Posts tagged ‘travel’

Sayonara Okinawa

…And so after 6 short months I bid adieu to the island of Okinawa…

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Farewell Futenma flightline,

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Bye bye beautiful beaches, and the snorkeling that went with them,

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So long seaside sunsets, with your rich dusk colors,

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Goodbye drink vending machines that I could find on every street corner,

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Au revoir Orion beer, which is only found on Okinawa,

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Adios vodka tonics from Panic Bar (and the associated hangovers the next morning),

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Have a nice life Habu Trail, for the countless miles I trampled over you have finished,

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Until we meet again, endless open Ocean.

Parting Shots

As we prepare to depart Okinawa to return home, these final glimpses appeared before my camera lens.

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A (mostly Flightline) Thanksgiving dinner in one of the barracks

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Pre-Hash

Meeting up before the “World Peace Through Beer 2013” Hash of the Okinawa Hash House Harriers. Our start point was some small park near Torii Station on the Yomitan peninsula.

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Chad Jones, taking a ride on the panda bear

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Burroughs and Shane “Train” Hensley

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The Grandmaster initiates the day’s event

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Wide Angle Lens

…I caved in and bought a pricey wide angle lens which I had wanted for a while. No longer would I run into the problem of not being able to fit all of the picture I wanted into the frame; this thing can go so wide it warps the photo like a fisheye. So the day I bought it I was driving around already and wanted to play around with the lens.

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Zanpa Beach

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Central Okinawa Coast, facing East China Sea

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Zakimi-Jo Castle ruins

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Secluded Waterfall

These are photos from several days before when I was at a Hash House Harrier event. The nice landscape with the waterfall tucked inside it was a surprise bonus to me. I brought my camera along, but since every Hash is in a different place, I had no idea where we would end up at. Reminded me of some of the waterfalls on Oahu, Hawaii that were hidden in the dense growth where the windward side of the mountains rose up from the flatter ground.

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Shredded paper, caught in a spider web, casting a floating illusion

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Messages etched in stone surrounded the basin of the falls; some in Japanese, some in English

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Hashin’

Well, thanks to Hensley, I was introduced to a little thing called Hash House Harriers. He was very tight-lipped about it, treating the activity as if it was some secret cult. I knew it involved running, following some sort of marked trail, and drinking. Those happen to be three things I enjoy doing, so my curiosity was piqued. The first run — or Hash, as it is called — I went to in the beginning of September, but I never brought my camera until several weeks later. The Okinawa Hash House Harriers are apparently typical of all Hash House Harrier groups all over the world; they are a strange and eclectic mix of people. The rules are very arbitrary and strict, and the pre- and after festivities are steeped in tradition but must look silly to whoever passes by, or someone who attends for the first time.
The essence of the weekly events are the actual trail, where a ‘Hare’ lays a set of markings with chalk or what appears to be ground-up newspaper (“chad”), and the rest of the group starts off later to follow the trail. There is really no winner, even in the rare instance when someone catches the Hare, and the first person to finish, along with the last person, has to drink for their transgression. That’s about all I can say about it; I might have already said too much. These photos are of one such Hash, but they can only tell a small part of the story.

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A worn running shoe, and the ‘hash’ or ‘chad’ to mark a trail

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Hydrating myself with the beverage of choice before the Hash begins

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The van used for Hashing, owned by the group, which appears to have been passed down since long ago

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You write your name (or nickname — “Hash name”) in chalk at the finish

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Where the festivities were conducted after this particular Hash, near a waterfall

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The grand master of this group, hitting an offender in the face with fruit punch, in lieu of a beer

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Two individuals getting doused on the occasion of their last Hash

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Singing one of the many songs I have not been able to memorize yet. Typically well-known tunes with the lyrics replaced by questionable verses

Shisa, the Guardian ‘Lion-Dogs’

The Shisa is a staple of Okinawan culture and even more prevalent when considering their architecture. It seems as if nearly every building on the island has two Shisa statues at the entrance, gate, or roof.
A Shisa is a cross between a lion and a dog, and the designs of them are distinctly East Asian. The origin of the symbol came from China hundreds of years ago. The twin Shisa dogs are believed to protect the building from evil spirits. One Shisa is male, and the other; female. Typically, the two Shisa are distinct by their mouths. I cannot remember which gender is which, but one’s mouth is open to scare away the evil spirits, while the other’s is closed to keep good fortune from leaving.

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Shisa at near the aquarium park

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At Shuri Castle.(Is that a soccer ball under his paw?)

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A Shisa fountain near Kokusai Street

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Two, seen at night, in a store window

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One I previously displayed, at Shuri Castle

Naha’s Nighttime Landscape

These photos are from earlier in August, when a group of us went to Kokusai street in Naha for a festival. I had too many pictures to include, especially the ones I captured on our way back to the monorail station after the sun had set. Since I started getting into photography seriously, I have been intrigued by night photos, and particularly those taken with natural night lighting and no camera flash. These are somewhat random, there is no theme. I just like the mood and contrast of colors and artificial light of a city at night.

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Inside a cafe, with the fading daylight

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Canal and monorail track

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Lanterns in front of a restaurant

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The long walk back

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One of the thousands of brightly illuminated drink machines

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Ascending the escalator

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Side street

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Sharing a smoke

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Monorail arrives

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Finding the van in a parking garage

Botanical Gardens

The whole island is a botanical garden, you might think, but the huge footprint of urban and suburban development dominates a large portion of the landscape. The Southeast Botanical Gardens provides a secluded habitat for flora from Okinawa and the rest of the Pacific.
We set out earlier in the morning, but even then, the humidity at the gardens was sweltering. I took an idea from the local Okinawans and walked around with a small towel around my neck to dab the frequent sweat that trickled down my forehead. The air was fresh and the whole scene was green with a lively saturation to it. Near an arching bridge, we stopped to buy fish food and throw the pellets in the pond. Ravenous Coy fish quickly appeared to devour every last bit of food. The final area we went through was a pond completely covered with water-resistant lillies, with long stalks and funny looking brown bulbs on top.

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The entrance

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Rows of palm trees

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Just a purple flower, couldn’t tell you the name

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Looking up

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Feeding the local fish

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Bridge underside

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Lilly-covered pond

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Taking a break in the shade

Return to ‘Secret Beach’ on Ikei Island

Several weeks prior I described how we found this somewhat isolated beach on Ikei Island, a small island connected to Okinawa by a bridge. Now  that we knew where it was, several of the guys from Flightline and I we prepared and packed up our snorkeling gear. The last time I was here, it was late in the evening during the fading sunlight. We left early and it afforded us ample opportunity to explore the underwater landscape stretching out from the rocky beach. Past thick seaweed fields were 10 to 20 foot deep coral environments, brimming with fish. Stanley and Medlicott didn’t come out of the water for about 3 hours straight, they were so involved in trying to catch fish with their spearguns. Stanley actually caught several colorful fish, his first and only other catch was months ago. Russell laid on the beach the entire time and despite my warnings, put only tanning oil on his lighter skin. We all laughed when his thighs looked like a lobster the next day at work.

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View of the beach once you make your way through the jungle path

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Walking to a spot to drop our gear

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Thick tropical growth that hides the beach

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Clinger searches for unique shells, (note the extremely short tan Navy diver shorts)

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Hermit Crab

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Stanley cleaning and gutting his catch of the day

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The vibrantly colored fish that met the wrong end of the speargun

The Bullfights of Uruma

Ah, getting back to my Spanish heritage with bullfights. Medlicott and I had heard or read about the bullfights and decided to see what the spectacle had to offer. We picked up a couple of our guys and went north along the Pacific side to Uruma city, where the bull ring lies. This was no Spanish-esque bullfight though. No matadors here. Bullfighting on Okinawa literally means bulls dueling each other. This is still PG rated for the kids, though, since it’s more of a shoving match for dominance. The bulls horns are dulled and they do not charge at their competition, they simply lock horns and push against the other with their heads until one gives up. The winning bovine is presented with an extra large bottle of Orion beer (like champagne at a race). Each bull is supported by a team, that is best thought of as a pit crew is to a race car; they all wear matching clothes and tend to the animal like one would a race-prepared vehicle.
I enjoyed it, despite the fact that during two of the three matched we caught, no fight occurred when the second bull chickened out shortly upon entering the ring. I also like the experience of being some of the very few Americans there. I appreciate immersing myself in what the locals do.

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Wolf and McClernon looking out-of-place in the bull waiting area

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Tending to the horns

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I wish I was given this much attention by someone

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The bullfighting arena — exterior

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The bullfighting arena — interior

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Tiered spectators

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The struggle begins

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‘Coaching’ his bull on

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The victor

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Araha Beach

Just a few short miles north of Futenma is Araha beach. It’s convenient, but the swimming area is microscopic, due to roping it off for jellyfish. And Araha beach is even closer to another base, Camp Foster, so on some occasions it can be more than half Americans, which is OK unless you want to get away from that kind of thing on the weekends, like myself and most other guys from my shop. Also, with the swimming area so small and typically crowded with children, I wonder how many people are peeing in there?
I did try this amazing Thai green curry at a local beach restaurant/bar that was nearby.

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Not exactly beach weather that day

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Araha beach boardwalk

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Sometimes I wish I could do that

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Jones was very, very proud of his fanny pack

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Some sun through the clouds

Torii Beach Cookout

As the only two shops that seem to have people interested in having any fun, Airframes and Flightline, with a few others included, got together and had a little barbecue party at the Army-owned Torii beach.
What’s not to love about burgers, volleyball, and beer, all within mere yards of the ocean and a short swim away from areas to snorkel at. The many sets of volleyball were of course complete with the usual shit-talking and minor sports injuries. The funniest part is when everyone starts to lose count of the points and I realize I hear the same score three times in a row after points were scored, or one team mysteriously loses or gains several.
The sky threatened rain for most of the day, but fortunately it cleared up somewhat to offer an unrestricted view of the rich sunset.

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Miller Lite should really pay me for this

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Demonstrating the Japanese pose for photos

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Game on

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Chad Jones down

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Hensley, Clinger, and Burroughs taking midday naps

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Going for the spike

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Sunset water play

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For once, I’m not the only one taking pictures

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10,000 Eisa Dancers Festival in Naha

Despite my title for this entry, there are no pictures of dancers nor did we see any. Our intention was to see them, anyway.

Every year in August, 10,000 dancers march down Kokusai street in the capitol city of Naha performing the traditional Okinawan dance known as Eisa. We missed the first half since instead of parking and walking to Kokusai street, we parked farther away just so we could get the ‘experience’ of riding the monorail in Naha. Once we entered the crowded foot traffic on Kokusai street, it was seemingly intermission, so we decided to eat and have a beer. At some point during our meal, the rest of the dancers entertained onlookers while my group obliviously chowed down. I think I heard some large drum beats from my seat, but I guess I found the ice cold Orion beer more interesting at the time.

Upon leaving, it was still more crowded than normal, but the parade had disappeared down the street. We decided to just do our typical wandering around as we did 6 or 7 weeks before when we toured Kokusai street the first time.

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The monorail arrives (somehow Stanley always manages to make it into most of my photos)

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Make sure those crab claws don’t get caught in the closing doors

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Okinawa’s only monorail system

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The crowded scene on Kokusai street

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McClernon demonstrates why we missed the show

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No more Eisa dancers

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Paused in a stairwell while trying to find an interesting place

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Yummm…. Okinawan style Desperado, a shot of awamori into a glass of Orion beer

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Stopped at a Mexican cafe in the area for a taco and a Corona

Driving Around Aimlessly Leads Us to “Secret Beach”

Not having a destination in mind and my desire to explore led me to drive with Jones and Stanley onto some of the Okinawan islands that are located close enough to the main island that they are connected by a bridge. In contrast to most of our previous journeys, we traversed the eastern (Pacific) side of Okinawa instead of the western (East China Sea) half. One area we stopped at near the island-connecting bridge had this amazing feature where the water was only ankle deep for literally a mile out from shore. It was definitely different to be so far from shore and still standing with the ocean not even touching my thighs.

After navigating narrow, unknown roads, we came to the final tip of Ikei island and could go no further. Fortunately, we saw some parked cars and a few people mulling about in scuba gear; a beach had to be within walking distance. Past a sign that advised American service members to go no further, we happened upon a lightly used beach that was shallow out to 100 meters. In other words, perfect for snorkeling. We found no name for this spot, and due to the difficult nature of locating it and the secludedness, we proclaimed it “secret beach”.

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Stopping near the bridges to the nearby islands

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Shallow water stretched out as far as I could see

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Crustacean remains

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Stanley doing…. Stanley things

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Visually impaired dog, Ikei Island

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Colorful boat

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Pathway through jungle to “secret beach”

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Warning signs don’t turn me around, they encourage me to go further

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Coral shelves, “secret beach”, Ikei Island

Random Photos from Around the Island

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Umbrella vending machine

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A group of girls wanted to have their picture taken, so naturally they were pounced upon by a dozen Japanese guys with cameras. I just wanted to be a witness to the hilarity.

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A Banana Spider. Obviously not the scientific name for these arachnids that I see everywhere in dense jungle growth. This one pictured is actually on the smaller side. I’ve seen a few with a leg span equal to that of my hand with fingers outstretched. Once I almost walked headfirst into one (they blend in easier than you think), and they get kind of territorial and pissed-off, facing you and standing on their back 4 legs with the front 4 up and toward you. As big and mean as they seem, I would still take a Banana spider over a Camel Spider any day.

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I only wanted to take a photo of the stone monument; the duck had other ideas and began his slow charge toward me. And why is his head half red, like a Turkey??

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Habu Cats. Okinawa is full of stray, mangy cats. We started calling them ‘Habu’ cats within a week of our arrival. Habu really means the Okinawan viper snake, but dozens of things on the Marine bases are called ‘Habu-something’, like the Habu Pit (Staff NCO/Officers Club) and the Habu Trail (running path around the Futenma air base). The name stuck.

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Gee….thanks Brad Pitt

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View from Kadena Marina facing the Kerama Islands

The Aquarium

The name of the place is Ocean Expo Park Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, but that’s a mouthful so I’ll just call it the Aquarium. Now that we have two personal vans for our Flightline shop, we packed them full and headed northward, then west to the tip of the Motobu Peninsula that juts out where the central third of the island meets the rural northern third. As the driver of one of the vans, I had a new appreciation of what school bus drivers put up with when driving unruly kids.

Since Okinawa is in the warm Pacific waters, I would not expect anything less than for the tanks to be filled with colorful and exotic marine life. Whale Sharks are one of the animals that dwell miles offshore of the island, and are a sort of mascot for Okinawa’s aquarium. Deep inside, there was an immense room that held an equally impressive tank that was large enough for several Whale Sharks to freely swim around and mingle with dozens of giant Manta Rays.

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View of Ie Shima island from near the aquarium entrance

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Posing on a Whale Shark made of flowers

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Ummm…..Hello Mr.Crab

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Some sort of clawless Lobster

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Moments after I photographed this squid, I turned around and suddenly heard every Japanese person gasp with interest. When I looked back at the now crowded area around the squid, he had just inked.

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The big tank

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Whale Sharks

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View from below

Walking Kokusai street

Most cities have one, if not more, streets that are well-known and which people say, “you just have to go down this street.”

Naha, Okinawa’s largest city, has Kokusai street. It’s a kind of tourist destination, shopping haven, and bar/restaurant strip all rolled into one. Kokusai street even has its own small and covered side street that branches off, which was actually pretty big by itself since someone could probably spend two hours or more just in that one spot.

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Kokusai Street

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Did Stanley want to purchase this embalmed frog money pouch? Of course he did

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The covered market

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After all the noise and people, I sought out a quiet section

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This was us figuring out how to pay the parking machine so it would unlatch a barrier from our car’s tires. Actually the funniest part of our day there was when we arrived and had to start the machine. It was entirely in Japanese and no parking lots in America worked in the same manner as this one so we pushed a bunch of buttons and, of course, nothing happened. Then an Okinawan man walked up to select his parking space and when he reached the machine, all 6 of us huddled around him to see the sequence of buttons he hit (it was green, yellow, red, I think??). When he turned around, he suddenly noticed he was surrounded by foreign Americans and there was a short awkward silence. He started walking away, then realized we couldn’t work the damned machine and came back and hit the buttons for us. That was when we understood how confused Europeans and Asians feel in our country.