Bored and uninspired

At least I was inspired enough to say that I was uninspired.

Sometimes life is just that – living. I go to work, work long, stressful hours, I come home, try to accomplish something but lately have been accidently falling asleep on the couch. Amazing! I’ve been trying to watch some World Cup as well which might explain why I am having accidental naps. The games are on at 11:00 pm and 3:30 am. I’ve seen two of the 3:30 am matches. The US is out but at least I still have Japan.

I was supposed to be in either Shanghai or Madrid this weekend but instead I am in rainy Nagoya. We had to cancel the Shanghai trip because Tomo had a conference that never actually got organized. My friend Wouter got married in Madrid this weekend. Congratulations. Unfortunately I could not find a reasonable way to get there and I feel bad about that. Sorry Wouter.

The iPhone 4 is out and I’m jonesing for it. Sound familiar? I can’t justify a new phone but it is tempting, especially when an Apple executive I went to college with tells me it’s their best product ever. Well, that’s saying a lot.

In an effort to get out of the house I made the Apple Store my goal. Being bored and uninspired can be dangerously expensive as consumer therapy can kick in. I was a good boy though, I only bought a pair of boxers for 600 yen at The Gap. Too much information, I know, but they were fish boxers and I can never pass those up.

I can never pass up fish boxers

Anyway, checked out the new iPhone 4 and the iPad prices. The iPhone is sweet, but I think FaceTime makes me look fat. To quote Thom Yorke, “Gravity always wins.” Tomo and I are having a contest to see who can get to their target weight. I’m basically at mine already so I need to shift my focus to redistribution of weight. That used to be a LOT easier.

Well, that’s general ramblings from Nagoya. I never thought I would post a picture of my underwear, but there you go! I can’t wait to see what hits this entry generates.

And so it is declared

A blurry, cloudy night

On June 13, 2010, rainy season was declared for my part of Japan (Tokai). As I have posted before, I love the official proclamations of seasons, whether it is 梅雨 (tsuyu), 花見 (hanami), or any other artificial season. My interpreter knows my fascination with an official announcement as well and was kind enough to send me the following:

Above article says that the Japan Meteorological Agency announced that it seemed to begin rainy season in Shikoku, Tyugoku, Kinki, Tokai, and Hokuriku regions on June 13th. As you know, even the declaration of the Japan Meteorological Agency is inarticulate and not clear:-).

Sorry JMA! And the article …

梅雨入り:四国、中国、近畿、東海、北陸で平年より遅く

気象庁は13日、四国、中国、近畿、東海、北陸地方が梅雨入りしたとみられると発表した。平年より北陸は3日、東海は5日、近畿と中国は7日、四国は9日遅い。四国は07年と並び過去3番目の遅さだった。梅雨入りした各地は、今後1週間も気圧の谷や梅雨前線の影響で曇りや雨の日が多い見込みという。

That’s all very interesting. However, I think the screen capture below says it all.

Rainy season, what rain?

 

I really am looking forward to the next few days.

Ishigaki

When I posted “Ishigaki!” as a subject on Facebook, people were puzzled. The thought I was counting something, sneezed, and my brother went as far as to say it was the sound his cat made when trying to expel a furball. Thanks for the comments everyone. No, Ishigaki is an island in the Ryukyus (琉球), better known as Okinawa.

Japan, including all of Okinawa

Ishigaki and surrounding islands

 

When most people think of Okinawa these days, they think of the controversy over the US bases on the main island of Okinawa. However, there are many islands that are part of the island chain. I wanted to go where there weren’t so many Americans to minimize the potential for hostility. We decided on the ANA Intercontinental in Ishigaki and a day trip to Iriomote. Ishigaki and Iriomote are part of the Yaeyama group of islands within Okinawa.

ANA Intercontinental, Ishigaki

 

Unfortunately, the dates we chose were right in the middle of rainy season, or tsuyu (梅雨, つゆ), and the weather did not let us down. Somewhat surprisingly, it didn’t really impact our plans at all. It rained every day we were there, but the heaviest rain was conveniently timed when we were moving from one location to another, or in some sort of protected situation. Even when we were stuck in the rain, it wasn’t bad since the air temperature ranged from 24 degC to 29 degC the whole time (77 degF to 84 degF).

Tomo flew in from Tokyo, and I flew in from Nagoya and we met in Naha before continuing to Ishigaki. What amazed me is that I flew a 777 from Nagoya and Tomo flew a 747. His was cool too. I’ve never flown such a big airplane for a domestic flight, and for such a short flight. Well, a few times I’ve taken a 747 from Singapore to Jakarta, but I was amazed that there was such a demand that a jumbo jet is standard.

A small domestic airplane

 

As I learned in Kyoto, it is school trip season and the airport in Naha was filled with packs of junior high school kids.

We got to Ishigaki fairly late on a Friday, but early enough that we could find a place for dinner. Tomo had a few ideas from a book, but the taxi driver made our final decision for us. The restaurant was fantastic, clearly a local place, and appeared to have a mix of locals and visitors.

Dining in Ishigaki

 

We had decided to go to Iriomote for a day trip and actually booked a tour. I’m not a big fan of tours, but they can be convenient. By booking the tour, we didn’t have to worry about renting a car, or being tired as we drove from location to location, and we can get a little bit of local description. Of course, like any tour, each place we went conveniently had some shop associated with it where we could buy souvenirs, ice cream, etc. One our itinerary was a boat ride along a river and through a mangrove, a 2 hour hike to a from a waterfall, lunch, a visit to a beach where the sand is shaped like a star, and then a water-buffalo cart ride to another island.

To get from Ishigaki to Iriomote required a ride in a ferry. The only time I rode a ferry consistently was in Sydney, often taking the ferry between Manly Beach and Sydney Harbor. When I was there, you could choose between a big boat or, for a premium, the hydrofoil. So when I saw our “ferry” I thought, “Uh oh.” I’m not a great sailor and I worried about the 35 minute ride. The boat seemed so small and so claustrophobic. I was expecting to hang out on the deck, letting the fresh wind buffet me as we meandered to the next location. Instead, I walked down a few steps into a single aisle, 3 x 3 seat configuration with a ceiling lower than a 737. I was afraid this was going to be bad. Once we started though, I realized why we weren’t on deck – this boat was a speedboat! We were sitting right at water level, and the boat was flying across the sea. There was no rocking of the boat – any waves we encountered were either destroyed by us or pounded us in a slightly different direction. In true Japanese and transportation form, most everyone slept.

The ferry to Iriomote

 

Inside the boat

Tight quarters in the ferry

 

Once we arrived, we found our tour bus, and had a total of 5 people in a full size tour bus. I was thinking perhaps we picked a lame tour, but I realized that there just weren’t that many people visiting. Cool. Iriomote has two stoplights on the entire island, and we encountered one of them.

Iriomote has two main rivers sending water from the mountains to the sea, and we took a boat ride through a mangrove. Pretty scenery, that’s about all to say about that. We were dropped off upstream, where we started a hike to an upstream waterfall. The hike took us through a rainforest, and the path was a mixed of pavers, prepared stairs, and roots. We were both wearing sandals and realized afterwards that we were really sore from trying to maintain balance. Since we had no ankle support our legs were doing a lot of work. We saw many interesting things along the way, including multiple spider webs with a mean looking master. The waterfall was nice although I guess I was expecting a 200 foot tumbling spectacular instead of a stretch of rough water.

The boat dock

The dock on the river

 

Tomo, looking 1960s Italian in his Ben Sherman shades

Tomo channels his internal Italian

 

In the rain forest

The rainforest

 

The spider

A spider that was all along our path

 

The spider in detail

 

Waterfalls along the river

Waterfalls along the river

 

Lunch was provided at a nearby resort. It was a set course, and very good. It was very colorful as well.

A great lunch

 

Next up was the hoshinosuna (星の砂, ほしのすな) beach. Basically, the sand contains many star shaped “grains” which are actually shells. It is interesting though to run your hand through the sand to find the star shaped grains. Both Tomo and I found a grain immediately, so we spent the rest of the time enjoying the scenery and checking out the tidal pools.

Starry sand

Starry sand

 

Trapped in a tide pool

Stuck in a tide pool

 

The beach

星の砂

 

星の砂

 

After that, it was around the island to a place where you can ride a cart drawn by a water buffalo to another island (Yubu Island). I was not really keen on this part of the tour, but apparently it was made famous by a commercial in Japan, and also by a television show. So it has become a part of the Iriomote circuit. My thoughts didn’t really change when we reached the location and the wind was whipping and the tide was low. But we rode the buffalo to the island. It turns out the island used to have residents but during one particularly strong typhoon they left the island and decided (or most likely it was decided for them) that they would not return. There are still a few buildings left over from that time, including a school. It was very LOSTesque and I was afraid Ben or the Smoke Monster might show up. Instead, it seems an eccentric couple turned it in to a kind of horticulture park.

Water buffalo and riding over on the cart

The water buffalo cart

 

The water buffalo cart

 

The water buffalo cart

 

The scary things on the island including a falling-down school, some strange fish thingys, and Doraemon

An empty school building on Yubu Island

 

An old playground

 

Doraemon on a rope

 

Some of the interesting flora on the island

Yubu Island flora

 

Yubu Island flora

 

Iriomote is also famous for the Iriomote Mountain Cat, a nocturnal cat that no one ever sees. I didn’t see it either, but found a few signs that made me think I didn’t want to encounter it!

About the Iriomote Mountain Cat

 

We then zoomed back to Ishigaki, got cleaned up, and went to a yakiniku (焼き肉, やきにく) restaurant for some famous Ishigaki beef. Our reservation was for 7:30 pm and we were warned that they may be sold out of some items by then. Island life is early! And so ended our first full day in Okinawa.

Ishigaki Island

The next day, the weather wasn’t very promising, so we decided to do an Ishigaki tour. This time we had a full sized tour bus for just the two of us. Yikes! I wish we had a minivan. The tour started off rather ominously, visiting a memorial to Chinese that were killed by the British and Americans after their ship wrecked on the island. Hmmmm. But then we headed to Kabira Beach. Our guide offered us a glass bottom boat ride for a little extra money. Since we didn’t have anything else going on, we decided, why not? I’m glad we did. We visited the beach and were told that it was one of the top view points in Japan. And it was indeed. It is beautiful in bad weather and I can’t imagine what it would be in bright sunny skies.

The scenes around Kabira Beach

Kabira Beach

 

Kabira Beach

 

Interesting things on shore

Interestingly shaped and textured fruit

 

A shell collection

 

Low tide around Kabira Beach

Low tide at Kabira

 

Low tide at Kabira Beach

 

The glass bottom boat, after an initial tangle with other anchors, was pretty amazing. The water is so alive so close to the shore. Most islands in Okinawa are surrounded by reefs, so there is lots to see. Certainly Kabira Beach was the highlight of the Ishigaki tour.

Trying to capture the view from the boat

 

Riding in the glass bottom boat

 

Naha

On the way back to Nagoya and Tokyo, we had a long layover in Naha and spent some time on Kokusai Street. It was raining a ton and chocked full of junior high school kids. We had some good タコス, or tacos. We wandered through the shopping area and then headed back to the airport.

The shopping area at Kokusai Street

Kokusai Street and the market

 

Kokusai Street and the market

 

Dried fish to make fish flakes that dance on okonomiyaki

 

Along Kokusai Street

 

It was a great time, even if it was just for a long weekend. I wonder what it looks like when the weather is nice?