Castillo Condo de Gato


“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.” ~Pam Brown

“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.” ~Michel de Montaigne

“Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.” ~Steven Wright

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny.  I do.

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny. I do.

Today is the day that our furniture is finally “supposed” to arrive in Okinawa.

Maybe.

You see, we live here in Okinawa in the future…depending on where you are.  Thus, the ship could actually be arriving tomorrow contingent on the time zone associated with its arrival date.  But what’s one more day when we’ve had to wait an extra seven weeks (see Castaway for the full sad story on the contracted shipping company simply forgetting to ship our household goods).  As of today it’s been exactly 16 weeks since the total of our “stuff” was packed up….

The women in my life.

The women in my life.  I’m thankful one of them shaves.

BUT, let’s assume the furniture IS arriving.  Given that we may only have a week or so to wait for actual delivery (unloading, customs, movement, more government waste and inefficiency surely has to be expended), and since I’ve covered some of the more important of our possessions that we’ve been missing since packing out our home back in the first week in August (see Do Sweat the Small Stuff and Easy Chair), I felt it was high time to give the third member of our home a voice about the same.  Of sorts.  She’s a cat, you see.  And she only speaks Spanish.

That book is in English.  Cleo only pretends to read....  I think.

That book is in English, which Cleo only pretends to read…. I think.

Sammy-Boy was a talker.  And spoke English.

Sammy-Boy was a talker. And spoke English.

I got Cleo – short for Cleopatra (of course), and her brother Alex  – short for Alexander the Great (of course), about six months after my former cat Sammy (the coolest cat on the planet) went missing in very early 2010.  Alex and Cleo, siblings, were very dissimilar from the very start; Cleo much more demure, light on her feet, and with rather odd leopard-like markings; and Alex, a somewhat blundering lover-boy of a more typical gray short-haired tabby tomcat.  Cleo has always been a smaller cat, and her size has allowed her the ability to jump extraordinarily high and better assume risks that most cats would instead take a nap over.  She has always been a climber, and always has immediately looked for the highest place she could attain in any given situation, and when that perch is attained, she promptly awards herself with a safe, quiet, and undisturbed catnap.

Cleo's nap spot as a kitten.

Cleo’s nap spot as a kitten, high in my office.  I bet she was reading my email….

What’s funny about this is that Alex has always tried to follow Cleo.  You see, he’s not nearly as interested in climbing, or heights for that matter.  As a fit and small kitten, Alex could climb and jump to the places his sister was able to easily navigate to, places that were usually not large and were rather isolated.  And once there, Alex would simply be too damn big for both of them to be comfortable.  And being more of a sumo wrestling build than his sleeker sister, as he got older (read:  BIGGER), he eventually gave up climbing in the same way and to the same places, and Cleo assumed her highness as Queen of the Household, wherever that home may be.

Cleo shared her perch, but the boy's ass became just too big.

Cleo (standing) shared her perch, but the boy’s ass became just too big.

There weren’t that many high places in my old condo in Pensacola (above), but there were plenty of high places for Cleo to explore and call her own in the house I shared with Jody there (below).

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations from our rooftop.

Not a step?  Cleo supervises DIY projects from on-high.

Not a step? Cleo supervises DIY projects from the top of a ladder.

Sleeping on the 8' plant ledge.

Cleo “sleeper-vising” on the 8′ high plant ledge.

However, moving to Okinawa initially really shook up her entire world.  It was bad enough she had to adjust to the loss of her brother in our lives; she literally became a different cat the very day he went missing.  Not only did the hotel in Pensacola suck for her prior to our flights to Japan, the journey across the continental United States and the Pacific Ocean was unfortunately somewhat eventful for our wee feline friend.  I mean if you count me almost killing her (see 9 Lives and Hard Travels)….

Cleo's thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression....

Cleo’s thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression….  The audio was something akin to “¡Vete a la mierda!”

In our “pet-friendly” room upon arrival in Okinawa – which simply means that the room was only friendly to pets exactly because it reeked of dirty, wet dog – Cleo immediately found the high spots.  But they weren’t very high, nor were they overly accessible…or apparently comfortable enough to nap.  Being locked in those two tiny rooms day after day for an indoor-outdoor cat is bad enough, but not having the space to climb and the security of her high perches I’m sure no doubt contributed to her rising stress.

Cleo scoffs at the elevation in the TLF.

Cleo scoffs at the lower elevations in the TLF.  Who puts a fan on a throne?

So, as we shopped around for a place to live here on the island, we always kept Cleo’s needs, and dare I say “wants” in mind.  We fully intended to rent a home, where Cleo could explore these foreign and far eastern shores easily from our windows and doors.  However, as we realized that what homes were left after the summer moving crush were much too expensive, too small, or poorly located, and as we shifted to looking at apartments and condos, we still looked at each location for what it could bring to and do for Cleo.  And what it might take away.  She’s family, after all.

Cleo's monster-smashing fantasies.  Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.

Cleo’s Asian monster-smashing fantasies. Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.  Tougher lost on the 3rd….

Living on the 5th floor of condominium building is tough on a cat.  There are a number of buildings all along the seawall here that look the same.  Further, every floor of the buildings and the exterior of every condo on every floor all look exactly alike.  So even though Cleo has these little windows in our place that we leave open where she can come and go as she pleases, no doubt she finds navigating the outside world quite daunting.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic.  Or more so perhaps this...thing.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic. Or more so perhaps this…thing.

Especially daunting, it seems, are the stairs!  Or more appropriately, the idea of multiple floors.  As much of a climber as Cleo may be, she turns out to be vertically challenged!!  For an animal that had a very extensive and detailed mental map of our neighborhood back in Pensacola, Cleo can’t seem to grasp the notion – or difference – between, say, the 3rd floor and our own!  We often have to go remind her, after hearing her cries for help, that “…we live up here silly, not down there.”  It seems her maps are one-dimensional only.  I’m pretty sure she hasn’t ventured past the 3rd floor, even though there is absolutely nothing stopping her.

She pleaded to keep the hutch.  It had to go....

She pleaded to keep the hutch. It had to go…back to help decorate a Cracker Barrel.

All this means that she really can’t – and doesn’t explore much here.  She likes the balconies at the front of our place and side where she can watch the goings-on along the seawall.  She most likes to hike down the breezeway and check out other peoples’ side balconies, where she’s been rescued more than a couple of times.  Jody and I have always felt bad for her because of this, and since our condo has relatively low ceilings (eight feet or so), we knew we had to do something.

Cat Castillo; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Castillo de Gato; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Thank goodness the Japanese have a robust love affair with their cats!  A trip to Pet Box and roughly $200+ later, we’re home building what has become Cleo’s new home away from her home, her very own high-rise Catland Condo.  In the little Spanish I do know, I heard her instantaneously correct our labels by quite clearly saying, “CASTILLO!!”  There’s no point in arguing with her.

"See, it says right here, "Cat Castillo"!'

“See, it says right here, “Castillo Condominio de Gato”!’

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo takes the stairsCleo’s Castillo is truly her place, err, PALACE.  Here again she has those high places to jump and climb to, but more so, the corner post perches all supply those high, relatively inaccessible places that make her feel so secure.  She sleeps, err, rules from her perches most of the day after her breakfast and morning forays outside.  She lounges, err, holds court up there (when not demanding from her servant Jody to drink from Jody’s bathroom sink) during the evenings when not playing or otherwise interacting with us, or the outdoors.  She even has a $100,000 (basically the expense of renting our place over three years) view of the East China Sea and some truly magical sunsets from her cathedra….

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow....

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow….

There’s little doubt that every dollar spent on this giant cat toy is completely worth the cost; it is a small price we pay for the upheaval we have caused in Cleo’s life.  And there’s even less doubt that Cleo appreciates this act of caring kindness, as every night after the lights are out and things have quieted down, she meanders into our bedroom, jumps up on the bed with a small meow, and chooses to sleep with us, her lowly subjects, in our low and lowly bed, quite removed from her highness.

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo in her new home

Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys: 1999-2001


TACRON Det Photo

TACRON Det Photo

I didn’t want to ever be stationed in Japan.  I had absolutely no interest…back in the 1990s.  Now, it wasn’t anything personal or racist; I never felt comfortable enough about taking my family – wife and small children – to such a foreign place to live, work and go to school, all the while I was on-tap to deploy at any moment.  And those moments were sure to happen.  Often.

That all changed, however, in 1999.  I’ve written about how this all came about here at length (see Tora Tora Tora), but let me summarize it a bit here.

At the time I got orders to Japan I was what the Navy labels one as “Not Physically Qualified” (NPQ) for flight, suffering from chronic and debilitating back pain and serious sciatica resulting from a severe back injury in high school, exacerbated by years of weight lifting.  Due to this status, I was not slated for a Department Head squadron tour (a career-killer for aviators), and thus I became for Naval Aviation the proverbial round peg that can fit most any square hole.  Are there are always a lot of squares that no one wants anything to do with?

So, after 9 months of living overseas in Italy where they “stashed” me on short-notice after a reservist backed out of NATO-based orders (best thing to ever happen to me in the Navy…next to Okinawa), I came home to reassignment to, like I’ve stated, somewhere I never had any intention of living:  Japan.  It was a one-two-three combo knockout blow.

Or so I thought at the time.

My recollections of the phone call with my Navy “Detailer” who broke the news to me….

“Introducing first…. from the blue corner, weighing a round 29 billion pounds, hailing from Washington DC and rated as the best, most capable sea-service in the whole-wide-world and star of the hit movie Top Gun, with 33 gazillion kills, and only two losses, it is the ass-kicker of the Brits, the Italians, the Germans and the Japanese, and subduer of Somalia pirates and innumerable small, defenseless Caribbean nations, abled-bodied and full of seaman, I INTRODUCE…The…

(dramatic pause)

UNITED…

(more dramatic pause)

STTTTTTTTTTAAAAAAAATTTTTTTEEEEEESSSSSSS…

(most dramatic pause)

NAVY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“And, in the red corner, weighing in at a few ounces over 192 pounds, hailing from Pensacola, Florida, rated by many as the best pound for aviator in recent years, with 3 wins, 1 of them coming by the way of knockout (TKO), and no defeats (but only 3 boxing matches during Aviation Preflight Training), he is the former middleweight Navy career champion, former super middle weight A-6 Bombardier-Navigator, and, former light heavy-lightweight weight champion, and former HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF HIS FAMILY… Lieutenant Commander…

KEVIN…

(dramatic pause)

ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL-VIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSS….

(most dramatic pause!)

KING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Ding-Ding!” resounds the boxing bell.  Fight’s on.  I have a feeling it’s not going to be fair.

The Navy comes out aggressively swinging, not wasting any time with niceties or compassion.  First, it’s a combo followed by a stiff right jab to the nose:  “You’re getting orders to Japan.”  I’m dizzy and  stumble back a step, somewhat dazed by the sharp pain of the blunt words.

Before I could regain any composure, the second combination, a crossing blow from the left to the check, strikes:  “It’s a non-flying job.”  Confusion starts to reign as the throbbing realization of no longer being able to fly sets in.  Let me put it to you this way:  I didn’t join the Navy for its ships….

And the coup de gras, combo #3, a right hook square on the chin:  “…and you’ll be assigned to a ship….”  Tunnel vision sets in and stars start to orbit my psyche as I think about being “stuck” on a boat for months and years at a time….

Down to the mat I go, unreactive and stiff as a board, bouncing lightly upon being grounded.  But as quickly as the Navy dropped me with this TKO, his gloves were found to be over-weighted with a healthy dose of misinformation.  The fight was called; I told you it wasn’t going to be fair.

It seldom is with Big Navy.

Me in East Timor, fall of 1999.

Me in East Timor, fall of 1999.

It wasn’t Japan, but Okinawa to which I was being assigned.  And there is a serious difference between the two.  It’s like trying to call Hawaiian or Puerto Rican culture as the same as “American.”  Okinawa happens to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, all just an easy shore-dive away.  Besides skydiving (and verifying my wife’s naked age of 24), scuba diving IS my passion.

While it was a non-flying job, I was able to maintain flying status the whole time, which meant I didn’t have to give up my special “Flight Pay,” which at the time made up a significant portion of my pay.  Discretionary income became very important for scuba diving, as well as enabling the use of the centrally-located island in the Pacific as a hoping-off point for some massive travels.

And, most importantly, I was not assigned to a ship, but to a Flag Staff on Okinawa while ashore, and when required to go underway, I was assigned to ship’s staff, which is in no way, shape or form to be confused with “ship’s company” (no offense to any SWO-Daddies…and Mommas…out there).  Who the hell joins the Navy to be ship’s company anyhow?!?  I don’t like ships very much.  Except when they are targets.

TACRON enlisted have real duties.  Playing cards is probably not one of them.

TACRON enlisted have real duties. Playing cards is probably not one of them.

But, this is all simply to set a humorous stage for my initial tour on Okinawa as part of Tactical Air Control Squadron 12 (VTC-12, most commonly referred to as “TAC-RON”), or more affectionately known as “THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS.”  You see, no one with any, shall we say “normal” career aspirations asks to go to TACRON.  No, it’s a place reserved for those Commanders who didn’t screen for a real command, and for officers that are, in some way or another, broken.  Now, for the enlisted, it is a real place with real jobs, albeit somewhat off the beaten path.  But for the O’s, if you find yourself down in this particular rabbit hole, you are sure to have that Talking Heads moment where “…you may ask yourself – Well…How did I get here?!”

Japanese Misfit Toys.  I think.

Japanese Misfit Toys. I think.

So, this blog is actually about those fellow misfits.  And God love’em all!  I had some of my BEST times in TACRON, not because of the mission, or duty location, or extra overseas monies we all made.  But because of fellow misfits, who, like in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, band together to overcome against the Abominable Snow Monster (analogous to most TACRON skippers, white and overly hairy, and have a hard time with the English language), as well as the Winter Warlock.

Could be most any Skipper of TACRON (wink).

Could be most any Skipper of TACRON (wink).

Wait a tic – mixed my Christmas special metaphors.  Strike that last one; it is an impossibility to melt the icy hearts of leadership in the TACRON community.

White Beach back in the day.  Where the misfit toys are often broken down even more.

White Beach back in the day. Where the misfit toys are often broken down even more.

Now, I was permanently forward deployed, but Detachments from the States rotated in and out every six months.  So, there were no less than four complete sets of personnel that I had to welcome, befriend, work with, and farewell during my tenure on Okinawa between the summers of 1999 and 2001.  BUT, the most memorable crew, and really the only Navy-related photos of that entire period hinge around three people, all fellow Navy O-4’s:  Tracy (known better as “TC”), Rick, and Paul.

Paul, extreme foreground on the left.

Paul, extreme foreground on the left. Somewhere in Hong Kong, I believe.  Or Korea.  Someplace where they sell Reeboks apparently….

Yes, that STRANGE.

Yes, that STRANGE.

Paul was permanently forward deployed with me.  He was an S-3 Naval Flight Officer, and this is no joke:  just about the strangest cat I’ve met in uniform, and much like the spotted elephant of the Island of Misfit Toys.  He certainly belonged in TACRON.  He lived out in town, a few minutes walk from our house actually, and his overly violent three little boys and overly flirtatious wife “Kitty” were always the source of gossip and high amusement.  “Strange?” I hear you wondering.  Yes, strange.  Paul once was part of a Captain’s change of command, but just a staff officer standing in ranks.  The uniform for the formal event was Chocker Whites, the epitome of uniforms when one thinks of the Navy (think An Officer and a Gentleman; Paul was neither).  However, when Paul realized he didn’t have the white gloves required as part of the uniform, and not wanting to be a stand-out by not wearing gloves, he instead substituted…wait for it…white athletic socks.  Yeah, he didn’t stand out.  Much.  STRANGE.

Me and TC having a drink...or three.  Definitely in the famous bar in Hong Kong.

Me and TC having a drink…or three. Definitely in the famous bar in Hong Kong.

TC and Rick were perhaps well ahead of the modern man-friendly Navy.

TC and Rick were perhaps well ahead of the modern man-friendly Navy.

TC, a Navy helicopter pilot, was my roommate for a time, and one of the funnier people I’ve met in Navy Aviation.  A wonderful attitude, he brought Jew to the Navy like few others could.  True story:  once I noticed he edited a document I had typed, where I use two spaces between paragraphs.  I noticed he was taking one of each of those groups out, a VERY time-consuming process.  When I asked why, he looked at me and said he was saving memory.  Wow, that was a new slant on tight-wad, and I grew up in a Jewish community!  Sorry TC, no offense intended.  For a guy who used a ruler to sign his checks (so it wouldn’t cross the printed line on the check), you had one of the very best attitudes of anyone in the Navy, before or since.  Oh, and he’s not a very good Jew either; he ate most of the holiday ham, fat and all, we cooked and served at our Det Holiday party (wink)!

Rick, the one with the furry caterpillar on his upper lip.  Manly...for a helo pilot.

Rick, the one with the furry caterpillar on his upper lip. Manly…for a helo pilot.

Rick in a shop-'til-you-drop moment.  He did it justice.

Rick in a shop-’til-you-drop moment. He did it justice.

Rick was also a Navy helicopter pilot, and already knew TC quite well.  I can’t recall if they were ever squadron-mates, but they were close friends, and stuck together while they waded through the cesspools often created within TACRON for no good reason.  Rick was quiet, non-confrontational, and simply didn’t care to rock the boat.  My funniest memory of Rick was a run-in he had with a Commander at the time, and overly gung-ho, juiced-up P-3 jock who had an overly inflated sense of importance to match his ego and steroid-inflated biceps.  When Rick elected to actually stand his watch and do some critical tasks, he was ignorantly overruled and directed to “sit here and watch this brief,” which was being played on ship’s TV.  So, Rick did just that.  As the world came crashing down around him, he sat in the chair, staring at the TV, expressionless and motionless.  When the same Commander came pounding back in to see what the problem was and saw Rick there doing what he thought was nothing, he asked Rick, “WTF?”  Rick simply replied, “I’m sitting here watching TV JUST LIKE YOU TOLD ME TO DO.”  Okay, you had to be there.  And you have to know Rick – a gentle giant, if not a passive-aggressive one.

Rick, TC and me in Hong Kong.  An island not of misfit toys.

Rick, TC and me in Hong Kong. An island not of misfit toys.

TC washing some ham down with Awamori!

TC washing some ham down with Awamori!

But I’m going to leave you with my all-time favorite story involving these three clowns.  Oh, I meant characters.  We’re in the ship’s wardroom one afternoon for lunch, and it’s almost filled to capacity since a full Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is embarked.  Now, you have to imagine something like, I dunno, twelve or fifteen tables of ten (at least), in a relatively small space with a low overhead, noisy with dishes clanking and filled with a cacophony of mindless chatter and howling laughs here and there.  We are all there, sitting together, enjoying what was surely another wonderful culinary concoction of the finest sea-service, when suddenly, a young office a table or two over starts to choke.  No one really notices at first, but like they teach you in first aid, he stands up, clutching his throat, in the international sign for “I can’t breathe and I’m choking you bastards, so HELP!”  As more and more officers notice this scene, the noise dies down, until it’s almost near silent.  No one has done anything yet.  Finally, a shipmate stands up and performs the Heimlich Maneuver, which worked better than you could ever imagine it could!  Out comes flying a huge chunk of unchewed and charred hamburger, which lands not far from TC.  The place is now so quiet you could hear the meal running through our intestines.  And after just the right amount of pregnant pause, TC states, matter-of-factly while looking at this fellow who just suffered a near-death experience, “Are you gonna eat that???”

176436676_643b3c8f8a_o

The place burst out in tears!

Little-known fact:  Rick is a ROCKSTAR in Korea.

Little-known fact: Rick is a ROCKSTAR in Korea.

And that’s what I love most about being shipwrecked by the Navy…in the Navy…on Okinawa between 1999 and 2001.

The Misfit Toys of Okinawa!

The Misfit Toys of Okinawa. Kanpai!

Easy Chair


“The discontented man finds no easy chair.” ~Benjamin Franklin

“A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless.” ~May Sarton

“One who sits between two chairs may easily fall down.” ~Proverb quotes

Easy chair.  If you're 3.  Or apparently Japanese.

Easy chair. If you’re 3. Or apparently Japanese.

We should be about 10 days away from finally receiving our household goods from the States (knock on wood; see Castaway).  But that doesn’t do us any good right now.  Although I started out this move quite firm in the belief that things are just things, and stuff is just stuff and is wholly replaceable, that isn’t exactly true.

Not entirely.

The first – and only things I’ve written about missing so far has been our Love Jug.  And the second, and quite possibly only other thing worth mentioning is, quite honestly, our Easy Chair.  Well, it’s actually a chair and a half.

Our beloved Chair 1.5 in the center background

Our beloved Chair 1.5 in the center background

phenomenon-movieThere’s a scene and symbolism in the movie Phenomenon (1996) that concerns the importance of chairs to life.  In it, George appears to be magically and mysteriously transformed, suddenly endowed with strange powers.  The transformation, however, was short-lived and due to a brain tumor, which George ultimately passes from.  As George is approaching his terminal end, there’s a discussion in the local bar about it all:

Banes: [speaking to Doc about George’s transformation] “He never really changed at all.  Isn’t that right Doc?  I mean he never really got any smarter.  [after a long pause without a response] Doc?”

Doc:  “Banes… how’s your lady-love?”

Banes:  “We… um… we broke up.”

Doc:  “Really?  That’s too bad, yeah.  Now George has a love at his side and she is sticking with him.  You know why?  Because he bought her chairs.  That’s pretty smart to me.  You ever buy Lisa’s chairs?”

Banes:  [discounting the whole notion because he can’t comprehend the symbolism] “Doc’s real drunk tonight.”

Doc:  “Every woman has her chair, something she needs to put herself into, Banes.  You ever figure out what Lisa’s chairs were and buy ’em?

[Everyone pauses in silence]

Doc:  “Nope.  But, you’re right about one thing, George never changed.”

Our Chair - everyone should have one

Our Chair – everyone should have one

No, it's not a stripper chair....

No, it’s not a stripper chair….

Jody and I cemented our relationship in this chair; in it we poured and put ourselves, together.  It is one of our first co-purchases, a major item that already hinted at the longevity and closeness of what was to turn quickly into a marriage.  It is the centerpiece of not just our living room, but of our time together.  It fits us, and more importantly, it fits us together.

Cat Refuge.

Cat Refuge.

It nurtures us as a couple, and reminds each of us to nurture the other.  I cannot tell you how many nights I’ve spent laying across Jody’s lap watching a favorite show.

Alex sleeping with me on Otto

Alex sleeping with me on Otto

I cannot count the number of times Alex our cat (Cleo’s brother, who went missing quite a while ago back in the states) would hold Jody down in this chair and force her to nap.

The cats, while financially supported and raised by me, really belong to her....

The cats, while financially supported and raised by me, really belong to her…. Alex likes Otto.

It has hosted Christmas gifts, been kind to our party guests, and served as a refuge for our animals.  It is, in physical form, symbolic of our relationship.

A fabulous Christmas host.  And Jody's not bad, either.

A fabulous Christmas host. And Jody’s not bad, either.

And Otto, well let’s just say Otto serves naughty purposes rather well (he says “Hal-lo” with a wink and a Dutch accent).

Naughty things have been known to happen.  It's Otto's fault.

Naughty things have been known to happen. It’s Otto’s fault.

This was imagined, right?!?!?!

The stories our Chair could tell….

Currently we are on a sterile, BLUE, American folk-art inspired, government purchased and supplied sofa that not just exfoliates our skin, but provides the physical equivalent of a chemical peel.  The cat will have NOTHING to do with it.  But in an ironic twist, it manages to highlight every single piece of cat hair within a 10 meter radius.  Let’s just say we are dang tired of just managing with our temporary seating provided by the lowest bidder….

Yuck.

Yuck.  And soulless.

It’s true that this place is no home.  Not yet.  It remains soulless, without our one…and a half…warm, comfy, chair, where neither of us has to attempt to sit between two sofa cushions to be one.  Ten days, and we will once again be content.

Booze, Smokes & Porn: Coming of Age in Japan


“Where should I go?” asked Alice.  “That depends on where you want to end up.” Responded The Cheshire Cat.  ~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

“To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”  ~Chinese Proverb

Don't let your kids grow up to be teen-generate!!

Mammas don’t let your sons grow up to be…in Japanese punk-rock bands!

During our adventures this past week up in the north of Okinawa, I came across three very distinct products accessible to young people and even children that one would never find in the United States:  beer vending machines, cigarette vending machines, and sexually explicit comic books.  And these things got me to thinking about coming of age, and how different cultures treat their younger citizens-to-be, and when and how they confer upon them the age of majority.

The Japanese are NEVER too old for Mickey....

The Japanese are NEVER too old for Mickey….

Many years ago vending machines that sold beer were more prominent and popular in Japan being colocated with the less tantalizing drink vending, but this more adult “option” starting in June 2000 has become much scarcer over concerns of underage drinking.  The last bastion of such easily accessible silly drink seems to be in Japanese hotel chains, usually found just adjacent to other vending on guest floors, and with no other safeguards against minors other than being able to have and count cash.  Cha-CHING says the 6-year old!  Odd that the US Navy would remove their beer machines from the bachelors’ quarters well before the Japanese would think of doing the same in their billeting.  Seems to imply that the Navy may think of its sailors as, well, children??

Okinawa Nov 2013, Rizzan Sea Park Hotel, cig vending 1

While the beer vending machine’s popularity is fading, cigarette machines are still going strong here in Japan, but are becoming more sophisticated, sometimes requiring a special card as proof of majority age to help prevent minors from buying cigarettes.  These machines can still be found in various public spaces and along the street, while smoking in Japan is still allowed in many restaurants and almost all bars.  This is something that Jody and I find very hard to accept and get used to, and, in fact, it sometimes dictates where and when we frequent certain establishments.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Rizzan Sea Park Hotel, cig vending 2

The graphic comic books, more commonly called manga, are most generally designed for male readers and are sub-divided according to the age of intended readership:  boys up to 18 years old (shōnen manga) and young men 18- to 30-years old (seinen manga).  Further, the Japanese use different kanji for two closely allied meanings of “seinen”—青年 for “youth, young man,” and 成年 for “adult, majority”—the second referring to sexually overt and totally graphic manga aimed at grown men and also called seijin (“adult” 成人) manga.  Shōnen, seinen, and seijin manga, however, share many features in common, and all often have very strong sexual themes, regardless of the age bracket.  I cannot find anywhere stated or stipulated that there is a minimum age for purchases these comics.  It is not uncommon to see a fully sexually graphic comic being read on the bus or subway.  Because manga are not photos, they are not considered pornography.

This is actually a "tamer" page....  Youngsters and Puritans, cover your eyes!

This is actually a “tamer” page…. Youngsters and Puritans, cover your eyes!

So, it seems there may be a higher level of trust placed on both Japanese children and the society it takes to raise such youngsters where they can mature into the future stewards of the nation.  Stated another way, I think it’s also kinda like this:  hiding and making booze, smokes, and porn taboo makes most youngsters want to experience them that much more.  Hell I did – and did.  When such vices are not so mysterious, (poorly) hidden and (falsely) revered, they take on a much less important aspect of coming of age.  And this leads directly to a marked tradition in Japan celebrating such achievement, the Coming of Age Day.

Now Women Celebrate Coming of Age

Now Women Celebrate Coming of Age

Coming of Age Day (成人の日 Seijin no Hi) is a Japanese holiday held annually on the second Monday of January to congratulate and encourage all those who have reached 20 years old, the age of majority.  Festivities include coming of age ceremonies (成人式 seijin-shiki) held at local and prefectural offices, as well as after-parties among family and friends.  Coming of age ceremonies have been celebrated in Japan since at least the early 8th century (CE), when young princes often donned new robes and hairstyles to mark passage into adulthood.  During the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868) boys marked their passage to adulthood at age 15 by cutting their hair and carrying swords.  Girls became adults at age 13, which as far as I can tell, is still the age of consent for sex.  The official age of adulthood for both genders was set at 20 in 1876, while the holiday was first established in 1948 as January 15, but was realigned in 2000 as a result of the “Happy Monday System” (you have to love the Japanese!) to the second Monday in January.

Ageless Fashion

Ageless Fashion

Turning 20 in Japan is similar to becoming 18 in the United States for some things and 21 for others.  20-year-olds in Japan can legally vote, drink, smoke, and enter into contracts, such as marriage, without parental permission.  Oddly enough, however, one needs only to be 18 to get a driver’s license (considered a “profession” here with analogous legal ramifications) and to buy pornography (but 20 to be in it in an odd twist).  And, in an interesting tangent, gun ownership is almost nil in Japan and tightly controlled, severely limited, and only for those 25 and older; as a result, Tokyo is the safest major democratic city in the world, with a handgun murder rate at least 200 times less than that of a typical American city (there is a lesson there as well).  However, those coming of age also become subject to the laws and social responsibilities that bind adults.  Social norms and adult responsibilities are much more widely held and respected in Japan, where shame and embarrassment still matter to most.

Some Storm Troopers are recruited much too young.

Some Storm Troopers are recruited much too young.

Contemporary Men's Wear

Contemporary Men’s Wear

Coming of age ceremonies (成人式 Seijin-shiki) marks attainment of the age of majority, which reflects both expanded rights but also increased responsibilities expected of new adults in the Japanese culture.  The ceremonies are generally held in the morning at local city offices throughout Japan, where government officials give speeches in what must be relatively boring affairs, and small presents are handed out to the newly recognized adults, numbering last year in excess of 1.2 million (the numbers have been steadily declining in the last decade).  It is after the ceremony when the real fun begins, when young adults often celebrate in groups by going to parties or going out drinking at izakaya pubs, simply enjoying some of the freedoms that adulthood brings.

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Making fans look manish.

Making fans look manish.

Many women celebrate this day by renting or borrowing furisode, a style of kimono with long sleeves that hang down, and zōri sandals.  Since most are unable to put on a kimono by themselves due to the intricacies involved and relative unfamiliarity, so most choose to visit a beauty salon to dress and for hair and makeup.  Their look is completed by loud and often gaudy accessories, often purchased at great expense.  Men sometimes also wear traditional dress consisting most often of pantaloons and haori long jackets seen in samurai dramas, but many more contemporary men enjoy a wider variety of wear such as formal Western clothes like suit and tie.  For young women, total expenses start at over $1,000!

She's old enough now to pay for that silly schtick!!

She’s old enough now to pay for that silly schtick!!

I think back to my own childhood and realize that I grew up exposed to these “vices,” and was more normalized because of such exposure.  My father even went so far as to confront his church (staunch Southern Baptist) when confronted about his girlie magazines and work cocktail parties he was known to throw.  Yes, there were magazines in our household growing up; heck, I had an older brother as well!  Yes, there was a wet bar in our home, unsecured and easily accessible.  And yes, both my parents smoked, and we had any access we wished to cigarettes.  Now, I’m not expounding that Moms and Dads everywhere drink and smoke with their kids and leave porn in their bathrooms and on coffee tables, but the opposite extreme is no less harmful.  If children are raised correctly, if there are the proper expectations place on them, combined with the respect they deserve as really the young adults which they are, they will successfully separate the wheat from the chaff, and be better off for it.  If we all stop and really think about coming of age, what would you really rather have:  the American fascination with guns, rampant violence in all our media, and a runaway culture of fear, or perhaps, some boobs and beer machines sprinkled here and there.  It really should make you wonder.

Death by Public Service Announcement: Commercials on AFN


fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” ~ Sophocles

“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.” ~ Christian Nestell Bovee

Yoda-Fear-is-the-path-to-the-dark-side_-Fear-leads-to-anger_-Anger-leads-to-hate_-Hate-leads-to-suffering-Yoda

Okay, I’ve decided to finally try to capture the true nature and extent of the Commercially Induced Culture of Fear that the military has created and under which it seems to thrive overseas when they hold the monopoly on most, if not all things media.

I’m talking about the commercials on Armed Forces Network (AFN).  Well, actually they should be more appropriately called Public Service Announcements.

But then again, they are none of those things.

They are crafted not for the public, but for what I can only assume is us, the people our leadership considers wholly mindless, relatively incapable, and quite immature military servicemembers and dependents on the island.  Sorry contractors – you fall somewhere in that mix as well, although you are generally compensated much more appropriately to endure this pain and suffering..

The only “service” from these PSA’s is in a nostalgic, prison-influenced characterization of “time-served” once removed from Okinawa and it’s falsely created, media-limited bubble.  Any prudent, normalized American would and could only assume such attempts at brain-washing and behavioral control would be attempted on, say, designated political deviants in a gulag of the ex-USSR…or within Camp X-Ray of GTMO in 2003.

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And finally, announcement is defined by Google as “a public and typically formal statement about a fact, occurrence, or intention.”  Okay, we’ve already talked about intentions (see brain-washing and behavioral control above, if you need reminded, which the military would assume given that you are mindless and incapable on your own), and while the barebones facts of the content making up this propaganda in many cases are sound, they are projected or extrapolated into occurrences which, in one way or another, will kill you….

So, I’ve taken notes on the commercials I heard yesterday.  Now, remember, this is for one day and one day only.  It does encompass scanning back and forth between the one AM and one FM station available here.  But it’s even better than that:  it’s for only that time in one day when I was in my car.  Which is, basically, a trip or two to a store and/or the commissary, a trip to the gym, perhaps a dive shop or two, and finally a relatively long detour to a different exit from the base due to an accident and massive traffic backup….  But still probably no more than 90 minutes.  Check this out and tell me I’m not over-reacting:

  • Vaccines.  Get your dang adult vaccines or HPV, Tetanus, Shingles and Whopping Cough will kill you, your family, and your friends.  Okay, I’ll give the military this:  Tetanus is a killer, and HPV can cause cancer…which is a killer.  BUT, being in or associated with the military here on Okinawa, we all are screen for and required to get vaccines (see Always Listen to your Momma)!  So what’s the point??
The Vaccine that we all really need....

The Vaccine that we all really need….

  • FDIC.  Yes, without the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, your money isn’t safe, and ultimately you will die.  Except this time poor and destitute.
IOUs are about as good as Cash

IOUs are about as good as Cash

  • Water Safety.  Swimming and/or water sports can result in drowning…which will kill you.  If you gave in to the warnings, you wouldn’t even look at the water with any sense of longing or excitement.

funny-licorice-food-candy-storage-yummy-eat-snack2

  • Finances.  If you don’t plan well, you run out of time to build a retirement and then you die.  Poor once again.  Imagine if you ignored financial planning AND blew off the FDIC.  Surely a sign of the End of Days.
A Typical Approach to Retirement Planning

A Typical Approach to Retirement Planning

  • Emergency Room.  The order cases are taken are based on triage (who doesn’t know this??), so don’t forget that unless you are dying, you’ll have to wait….
Don't use the ER as your Family Practice Clinic.  Or dentist....

Don’t use the ER as your Family Practice Clinic. Or dentist….

  • Tours.  Okay, there was something helpful about upcoming tours offered by the Air Force and Marine Corps.  But seriously, a 30 minute radio show?  The radio personalities on AFN barely know how to operate the former, and lack the latter.

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  • Integrity.  Dirt-bag airmen will in some bizarre linkage of unintended consequences, you guessed it, kill you.  Something about “resilient airmen,” whatever that means, although it suspiciously seems connected with all the highly flexing yoga I see the Air Force doing at the base gym.
Real Integrity.  And Guts.

Real Integrity. And Guts.

  • Heroes.  An interesting snippet on General Marshall, of “Marshall Plan” fame.  I’ve tried, but I don’t see much chance of dying from this one.  Although the piece does tie him to setting the state for the European Union, which may in the coming hears lead to the deaths of a number of national economies.

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  • Terror.  Yes, terrorists will kill you.  Even though Okinawa is, factually, the safest place I’ve live and will ever live, we are led to believe that just about everyone and everything should be considered suspicious.  No doubt we should be hugging our pillows tight and sleeping with one eye open.

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  • DUI.  Drinking and driving will kill you, your friends, and someone else’s family.  True enough.  This is an issue here on Okinawa, but not because of the Japanese; the vast majority of tickets, arrests, and related issues are initiated by Americans on and to Americans.
Drunk Uncle to the Easter Bunny

Drunk Uncle to the Easter Bunny

  • Sports Pads.  Without them, you’ll die….  Don’t forget that mouth-guard!  Even knocked-out teeth can die.
Not to mention bike helmets....

Not to mention bike helmets….

  • Seatbelts.  Adult seatbelts will kill your kids.  Oh, so will airbags…when using adult seatbelts.  The piece doesn’t say anything about bouncing around the back of a station wagon like we all did growing up.
But what about our pets??

But what about our pets??

  • Etiquette.  You would not believe how often I hear this particular commercial:  “The Senior Member Enters a Car Last so that they may Exit the Car First.”  Really?  And who the heck requires this timely piece of military etiquette?  I can only imagine that an overly irate senior-ranking member of the AFN establishment might be so frustrated over the insult of leaving the car second (or god forbid, last) that they would resort to murder.
The Etiquette surrounding an office love-affair with a Jeanie is a bit more involved.

The Etiquette surrounding an office love-affair with a Jeanie is a bit more involved.

  • Spice & Salvia.  Taking drugs will kill you.  Oh, so will supplements.
Probably not the Spice in question.

Probably not the Spice in question.

  • Typhoons.  Even in Tropical Typhoon Condition of Readiness 4 – the lowest, base level of concern during the entire season, a typhoon can kill you within 72 hours.
Typhoons are deadly...to Asian umbrellas!

Typhoons are deadly…to Asian umbrellas!

  • CAC Cards.  If you lose your ID card, a terrorist will get it and ultimately kill you.  See “Terror” above.
Some IDs ARE a license to kill.

Some IDs ARE a license to kill.

  • VA.  A playful take of VA benefits and services using a “greatest hits” approach.  But not playful enough to be entertaining the 2nd through 23rd times heard.
This Culture of Fear is not helping those with PTSD

This Culture of Fear is not helping PTSD

And finally, I saved my favorite for last.  Against all this other fearful chatter, there is the most odd and misplaced radio ditty concerning breast-feeding called “Every Ounce Counts;” you can listen to song Healthy Baby Healthy Mama here.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m a full-time supporter of breastfeeding, and understand pretty well all the benefits to baby and Mom that come from this wholly natural and nature’s intended way of feeding babies.  But seriously, is this radio spot really necessary?  I cringe every time I hear this song and can’t help but think about the continual castration of the warrior class of the military long past….

Oops.  This pint-sized glass if for another type of drink....

Oops. This pint-sized glass if for another type of drink….

But, more critically, I would love to see a serious medical research study done on the effects and efficacy of such attempts at mind and behavioral control.  Two things strike me – a non-medically trained observer, but one with quite a bit of graduate education.

First, creating a culture of fear and imposing this culture on people 24/7 is counter-productive.  You can only cry “Wolf!” or that the “Sky is falling!” so many times before someone simply stops listening, and more dangerously, they stop caring.  The military reaches this point after a week on-island.  A persuasive and over-stated culture of fear benefits no one.

Radio does have its place.

Radio does have its place.

Second, there could be consequences, potentially serious, for subjecting the force to this type of indoctrination.  If you tell a young, moldable minded individual that everyone and everything, everywhere and anywhere, is dangerous, what results?  There is where a formalized study would not only be interesting but is one I believe long overdue and ultimately necessary.

funny-deaths-count-war

I’ve written about the failures of military leadership in this blog before (see Epic Fail), and about AFN too (see Team America).  The commercials or PSAs or whatever you want to call them are the source of a lot of consternation online, the source of a whole slew of jokes on-island, and worst, is responsible for creating an overall lack of respect for the governmental-military-industrial complex…which includes leadership, large and small.  The fact that the collective “we” of the military community on Okinawa are continually subjected to be treated like children who don’t know any better so that we must be constantly reminded about the dangers around every corner and in every person, action, place or thing actually results in a backlash against the establishment.  And why leadership can’t see this, why they are not more aware of just how bad AFN is in this regard and how badly it is perceived, to me means they aren’t listening.

To AFN.  Or to those they wish to lead.  Now that’s something that truly should be feared.

Fear is a prison for your mind

Speaking Through Art: Deaf-initely Different Artists of Okinawa


“Painters must speak through paint, not through words.”

~Hans Hofmann (March 21, 1880 – February 17, 1966), a German-born American abstract expressionist painter

Speaking Through Paint

Speaking Through Paint

A few weeks ago I was coming home from grocery shopping, first bringing up to our 5th floor condo as many bags as I could before I returned to my vehicle to load up our handcart with the remainder.  During this first trip, I caught a glimpse through the elevator door windows as it climbed through the other floors of an older gentlemen, certainly not American, and with that same tube slung across one shoulder.  Could it possibly be him?  What are the odds?  Stranger things have happened (see Kishikaisei: Long Odds & Unlikely Connections)….

Okinawa’s Most Famous Deaf Painter

Gusukuma's Portrait of the Sacred Beast Baize

Gusukuma’s Portrait of the Sacred Beast Baize

Gusukuma Seihō (城間 清豊, 1614- 1644) was an official court painter at the royal court of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, located in present day Okinawa, also known as Ji Ryō (自了) and by the Chinese-style name Qin Kesheng (欽可聖, Kin Kasei).  He was born to an aristocratic family in Shuri where his father was a musician.  However, Gusukuma was born a deaf mute and thus focused his energies in a different direction from that of his father, teaching himself instead to paint being heavily influenced by Chinese culture and paintings of the period.

Hearing of the young painter, King Shō Hō in Shuri called him to his court and bestowed upon him the name Ji Ryō.  It is said that the Chinese investiture envoys in Okinawa at the time who witnessed his paintings compared him to some of the top painters in China, and that Kanō Yasunobu, court painter for the Tokugawa Shogunate in mainland Japan, similarly praised the artist when one of Gusukuma’s works was brought to Edo in 1634.

Most of Gusukuma’s works were destroyed in the 1945 battle of Okinawa, with only one extant work bearing a Seal (rakan) confirming it to have been painted by Gusukuma.  Depicting a fantastic creature known as bai ze in Chinese and hakutaku in Japanese, it is held by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and has been designated an Okinawa Prefectural Important Cultural Property.

Present-Day Artistic Connections

Back in 2005 I was in my apartment within a block off the Sunabe Seawall when there was a knock at the door.  At the time I was separated from my now ex-wife, and was quite alone, and even dare I say lonely.  There are few reasons anyone would knock on your door while living off-base in Japan.  This time involved an old Chinese man, with a large tube and sash slung over his shoulder.  He smiled wide with his whole lover face, and even more brightly using his bright and lively eyes while handing me a card stating that he was deaf-mute and that he was traveling door-to-door selling his paintings.  Perhaps wanting the company, but certainly because of the changes I was going through at the time, I eagerly invited this artist into my home and asked him to show me his work.  He did, and what ensued for the next hour was the most interesting exchange of conversation, culture, and yes, negotiations for a painting I fell in love with.

We concluded our business with payment and offers of refreshments, and when we were done, I wished him well, knowing that I helped make a difference in this man’s life, while gaining an original, colorful and emotional remembrance of that most difficult time for me in the Far East.  The painting is framed and has been displayed in my home back in Pensacola; we are currently awaiting its arrival here in Okinawa where it will continue to be proudly displayed.

The 2005 Painting at Far Right

The 2005 Painting at Far Right

Signing "Art"

Signing “Art”

However, in the almost present day, on my second trip up with an even fuller load of groceries, I stopped the elevator at each floor and checked the building’s corridors looking for this man.  I had to know:  was it him?  I felt the universe prodding me on, and certainly its calling to buy another piece of Far Eastern art.  He was found on the third floor, all the way at the far north western end of one of the breezeway, where he was pausing on his journey of chores to enjoy the view of the East China Sea.  I attempted to gain his attention by calling out to him, first in a loud voice, but then again in a commanding plea.  That is until it dawned on me that, of course, he was most certainly deaf!  I could see that the tube did indeed hold a number of canvases rolled together.  Could it really be him?  I was flabbergasted at the notion.  I grew even more eager to re-establish what I thought was once-in-a-lifetime tie to the Far East, and to entertain and be entertained by this engaging personality yet again.

I got his attention as he spun around to go down the stairwell, and motioned for him to follow me.  He did, with a large grin and bright, smiley eyes.  I was certain this was the same man, and I could only think that I had caught that glimpse for a reason, for us to reacquaint ourselves with each other and with his admired work.

paint trayHe followed me into my place, helping me maneuver my loaded cart of groceries.  He wanted to give me his “I’m a deaf-mute card…” but I refused with a smile of my own, waving it away already knowing while inviting him into our living room.  I mimed that I was going to put away groceries, and he took my cue right away; he cleared an area on our rug near the dining room table and started to unroll his paintings, pulling over a chair for me to sit in and view each piece has he displayed them in turn one at a time.

Okinawa Oct 2013, Painter's Art displaying his craft

Okinawa Oct 2013, deaf-mute conversations 1I settled relatively quickly on three finalists.  As I viewed the work they struck me as quite different from the set I viewed back in 2005.  Most of these present-day works were much too graphically simple; however, three really did catch my eye.  We briefly discussed price; I knew I was going to haggle, but only to maintain both our honors.  Art that is original and beloved is extremely hard to price.  Oil paintings of the size and quality he offered at the prices requested were certainly reasonable.  I took him into our bedroom and showed him our drapes and window treatments; he immediately understood that I wanted to make sure they matched our current décor and scheme.  He brought the finalists in and laid them on our bed, where we continued to discuss the paintings and pricing a bit more, but ultimately I told him that my wife had to agree and make the final decision.  I invited him back in 45 minutes when I knew that Jody would be home and have some time to review the paintings.  He agreed, and left the works there for us to contemplate.

Conversational Snippets

Conversational Snippets

Now, keep in mind that these “conversations” were all executed via a small notepad and pen.  He was more than literate in English; he could read and write exceedingly well, and also was able to pick up on some nuances of humor and slang of our language!  It was really a pleasure to be able to communicate so well with someone who couldn’t communicate in the more common fashion in which we all fail much too often.

My First Painting from 2005 at Far Right

My First Painting from 2005 at Far Right

However, in these discussions I mentioned that I bought a painting from him in 2005.  He said yes, and was so very excited to find a repeat customer!  I’m sure he too was thinking, “What long odds!”  However, when I pulled up a picture of this previous painting and displayed it on our computer he immediately recognized it as a friend’s work, and mimed that this other artist had died and departed this realm.  He was very sad, and wrote me his name; they both were of Chinese origin, and knew each other through their works and particular “membership” in the deaf-mute artistic segment of society in Okinawa.  He missed his friend, and no doubt this all was a vivid reminder of our shared but limited time on this planet.

Jody and Our Artist Proudly Display Our Newest Far Eastern Painting

Jody and Our Artist Proudly Display Our Newest Far Eastern Painting

It’s hard to image that seeing that fleeting glimpse of a man’s back would lead to such circular connections.  And it’s hard to leave this to chance.  I am honored to have met these two men, and am proud to display their work in our home.  The degrees of separation between us are always far fewer than we ever care to count.  And seeing what others endure and overcome always helps to put our own problems in much clearer, more reasonable perspective.  It is during times like these that perhaps I feel the most human, knowing that such karmic connections can and do happen, and that life is meant to be lived, captured, and happily displayed in as many forms as we can imagine.

Okinawa’s “Rubella Children”

Okinawa has an interesting if not tragic connection to the deaf community.  The Okinawa Prefecture Kitashiro School for the Deaf established in 1978 was the only school for the Deaf which combined junior and high school programs spanning the last six years of primary education in Japan.  It was specially established in order to meet the need of the great number of children born in 1964 through 1965 who lost hearing due to a massive outbreak of German measles (rubella) on Okinawa.

Vaccine Squashes Measles

Vaccine Squashes Measles – but only after the outbreak of the early 1960s

Starting in 1963, there had been an outbreak of rubella in the United States, and this was most likely transmitted to the Okinawa Island through America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  At the time, that war was significantly increasing in violence and bloodshed, and Okinawa more and more began to serve as a major staging area for B-52 bombers entering the conflict.  Troop levels and rotations massively increased, while Americans mingled freely with the Okinawans.

Okinawa's Deaf-Mute Baseball Team

Kitashiro’s Deaf-Mute Baseball Team

Over 500 “rubella children” (fushinji) were born in this time period in Okinawa Prefectures, most with severe or multiple disabilities, with almost all deaf or hard of hearing.  Although these deaf students were initially mainstreamed in local schools, they quickly ended up falling significantly behind their hearing peers academically.  The Prefectural school board thus made a decision to build a special school that would be ready in time to capture this student pool as they entered middle school, and which could more properly provide educational services throughout high school along with vocational training.  In 1984, with all the affected students having matriculated, the school officially closed.  However, Okinawa’s reputation as a place of compassion and refuge for people with such challenges lives on.

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