The ’80s called; they want their McDonald’s American Vintage Campaign back….

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” ~Peter De Vries

“Too much has been forgotten in the name of memory.” ~Don DeLillo, Americana


Mullets are seldom out of style.  The hair coloring, however....

Mullets are seldom out of style. The hair coloring, however….

Okinawa Eats Feb 2014, McDonalds American Vintage, coke classicMcDonald’s in the Far East continued flirting with all-things Americana with their “final” phase of their “American Vintage Campaign.” In a phrase, McDonald’s Japan is attempting to take the nostalgia that many in the East have for most things West, and cram it into sandwiches which neither resonate with our prototypical ideal of American vintage, nor with the food of American’s tasteful past.

Clowns, except for the fish, are ALWAYS creepy

Clowns, except for the fish, are ALWAYS creepy

Try finding Micky-D's on Beta

Try finding Micky-D’s on Beta

Okinawa Eats Feb 2014, McDonalds American Vintage, the fashion isn't good!Now McDonald’s this time around has gotten the print ads just about right – the fashion, icons of the era, and the look and feel of 1980’s Americana. However, here in Japan, they continue to do the food…wrong. Again, the signature items remain centered on two sandwiches, both BBQ-based. I have searched back in my mind for a connection between the 1980s and barbeque, and can find…none. And I can rightly claim the 80s as my generation’s decade! At least this time around they haven’t molested the BBQ chicken and beef, adding only those things we would 1) recognize and 2) expect, such as lettuce, BBQ sauce, cheese, mustard and pickles.

Okinawa Eats Feb 2014, McDonalds American Vintage, final 80s

Pacman wouldn't even eat this....

Pacman wouldn’t even eat this….

This deal probably lasted about 60 seconds....

This deal probably lasted about 60 seconds….

While the menu choices offered may be interesting to see and try, it’s highly doubtful that such items ever existed on the Mickey D’s menu, let alone in the 1980s. However, Micky D’s is not alone in such experiments; other Japanese branches of notable fast food chains are known for their own culinary foray flirtations in the Far East, especially during targeted promotional campaigns. McDonald’s here has tried a “60-second service” service, where the customer gets a free burger if their order isn’t fulfilled in 60 seconds or less, as well as a home-delivery service. This past winter season, they unveiled a “Gracoro Burger,” complete with a fried patty of macaroni, shrimp, and a white “fish” sauce. Yummy.

The infamous "Graco Burger"

The infamous “Gracoro Burger”

Burger King Japan in the fall offers the “BK Pumpkin,” a hamburger topped with pumpkin slices. It even has a “Kuro Burger,” made with black buns and a black-ink squid sauce. Also, for its 5th birthday (in Japan), BK unveiled a special “B’i King” buffet deal promotion where for specified sandwich meals the food was all-you-can-eat for thirty minutes!

Nothing says appetizing like BLACK

Nothing says appetizing like BLACK bread

Kentucky Fried Chicken is pretty popular in Japan as well. It has a partnership with Japan Airlines during winter season on certain flights to the US or Europe, and during Christmas, KFC Japan is the staple main course in Japanese homes (see my blog about that here). The KFC restaurant at Shimokitazawa Station (Tokyo) has a special third floor called “ROUTE 25,” KFC’s first ever whiskey bar. Now we’re talkin’!!

An upscale KFC eatery?  A sure sign of End of Days.

An upscale KFC eatery? A sure sign of End of Days.

You know you can't trust ginger kids!

You know you can’t trust ginger kids!

Boom Boxes and BBQ

Boom Boxes and BBQ

McDonald’s in Japan this time around has been cleverer than ever in their vintage-themed décor. They have reproduced some classically delightful Americana posters and prints. And while I stopped in to snap a few photos here and there and grab a fountain soda (which are nearly impossible to find in Japan), I can’t say that I’ve tried these menu items. And my heart and arteries thank me for, daily.

Okinawa Eats Feb 2014, McDonalds American Vintage, Mcdonald's!

This is the finale phase of the American vintage campaign. Although I’m disappointed that I missed the middle phase,“1970s Soul Food,” I’m glad I swung by to see this take on my generation’s decade back home.


I hope you’ve enjoyed these delicious developments as much as I have. Stay tuned for follow-on flirtations with Far Eastern fast-food. I can already smell the humor, and can taste the fun!

Conquering Japan, one crappy burger at a time....

Conquering Japan, one crappy burger at a time….


Zip-a-dee-doo-dah: Onna’s Forest Adventure Zip Line Park

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, My oh my, what a wonderful day! Plenty of sunshine heading my way, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, entering the Forest Adventure Park in Onna Okinawa

Not just for thrill seekers, Forest Adventure (“Mori No Bouken”) Park in Onna, Okinawa, promises wholesome fun and a bit of exercise too, all among the scenic hillsides near Cape Maeda. Billed as an adventure sports park coexisting with Okinawan nature, the park involves ten substantial zip lines over and through a sample of Okinawa’s lush greenery, but also includes many “adventure” obstacles, such as cargo net climbs, narrow vertical “apple-picker” ladders, and hard to navigate swing rope and wooden bridges!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody ready to tumble

Print ads don't mention the snakes!

Print ads don’t mention the snakes!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin on a shaky wooden bridge in the jungleIn a classic “lost in translation” from native Japanese, a description online loosely reads, “The nature coexisting adventure sports & park of Okinawa nature Japanese version “Mori No Bouken” (Forest Adventure). This is the same famous forest adventure in Europe which lets you swing from tree to tree using their exclusive harness (life rope). Take a skywalk looking down the East Asia Sea from 30m high sky. There are 33 activities which challenges (sic) your courage and let you have a thrilling time. The nervousness you feel as a action hero does will change to a feeling of accomplishment after you get across from one tree to another. It is the 4th oldest and located on the southernmost in Japan. Forest Adventure in Onna is the largest adventure sports & park of natural symbiosis style in Japan in terms of width, length and height of facilities….”

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, managing the early beginner obstacles

While one literally doesn’t swing from tree to tree – the obstacle and zip line platforms are all mounted on steel trunks artificially placed in jungle-cleared ground, and the “life rope” are all actually all steel cable and carabiners, one can take in amazing views of the East China Sea while flying through the air as a de facto action hero!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, zipline backwards landing in the wood chips

The park’s main office is located just off Route 6, well past the Renaissance Hotel (~3km), and a few hundred meters past the turnoff for Maeda Point. Stop here first for paperwork and payment, then continue on to the business’ parking lot, where a bus will pick you up for further transport up to the actual Forest Adventure site.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody coming in for a zipline landing!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Adventure Course net bridgeOkinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody survives the Tarzan Swing but now has to do the Scramble NetReservations are required to confirm a time and your slot, as are closed-toe athletic shoes. You’ll get dirty on this course, particularly during the zip line landings, so wear light athletic clothing and bring a change of clothes! Personally, I recommend long pants, although plenty of people there were successfully navigating the course in shorts. Oh, use the bathroom before you leave the office; the facilities at the park are, well in a word, rustic. Thankfully for us it was mostly cloudy during our adventure, which helped to moderate what could be a rather steamy time in the jungle.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin and Jody in the hills of Onna Village

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, harnesses (impact B&W)Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody's thread of life while on the courseAt the park itself you’ll have a chance to stow your personal belongings in lockers which cost ¥100. Cold drinks are also served for a small fee. The staff will fit you into a harness; don’t be shy about your junk at this point – the harnesses are no joke and will squeeze, squash and otherwise spill your business in maybe some rather awkward ways. Let’s just say there are no camel toes indigenous to Okinawa, and I prefer to reserve my personal circumcision status for a more intimate audience.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Kevin away on a zipline!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, gettting schooled in Japanese!Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody tops out on a rope ladderOnce properly adjusted, the staff will show you basic hook and clip operation, then after a short walk to a proving course, will provide a short brief (most likely in very broken English), and then you’ll have a chance to demonstrate your prowess by completing a “test” climb and zip line before being turned loose on the course…ALONE. Yeah, that’s right – you move through the course on your own, at your own pace, which is one of the best things about this park. This type of freedom, and dare I say “trust” in others’ own personal responsibility is really a refreshing relief from the “it must be someone else’s fault” overly litigious society back home. While there is a staff member at one particular point on the course (for which you’ll just have to figure out why), we only saw one or two other staffers along the course, no doubt helping to ensure safety and rule following.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody likes steep and narrow ladders

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, rules and rocksOkinawa Forest Adventure 2014, many dangersSpeaking of rules, some of the rather pathetic rules the park has – and I’m sure because they have to deal with ugly (drunk) Americans behaving in such ugly ways – if you appear intoxicated you will be subjected to being breathalyzed, and after a warning the first time you take your shirt off, you be expelled on the 2nd such offense…. Unfortunately, we happened to butt up against a Marine Unit outing, which I simply could not tolerate their brazenly bad language. Although I didn’t want to, I felt it necessary to confront these rather poor examples of American citizenry, out of respect for the elder (civilian) couple in our group, let along the Japanese National couple traveling through the course with us.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, taking the Log Swing after enjoying the Trazan Swing

Midway through the course is a complimentary cold drink case, where we got to choose between orange or grape soda – 1 per customer, please! This was a nice touch, although we drank up quickly to keep ahead of our rather Neanderthal North American cousins who were hot on our heels.

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Tarzan Swing into a cargo (scramble) net

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, pussies need not attempt!Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, zipline landing for JodyThe last section of the park is a giant-sized multi-level jungle gym for adults, complete with swinging board bridges, swaying rings, and the final zip line of the day. There’s a special surprise here, one I’ll not spoil, but let’s just say that if you can’t jump within 3 minutes, GET THE HECK OUT OF THE WAY! This entire part of the park is a hoot!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Jody and Kevin GOAL!!

After reaching your “GOAL,” you’ll be offered an opportunity to travel back through the course. It seems if the park is not busy, this is a rather standard thing, which adds a tremendous amount of value to the $35/person (¥3500) entrance fee. We, however, elected to pass, partly due to the company we would choose NOT to keep, but more so because we had a lunch date at a terrific restaurant in Onna called Casa la Tida, worthy of its own blog in the near future!

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, Wonderful feeling, Wonderful day!

Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, Onna's forest adventure map


Okinawa Forest Adventure 2014, map to the parkReservations: 098-963-0088

Open: all year 9:00-18:00, summer season 8:30-Sunset; the park will close for bad weather!

Must be over 140cm/55inches tall, and under 130kg/286lbs weight

Tuesdays and Thursdays are “Lady’s Days,” where women get a ¥500 discount; under 18 is ¥2,500, family of three is ¥8,000, family of four is ¥9,500, and family of 5 is ¥11,000. Yen Only!!


Sanbai Gaeshi (三倍返し): Tripling the Return on White Day

“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love.” ~ Maya Angelou

I should've opted for the Donut/Jewelry set!!

I should’ve opted for the Donut/Jewelry set!!

Okinawa White Day 2014, Jody's puzzle-piece cardOkinawa White Day 2014, flowers for Jody“White Day” (ホワイトデー Howaito Dē) is a day for Asian men to show their affections for the special females in their lives, celebrated in Japan and some other Asian countries (South Korea, China and Taiwan) one month after Valentine’s Day on March 14th. White Day has clearly become a very popular day in Japan; more than half of Japan’s annual chocolate sales happen between late February and mid-March when “White Day” occurs. White Day was created in Japan (unsurprisingly by their National Confectionery Industry Association) around 1980 to, uhm, help “soften the guilt” of males who received VD chocolates from one or more ladies. Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, men who were lucky enough to receive sugar-infused foodstuffs are given the chance to return the favor, and then some. In a sexist twist that seems to have not been lost in translation between West and East, the expectation for these return gifts is to be of higher value than those purchased by women!

It appears that 43% if Japanese females are social loners....

It appears that 43% if Japanese females are social loners….

Valentine’s Day in Japan takes an interesting turn away from that of the West: women traditionally do all the giving on February 14th (see my blog here for our Valentine’s Day this year in Japan). When chocolate companies originally started pushing the Western idea of VD in Japan, they focused on women as sole givers. At the time, Japanese women were quite conservative in voicing affections, so the rather novel idea of surrogate chocolates was immediately and widely embraced.

One way to tell the women in your life to "eat me"....

One way to tell the women in your life to “eat me”….

So, here on Okinawa, Valentine’s Day is typically observed by girls and women presenting chocolate gifts to boys or men as an expression of love, courtesy, or sometimes social or workplace obligation. On White Day, the reverse happens: men who received a honmei-choco (本命チョコ, “chocolate of love”) or giri-choco (義理チョコ, “courtesy chocolate”) on Valentine’s Day are expected to return the favor by giving gifts on March 14th.

Okinawa White Day 2014, gifts for my Desi D (desideratum)

Okinawa White Day 2014, Fuji candies for mountainous JOkinawa White Day 2014, sizeable gifts for Ride'em JTraditionally, popular White Day gifts include specialized cookies, white chocolate, and chocolates, as well as objects of sentimental value, such as jewelry or white lingerie. However, in very Western custom, men are held to a different standard, literally, sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, “triple the return”). In other words, a man’s return gift to a female should be two to three times the worth of the original Valentine’s gift!

White Day clothing campaign; shown in almost actual size!!

White Day clothing campaign; shown in almost actual size!!

Japan by average bra size.

Japan by average bra size.

Japan does offer my size, however....

Japan does offer my size, however….

I’m never one to skimp on spending, especially when lingerie is involved. Much to my chagrin, there just aren’t the lingerie sizes available in Japan to fit a very healthy curvaceous triple-D shaped woman like my Jody. Believe me, I have looked and searched, and while the Japanese can come close (see a fellow blogger’s related trials and tribulations here), bras simply aren’t like hand grenades and horseshoes, and “close” isn’t good enough. Jody will just have to settle for a form-fitting wetsuit instead, an Okinawan-equivalent of lingerie for diehard scuba divers.

Jody's heartfelt wetsuit, an Okinawan version of diver lingerie

Jody’s heartfelt wetsuit, an Okinawan version of diver lingerie

Okinawa White Day 2014, beautiful Japanese chocolates!Okinawa White Day 2014, beautiful Japanese chocolates!!Taking a few trips to the main department stores on Okinawa (Jusco and San A), I found a wide array of gifts devoted to White Day. In fact, there was so much floor space devoted to such gifting, that I soon found myself overwhelmed, and ended up spending quite a bit of time culling down my selections so that I didn’t appear to go too over the top (although spoiling Jody is part of my agenda). The chocolate sets that the Japanese offer are works of art unto themselves, while some of the themes are quite relevant, like Mount Fuji candies where we will climb next year and a candy-filled JR train reminiscent of our Kyoto adventures this past January. The best thing about shopping for these sets is that the stores all have a display area where shoppers can examine the sets’ contents. While this helps negate the thorny issues of translation (what exactly is that candy and what is it made from?), there is still a healthy amount of adventuresome guesswork in ultimate selections. And an equal amount sometimes in trying the items brought home! Oh, and don’t forget about the on-site customized gift-wrapping services which any Christmas-time Macy’s back home would be envious of.

Jody enjoys her tripled returns!!

Jody enjoys her tripled returns!!

Okinawa White Day 2014, space trip rocket to love!Okinawa White Day 2014, Jody's gift table for White DayIn my opinion, having two different days dedicated to male-female gift-giving seems to make a lot more sense. Yes yes, if you’re overly cynical, the split is really just all about sales, money and big business. However, being a little more familiar with the Japanese psyche, I do believe that men did in essence “need” their own gift-giving day; the Japanese are much more socially endeared in ways that most Western societies may not be. I for one enjoyed having a day for Jody to spoil me, and I certainly enjoyed my time planning, shopping, and spoiling her back, at triple the return!

Okinawa Mar 2014, White Day, gifts for my Love

Oh, and the smiles included and incited by White Day? All free and given freely…to the one I Love.

Okinawa White Day 2014, Jody models her Japanese white day chocolates

Running Men: Charming Characters Home and Abroad

“門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む。 Mon zen no kozō narawanu kyō wo yomu, or literally: “An apprentice near a temple will recite the scriptures untaught.”

Wherever we find ourselves, there is a truth that the environment which envelops us makes our character. As an extension, a locale’s surrounds also helps to fashion local iconic characters.

Randy, Pensacola's "Running Man" is clearly an inspiration!

Randy, Pensacola’s “Running Man” is clearly an inspiration!

1185909_620104331354794_621811454_nPensacola has “Randy the Running Man.” The older gentlemen, probably at least in his mid-to-late 60s, who runs all over West Pensacola. But this really isn’t what sets him apart: he dresses in patriotic, flag-covered shirts, always wears his United States Flag ball cap, but most importantly, he not only waves to passersby, but he waves numerous American flags he carries on a short flagpole. Suffering from leathery sun-soaked skin from running so much in the Florida sun, he is seen at all times of the day, rain or shine, warm or cold. He simply keeps on running, although he has gotten slower and slower with the passing years….

tumblr_mql3qhGmE81r8hv2uo2_500“My name is Randy, but people call me ‘The Running Man’ because I really love to run. I have worked as a maintenance man at the Pensacola Naval Air Station for 36 years. I run by the hours so I don’t know how far I run, I just run for America. I carry two U.S. flags. The flag on the top is for all of the living Americans and the flag on the bottom is in honor of those who have died. I always wear my flag hat. If a fire truck, police car, or bus full of kids comes by I always give a salute!”

Pensacola’s “Running Man” receives numerous honks and waves from motorists, and he appreciates the responses he elicits. “Yes, sir, everyone is my friend. The best thing is, if a funeral comes by, I give them a salute and a bow because everyone has a soul you can appreciate and I run for them too.”

This Chinaman would fit right in with Pensacola's Bible Belt!

This “iconic” Chinaman would fit right in with Pensacola’s Bible Belt!

But Okinawa also offers a Far East flirtation with such characters. Two in our local neighborhood called “Miyagi,” a roughly 10 square block area of the town of Chatan-Cho, which Jody and I have quite innocently labelled “The Dog Shuffler” and “Sasquatch.” While these two men don’t run, they are still running quite well.  Which is really the point in the end.

Okinawa's "Dog Shuffler"

Okinawa’s “Dog Shuffler”

Okinawa Apr 2014, Dog Shuffler 1The Dog Shuffler is an old man who obviously lives somewhere in the neighborhood, who walks his dog a few times a day along the Sunabe Seawall which serves as our condominium’s front yard. But he just doesn’t walk; he shuffles in a distinct way, always wearing his fisherman’s hat. This particularly pairing between man and dog is almost divine. This man’s dog is clearly an older mutt, but a perfectly well-behaved one. While he (and there’s no doubt the dog is a boy) is on a leash while walking the streets of Miyagi, when the pair ascends the stairs to the seawall, The Shuffler sets his four-legged best-friend free and the dog walks up ahead, mimicking owner with his own aged canine cantor. The dog will shuffle ahead only so far; after a few steps, the dog will pause, then turn and check on his master, waiting for his human companion to catch up. In this way, man and best friend leap-frog down the seawall, stopping for numerous sit-down breaks along the way.

Okinawa Apr 2014, Sasquatch Man 2Okinawa Apr 2014, Sasquatch Man 1Our other character, somewhat coarsely called “Sasquatch,” is a very old Okinawan gentlemen indeed who we see walking the neighborhood almost every day, often more than once a day. Okinawans, like most Asians of the Far East, often appear younger than they actually are, often by a decade or more. While this man may appear 70-75, I would hazard a guess that he very well may be his in mid-80s, which means that he was a teenager here on Okinawa when the allies invaded in 1945 during WWII.  Just considering what this man has lived through makes me stop and pause every single time I see him, each wrinkle ripe with a story of old. And seeing him shuffle in his own particularly practice all over the streets of our neighborhod, always dressed in slacks and a long-sleeved shirt (the Okinawans have long recognized the danger of the sun), I can only be inspired to be so active at that advanced age. So, what about the “Squatch” branding? Well, this man sports a rather interesting but disheveled array of facial and head hair, and combined with what appears to be a rather animalistic thousand-yard stare, it seemed not an all inappropriate nickname…at the time. Clearly no disrespect is intended!

Far East fashion does NOT make a running man.  In fact, it can be downright criminal....

Far East fashion does NOT make a running man. In fact, it can be downright criminal….

These personalities in our far-removed Far East neighborhood help to offer a comforting embrace of a reminder of home. People, like Pensacola’s Running Man and Okinawan’s Dog Shuffler and Sasquatch, can be found in any and all milieu, and all help to bridge gulfs of time, culture, distance, language, and space. Our Far Eastern folks outwardly flirt with all things that bind otherwise disparate peoples together, rather than highlight the obvious differences which most people find themselves caught up in….  I’m happy to have them both here, each and every day.

Luckily there isn't a Far East equivalent of Pensacola's armless prostitute, "Flipper"

Luckily there isn’t a Far East equivalent of Pensacola’s armless prostitute, “Flipper”

What local personalities do YOU have where YOU live?

See more about Pensacola’s Randy the Running Man here:

Hiji Ōtaki, The Great Falls of Okinawa

“Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea.” ~ Mikhail Lermontov

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Waterfall, the falls at the destination 2

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, boardwalk through the jungleOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, tall and lonely stairwayThe dense tangle of exotic jungle canopy covering Okinawa may not inspire thoughts of peaceful relaxation in some, but after trekking to Hiji Falls, one might change their mind! No need to grab a machete and hack your way through the undergrowth in search of nature’s bounty Indiana Jones style. One of the most accessible and famous nature trails on Okinawa leads to a treasure, Hiji Ōtaki (Great) Falls (比地大滝).

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, nature-walk


Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Kevin shooting during his nature-huntOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, peaceful jungle waterfallHiji waterfall is located in the northern Yambaru area of Okinawa, where there are fewer people and the land remains covered by natural forests, largely unexploited. Human encroachment has yet to take hold in this part of Okinawa, and thank goodness. The natural surrounds here are a welcome change from the urban sprawl of the south.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, future butterfly

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Otaki means big waterfallOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Selfie on the suspension bridge, the halfway pointThe modifier Ōtaki in the Japanese language is composed of three kanji characters: the first, ō (大) meaning “large,” the second ta (多) meaning “many,” and the third ki (喜) meaning “happiness.” However, in loosely translated local vernacular English, the falls are generally referred to as “Hiji Great Falls.”

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Jody poses at Hiji Giant Falls

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, selfie at the fallsOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, tree fleur de lisThe trailhead, where an entrance fee (¥500) must be paid, is a little over a mile inland from the island’s western coast. From this starting point, where restrooms, a restaurant, and plentiful parking can be found, a casual walk to the falls is about a mile and a modern and attractive nature trail and boardwalk, taking about 40 minutes one-way. On the way you’ll pass a dam that’s been recently rebuilt, now cleverly disguised to resemble a much more natural rock facade and waterfall spillway.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, paper tickets

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Kevin shoots back!Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Great Falls guide mapAlthough at first you may worry about all the amenities and concrete which initially line the path, after passing the dam the sidewalk quickly gives way to dirt, and the natural beauty of Okinawa begins to slowly unfold all around with each and every step. The trail and boardwalk are well maintained, but be forewarned: there are quite a few steep sections with many stairs along the way. One of the trail’s highlights is crossing a suspension bridge that spans the Hiji River valley over 60 feet below! And once across, you are wholly enveloped by the jungle, surrounded by tall, swaying bamboo, fanned by massive ferns and ancient-looking trees, complete with trunk-twisting vines.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Okinawan shrine and tomb along the way

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, grasshopper along the wayOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, suspension bridge at the halfway pointThis is not a serene or silent stroll, however. Mother Nature here is abuzz with all-things life: song birds, the ever-present chirping of the cicadas, and the growing rush of the Hiji River compose a cacophony befitting the soundtrack to such a Far-Eastern adventure. Finally, after traveling up and down staircases and across bridges, the crashing water of the falls dominates, best consumed from a wooden viewing platform at the terminus of the trail. Here the 85 foot tall “Great” falls is found, nestled remotely in the forest and cascading into a pool-like clearing rift with rocks and boulders of all sizes, far removed from even a hint of the ubiquitous urbanization that seems ever-present elsewhere on Okinawa. Given this scene, one can almost sense the presence of Kijimuna, the mischievous Okinawan fairies of folklore (see my related blog here).

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Okinawa's highest falls

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, lost in translation it doesn't say anything aobut crossing the ropeOkinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, sunlit nature walkAlthough the water seems to beckon out for a swim, there are barriers all along the trail stating that swimming is forbidden and that the pool at the base of the falls has been the site of numerous injuries. However, there is a river trek to another lesser-known falls on Okinawa, something we have been saving for more hot and humid weather this summer. Stay tuned for that flirtation of our Far East Fling soon! Regardless, The Great Falls of Hiji can provide a much-needed calming respite to what can otherwise be, for many of us, a hurtling, turbulent, rather foamy life, sometimes, all the way to the sea.

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, couple's selfie at the falls

Okinawa Nov 2013, Hiji Falls, Kevin on one of the many staircases

There are no bathrooms, either!

There are no bathrooms, either!

Not only does this outing provide for a wonderful morning drive up the Okinawan coast along Highway 58, this particular place is easy to find – a rarity on Okinawa. Instead of turning left at Okuma’s intersection, turn right and follow the signs to the falls. Campground facilities are available for overnight stays of about 2,000 yen/night (~$20), offering picnic tables and elevated wooden decks for tent set-up. Finally, there are a few things to know before you go: there is no water along the trail, and bringing fluids in the summer is a MUST. The trail is largely shielded from the sun, but in the summer the humidity will be HIGH. Most importantly, be prepared for stairs, quite a few of them, and please note there are many uphill portions in BOTH directions!


Timeless Townhouse: Our Machiya Stay in Kyoto

 井の中の蛙大海を知らず, I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu: A frog in a well does not know the great sea. Or, people are satisfied to judge things by their own narrow experience, never knowing of the wide world outside.

Kōshi lattice work on the ground floor; earthwork walls on the second story with mushikomado windows.

Kōshi lattice work on the ground floor; earthwork walls on the second story with mushikomado windows.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, entrway on the small alleywayWanting to avoid being narrow American frogs overseas , and equally desiring a more authentic stay in Kyoto, Jody and I elected to stay in a traditional Japanese machiya called Seuin-An, “Blue Cloud Hut.” Seuin-An is a historic Kyoto townhouse were the essence of the Japanese tradition of Geisha was taught: dance, music, tea ceremony, flower arrangement and more were handed down here for generations from teacher to the young ladies who chose this mysterious world as their way of life. While it has been renovated to provide more comfortable quarters to guests, it still retains a cozy machiya’s spirit, esthetic, and beauty of these wonderful traditional Japanese townhouses.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, bamboo garden and entrywayMachiya (町屋/町家) are traditional wooden townhouses found throughout Japan, but typified in the historical capital of Kyoto. Kyoto, largely spared the devastating fire-bombing campaigns of World War II, retains many old and quite historic wooden buildings, including many machiya. These townhouses, along with Japanese nōka (farm dwellings) constitute Japanese minka architecture of “folk dwellings.” Machiya have a long history spanning many hundreds of years, and traditionally housed chōnin (townspeople), primarily consisting of urban merchants and craftsmen. The plot’s linear footage along the street was in the past a visible index of wealth, and typical machiya plots were only 15-20 feet wide but over 60 feet deep, leading to the nickname “eel bed.” Machiya is written using two kanji: machi (町, “town”), and ya (家 or 屋) meaning “house” (家) or “shop” (屋) depending on the kanji used.

Main Living Area

Main Living Area

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, asian Japanese living room accentsThe typical Kyoto machiya is a long, narrow wooden home, often containing a small courtyard garden. Machiya of the past incorporated earthen walls behind wood lattice works and baked tile roofs, and were usually two stories high. If used as a shop, the front of the structure served as the retail space. The remainder of the building is then divided into the kyoshitsubu (居室部, “living space)” composed of divided rooms with raised timber floors and tatami mats, and the doma (土間), an earthen-floored space that contained the kitchen and passage to storehouses.

Master Badroom

Master Badroom

Multiple layers of sliding doors are used to moderate the temperature inside; closing in the winter offers some protection from cold, while opening in the summer offers some respite from heat and humidity. Machiya homes traditionally also used different types of screens, using woven bamboo screens in summer to enhance airflow but block sun, while solid screens were used in winter to retain more heat.

Functional Kitchen

Functional Kitchen

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, functional kitchen 2On a sad note, between 1993 and 2003, over 13% of the machiya in Kyoto were demolished. Roughly 40% of these were replaced with new modern houses, and another 40% were replaced with high-rise apartment buildings, parking lots, or modern-style commercial shops. Of those machiya remaining, over 80% have suffered significant losses to the traditional appearance of their facades in a process called kanban kenchiku (看板建築, “signboard architecture”); they retain their basic machiya shape, but their facades have been completely covered over in cement, which replaces the wooden lattices of the first story and earthwork walls of the second, along with losing their tile roofs.

The Entrance to Our Seuin-An Machiya

The Entrance to Our Seuin-An Machiya

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, Asian bedroom lamps and skylightsKyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, Japanese wall hangingsJody and I were lucky enough to be able to experience this corner of a quickly disappearing tradition in Kyoto. Stay at Seuin-An was an experience neither of us will soon forget; imaging who may have passed through its doors and contemplating the full range of Far Eastern humanity that the structure encompasses allowed us to make a much stronger connection to not just Japan, but to our collective and shared pasts. In a phrase, we Western frogs managed to jump from the well of our narrow experience to see the wider world of Kyoto beyond.

Bathing Room

Bathing Room

I ended up writing a review for Trip Advisor, which is included here for your review. You may note my sensitivity to the owners, who seemed to be quite insulted with any type of less than good review online. It’s interesting to note that my review did not solicit any response, which I am pleased about, as anyone wanting to stay at Seiun-an. Read on…if you’d like.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, upstairs futon and tatami

“A Diamond…in the Rough” (3 of 5 Stars)

I’m going to try and write this review without having the owner get overly defensive while hopefully portraying our stay accurately. After all, that is the point of Trip Advisor.

This home COULD easily be 4 stars…with just a little bit of work. If I could on this site I would have rated the home as 3.5 or even 3.75 stars (instead of the 3 I did rate it). We enjoyed our stay, and the location of the home is excellent. And, it does give one a personal, authentic experience of living in Japan. Let me explain.

This is an old home, in mostly original style and layout, and that should be clear to anyone renting or staying. That was exactly our point in renting this type of accommodation – for a more authentic experience while traveling and staying in Japan. Expect the home to be cold and drafty in the wintertime, with the bathroom floor being VERY cold. The heat on the 2nd floor sleeping area works well (one wall unit and one floor electric radiator), and is very comfortable at night. Only one pair of slippers is provided in the home, but no robes, which would be a very nice touch since one has to go downstairs at night to use the only toilet in the home. The toilet is a modern Japanese one, with a welcomed heated seat!

The best iron deep-soak tub around!

The best iron deep-soak tub around!

The tub is fantastic, a deep-soak iron barrel sunk into the floor. However, the small plastic-framed bathroom mirror is much too small and is miss-hung for it to be of any use at all. My wife ended up using her iPad camera on herself, turning her iPad into a de facto mirror at the living room table. The sink installation is rather haphazard and lacks any sort of refinement; there is no medicine cabinet or other storage areas in the bathing room (sink & shower being separate from the toilet).

The lighting takes a few moments to figure out, and while adequate, we had numerous lights that were burnt out, including the outside light, two hallway lights (we replaced one with the over-the-stove hood light), one accent light in an art/panel area, and there was a broken and missing light fixture in the living area that resulted in quite an eye-sore. We only asked for the outside light to be fixed, since we are not fans of having people enter our living spaces while absent, but it is also not much to ask that lights be operable before we take residence. And there was no explanation for the broken fixture, which really detracted from the appeal, look and feel of the living room.

Tatami Sleeping Arrangements

Tatami Sleeping Arrangements

The living area furniture is not dark wood like in the website photos, nor is it located where it is as pictured there. It is however very functional, and there is plenty of room downstairs for eating and socializing.

While I understand the sliding doors are old and fragile in the home, the sliding door to the kitchen is very tough to use, and constantly was getting jammed. It is not really on a track, and is heavy to move, lacking any type of handle. We kept it closed most of the time though since heat downstairs was a constant issue in the middle of winter. The kitchen is functional.

There is really no weather-sealing or insulation at any of the doors, and this causes the draftiness of the downstairs area. The heater downstairs (one wall-mount and one electric floor radiator) both ran on high full-time; they simply couldn’t keep up with the cold. If the entryway bamboo vented screens were backed with Plexiglas (or glass), and if the door to the outside mechanical area were sealed properly, this would be a much warmer residence.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, entryway

Finally, there are some aesthetic flaws that interfere with the charm of the machiya. The patches in the rice paper doors are too numerous and visible, along with the damaged bamboo entry sliding doors. The bathroom sink area really needs some updating, which could be accomplished while keeping the experience “authentic.” The bamboo water “garden” in the entryway would, if functional, provide some terrific ambiance to the entire structure, as well as some soothing water sounds….

The owner-recommended café “Yamamoto” around the corner is an excellent choice, and was much easier for the taxis to find than the house’s address!

Like I said, this home is a GEM, but with some pretty rough edges. With some much needed attention, it would easily be a 4-star home, and with some further investment, much higher rents could be charged given the potential charm of the residence and its location. It’s a recommended place to stay, but be forewarned: if you are looking for western style kitchens and bathrooms, and if you want to be pampered with warmth, look elsewhere.

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Machiya Seiun-an, photo collage of our accommodations in Gion