Food Fit for a Scoundrel: Genghis Khan


Okinawa Eats: Genghis Khan

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11811345295_6d6c9a0b60_bAmbiance: Long-standing local Mom & Pop establishment, decorated in what can only be described as the Japanese-spin on a half senile American Grandma….

Service: Self-service buffet where you select ingredients that are cooked fresh to order.  The line at the griddles can get quite long at the prime dinner hours, especially on weekends and around military paydays.

Food Quality: Above-average.

Features:  Spacious and eclectic local eatery with easily reconfigurable, family style seating

Cuisine: Mongolian BBQ consisting of frozen meats but fresh vegetables.

Price/Value: Above Average.

Like you Grandma's attic, with food.

Like you Grandma’s attic, with food.

Khan.  What a glutton.

Khan. What a glutton.

Although you may not have the fathered as many sons as Genghis Khan and your Y chromosome may not live on in around 0.5% of the male global population, you can still certainly dine as he did almost as often.

11811730864_e00e2df623_bGenghis Khan is located conveniently a few blocks from our condo, and although we could walk there, we choose to drive because the journey back home would be just too hard on a bloated belly after enjoying the deadly sin of gluttony for at least the previous sixty minutes. The Mom and Pop joint, a not-so-small hole-in-the-wall that’s been around for almost forty years now, is just minutes from Kadena AFB Gate 1.  And the food is just plain yummy:  freshly cooked, served steaming hot, which seems to expand to fill and form-fit your belly, this style of Mongolian BBQ is true comfort food, and a great way to end a long day of adventure on Okinawa.

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Eclectic Americana...for sure.

Eclectic Americana…for sure.

11812080046_f0b833598d_b11811752804_75c29f36c9_bWalking in it seems like you just might be walking into an old antique shop or possibly your overly patriotic grandmother’s house; if you like American flag hand-crocheted quilts, this place is for you! Hungry patrons are greeted at the door and directed to a table (usually of your choice), where you decide if you would like rice or bread to go with your soon-to-be consumed feast.  Then, you simply get up, grab a bowl – imprinted with Japanese and American flags – and fill it with all the meat (chicken, beef, pork and lamb) and up to ten kinds of veggies to your Mongol heart’s content.  Soba noodles are available, along with a plethora of toppings and seasonings, including a Genghis Khan original sauce, soy, olive oil, teriyaki and even sake!  For first-timers, there’s a guide posted in English about recommended spices, which is a great point of departure to start this culinary adventure.  You’ll soon be experimenting and will certainly come up with your own perfect concoction.  A cook then chops the raw ingredients and grills them under your watchful eye.  On slow nights, the owner may even assist you with what he considers best sauce combo.

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11811320325_36664d0237_bThis buffet-style restaurant is perfect for the hungry Mongol in your life that you can’t seem to keep full. They are, however, only open for dinner.  And an insider’s hint:  be careful on payday weekends as the place is often hoppin’ full of Americans!

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11811743484_c73f7cfa85_bA large establishment for Okinawa, Genghis Khan can seat up to 80. In my past times living on Okinawa, because of this high-capacity, we’ve held command Hail & Farewells here to great effect.  The purse-friendly ~1,800 yen buffet style all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue includes free refills of a full array of soft drinks, and also comes with rice or bread.

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And really, don’t worry about fathering all those kids. With a royally stuffed belly, you’ll only have eyes for not the bedroom, but just the bed.

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Hours: Dinner only, Sunday 4:00-10:00pm, Monday – Saturday 5:30-10:30pm

Payment: Cash only, but both Dollars and Yen acceptable

Address: 304-4 Sunabe, Chatan-Cho

Google Maps Coordinates: 26.3314702592, 127.749729032; www.google.com/maps?q=26.3315201,127.7496643&z=15&hl=en&source=embed

Directions from Kadena Gate 1: Take a left onto Hwy 58 and then a quick right at the first light (Family Mart).  Then take a right at the first street, where you will see a sign for a medical clinic in Japanese pictured with a blue person and a pink person with a heart in between.  There is actually quite a bit of street parking just past the restaurant.

Okinawa: A Year in Review


  “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Well, when I wrote this we had just celebrated our one-year anniversary of relocating our domicile to Okinawa, and although it’s now over two months past due, I still thought it would be a good idea to do a “year in review” blog. So, here’s an eclectic summary of the King’s Flirtations with the Far East to date (as of this past August), along with a personally favorite blog selected for each month.

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July 2013.  Preparations for our overseas move.

See Sayonara Amerika to read and see our Asian-inspired going-away blowout

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August 2013.  Moved!  Rented our Florida home and moved overseas with our cat!

See Jody Drives Naked about used-car shopping in Okinawa.

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September 2013.  Divine winds!  Experienced something like 8 typhoons in two months.

See Surf Nazis Must Die to read about a scuba diver’s angst with the powers that be on Okinawa.

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October 2013.  Scuba Diving!  Kevin becomes a PADI scuba-diving instructor!

See Are You Breaking Up with Me on Mount Fuji for perhaps my favorite breakup story of all time!

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November 2013.  Jody’s birthday!  Celebrated by exploring the northern reaches of Okinawa.

See Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys about my first foray to Okinawa in 1999.

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December 2013.  Household goods!  Our forgotten “stuff” finally arrives on-island.

See Oh Christmas-Half-a-Tree to read about Christmas in Okinawa.

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January 2014.  Kevin’s birthday!  Celebrated by our first off-island trip to Kyoto, Japan.

See Okinawa Kijimuna for Okinawa’s version of “Red Power!”

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February 2014.  Contracted!  Dive the Blues Scuba gets well underway.

See Surprising Swastikas about an unlikely and unfortunate connection between East and West.

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March 2014.  Earthquake!  Friends breaking bad on Okinawa.

See Cat Cafes in Japan to read about the special bond between the Japanese and their feline friends.

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April 2014.  White Day and Zip-Lining on Okinawa.

See Timeless Townhouse for our rustically historical stay in Kyoto, Japan.

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May 2014.  Iriomote!  Off-island weekend getaway to this remote nature preserve.

See Tainted by Tats to read about the stigma of body art in this corner of the Far East.

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June 2014.  My daughter gets married!  A whirlwind trip home to the states and detour because of an unexpected hospital stay.

See Placenta: Prescription or Placebo to read about some strange herbal remedies popular in Japan.

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July 2014.  Ishigaki!  Off-island weekend getaway to dive with manta rays.

See The Cat-Dogs of Okinawa to read about the special guardians of the Ryukyu Islands.

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August 2014.  Okinawan World and Hospital Caves.

See Okinawan Hillsides & Hornets to read about my past explorations in the Okinawan jungles searching for traces of WWII.

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Love, Intrigue & Death at Katsuren Castle


“Akusai wa hyaku-nen no fusaku.” Literally:  A bad (or wrong) wife spells a hundred years of bad harvest.  ~Japanese Proverb

Okay, it's not always the woman's fault....

Okay, it’s not always the woman’s fault…. This modern Asian wedding is just an all-around bad idea.

Every day on the way to White Beach back in 1999 I would pass what appeared to be ruins on a hilltop among the urban sprawl of Okinawa’s Katsuren peninsula.  Then for a few weeks, there was intense activity at the site, something which of course peaked my interest.  Finally deciding to play hooky from work one day, I turn my Honda Accord hatchback up the steep, crudely constructed concrete hillside road and barely made the climb to a grass and gravel parking lot.  And then my adventure really began!

Dramatic at Night

Dramatic at Night

It turned out that these ruins, once the site of one of the most significant castles of Okinawa which played a key role in Ryukyu history, were being hastily (and only partially) rebuilt, repaired, restored and cleaned in anticipation of a millennial celebration in early 2000.  And thus began my love affair with this castle that I admired during my daily commute to and from work, and to which I visited often with my family back in the early 2000’s when we lived on Okinawa for almost four years.

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One inescapable aspect of living on Okinawa is that the very ground is dotted with a plethora of intriguing castle ruins, reflecting in the present the rich Ryukyu past when regional kings fought a series of wars over their fiefdoms, eventually leading to the unification of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus.  By some accounts, there are upwards of 500 documented sites that once held a castle, large or small.

Artistic Impression of Katsuren in its Heyday.

Artistic Impression of Katsuren in its Heyday.

8583934564_5464537517_oOkinawan castles are often called gusuku, and are indicated by a “- ” suffix in writing. But “castle” is a bit of misnomer; a gusuku is more akin to fortresses of regional chieftains, dating to a time when Okinawa was independent from Japan, and more aligned with Korea and China.  Except for Shuri Castle, completely destroyed in World War II but impeccably restored to its rightful grandeur, most castles exist as ruins, many just mere crumbling stone walls.  Although little may be visible to the eye, the remains of the day reflect the strong history of Okinawa and remain culturally important.  In fact, all the places where gusuku once stood are regarded as sacred sites, still used as active places of worship and for religious and cultural ceremonies by local residents.

Lord Amawari portrayed in modern times.

Lord Amawari portrayed in modern times.

14519091370_9947c54c7c_bUnfortunately, much of the specific history of most of the sites remains unknown, with little specifics being well-recorded.   Primarily, we know those that had developed into strong fortresses, having been led by powerful chieftains that grew in size and stature by subsuming lesser gusuku.  Three of the most famous chieftains in Okinawan history are Lord Amawari of Katsuren, Lord Gosamaru of Zakimi and Nakagusuku, and Lord Hananchi of Nakijin, all on the main island of Okinawa.  Archaeological excavations at their respective castle sites prove the power and wealth of these Sovereigns, and show their entrenched engagement with China and other Southeast Asian countries.

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14519173368_f6bc538061_bOne of the most popular sites among visitors is Katsuren Castle on Okinawa’s central eastern shore, dating to well before the 15th century. Katsuren Castle (勝連城 Katsuren-gusuku), also Katsuren-jō, is known in the Okinawan language as Kacchin Gusuku. Katsuren Castle was built on a large hill of Ryukyuan limestone, 322 feet above sea level on the Katsuren Peninsula of Okinawa. Not surprisingly, the castle offers magnificent panoramic views of the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With water on two sides, it is sometimes referred to as the “Ocean Gusuku.” As a sacred site the castle contains a shrine of the Ryukyuan religion dedicated to Kobazukasa.

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14705473812_28e79f13bf_bIts walls, although massive and timeless, couldn’t contain the intense royal intrigue brewing there. According to rich legend and some historical accounting, King Sho Hashi considered the regional chieftain named Lord Aji Amawari of Katsuren, the 10th Lord in succession of Katsuren castle, a powerful rival.  Famous for fostering prosperous international trade, Amawari was also known as a cunning and politicized leader.   Legend has it that he pushed his predecessor, the 9th Katsuren Castle Lord, Lord Mochizuki Aji, off the top of the castle walls.  As Aji was considered a tyrant and was detested by the people, not only did Amawari assume Lordship, he also became a popular savior to the people of Katsuren.

Momoto Fumiagari

Momoto Fumiagari

momotofumiagariKing Hashi sent his daughter, matchless beauty Momoto Fumiagari, to marry the young Lord Amawari, as one means to keep Amawari in check.  Ah, I hear you sigh, a tale as old as time as lovers’ intrigue generally leads to ruin.  But as Awamari’s strength and popularity continued to grow, Hashi then moved his faithful disciple Lord Gosamaru, from Zakimi Castle in the north, to Nakagusuku, just south of Katsuren, to keep a watchful eye on his ambitious son-in-law. Amawari, whose dream was to unify the island under his control, eventually attacked and killed Gosamaru (with Shuri’s support), and then attempted to overthrow King Sho (of Shuri), but was defeated and killed in 1458.

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14702652921_f835efe616_bHowever, like in the genesis of all legends where truth is lost to time, the people of Katsuren today sees things quite differently. Amawari, popular among and compassionate to his people at the time, was a great threat to the King, and thus it was the King who held the hidden agenda.  In another example of revisionist history, the characterization of Amawari is being slowly transformed from one of traitor to hero.  Funny what a few centuries can do to rehabilitate just about anyone’s character.

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007In any case, the 10th Lord of Katsuren Castle, Lord Amawari, was abruptly killed in some sort of politically charged spat, no doubt involving the rivals of Nakagusuku and Shuri castles.  Oh, and surely over the girl (wink).  He was the last powerful personality to infect Katsuren, and the castle slowly fell out of favor and into slow decay.

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14702565151_6f594ac651_bThe castle has 4 enclosures, each at a differing elevation. The first is relatively open, with the castle’s walls there being actively rebuilt during our visit.  The 3rd Enclosure, going from bottom to top, is most likely where ceremonies and rituals took place.  Moving up the large wooden staircase to the 2nd Enclosure, visitors find the foundation of a massive pillared building as grand and on par with Shurijo stood here, based on fragments of expensive Chinese and Korean pottery and colorful architectural decorations.  This level served as the core of the castle where the Lord and his Lady resided, and, in effect, served as the public “government” offices for the region.  Moving up some stone stairs to the uppermost 1st Enclosure, one finds the best views and smallest space, used for the safe repository of valuables according to most speculation.

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137516676_UcxJqCRkThe journey to the ruin’s highest level can be completed (mostly) via the modern, handsome and sturdy wooden staircase, but you may also elect the more authentic and exciting journey up the crumbly rock ramp that is immediately adjacent. Be forewarned though, this is not the day to be wearing your laid-pack island-time flip-flops; sturdy shoes for this adventure are a must.  The limestone is jagged and especially slippery when wet.

Altar of Umichimun, the Ryukyu God of Fire

Altar of Umichimun, the Ryukyu God of Fire

IMG_6741_jpgAs a religious site, Katsuren is still very active.  Numerous gods were worshipped in ancient Okinawa, believed to protect the island and the Okinawans in daily life, and many of those are still worshiped today.  Not surprisingly, there are a few altars at Katsuren, which continue to protect the castle and region.  Interestingly, the castle’s kitchen also is the site of the Altar of Umichimun, the Ryukyu God of Fire.  The grounds also hold an entrance to a cave called Ushinujigama (”gama” means cave), which was most likely used as a refuge during war and natural disasters.  Finally, the Tamanomiuji-utaki stone at Katsuren Castle serves as a sacred shrine.  This stone remains an active place of worship, and is believed to connect underground to Ushinujigama, connecting two sacred sites together.

Ushinujigama at Katsuren Castle

Ushinujigama at Katsuren Castle

Katsuren Castle was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, and is one of the nine Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.  It was also declared a Designated Historical Monument (史跡 Shiseki) by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs in 1972.

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Although the wrong wife can lead to the ruin of her husband, hopefully you can visit Katsuren with a mate more well-suited.  And maybe, just maybe she won’t have a power-hungry father with an army at his disposal.  More likely the long journey involving a couple of U-turns, poorly functioning air conditioning and perhaps and a man who won’t ask (or take) directions will be the origin of any relationship rift(s).  Don’t be in a rush to physically get there, even though you have must visit this fascinating site.  The drive there can be frustratingly slow.  Nevertheless, it can be made a scenic and relaxing ride.  So adjust your clocks to Island Time, and take in some of the more rural areas of Okinawan on your way.

I have a good one.  Spouse, I mean.

I have a good one. Spouse, I mean.

But just keep one eye on that spouse of yours…. You never know what schemes may be hatched with the rich Ryukyu Kingdom history and colorful intrigue as their guide!

Watch your spouse, and keep from visiting "Nightmare Castle!"

Watch your spouse, and keep from visiting “Nightmare Castle!”

 

 

Katsuren Castle

Open: Closed Mondays and December 29th – January 3rd.

Address: 3908, Haebaru, Katsuren, Uruma-City, Okinawa Prefecture, 904-2311

Entrance Fee: Free

Phone: 098-978-2201

Directions: Exit the Okinawa Expressway at Okinawa Minami and make a left onto Highway 23.  At the Ikento intersection turn right onto Route 16.  Follow the road straight for several kilometers (be patient – it takes longer than you think or want!) until the roads starts uphill as it gently curves left ninety degrees.  Just after the road curves, you’ll find a sign pointing to the Katsuren Castle ruins on the right, with the museum and parking area on the left.

Map: www.jcastle.info/castle/zoom/110

See my complete set of photos in my Flickr stream here:  Katsuren Castle

Tokyo Disney: Japan’s Infatuation with the Mouse!


“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”  ~Walt Disney

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The band jams on as the sold-out show rings most fans to their feet. The live performance is captivating, and the electric excitement crackles through the crowd while all await the stars’ appearance.

He appears! And the crowd goes wild.  And then she appears, against the surging backdrop of energetic applause.  But it is when they start to dance together, when he sweeps her off her feet swing-style, but especially when he pauses slightly to give her a love peck on the check that the females in attendance coo, giggle and scream like only school-girls-in-love would.

So who offers such star appeal and at what venue in our Far East Fling? Is it a modern-day rock couple, like Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, or perhaps Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed, or even Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson?

Not even close. What I am talking about is TRUE star-power in Japan.  And that can mean only one thing:  Mickey and Minnie Mouse!

Now that is a thorn, worthy of a mouse.

Now that is a thorn, worthy of a mouse.

15323490096_cedbcfc615_bAlthough Mickey-san and his wo-mouse Minnie, along with their eclectic ensemble of Disney characters, entertain the masses in Japan in many of the same ways they do in the California and Florida Disney parks, it is a wholly different experience. Yes, there are fans of the mice in the states, but they are not openly FAN-atical like so many more are here in Japan.

Small in Size, large in Adventure

Small in Size, large in Adventure

15159964878_0fcdb27107_bWhen Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) was built in 1983 it was much smaller than its counterparts in States. But with the construction in 2001 of the adjacent DisneySea, TDL added more than 100 acres and became better known as the Tokyo Disneyland Resort (TDR).  The resort rivals that of any theme park anywhere in the world, being composed of Disneyland, DisneySea, three themed hotels and six partner hotels.  Circling the complex is the Disney Resort Line monorail, which most disappointingly, is neither free nor included in your park admission.  Buying a multi-day pass for the ride, however, is very economical.

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15346342992_d182c76aa1_bSo what’s so different about the Japanese fans of Disney? Well, for most obvious starters, their appearance.  Simply put, people dress for the occasion.  Matching outfits, between female friends visiting the park as small giggly gangs, or as a dating couple where effeminate clothing is simply not a worry, so whole families dressed to the nines in full mouse regalia, you see it all!  Girls actually do their hair up into mouse ears; the hats, the popcorn carriers, the purses, umbrellas, and trinkets – they are all displayed proudly and in your face!

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15142384318_e9fc1885bd_bTDL, as expected, is a theme park based on the films produced by Walt Disney, and was the first Disney theme park opened outside of the United States. Modeled after the parks almost any American would be familiar with, Tokyo Disneyland is made up of seven themed lands and features seasonal decorations and parades.  In essence, it is essentially just a facsimile of the parks in the US.

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15142280680_080d011f3e_bBUT, the parade experience is different. The Japanese love a show, and from all indications, at TDR they love a parade where water is involved.  Not just floats and fireworks over the parks’ lagoons, but I mean actually being sprayed down with water.  The Japanese go gaga over a costumed character aiming a water-spewing nozzle at them, and claim their spots on the tour routes literally hours ahead of parade time.  Covering themselves in plastic and using umbrellas as shields, it seems as if they are being baptized by the holy spirits of Disney.  It seems to verge on a rite of passage….

Note the Water Cannon; a kindler, gentler form of crowd control.

Note the Water Cannon; a kindler, gentler form of crowd control.

Disney-wild-fansSo what’s special about Tokyo Disneyland? Over the years (and after almost going under in the late 1908s), Tokyo Disneyland has grown into the second most popular amusement park in the world, second only to Florida’s Magic Kingdom (DisneySea on its own is the 5th).  It has also become the centerpiece of Japan’s truly fantastical Disney resort that, many claim (and I agree), has surpassed its American forbears.   Spotlessly clean, impeccably run, and now featuring many attractions unique to Tokyo, TDR is a wonderful place to enjoy a fascinating fusion of American and Japanese culture, all through the combining lens of Walt Disney.  And the Mouse.

These four literally  lost their minds when "Mickey" waved their way!

These four literally lost their minds when “Mickey” waved their way!

15346620305_876354214f_bHey Japan, the ones who are screaming, jumping up and down, and waving emphatically at Mickey and his crazy cast of characters, you do realize they are just people in costumes, right? I’m really not sure they do.  It’s not the kids here that engage in the fantasy with wild abandon; rather, it is the middle-aged women that so desperately need that Disney character to wave back.  I believe, from the emotional meltdown that happens in response, that clearly being acknowledged by Mikey or Minnie (but any of the lessor Disney royalty seems to work in a pinch) is on most Japanese’s bucket lists.  Surprisingly to me, Tokyo Disney visitors are overwhelmingly Japanese (over 97% are from Japan), unlike all the other Disney properties that rely heavily on foreign tourists.  This audience is diverse, but a good chunk is twenty-something females, many of whom are infatuated with Disney characters and American culture.  It is truly a unique Japanese experience.

Tokyo Disneyland is divided into six themed areas: AdventureLand, WesternLand, Critter Country, FantasyLand, TomorrowLand and Toontown. These themed areas are not much different from the other ones found in the rest of the Disneylands.

The lagoon at DisneySea.

The lagoon at DisneySea.

15343448341_82977cf0f1_bRight next door, however, DisneySea opened in 2001 and is the only Disney-associated theme park outside the United States not to use the “Magic Kingdom” design. DisneySea realized many of the concept designs that Walt Disney Imagineering had developed for a possible Long Beach, California theme park, back when Long Beach and Anaheim were competing for Disney’s second theme park after the original in Orlando.  Inspired by the myths and legends of the sea, DisneySea is made up of seven themed “ports of call:”  Mediterranean Harbor, Mystery Island, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery and American Waterfront.  Each port offers different nautical themes and nautically-themed rides.

Real food, actually affordable, all with a Disney twist.

Real food, actually affordable, all with a Disney twist.

15159875880_04dc2f99de_bWhile suitable for all ages, Tokyo DisneySea was designed to specifically appeal to adolescents and grown-ups, much like Islands of Adventure is to Universal Studios. DisneySea is an elaborately crafted, beautiful theme park offering a number of excitingly unique rides and attractions.  In this sense, it’s a must-see for any theme park enthusiast.  The park offers a much wider selection of table service restaurants than Tokyo Disneyland, and even serves alcoholic beverages, unavailable at the neighboring Disneyland.

The double-decker carousel is a must-do!

The double-decker carousel is a must-do!

15159998067_6765a1435e_bOne of the funniest things we concluded during our visit is that, for the staff working the concessions throughout the parks, if you’re not selling something, you’d better be waving. It’s so true!  When you visit the parks, keep this in mind.  It’s so automatic and so ubiquitous, that at times I came to believe that these staff members were actually Disney’s latest incarnation of animatronics.  It’s as if there is pain of death for any cast member caught not waving and smiling eagerly if not directly involved in a sale.  Jody and I would walk around the parks and point them out, one after another:  “if you’re not selling, you’d better be waving” the park wardens bark out as the metaphorical whip cracks for effect.

He doesn't have to wave; he's driving (and smiling!)

He doesn’t have to wave; he’s driving (and smiling!)

15142433167_2a50307a44_bBecause of the Japanese infatuation with the union of Disney and American cultures, don’t be surprised by the massive lines for Duffy’s meet & greet (Duffy is a stuffed-bear character that flopped in the US), or limits on how much of his merchandise you can purchase! When we were there on 1 September, one of the main-street stores was opening with Disney’s Halloween line of merchandise; the line for that store was literally hours long….  In fact, meet & greet locations for characters are often swarmed, often by fans dressed as their favorite characters.  This was one of the more disappointing aspects of our visit:  due to the line, I didn’t get a chance to meet, in person, Ariel!

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15160002337_1720640a23_bThe resort also includes a huge commercial complex called “Ikspiari.” It features more than a hundred shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as Cinema Ikspiari, a 16-screen movie theater.  Divided into nine themed zones, shoppers can find anything from high fashion, to household goods and travel services.  Two of the zones specialize in food, featuring various restaurants and a food court, while numerous cafes and bars are found scattered all around the mall.  We had a fabulous dinner here, and I highly recommend the venue for a good, away-from-the-parks sit-down meal where you can help recharge your weary feet without discharging your already shrinking wallet.

Kevin at DisneySea's "Venice"

Kevin at DisneySea’s “Venice”

If you have only one day at the parks, I suggest you skip DisneyLand and detour straight to DisneySea. A one-of-a-kind attraction found only in Japan, it’s sure to delight all your senses, no matter your age.  Besides, DisneyLand is Disneyland, albeit a rather good copy of the parks back home.  Take my advice:  with limited time or monies, expend both FIRST at DisneySea.

A must-ride ride.  We rode it three times!

A must-ride ride. We rode it three times!

15159745259_163e3fcff8_bSetting some of the really neat rides aside (like Journey to the Center of the Earth and Sinbad’s Storybook Adventures), as well as the shows, the rather good and affordable food and everything else Disney, what really impresses is the park’s attention to detail. This park offers a transportive sense of place, and combined with the infectious attitudes of other guests and Cast Members, it’s a hype that is delivered upon.  The whole of Tokyo DisneySea is so much more than the sum of its parts, each of which is already pretty impressive on their own.  The Inca temple in the Lost River Delta, the lighthouse at the American waterfront, the Gondola rides in the Mediterranean harbor, the back streets of Venice, the double-decker carousel in the Arabian Coast, Ariel’s underwater playground in the Mermaid lagoon; there simply is a level of craftsmanship displayed that truly impresses.

"Megellan's" comes highly recommended.  Go directly there and get priority seating.

“Megellan’s” comes highly recommended. Go directly there and get priority seating.

The most awesome popcorn containers...EVER.

The most awesome popcorn containers…EVER.

If you are planning a trip to Japan’s Kingdom of Magic, think about buying an “After 6″ or “Starlight” Passport. The Starlight Passport cost 4,900 yen for Adults, 4,300 yen for Juniors, and 3,400 yen for Children (11 and under). It is valid after 3pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and National holidays. The After 6 Passport has a flat fee of 3,300 yen, and is valid only after 6pm, Monday – Friday.  These tickets can be bought online or at the park on the day of your visit.  If you don’t necessarily want to spend all day in the park fighting what can be truly massive crowds and lengthy lines, try one of these evening passes. In Japan, hours for family life often are reminiscent of the 1950s back in the states. In other words, as the families (most with kids and/or elders) start to depart in late afternoon, the parks become much less crowded, and lines to even the premier attractions are drastically reduced.

Food-art, Japanese-Disney Style

Food-art, Japanese-Disney Style

There are a few things I think TDR could do to improve what is already a world-class themed-operation and resort.

Fast Pass Caste. The good news is that the Fast-Pass in Japan is free, but the bad news is that if you don’t have one for a ride, be prepared for a loooooonnnnnngggggg wait.  In other words, the Disney “Cast Members” cast aside the lowly standby riders, to allow Fast-Passers to go directly on the ride.  It’s fairly annoying to see ratios of (seriously) like 100 to 1.  And you can only have one fast-pass ticket out at a time.  So there is some “strategery” involved here on how to maximize your chances at hitting the most rides in a day.  Seriously Japan, find more of a middle ground.  HINT:  if a rider as a single-rider line, THAT is the way to go!  They are rare in TDR, but some rides do have one….

Non-Asians used in key roles!

Non-Asians used in key roles!

Incorporate Japanese Anime and/or Manga. A rather obvious conclusion and listed first for good reason.  The parks are in Japan, and despite the rich history of Japanese comics, anime animation and the manga movement, they are wholly absent from every aspect of the resort.  Why not a themed area with Manga or Anime?

Potato Head is a bad stand-in for Anime....

Potato Head is a bad stand-in for Anime….

Park Pass Limitations. In Tokyo Disneyland, a 1 or 2 day pass does not allow park hoping; rather, the desired park must be designated when the pass is purchased.  Worse yet, the designated days must be consecutive.  Even though we bought a 2-park, 3-day pass, we still were limited to visiting only ONE park a day for the first two (consecutive) days, and then we could “hop” to our hearts’ content the final, third day.  This really limits flexibility that many families want and need, especially the ones with younger children.

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Charging for the DisneyLine Monorail. This is just plain surprising.  Is it part of the resort or not?  It’s Disney-themed and rings only the Disney Resorts.  At no other DisneyLands is there a separate fee for this convenient service.  And, note that the monorail systems at our parks in the states are much larger systems!  Disney, do everyone a favor and just build in this cost to parking fees, or with the park pass, or in hotel fees, or heck, spread the cost of operation across all these revenue streams!  Everything else costs, and costs plenty; the monorail should be “free.”

In any case, the parks are totally terrific, and should be visited with anyone spending a length of time in Japan.  The price-point is no worse than the parks in the states, and with a package deal, I do believe it may actually be more economical!  And to think, that it was all started with a simple Mouse….  Thank you Walt Disney, for realizing this astounding dream.

Life is more of a journey at Tokyo Disneyland Resort!

Life is astounding at Tokyo Disneyland Resort!

Okinawan Traces of War: Lily Corps, The Himeyuri Schoolgirls


Haunting Apparitions

Haunting Apparitions

The room is haunted, of that there is no question. The ghosts, most fuzzy and out of focus, manifest in black and white, gazing outward from the dark recesses of their vault like wallflowers often do, in silence, inanimate and expressing little emotion.

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But unlike most paranormal activity that is ultimately debunked, the apparitions of the young girls of the “Lily Corps” are real: striking black and white portraits of all those who died line this gloomy chamber.  With each victim is the circumstance of their demise.  Visitors can’t help but read about such horrific endings.  How their jaws were blown off and they bled out.  Or how they were horribly burned by flamethrower, or napalmed in their caves, or how they used hand grenades to kill themselves.  It is inconceivable to imagine such fates for these young mostly 15 or 16 year olds given the very promise of youth found indelibly inscribed on each of their faces.  And these phantoms, covering three walls of this dark, mournful space, all stare towards the deep recesses of a life-sized diorama of the Himeyuri “Cave of Virgins,” where there were only three survivors out of the nine soldiers, 28 doctors and nurses, eight civilians and 51 student nurses which hunkered down there.

The Cave of Virgins at the Himeyuri Monument

The Cave of Virgins at the Himeyuri Monument

 

Each of these girls has a story to tell; all we have to do is listen. So many of these young ladies needlessly and tragically either committed suicide or were overcome by the more disgusting realities of war.

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Survivors Today

Survivors Today

The Himeyuri students (ひめゆり学徒隊, Himeyuri Gakutotai), sometimes called “Lily Corps,” was a group of 222 students and 18 teachers of the Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School and Okinawa Shihan Women’s School formed into a nursing unit for the Imperial Japanese Army during the Battle of Okinawa. Daughters of Okinawa’s privileged class, most hoped to become teachers. But instead they were mobilized by the Japanese army on March 23, 1945, an act which sealed their untimely, unfortunate fates.  The name of their unit is derived from one of the schools anthems, “Star Lily” or “Princess Lily,” depending on the source of translation.

Prewar Group Photo and a Cave of their Demise

Prewar Group Photo and a Cave of their Demise

Indoctrination:  Bowing to an Alter of a portrait of the Emperor of Japan.

Indoctrination: Bowing to an Alter of a portrait of the Emperor of Japan.

At the outset of their mobilization, their spirits were high. After decades of political and militaristic indoctrination in the Imperial Japanese culture of the time, the Okinawans held some notion of nationalism for the Emperor and Empire of the Rising Sun that had plunged the Eastern Hemisphere of the world into brutal conflict starting in the 1930s.  In fact, many of the Himeyuri students thought that the Japanese Army would defeat the Allies in a matter of days, and accordingly, brought school books and supplies to ensure their expected graduation later that spring.  While the girls (and their teachers) had little military training, hours of nursing indoctrination had replaced subjects such as English, and physical education shifted from learning traditional dances to marching in step over the preceding year.

Beautiful Tickets

Beautiful Tickets

Carry provisions to the hospitals.

Carry provisions to the hospitals.

The Himeyuri Peace Monument and Museum offers a unique and moving window into the lives, struggles and sacrifices of this group of girls, aged 14 to 19 years old, recruited and pressed into service. The museum chronicles the lives, studies, and trials faced by these girls.  Caught in the crossfire of raging battles and rampant disease, roughly 200 lost their lives, most in the dark, dank caves which served as shelters, hospitals and fighting positions (often all at the same time) in the southern reaches of Okinawa Island.  After visiting, in a very real sense, these young women put faces to all the innocent victims who suffer while fighting someone else’s war, regardless of time or place….

Remembering the past...Educating for the future....

Remembering the past…Educating for the future….

“News of their mobilization to [an] Army Field Hospital had led the students to believe that they would conduct their medical duties in safe wards flying Red Cross flags,” a museum display states. “The reality was that they were thrown into the hellish war front full of oncoming shells and bullets.”  During the nearly 3-month-long battle, the Himeyuri students served all along the serpentine front lines performing surgery and other difficult duties.  For the duration, most lived deep within improvised and impoverished cave hospitals filled with countless gravely injured and dead soldiers.

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The Japanese military, who then held the Okinawans with some measure of disdain, mobilized a huge number of civilians to compensate for their falling ranks. They conscripted Okinawa’s children and elderly for menial labor, where they too were often directly exposed to fatal combat conditions despite their supposed non-combatant nature.  To the Okinawans’ credit, they served the Japanese military well and with honor, despite their forced colonization and open discrimination by Japan proper.  Okinawa, seen more as a backwards place populated by an unworthy people rather than an integral part of Japan, was largely sacrificed by the Japanese leadership while executing their pointless war of attrition.  In that sense, the Japanese military treated Okinawans as outsiders and deemed their safety or needs as blatantly insignificant.  Quite surprisingly, many Okinawans continued to enthusiastically assist the Japanese, exactly in the hopes that they would finally and fairly be recognized and in turn treated as true Japanese.

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Origami Cranes

Origami Cranes

To the Japanese leadership, however, there was no illusion to their sure defeat. After six weeks of fighting on Okinawa, being pushed back further and further south, an “order of dissolution” was issued to the Lily Corps on June 18, 1945.  Up until that time, only 19 of the students had been killed, but in the following week after being simply told to “go home,” approximately 80% of the girls and their teachers perished.  Survivors committed suicide in various ways because of fears of systematic rape by US soldiers, throwing themselves off cliffs, or killing themselves with hand grenades or cyanide poison given them by Japanese soldiers and even their Doctors.

The Himeyuri Monument

The Himeyuri Monument

The Himeyuri Monument was built on April 7, 1946, in memory of those from the Okinawan schools who so needlessly and carelessly died. Many survivors of the Lily Corps helped build the facility, and in fact continue to volunteer there today.  There are still Himeyuri students alive, but all are now well into their 80s.  Sadly, they won’t be with us much longer to offer their firsthand, emotional testimonies to the more horrific nature of war.

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Located adjacent to the monument, the Himeyuri Peace Museum compliments the site as a befitting memorial. It was modeled after one of the main school buildings in which many of the girls had once studied.  The museum is spread across five different rooms, all which display in chronological order photos, personal mementos, and school documents from well before the battle, moving through the girls’ time spent at the Haebaru Army Field Hospital (read about my visit there here), and finally the circumstance of their demise.

Girls making rice balls at the Haebaru Field Hospital

Girls making rice balls at the Haebaru Field Hospital

HimeyuriDuring our visit, we witnessed one of the Himeyuri survivors giving a special talk at a mock-up of the Haebaru’s field hospital. Although we couldn’t understand a word, her animated gesturing coupled with the rhythmic tenor and inflection of her testament helped breathe life into a facility which seems so centered on death and loss.  “It was dark and humid and unsanitary.  There was no adequate treatment of the wounded; their condition was indescribably bad.  All the wounded soldiers were infested with maggots, especially their mouths and ears, and it was our [student nurses] job to remove the maggots from their wounds.”  Many of the nursing aids assisted in restraining unanesthesized patients during amputation, and would end their shifts by having to bury the rejected, mangled flesh.

Mockup of a Haebaru Army Field Hospital Tunnel

Mockup of a Haebaru Army Field Hospital Tunnel

0But there are also uncomfortably comical recollections. One survivor recounts her capture:  “We were hiding between rocks on a cliff when the enemy found us and started pouring gasoline from above to set it afire.  With no other choice but be burned, we climbed the cliff and saw American soldiers pointing their guns at us.  It was the first time in my life that I saw blue eyes.”

Admiral Minoru Ota

Admiral Minoru Ota

In retrospect, even the Japanese in charge of their futile defense of Okinawa realized their culpability. Masahide Ota, a high-ranking Japanese Army Officer who survived the battle, claimed, “…had the [Japanese] military regarded non-combatants as coming under their protection, evacuations [of Okinawan civilians] would have been unnecessary and the collective self-killings that took place in the Kerama Islands, Ie-jima, Yomitan, and Mabuni would never have been carried out.  In reality, non-combatants were far from being protected by the military.  Instead, they found themselves in a situation where they were attacked by tigers at the front gate (the enemy troops) and wolves at the back gate (their own troops).”  Similarly, Admiral Ota (no relation), the ranking Japanese Navy Officer on Okinawa, made the suffering and conduct of the Okinawans patently clear in his final telegram to his superiors before he himself committed ritual suicide (read my blog about the Japanese Naval Underground).  He pleaded that the Okinawans be not just remembered for their unwavering support even in the face of their grave mistreatment, but that Japan as a nation must see to Okinawa’s future prosperity.

Okinawa 2014, Navy Underground, the agony of the Okinawan People

7f3d9_himeyuriDuring the 83-day engagement that has come to be called Okinawa’s “Typhoon of Steel, more than 220,000 people were murdered, including a full third of Okinawa’s civilian population (read my blog concerning the nature of the Battle of Okinawa).  Himeyuri survivors eagerly volunteer as they feel it’s their “…duty to tell people of the reality of war, the brutality and stupidity of war.  It is our duty to speak for our friends who fell in the war and to repose their souls.”

okinawa-himeyuri-museumAlthough literally over 1000,000 Okinawans died here in 1945, it is the deaths of around 200 teenage girls that have captured hearts and speak volumes. The Lily Corps will always reflect the faces of daughters, sisters, and friends, all of whom hold happy hopes and destined dreams of the future.  The Himeyuri students will always remind us of the preciousness of life, that no one should be mistreated, cast away, and killed as if they were inconsequentially expendable.  “Collateral damage,” the sterile and unknowing cliché under which civilian deaths are so easily categorized and brushed aside in our modern times, falls so very short of capturing the true impact of conflict in terms of aggregate human suffering and loss.  Memorials are often about numbers in literal sense, or display innumerable names displayed for public contemplation.  The Himeyuri Peace Monument and Museum, however, offers a haunting humanization of the true reality of war:  pain, suffering, loss and tragedy.

Offerings of Peace

Offerings of Peace

The girls continue their static stare in my mind’s eye, an uncomfortable confrontation which makes me yearn for peace. I am happy and relieved to be divorced from my role in the US Military, now free to do what I can to repose not just these girls, but for everyone, everywhere, who suffered a violent, untimely end in a needless war.

In Happier Times

In Happier Times

Himeyuri Peace Monument & Museum

Address: 671-1 Aza Ihara, Itoman city, Okinawa

Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM

Admission: Adult 350 yen, High School 200 yen, Elementary 100 yen

Web:   www.okinawastory.jp/en/view/portal/0110987100/

Geisha & Maiko vs. Hose & Heels: Working Women of Gion, Kyoto


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“The biggest industry in Japan is not shipbuilding, producing cultured pearls, or manufacturing transistor radios or cameras. It is entertainment.”  ~Boye De Mente, Some Prefer Geisha

“Geishas are not submissive and subservient, but in fact they are some of the most financially and emotionally successful and strongest women in Japan, and traditionally have been so.” ~Iwasaki Mineko, Geisha, A Life

“There is currently no western equivalent for a geisha—they are truly the most impeccable form of Japanese art.” ~Kenneth Champeon, The Floating World

Modern Hostesses and "Snacks"

Modern Hostesses and “Snacks”

Japan-travel-Kyoto-Pontocho-Alley-visitWhat is up with all the prom dates and late-night flower shops?” I ask Jody as we wander the streets in and around Gion.  Women, or more correctly young girls, scurry about the streets in their über high heels and hipster nylon leg fashion, dressed to the nines for a ball extravaganza that never seems to materialize…while flower arrangements that more resemble funeral ornamentation are whisked away to the many small bars that dot each alleyway.  Perhaps the Japanese are subconsciously mourning the loss of their old ways.

Kyoto has a fetish obsession with nylons, which I admit I enjoy

Kyoto has a fetish obsession with nylons, which I admit I enjoy

FCP%20Legs%20Beautiful-smallJust after sunset something odd happens on the outskirts of Gion in Kyoto, the original capital city of Japan and still it’s cultural and religious center.  Young ladies frequent the numerous small nylon and pantyhose shops found there, dressing up on their way to “work” as hostesses and “snack bar” girls, far from the geisha ideal and sensuality of the past.  The ever-resourceful Japan has invented the “snack bar” (basic bars, older women) and “hostess club” (plush lounges, younger women), both places that come pre-stocked with attractive women, where drunk men can find female companionship without worrying about breaking the ice – or even rejection, and women can get paid for babysitting inebriated and males with low self-esteem.  Leave it to fickle Japan to work out such a regressive lose-lose system.

Me and Jody in front of the Yasaka Shrine

Me and Jody in front of the Yasaka Shrine

Traditional wooden nameplates of Maiko

Traditional wooden nameplates of Maiko

Gion (祇園, ぎおん) is a small historical district of Kyoto, Japan, dating back to the Middle Ages.  Centered in front of the nearby Yasaka Shrine, the neighborhood was designed and built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine, and then evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan.  Jody and were fortunate enough to stay on the very outskirts of Gion in an old, authentic Machiya (see Timeless Townhouse to read about that adventure!).

A collage of our Machiya stay in Gion

A collage of our Machiya stay in Gion

Geisha neckGeisha (芸者), geiko (芸子) or geigi (芸妓) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act in general terms as hostesses, but whose skills center on perfecting and performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, traditional dance, skillful games and intelligent conversation.  The word consists of two kanji characters, 芸 (gei) meaning “art” and 者 (sha) meaning “person” or “doer.”  The most literal translation is “artist,” “performing artist,” or “artisan.”  The geisha of the Gion district (and in Kyoto generally) actually call themselves geiko, more directly meaning “a child of the arts” or “a woman of art.”

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then-now-geishaContrast this with Japan today, which offers various flavors of hostess clubs and “snacks.” Many young Japanese women work as kyabajō (キャバ嬢), literally “cabaret girl” (although there is no dancing or nudity), and most use a professional name genji-na (源氏名).  The Japanese hostesses of fast-paced, impersonal modernity, rather than highlighting traditional high culture and ideals of sensuality, instead are relegated to lighting cigarettes, pouring drinks, offering flirtation more than wit, and singing karaoke pop songs to entertain today’s average Japanese Joe Sixpack.  Although such hostesses are often said to be the “modern counterpart of geishas,” these groups of women are literally worlds and time apart.

Sadly, not Geisha...or even Maiko.

Sadly, not Geisha…or even Maiko.

672px-Maiko_in_GionMaiko (舞子 or 舞妓), literally “dance child”) are apprentice geisha, and actually are the one who wear the white make-up and elaborate kimono and hair dress which we in the west hold as the popular image of geisha.  A year’s training leads to a woman’s debut as a maiko, and under modern Japanese law, all must be 18 years of age, except for those in Kyoto, where women can apprentice as early as age 15 (as opposed to age 3 or 5 a century ago).

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14195691615_ccc5a28e7c_bShiroNuriSeriesMaiko are considered one of the great sights of Japanese tourism, and although most westerners don’t’ realize, they look very different from fully qualified geisha.  The scarlet-fringed collar of a maiko’s kimono hangs very loosely in the back to accentuate the nape of the neck, a primary erotic area in Japanese sexuality.  She wears the same white makeup for her face on her nape, leaving two or sometimes three stripes of bare skin exposed.  Her kimono is bright and colorful with an elaborately tied obi hanging down to her ankles.  She takes very small steps and wears traditional wooden shoes called okobo which stand nearly ten centimeters high (4 inches).  There are five different hairstyles of a maiko, all impossibly ornate and complex, each marking a different stage of her apprenticeship.  Around the age of 20–22, the maiko is promoted to a full-fledged geisha in a ceremony called “turning of the collar” (erikae) where white replaces red.

The whole idea behind Japanese Hostess clubs and Snack bars....

The whole idea behind Japanese Hostess clubs and Snack bars….

60947212_66fb58d83c_mattachmentModern hostesses’ professional wear consists generally of very short skirts or cocktail dresses, but range to prom-like gowns, both looks completed with stylized “big hair,” sexy high heels, and what only can be described as a fetished-obsession with nylons and pantyhose.   These girls drink with customers, sharing in a percentage of drink sales. For example, a patron purchases a $20 drink for the hostess (in addition to his own), which usually are non-alcoholic concoctions and guarantees the hostess’s undivided attention for the subsequent 30-45 minutes.

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ShiroNuriSeries14584584159_e22d477ea9_bIn modern times the traditional makeup of apprentice geisha is unmistakable, though established geisha generally only wear full white makeup during special performances.  This makeup features a thick white base with red lipstick and red and black accents around the eyes and eyebrows.  The application of makeup is hard to perfect and consumes vast amounts of time, and is applied before dressing to avoid dirtying a kimono.

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Yikes.

Yikes.

Not a geisha

Not a geisha

Personal introductions to geisha and maiko were, and still are often required today.  However, modern patrons of hostess clubs are greeted warmly (if not insincerely) at the door and invited directly in.  At some establishments, a customer is able to choose his specific female companion, but that decision is most often left to the house’s mamasan, herself once a hostess who’s worked her way up cleaning splashes off the glass ceiling and into management.  In either case, the hostesses usually rotate after a certain amount of time or number of drinks, offering customers a chance to see a fresh face.  Personally speaking, I have always been assigned a “snack” in a “Snack Bar,” but have had choice in the Okinawan Hostess Clubs I’ve visited.  For the experience.  And nothing more!

There is no greater insult to Geisha than this.

There is no greater insult to Geisha than this.

A mature and established Geisha and her Maiko.

A mature and established Geisha and her Maiko.

airfrance3A maiko’s eyes and eyebrows are drawn in; the eyebrows and edges of the eyes are colored black, and red is applied around her eyes.  The lips are filled in, but not in our more familiar Western style, but instead red and white is used to create various optical illusions and representations, such as a flower’s bud. Maiko wear this heavy makeup almost constantly, but it does change over time to a more subdued style to better reflect her maturity and to help display her own natural beauty.  For formal occasions, mature geisha still apply white make-up, but for geisha over thirty, the heavy white make-up is only worn during the special dances that require it.

Well, I was wrong.  Manson as a Geisha is indeed worse....

Well, I was wrong. Manson as a Geisha is indeed worse….

Katie, you're no geisha....

Katie, you’re no geisha….

There is one way in which geisha and their loosely modern equivalents seem to converge: in addition to their on-site duties, hostesses are generally obliged to engage in paid dates called dōhan (同伴) with their patrons outside of the bar, beyond regular working hours.  Although characterized much differently, maiko and geisha are also paid for such alone time.  While the intersection of prostitution and both geisha and hostesses remain vague and unsure, the fact is that sometimes sex occurs on these “paid dates.”  Although such an arrangement of sex for money is clearly dictated by geisha, there are ongoing concerns about human trafficking and sexual slavery with hostesses, particularly those of non-Japanese citizenship.  Note that since Japanese law narrowly defines prostitution specifically as “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment,” non-coital services remain legal and are widely offered and available.  If only Clinton had been President in Japan, he actually wouldn’t have had sex with that woman!

Monica, not a Geisha.

Monica, not a Geisha.

Geisha Girls from our "Sayonara" going-away party last year

Geisha Girls from our “Sayonara” going-away party last year

13933417728_f4b9093d88_bUnfortunately, in modern Japan, geisha and maiko are now a rare sight.  In the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan, but today, there are far fewer, with most estimates between 1,000 and 2,000.  World War II heralded a huge decline, especially after 1944 when geisha teahouses, bars and houses were all forced shut by the government so that everyone could work in factories in support of the war effort.  At the end of the war such facilities were reopened, but geisha as a label was irreversibly defamed as common prostitutes began referring to themselves as “geisha girls” during Japan’s post-war occupation.  An association which the American GIs bought, hook, line and sinker.

I'm pretty sure this Geisha and Maiko are the real deal.

I’m pretty sure this Geisha and Maiko are the real deal.

Our "real" sighting!

Our “real” sighting!

14606602998_d3487a96e9_bThe most common (mistaken) sightings are those of tourists who pay a fee to be dressed and made up as a maiko.  The Gion neighborhood in Kyoto has five hanamachi (“flower towns”), or geiko districts, and despite the geisha’s considerable decline in the last hundred years, Gion remains famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment, and remains one of the places in Japan where a foreigner has a good chance of actually seeing a geisha.  While we did see plenty of woman playing the part, we maybe, just maybe saw one in a rickshaw…and I’m almost positive we followed a maiko and her geisha for a block or two (see below).

Not as sure about this one....

Not as sure about this one….

Personally speaking, the intrigue and sensuality of geisha and maiko, regardless of how backwards and repressive some in the West may think such lifestyles are, should and will always outclass and outlast the rather demeaning heels and hose of the snacks and hostesses that now frequent the streets of Kyoto.  I feel for the Japanese women today who, although they most likely think they are exercising free-choice in pursuit of their destinies, have given up so much status, income and power of the past.

vintage geisha girls

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At least they are dressed well for the funeral. And how’bout those flowers….

Me and Jody with our performing Maiko for the night.

Me and Jody with our performing Maiko for the night.