing a mask is common and obviously acceptable practice here in Japan there really isn't any set rule as to whether you should wear one or not. It all comes down to what you want to do (unless your doctor says you should). This being said there are times when one might be considered rude for not wearing a mask. For example, if you are visibly sick and coughing it is courteous to wear a mask or simply stay home. It is also considered courteous to wear a mask in the doctor's waiting room if you are going in for something that might be contagious.

Where can you get 'em? 

Masks are available pretty much everywhere and fit every budget. Basic masks like the one I am wearing in the pictures above come in boxes and you can get 100 for only about 200 or 300 yen. You can also get specialized masks which are designed to help clear up congested noses or others which have fun characters on them making the mask more desirable for children to wear. Overall the cost is so affordable that you can't got wrong having some around.

Go ahead. . . give it a try! 

Although it might seem strange at first wearing a face mask can be a great way to prevent yourself from catching what's going around, especially if you're new to Japan and don't quite have your immune system acclimated. So next cold and flu season do like a dental hygienist and grab for that face mask!




Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ozato Castle Ruins


Ozato Castle Ruins or Shimashi Ozato Gusuku is located in Nanjo in Southern Okinawa.   Although the castle is clearly marked with signs it is not one that is often visited as it does not end up on many "castle in Okinawa" lists.


The site itself is in the middle of a beautiful little neighborhood which looks as though it was somehow shielded from the battle which happened on this part of the island (whether or not that is actually true I am not sure but that's the feel you get as you drive through). One you arrive at the castle site you will see an open field and can tell that parts of what seems to be the castle's lowest enclosure has been made into a park. Unfortunately many of the "park" elements, such as restrooms, are in disrepair but to my delight the castle site itself is in wonderful shape.


Although this castle doesn't seem to be on anyone's "things to see" it doesn't lack any of the characteristics that you might come to expect from any other castle on the island. There are clearly enclosures, utaki and other worship sites throughout the site. There is also what looks to be a tomb and even a very interesting statue which was at the bottom of a very long path down the cliff side.



If you're in the southern part of Okinawa this is a great place to visit for the entire family. Whether you want to enjoy walking along some of the paths on the site, have a great view of the surrounding city or just enjoy some time outside on a nice day while inside the walls of a 14th century castle you will find this place enjoyable.


Shimashi Ozato Gusuku in the Ozato District. This castle was built by Chief, Shimashi Ozato Aji, who controlled the SHimajiri region around the 14th century. Shimashi Ozato Gusuku's construction, with it's back to a cliff and it's strong walls, skillfully makes use of the natural landscape.

In 2003, Shimashi Ozato Gusuku was designated as an historical site by Najjo City

- Nanjo City