Okinawa - Part 2

Looking at the guidebook we could choose places and then put in the phone numbers for the navigation system to use in order to find where we were going. So, by default (i.e. the car rolling into the road, going the opposite direction of the hotel), we ended up heading toward the bars. This part of the island is famous for its high concentration of US military personnel. It's also recently been featured in a new Japanese movie, Nada Soso.

Since it had Janet's pretend boyfriend in it, (the boy at the top of the poster) Satoshi Tsumabuki, she wanted to see a bar featured in the movie. Apparently one of the characters' fathers was a jazz musician and played at a jazz bar in the movie called The Hideaway. Since it was listed in the guidebook, we put it in the navigator and passed by it on the main drag. We found a parking space and walked to the bar so that Janet could get a nice picture to show her kids at school.

After taking the picture we were faced with making another decision: what bar should we go in to? The street was crawling with shaved-head, huge military guys. Some were muscular and some were just kind of big dudes. There were about 5 places to choose from, but each one had either obnoxiously loud classic rock music or men screaming inside (and not in any way that could be considered fun – for civilians, at least). So we decided to take a chance and walk up the stairs to The Hideaway. This place also played the classic rock (actually, I think it was the Charlie Daniels Band). As we walked up the narrow stairwell, we were greeted by a group of young guys coming out. The first guy put his hand up for high-fives. It was hard for most all of us to reach up (except for Trish who's a touch taller than everyone else). His friend following behind was all like, "Oh. I see how it is. No high-fives. Yeah…whatever…"

Then everyone stopped in the stairwell. I couldn't hear what they were talking about as I was getting out of the way of the guys going down the stairs. Soon the bouncer leaned over and said to me, "Hey, are you guys coming or going? 'Cuz you can't block the stairs." As he stepped back to let us in, I quickly noticed 2 things: 1. the bar was full of huge guys, and 2. a woman's bare ass as she was picking up money which had been thrown upstage. I looked at Janet who had led the way up the stairs, and she asked if I wanted to go in. I laughed. She looked a little crushed. Perhaps because pretend boyfriend wasn't waiting inside to serve us drinks with umbrellas before some girly-man J-pop band played another set and we would have to go outside to talk (which I have been asked to do before at a gig – but that's another story). I said no and we went back down the stairs. We tried one more bar where a really shitty cover band was singing a Bush song as I noticed every guy in there was sporting a shaved head, a polo shirt and either khakis or jeans. We were the only girls there. Not one person shifted their glance our way as we came in. My guess is because we were dressed like normal people and not Philippine hookers. After this we went back to the hotel and watched Letterman on American Forces TV. It was a little like TV back home except instead of commercials there were really creepy public service announcements telling people not to talk on their cellphones while driving or not to run red lights in Japan. There were also small breaks to show a token solider talking with Iraqis about civil engineering stuff in a room with florescent lights, cinderblock walls and a giant American flag hanging limply on the wall.

The next day we got up and went out to the beach.

It really was a beautiful beach, and the building was especially built so you could see it from every room. The Sanmarina Hotel is a really weird looking building. Anywho, after bumming around for a bit we set off for the Ryukyu Mura (or the Ryukyu Village).

Part of our package deal said that we could have a free bowl of noodles there. I was pretty excited as I hadn't eaten yet. Walking around the park we saw old traditional houses (the look similar to other traditional houses in Japan except that since these are tropical islands, the sliding doors sometimes extend the full length of one of the sides of the house. That way you can pull them open or take them off and have a house with 3 sides so the wind can blow through).

We do various touristy things like buy awamori, paint a shisa, or watch an old lady play a snake skin shamisen There were signs everywhere for the mongoose and habu (pit viper) show. The island is famous for those and various umi hebi (water snakes). We walked up the trail to see the show. Along the way there were little signs you could open to see different trivia facts about habu. Finally, near the entrance to the theater there was a large tank that held several habu. One sat ready to strike the glass while the others didn't seem to care. And two of them were intertwined. One of them had tucked it's body up under the other so that they actually looked like one, two-headed snake.

The other tank was empty, but the sign said that a mongoose lived inside.

We went into the theater and saw that we had missed the last show and there wouldn't be another for an hour. Around the seating area there were several dead habu on display. Many had been flayed and preserved and one looked to be about 5 ft long and had swallowed a cat which you could see sitting in his belly-tube). There was also a gift shop with various habu related merch. Like はぶ酒 (habu-shu – strong alcohol with snakes curled at the bottom of the bottle. They also offered "health supplements" made from powdered habu. I went to the counter and read the sign detailing the 3 types of "medicine" that you could sample. Since I couldn't quickly discern the benefits of the different ones, I asked to try the most popular one. The shop woman gave me a small folded paper with the power inside and a little cup of water. It tasted like dirt. After a second, longer look at the sign, I noticed that the less popular formula included habu penis. I bought Dad a souvineer – a pack of habu eggs – the same silly joke as his envelope of rattlesnake eggs. We headed back down the hill. Momentarily we stopped by the mongoose tank. There were 2 inside now, they looked like dirtier versions of ferrets, if you can imagine such a thing.

At lunch I traded my noodle card for taco rice. I was very happy. The girls all had the okinawan soba and were probably a little sorry. The bowls were huge.

After lunch we went Shuri Castle. We had officially come back to Naha and the southern part of the island.

Of course, it looks so nice partially because it has been destroyed and rebuilt about 4 times. And even now, there is some kind of renovation underway. After Shuri-jo we checked in at the hotel. This time the man at the front desk seemed only slightly more willing to speak to me in Japanese. The room this time was more "realistic." It was the size of regular hotel room that you might see at a Days Inn or something. Only they had jammed four beds into it. I guess it could have been worse.

As soon as we got dressed for a night of shopping and potential bar-hopping (which took a little longer than one might have expected), we went to cash in our other free meal ticket. This one for a delicious-sounding "hot-sandwich." We went to the restaurant in the hotel. It was very nice. It had a nice buffet with silver chafing dishes and white tablecloths and a chocolate fountain. We were seated by a very professional waiter and enjoyed the sunset over Naha.

Soon he brought us our drinks and finally our sandwiches. Ham sandwiches with melted-and-quickly-cooled-cheese. There were potato chips on the side. I think it might have been a little better if I could have had some mayo or something. I guess that kind of thinking is why the conservatives and old folks still call us foreigners "barbarians."

Soon we were hopping in a cab (because we missed the bus) to head down to Kokusai Dori (International Avenue). We caught the tail end of a festival performance and then started to do some shopping. In truth, I don't think that street was very kokusai. In fact, it was much like Myrtle Beach, mostly a strip of gift shops. I bought some postcards and souvineers for people (especially chinsuko, the sugar cookies sprinkled with a little salt that Okinawa is famous for).

When everyone was finished shopping, we popped in for some karaoke. The place we went to had some kind of game you could play. If you could score certain point amounts you could get certain discounts on the final price of your karaoke outing. I really don't understand how that system works. You'd sing your song and then the tv would tell you how many calories you had burned singing and then tell you how many points you had earned.

We paid for the karaoke and tried to find a bar. But we couldn't find the place that wynne had seen in her guidebook. And the one bar/restaurant that I wanted to go to, seemed empty.

Finally we decided to catch a cab back to the hotel. It was about 1am anyway and we had an early day the next day.

The next morning we got up and drove to pick up breakfast. At another Family Mart we looked at the options. In the shop they had several special Okinawan onigiri.

I reckon you'd call it that. I had one that was a small hamburger patty (with that funky, brown, sweetish demi-glace they like to put on ""hamburger steaks" here), cheese, mayo and a big, round chunk of rice with nori wrapped around the outside. It was so-so I guess.

We took the car back and went back to the airport. At the resturant Trish, Wynne and I split a plate of tacos as we enjoyed the view of the sea.

In the sea between Okinawa and Kyushu I could see about four volcanos. It was really weird. At least two of them were expelling smoke.