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Nov 15 - Garden Eeeeeeeeeels!

Jan. 13th, 2008 | 12:23 pm
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Garden Eeeeeels
Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

Okinawa's aquarium is sectioned up according to different parts of the sea. The first part is tide pools, then into the offshore shallows. From there, the exhibits lead deeper under the ocean's surface and present the incredible array of creatures who live in the deep.

We came across these guys and they really were fascinating. These garden eels live in sandy bottom in tiny little holes. They poke up and stare across the water. There were two types - orange and white stripes and white with black spots. They kept peeking up from their holes, and then darting back inside. How strange to see so many unusual fish from halfway around the world!


Nov 15 - Floral Squids!

Jan. 13th, 2008 | 09:30 am
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Squid topiary!!!!
Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

We reached our destination, Ocean Park Expo, just as the weather turns cloudy. Somehow Brian managed to survive parking, as here in Okinawa everything must be backed in. Awfully hard to do when you're driving on the wrong side of the car!

Ocean Park Expo is a touristy place that has a number of different attractions. There's the aquarium, a model Okinawan Village, a historical museum, "tropical dream center" (which is kind of like Bok's Tower), butterfly house, public beach, and an arboreum all in once place. It reminds me, in more ways than one, of the old Florida places like Kissimmee and I-drive before it became way overdeveloped, that had a ton of different weird little things to do. This is definitely a tourist destination.

This squid topiary here was one of many in the park's plaza. There was also a stingray, crab, several birds, and the place's mascot, a whale shark! They were awesome and gigantic. The plaza offered a beautiful view of nearby Ise island and the crystal blue water that separated us from it.

We wandered about amongst the giant floral sea creatures for a bit and then excitedly took off running for the aquarium.

Next stop: WHALE SHARKS!!!!


Nov 15 - White Knuckled Adventuring

Jan. 13th, 2008 | 09:23 am
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Safe arrival!

The rental car we receive in Okinawa is *tiny*. The poor girl who brings us the car hardly speaks any English and just kind of points to things and we nod, confused as to whether she's trying to tell us how to turn the radio on or where the air bags are. The car is cute and black and, even though it's much smaller than my own wee Honda, inside it feels plush and roomy. Why can't we have these awesome little motors in America?!

Driving in Okinawa, however, is *not* cute. As Brian notes within 30 seconds of our pulling out of the Miyako Hotel parking lot, the lanes are a mere suggestion as opposed to hard and fast rules. People weave in, out, and around us. Brian does a great job staying safe, though, and dealing with the fact that the steering wheel is on the right AND the lanes are backwards.

Our destination is, approximately 2 hours north of the hotel. Okinawa is a long, thin island - only takes maybe 15 minutes to go from one side to the other but to get north takes far longer. We're headed to the Okinawa Aquarium and the many wonderful places that are associated with it in the same general area. I'm very excited, but nervous too because, honestly, I'm using maps like I've never used them before. Thankfully, most of the road signs are in English and, well, there's only 3 major highways.

The drive is breathtaking. We speed past plant life that is so reminiscent of home, yet so different. Yesterday on the bus ride to Cape Zampa we didn't see much of the coast - we were a bit to far inland - but today we're right alongside of the beaches. The water is crystal blue to the left, with large rocks pushing up from beneath the sea. To the right are mountain after mountain - such a strange site with water so close nearby.

We pass some interesting uses of English, like "Cow Cow" car dealership and several other odd places. There are Shisha Dogs everywhere too, it's clear the Okinawans take their protective spirits seriously. We also drive by several graveyards. Here, surprisingly, they're much different than they are in Japan. Instead of crammed in vertical graves they're much like the sprawling above ground tombs of New Orleans or Savannah. But they're tucked away randomly as well as being in clearly defined cemeteries - every once in a while we pass one that's just rather cast away on the side of a mountain.

Our journey north is safe and uneventful. We jam to an American radio station the army puts out. The weather turns grey, but nothing can dampen our spirits as we head to our goal!


Nov 15 - A white Christmas?

Jan. 12th, 2008 | 05:13 pm
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

today is, officially, our last day. and we're determined to make the most of it! we were supposed to rent a car yesterday and drive around before visiting Seizan, but since he wanted us to come early we decided to instead do the car thing today. so brian spent much time gesturing wildly with people that didn't speak very good english to secure us a wee little rental car.

*before* we had the pleasure of seeing our ride, though, brian had to try and pay for it and find the people who were going to meet us to give it to us. i got way distracted because, overnight, christmas magic had come to the Miyako Hotel. in the lobby suddenly there were about 20 big tables covered in christmas origami. there was everything from miniature fields of pines with deer (like here in the photo) to a christmas tree where all the ornaments were origami, origami wreaths and advent candle dispalys and 25-day origami advent calendars. it was amazing.

christmas is creeping up on me, even here.

we rush off to the car, though - BIG day planned today - and i don't get too many photos...our last grand adventure begins!


Nov 14 - and here we have a baseball bat!

Jan. 6th, 2008 | 08:59 pm
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

That is a baseball bat...
Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

Marie, I *swear* I didn't let him beat Brian.

Too much.

Seriously, though, this is Brian training with Seizan Sensei in the latter's home dojo. As you can see, the man *really* knows his stuff. We arrived right around 1 pm and were welcomed by this incredible man. He shows us his incredibly beautiful home, his dojo, and we meet the students from India who were just absolutely wonderful. First, Seizan sat us down (the man has probably 20 cats - absolutely *awsome* vibes with that!) on comfy couches and had a long talk with Brian. I was really honored that he included me, too...I wasn't sure whether he would or what he would think of me. But he had checked out my website (!) and spoke many things that related to my dance, too. He is a lot like Brian - a sort of academic in the martial arts field - and it was incredible just getting to talk with him.

We went into the dojo and Brian went through each kata for the Master. Each time, they disected the Pangai-noon style versus the Uechi-ryu stylings and it was fascinating to watch. There are many differences, yet also many similarities in these styles. We were both delighted to learn more about the history and excited to find out some new revisions that would need to be made. Seizan also took the time to show Brian some new tricks - here he's showing him how to use his elbows (don't ask. it was pretty cool though!).

Seizan and his gorgeous wife also treated us to a yummy dinner. There was more practice after that - Seizan had us stay for his class and we watched them work out. He has a sizable number of students who clearly benefit from his tutelage. I really enjoyed hanging out with his wife (who, btw, is like 5th degree black belt and BEAUTIFUL and crazy flexible and a yoga instructor...can you say that's where i want to be when i'm her age???) and the lady who, also was totally kick butt, the wife of one of the Indian gentlemen. I even got to get them to dance a bit!

Afterward, we had a most amazing special treat. The Indian students were scheduled to visit Toyoma Sensei, Seizan's instructor and the last living student of Kanbun Uechi. *We were invited to go* This made me so happy for Brian - it was an incredibly huge honor. Toyoma-san lives in a modest home secluded away from the prying eyes of those Uechi Ryu students who would hassle and demand stuff from him and, at somewhere around 70 or 80 years, he can still kick major arse. When we arrived, we entered his living room (which was of course a dojo) and he offered us tea and persimmons. We were able to talk with him a bit, although Brian was actually a bit shy for once, and even watch him coach the Indian students some.

Afterwards, we rode back part of the way with another American who'd studied with Seizan and Toyoma-san. Very cool gent. He left us about 20 min from Naha as he was headed home, and we took a cab the rest of the way back. We returned to the hotel completely energized and excited to get back to the states and study, both kung-fu and dance.

This may well have been the most unforgetable, magical night of the entire trip. Thank you, Seizan, for sharing your home and opening up your life and art to us!


Nov 14 - Waiting for Seizan

Jan. 6th, 2008 | 08:34 pm
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Cape Zampa Bus Station
Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

I love this photo, for some reason. I'm sitting in the Cape Zampa bus station, drinking CC Lemon, waiting for Brian's friend Seizan Sensei to pick us up. Brian did an awesome job with this image, and it reminds me of just how odd this place seems.

It's very much like Florida, with tropical palm trees, mangroves, and beach/water combo. But there's mountains. And a sense of solitude of sorts - a slow sort of island lifestyle relaxation permeates. We arrive at the bus station after about a 2 hour drive (only that long, really, because of all the stops our bus made) and find a very small town with very little traffic or people. Very hungry - hardly any place to eat. Wound up finding this tiny little convience store that was tucked into a lady's home and sprang for snacky treats.

Cape Zampa is where Seizan Sensei lives. Seizan is a really incredible guy who was kind enough to strike up a friendship with Brian online and invite him to visit when we're here in Okinawa. I'm excited for Brian, I know he's really been looking forward to this.

Seizan is supposed to meet us here and pick us up...


Nov 14 - Standing with the Ryukus

Jan. 6th, 2008 | 10:00 am
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Happy couple at Shuri Castle
Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

before we meet Seizan Sensei, we decide to check out Shuri Castle. i'm so glad we did, too! what a beautifully done site - with lots of good interpretive resources, too!

we get there a bit early and wander around this section of town. okinawa is a very interesting, and different, place. like japan it has hills and mountains, but the towns seem to be built less in the valleys and more on the mountains and hills themselves with buildings crammed all the way up the topography. it's definitely less squished then japan in terms of land use, but still fairly crowded with mini high rises. here, though, we're seeing a lot of shorter buildings and homes. there's a wide useage of rock that i believe is probably quarried on site - there's gigantic granitey looking pieces everywhere. and the plant life....ah the plant life! looks *just* like home! i'm seeing *mangroves*! and all sorts of morning glories and figs that i recognize, too....we could *definitely* live here!

Shuri castle itself is at once imposing and yet not. Brian comments that it's not as big as he'd have thought, but I'm pretty impressed. The walls are massive and are, of course, all stone. We pass through multiple gates and climb higher and higher, finally coming to the main castle building. it's built of wood and, remarkably, uses the *exact* same form that Brian used for our bathhouse (how odd that he did that!). Since we got there early, the building wasn't open yet and we were treated to see the official traditional daily opening ceremonies.

Even the courtyard of the main buildings is impressive. It's striped red and grey/white, leading focus into the King and Queen's palace. In the Ryuku Kingdom, the tiny island kings were rather on their own from Japan until the time of the Shoguns. They were actually more closely linked to China and we see many of these influences in the buildings.

One of the reconstructed halls houses some lovely reproductions of musical instruments and then we stepped on into the great hall. Here we were able to see both the King and Queen's floors and thrones. Everything was red laquered with golden - amazing. And, again, very Chinese in influence.

It was hard to remember that nearly everything we saw here was a reproduction. Many of the signs noted that the original structures were destroyed in World War II. Hard to imagine fighting here, where everything seemed so peaceful. But after climbing these hills, it is no surprise that the fighting was so harsh here.

Leaving Shuri, we completed our stamp sheet. Here in Okinawa, too, stamps are big - Shuri castle had a hole sheet of them that you could get and we managed to find them all before leaving to head to the dojo.


Nov 13 - safely arrived in Okinawa

Jan. 6th, 2008 | 09:30 am
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Not a gripping jar. Really.
Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

we arrived in okinawa after only a kinda harrowing trip from kyoto to osaka. it's about a 2 hour drive, and we had given ourselves *plenty* of time to check out, load luggage, etc.

but our van driver had to make several stops (that was pretty cool - they made rest stops for the passengers) and so we eeked in on time. the plane was about 2 hours late, though, so it worked out ok. osaka airport was interesting - it's built on OMG an ISLAND (yay. misha now gets to overcome her fear of not only flying but of CRASHING AND DYING IN A TWISTED BURNING HEAP INTO THE WATER. ahem. joy.) created specifically for the airport. feel safe, yet? but there were some nifty things in the airport, including a pizza place where we had pizza with brie on it. odd, no? and there was a subway too that had french fries and shrimp covered subs. ah, sweet japan!

we made it to okinawa just in time to head onto the monorail (which leads from the airport into the main city, Naha) and out into town. it was about a 25 minute trip to our station, and we had the luxury of viewing a bit of the city before nightfall. once again, it was strange to arrive in a place at night and not *see* what everything was like. when we got to japan, it was very dark and there was really no way of getting a feel for the land until the next morning - talk about anticipation overload! much the same here, we only had a brief glimpse of the land.

looks a hell of a lot like florida.

because we were now seasoned travelers, we decided we'd walk to the hotel. which was, supposedly, 5 minute walk from station. i think that was if we'd headed in the right direction, because by the time we finally stopped to ask for help (which led to us getting a taxi) it was actually about a 10 minute drive.

the hotel is lovely - not surprisingly the most american we've stayed in, yet. we're settling in for the night and tomorrow brian will have his much anticipated meeting at the dojo.


Fresh Horse Meat. Really. (Nov 12)

Jan. 6th, 2008 | 09:22 am
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Fresh Horse Meat
Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

So far, we've seen some interesting food items. But, honestly, few have topped the FRESH HORSE MEAT we found on our last night in Kyoto.

After we left the tower tonight, we did actually manage to find the recommended restaurant. Unfortunately, it had *just* closed. So we went for walkabout and happened upon this nifty place. They even had an umbrella (ella, ella, eh?) stand outside to place your accessories, complete with key lock to take in with you.

So, clearly, this was where we should eat.

Also, they had an English Menu.

Which, on further inspection and the discovery of "horse meat" we kinda wished they hadn't. But, it was really good food.


Nov 12 - Kyoto Tower

Jan. 6th, 2008 | 09:12 am
posted by: mishakitty78 in team_nell

Originally uploaded by mishakitty78

Our last night in Kyoto and, for all purposes, in Japan.

It's bittersweet. Night comes quickly, as it has the entire trip, and I'm saddened that our grand adventure is almost over. The weather is much colder tonite and I'm still sporting 4 layers and my Nara Deer Hat.

Kyoto's another town like Tokyo - it sprawls and is divided into sections. So even though we're near the train station and pretty much central, it is quite a ways to get back to Gion or to travel very far. One of the other travelers has told us about a highly recommended vegetarian restaurant and we set off into the night to find it.

First, we have to traverse Kyoto Station. It's certainly not as imposing as Tokyo Central, or as busy and packed as Shinjuku, but it's still bustling and kind of confusing. We stop and ask several police to help us find the place, but no one seems to know where it is. On the other side of the station we emerge into a rather rainy night and before us in Kyoto Tower.

We didn't get to see Tokyo Tower (other than drive past) and I feel kinda bad about that - Brian really wanted to go up into it. While Kyoto is shorter, I figure it's just as good of an opportunity! we head in, and it is still open so we snag tickets and step into the elevator to shoot up to the top.

first, you take an eleveator up to the official area where they collect your tickets. then you're packed into an even smaller lift that takes you up to the two-floor viewing deck. throughout the first level of it there are multiple long range binocular viewers that are, ha ha america, free! we had an awesome time looking out into the beautiful city. many of the pagodas and shrines were lit up and we even managed to get some absolutely lovely photos of them. the inside of the tower is very dark and there are sparkling blue lights suspended from the ceiling. for some reason, it had a really magical feeling and was the perfect way to end our time in japan.