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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Far Eastern Engagement


“あばたもえくぼ, Even pockmarks seem as dimples.”  ~ Japanese Proverb about the timeless nature of Love

Naomi's Wedding 2014, today's event at the SOBE hotel

Naomi's Wedding 2014, grand entrance for the newlywedsNaomi's Wedding 2014, my daughter the bride and I“I noticed no one has toasted to the newly married couple yet, so please, raise your glasses.  Although the standard toast in Japanese is Kanpai, meaning “cheers,” instead I chose to toast with banzai!  [see my related banzai blog]  Contrary to popular belief, banzai! is not associated in Japan with death and destruction.  Literally it means “10,000 years,” but is most often used to imply something like to live forever.  So, to Adam and Naomi, may your love for each other live on forever.  BANZAI!”

Naomi's Wedding 2014, me and my peaceful daughter on her big day!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, the bride with her father and brother (my kids and I!!)Naomi's Wedding 2014, the couple cutting their cakeSo went the toast at my daughter’s wedding two weeks ago in South Beach, Miami.  My daughter, having lived for four formative years in Okinawa as a child, tween and teen, retains a very strong affinity for the Far East and my current island home.  As a youngster, her name “Naomi,” a common Japanese name, and her inherited Asian-Pacific-Islander traits made her look the part.  She had wanted to marry at South Florida’s famed Japanese Morikama Garden in South Florida, but the venue turned out to be much too expensive and difficult to schedule, let alone work with.  She remained, however, intent on keeping an Asian flare to her nuptials.

Kokeshi Japanese Wedding Dolls

Kokeshi Japanese Wedding Dolls

japanese-events-eventy-imprezy-w-stylu-japonskim-wypozyczalnia-dekoracja-scenografia-aranzacja-rekwizyty-lalka-sayonara-doll-03japanese-events-eventy-imprezy-w-stylu-japonskim-wypozyczalnia-dekoracja-scenografia-aranzacja-rekwizyty-lalka-sayonara-doll-02In Okinawa, due to the constant turnover of the military personnel here, the Japanese have translated their traditional kokeshi dolls into “Sayonara Dolls,” where the body of the doll is wrapped in a large and long scroll for people to scribble their farewells on as someone readies to transfer away from the island.  Well, there is wedding version of the “scroll doll,” a Japanese bride dressed in white and silver wrapped with the same type of scroll, which is just about the perfect guest book for a Far-Eastern inspired wedding.  We hand-carried one home (although I failed to get a photo), and even though the scroll is over 70 centimeters long (well over two feet!), the entire parchment was filled with love and well-wishes by the end of the evening!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, geisha kanzashi hair ornament for the bride

Naomi's Wedding 2014, the bride's asian hair piece and accentskanzashi-februaryWe also purchased a geisha head/hair-piece known as a kanzashi for Naomi to wear with her dress.  Although we remained unsure of the exact color palette of the wedding and wedding party (my daughter is not very specific!), and we were purchasing our items in Okinawa with only the cell-phone picture approval of the bride (thankfully Naomi is in no way a “bridezilla”), what we did manage to hand carry home worked perfectly.  Sure, it’s not nearly as ornate and, shall we say, impressive as the actual ones worn by the geisha or maiko of Kyoto, but neither did she share (fortunately) their rather dramatic makeup!  Worked into the intended’s hair style, the piece was a delightful accentuation, helping to highlight both the colors of the groom (red accents) and her Father (pink accents), who was giving her away.

Nothing says Japan like a Hello Kitty wedding cake!

Nothing says Japan like a Hello Kitty wedding cake!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, Naomi decorating her Asian fansNaomi's Wedding 2014, me and my beautiful wife all cleaned up!Naomi herself decorated Japanese fans for all the women in the bridal party, and if we had only known this was part of her plan, we could have purchased some truly wonderful fans during our recent trip to Kyoto.  In any case, the fans were a lovely added touch, and actually were pragmatically utilized in the South Florida afternoon summer heat and humidity during my daughter’s outdoor ceremony.  Thankfully, the rain had already moved on, something Naomi was very worried about since witnessing my and Jody’s beach wedding getting completely rained-out back in 2011.  “Its good luck if it rains on your wedding Naomi,” I said to her in her room as we watch the storm clouds over South Beach.  She, looking at me in not an unmeasured amount of sarcasm mixed with concern, did not buy my argument.  But then again, neither did I; “But then that’s what they tell the losers who get their wedding rained-out to make them feel better,” I continued with a knowing smile and a wink.

Naomi's Wedding 2014, Asian fans being decorated

Naomi's Wedding 2014, 1000 origami cranes 千羽鶴 Senbazuru gifted to my daughterNaomi's Wedding 2014, Japanese wedding card (I hope!)Finally, Jody had the wonderful idea of ordering a collection of 1,000 paper origami cranes for presentation to the newlyweds.  After some research online, we discovered that it is traditional for the father of the bride to gift her and her groom on their wedding one thousand folded origami cranes held together by strings, known as 千羽鶴 senbazuru.  In Japan, the crane is the bird of love, life, and good fortune, a truly magical creature in their culture.  It is also believed that whoever possesses 1,000 origami cranes will have a wish fulfilled.  Marriages, like the cranes, require patience, perseverance, and dedication.  The cranes are all held by strong and sturdy square knots.  On top of the senbazuru was a traditional Japanese wedding card – actually a money gift envelope – tied with a very specific knot.  This particular knot is so tied not to ever be undone, and celebrates an occasion that should only happen once in a lifetime, both ideals a fitting tribute to what marriage should and can be.  Presenting the cranes to Naomi and telling of such Japanese traditions and legends really tied the whole Asian-theme full circle.  Thank you Jody, for such a wonderful idea, and for working so hard to make sure this important element of my daughter’s celebration was so meaningful and memorable.

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Naomi's Wedding 2014, welcome from the newly married coupleNaomi's Wedding 2014, greeting Adam at the alterHowever I have to say the highlight of the evening for me personally was picking my daughter-bride up at her room, hugging her hard in the midst of the clamor and confusion of a whole slew of panicked brides’ maids and female family members, calming her nerves just before the processional, walking her proudly and unhurriedly down the aisle, and giving her away to her now husband, Adam.

Calming a nervous bride just before the processional.

Calming a nervous bride just before the processional.

The bride (and her father) appear!

The bride (and her father) appear!

Arm in Arm Father and Daughter

Arm in Arm Father and Daughter

 

Naomi's Wedding 2014, first dance with my now married daughterNaomi's Wedding 2014, beautiful Jody and I dressed for the festivitiesNaomi was taken from me during her formative teen years, and for many since, we both have found it hard to find our ways and connect back to each other.  I am so thankful that my daughter wanted me there and so involved in her wedding after so much time has passed…and has been lost.  Even though I was suffering (unknowingly at the time) severe blood clots and was in great discomfort and pain, I would not have missed that afternoon and evening for the world.

Naomi's Wedding 2014, my daughter the bride and I

Congratulations my sweet, smart and beautiful daughter.  May your life continued to be filled with joy, love, and fulfillment!

Naomi's Wedding 2014, grand celebration after the wedding!

 

Gooooooooooood Morning, Vietnam!!


“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, Being Peace

Psycho Bob and I ready to tumble in the skies of Vietnam

Psycho Bob and I ready to tumble in the skies of Vietnam

The TSA agent, an older, quiet gentlemen working the intake of the x-ray machine line, looked odd at the two sport parachutes that we were placing on the conveyor belt.

“Where you guys off to jump,” he casually inquired. Not being friends with the TSA (although they are just doing their jobs), I’m not known to make small-talk. This time, however, I was happy to be flying.

“Vietnam,” came my response, with a big knowing grin.

“Really?” “Yeah, really. We’re going to be part of the first sport parachute skydivers ever in Vietnam.”

A knowing and somewhat sarcastic “uhmh” was mumbled back in disbelief. “I’ve got a jump over in Vietnam, but of course back then, they were shooting at us….” Sure enough, this gent, in an oddly unlikely connection, was part of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade Team, and in 1967, when I was just over a year old, the 173rd conducted the only combat parachute jump of the Vietnam War.

Team "Rock" (big guys fall fast) over Nha Trang

Team “Rock” (big guys fall fast) over Nha Trang

So started my and “Psycho Bob’s” excellent adventure into Vietnam. I had been jumping for just about two years, and had probably not even 150 jumps. Psycho had been jumping significantly longer, and was of the perfect, fearless, adventuresome mindset to travel to such an out-of-the-way corner of the planet to partake in cheating death in the skies and under canopy.

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Bob on a very low hop-n-pop!

Bob on a very low hop-n-pop!

Bob, a Navy veteran, was an air traffic controller in Pensacola, and, as his nickname might imply, is a stand-out icon in both the community and the skydiving world. About 6’3″ and 240 pounds (then), with spiked bleached hair, driving a 1974 Ford Bronco painted with zebra stripes, Psycho was the definition of gregarious. A shit-eating grin that at once welcomed all within eye-shot combined with an infectious laugh and warm smile, Psycho was always one to make instant friends while saying – and behaving – in the zannious of ways.

Me and Psycho enjoy Vietnam

Me and Psycho enjoy Vietnam

3652115693_631a15ca41_oI was still active duty, and when I first came across this opportunity to travel to and jump in Vietnam, I thought there was no chance the Navy would ever let me go. A quick check of the foreign clearance guide (the DoD bible on overseas travel requirements), and it turned out that if I traveled there on leave, nothing special was required at all. Like nothing. Very strange for a de facto communist country with strained relations with the US! So, after mailing our passports to the Vietnamese consultant in Washington DC with US-cash-money, weeks later we got our papers pack with the required entry Visa. We would soon be on our way to what remains a very obscure – and fearful corner of Asia for most Americans.

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My first impression of landing at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Hanoi prior to the war) airport was that there were manned anti-aircraft guns scattered throughout the airfield. Talk about a lingering culture of fear. The flight arrangements Bob and I mad required us to stay a night on arrival in Vietnam before continuing on to our ultimate destination there, and unfortunately Bob missed his international connecting flight in the states, which left us both alone and (mostly) unafraid. I jumped in a taxi and asked for a cheap hotel (no reservations), and after traveling for what seemed miles, I was delivered to exactly that. No frills, not much English, and not much of a room. I am not one to subscribe to the all-oppressive American sense and culture of fear, and although I was on alert, I was still okay. It ended up being a relatively quiet, and uneventful night. Bob, arriving much later that night and with no way to contact me, had a much difference experience.

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As Bob was leaving the terminal looking to find a Taxi, he found himself in a darkened area of the parking lot where he quickly got the sense that he was going to be rolled. Bob, having traveled the world with the Navy and after living in the Philippines for 7 years had developed a keen sense of such awareness. Finding the first well-marked limo-taxi he could, he clamored in, startling the unexpecting driver. Psycho I’m sure was beaming his signature grin, telling the man to drive, while the chauffeur was barking for him to leave and get out. Bob, not one to take “no” for an answer, still smiling, motioned to drive on, saying again and again it was okay. Finally, the driver gives into to Psycho’s steady insistence, and drives while making a phone call. Bob, just happy to be off and away from the dark lots of the nearly silent and closed airport, continued to reassure the driver. Finally, the driver says something like “you 514?” Psycho, thinking that the number refers to a room number, agrees eagerly and whole-heartily, becoming even more emphatic that they hurry their journey to the safety of a hotel room. The driver asked at least two more times, and Bob happily dismissed the inquiry with an exhausted wave of his hand, having been traveling now for over 24 hours.

Turns out that this particular limo was for a high-end hotel in downtown on the Saigon river, and that “514” didn’t equate to a room number or reservation at all, but to the price of an available suite, now committed just for him! Bob, ever the optimist, says at least his trip started in lustful luxury!

Posing in front of countryside rice fields

Posing in front of countryside rice fields

3649599630_23e0059570_o3674397012_0fe104cf50_oIn the morning we continued on to a city called Nha Trang for the actual skydiving event. Nha Trang, and it’s nearby airport Cam Ranh Bay were both the site of fairly sizable US bases during the Vietnam War, and amazingly enough, scattered all over the airfield still remained the hulks, parts, and degrading debris of our past presence there of 35 years ago. We were picked up and transported to our island resort hotel, the 5-star resort VinPearl, quite nice but quite out-of-the-way. This area of Vietnam has been built up as a beach resort town for international travels, mostly Soviets, who still mostly make up the “white” people who come and stay, and which almost all the Vietnamese we met considered our heritage. Needless to say, Psycho Bob makes for a terrific Russian…when he wants to play one. Think of “I will crush you…” of Rambo fame.

Above it all in the Russian Mi-8

Above it all in the Russian Mi-8

2329703998_fc45cb9373_o2326194432_ba138a0ec6_oThe skydiving was, well, not nearly as expected. The levels of corruption in Vietnam are far worse than anything I experienced in the Caribbean or elsewhere in Asia, and it seemed with almost every passing hour the authorities there continued to break contracts and agreements, only to cancel flights, reduce the passengers per load, scrap additional aircraft, and demand more money. We were expecting something like 15-20 jumps from a whole slew of aircraft (for a hefty pre-paid price), including a once-in-a-lifetime jump from a Russian jet transport. What we wound up with was about five jumps, all from an Mi-8 Russian helicopter, which, while exceedingly expensive on a per jump basis, were still experiences of a lifetime that only a very few people in the world will ever share with me.

They reluctantly made room for us....

They reluctantly made room for us….

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Playing tunnel rat in the Coo Chi tunnels

Playing tunnel rat in the Coo Chi tunnels

The people in Vietnam are hard to adequately describe. In a group, like those that would turn out to watch us land on the beach, there are very few smiles. There were an ever-present mix of military and police security forces, all with very serious faces. The airport we used was a military airfield, and while not ringed with a fence as we would have in the West, it was ringed with reinforced fighting positions and bunkers, each manned with a young man armed with an assault rifle. The old terminal building where we were housed had numerous guards in ratty army uniforms, complete with Ho Chi Min sandals made from old tires (no joke). When I approached one with a smile and my camera, he raised his rifle with one arm, and with the other crossed the killing machine to make an “X,” the international symbol for no…or in this case, more likely, “I’ll shoot you if you try.” Sorry, no photos of me with the guards.

One of the "Check-Point Charlies" in Nha Trang

One of the “Check-Point Charlies” in Nha Trang

Our "Mom" in Vietnam

Our “Mom” in Vietnam

2325501690_8ee23d04f5_oThere were exceptions. Psycho and I would wave from our bus to all the “Check Point Charlies” along the airport’s boundary, and by the end of the week, we had most of them eagerly waving back. I hope they weren’t punished for that! And, in the spectators that would gather to watch us land on the beach each day, Psycho and I adopted an old woman who was selling drinks and snacks. We called her “Mom,” and after two or three days of us seeking her out to buy our snacks, she would then seek us out and smile big upon sighting us, even offering hugs at the end of our stay. And, of course, children and children the world over, and they were the easiest with which to relate. I think every child, with dreams of flight, looks at parachutists with fun, excitements, awe and respect.

Psycho with our adopted Vietnamese "Mom"

Psycho with our adopted Vietnamese “Mom”

Kids are Kids 'round the world!

Kids are Kids ’round the world!

Our seaside landing area on final approach!

Our seaside landing area on final approach!

2325167430_38ebe5ef02_oParanoia and stupidity both abound there though, an organic by-product of any socialist or communist community. For instance, the authorities there were so worried about us spying at the airport (the only real conclusion I can reach) that they not only wanted all of us to land in a very small circle on the concrete airport apron (all landing together is never guaranteed, and landing on pavement is…well…not preferred), they also expected us all to fly in the same cylinder formed by projecting that circle up into the air. After trying to explain that such a requirement was both physically and aerodynamically impossible, besides being very unsafe for everyone involved, the whole skydiving event was moved off the airfield and over to the nearby beach. While beach jumps are always fabulous, this was a narrow beach line with a trafficked road and hundreds of spectators, and every landing turned out to be with 15 knots of crosswind, making for some interesting reunions with mother earth. The Vietnamese did “attempt” to supply a safety boat; however, the safety swimmers could barely swim with life vests out to their inflatable 2-man raft, without an engine, but proudly flying the red cross international safety flag! Yikes….

I don't even think those two are safe on the safety boat!

I don’t even think those two are safe on the safety boat!

Our Russian Mi-8 ride to altitude, a great jump aircraft!

Our Russian Mi-8 ride to altitude, a great jump aircraft!

3674397012_0fe104cf50_oParanoia and process filled the Vietnamese staff working our event. We, as a group, had the expected “handlers” we wound up have, who were actually quite friendly and engaging, and who all spoke excellent English. However, in order for us to skydive, here’s what had to go down. So, when we skydive we wear a skydiving rig, which has two parachutes (main and reserve) and a harness, which consists of a LOT of metal parts – the parts that actually hold the harness together and firmly attack it to the skydiver. Additionally, most of us wear crash helmets with even more metal parts, and more often than not, we have one, two, or even three metal cameras attached to those helmets (or hands, shoes, or some other mounting point on our bodies). For some reason, the Vietnamese authorities would not allow a small POS camera (like a Sony Cybershot or Nikon Coolpix), or any other type of handheld camera outside of the terminal building. However, the huge digital still and video cameras on all our helmets were somehow, someway “okay.” Our passports were taken in order for us to get on the jump aircraft; that way we wouldn’t paraglide and check out all their military secrets Rambo-style, only to be whisked away by the CIA to a safe house for debriefing. We had to walk through a metal detector dressed with our complete skydiving rig (see the discussion about metal above). Yes, it would alarm for EVERYONE, EVERY TIME. So, they would pull each of us out of line and give us the magnetic wand…which would…you guessed it…sing like a stuck pig for EVERYONE, EVERY TIME. And then we would be allowed to board the helicopter, all the while taking pictures of the ramp, the airport, the aircraft and each other. Made absolutely no sense, but hey, the process was followed and completed, which seemed to be more important than the intent. Whatever.

My view from the ATM across the street....

My view from the ATM across the street….

2324495713_45376eb045_oPerhaps the funniest part of our trip was one afternoon when Psycho and I were out in town on our own since jumping that day had been cancelled. I had to cross the street to get some cash from an ATM, and after conducting my business of just a few minutes duration, I turned and looked up from counting my money to see Psycho standing on the other side of the road, a big shit-eating grin filling his face, wearing one of those conical peasant hats that make that part of the world so iconic. Cracking up myself, I cross the street and demanded to know where he go it…so I could get one too!

I was posed with the flowers by a shop-keep....

I was posed with the flowers by a shop-keep….

 

Well, now we are both off, walking down the street with our woven straw hats on, held securely in place by lacy purple and blue chin straps (this should’ve been our sign). Almost immediately, the shop keepers were all coming out, laughing and pointing. Some would pull us into their shop, pose us, and snap pictures with their cell phones. “Wow Bob, these people love us here!” I joked. It turns out that much later that day one shop keep took pity and finally told us that in Vietnam, only their women wear such hats! That was a great afternoon of finally connecting in a relatively closed culture that can be so weary. My hat, BTW, was hand-carried back home and delivered to my Brother-in-Law in Tallahassee, a 2-year Veteran of the war in Vietnam, and it remains there on his hat rack to this day.

Biker gang, 'Nam style

Biker gang, ‘Nam style

2324669903_6c8b022455_oMeeting up with two friends who happened to be traveling through Thailand at the time and who decided to take a detour over and come see us in Vietnam, we decided to rent mopeds and go for a ride. Now, listen to me closely: this, BY FAR, was much more dangerous than the jumps we did there, and perhaps is one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever done in my life! Riding on mopeds in a densely urban Vietnamese city in the rain without maps was seriously off the charts. It wasn’t so much the lack of traction on the roads, the unkempt condition of the bikes, or even getting lost out in the country. It was riding in rush-hour city traffic, a chaos that I simply will not be able to adequately describe here. In most 2nd and 3rd world Asian countries traffic and traffic laws can be quite haphazard. However, in Vietnam, there is a complete lack of rule of law when it comes to the road. Driving the wrong way, using sidewalks, and ignoring red lights, stop signs and any and all markings on the road…. In fact, when Bob and I hired a guide in Ho Chi Min city at the end of our trip, we all needed to cross a major road with something like 8 lanes of traffic. It was absolutely insane, and Bob and I saw simply no way to cross. When we asked our guide how we were going to cross, he simply replied, “Body language. Stay very close to me.” As he started across the street, with us in frightened tow, he casually put his hand down by his side that facing into traffic and flicked his wrist as if he had a magic wand that would protect us from the oncoming onslaught! It worked. We made it across, and back the other way later that afternoon!

Insane CRAZY dangerous traffic!

Insane CRAZY dangerous traffic!

2326162414_a1fd22f3ec_o2324414277_aa62b4e9f8_oIn hindsight, the potentially most damming thing I did there was actually done in complete innocence. Waiting for long periods between skydiving loads can get very boring. Just outside the terminal door to the tarmac was an old Soviet-style truck, with a few guys sitting around playing crash crew. For whatever reason, I decided to go check the truck out (it was really cool looking!), and see if I could communicate with the military guys manning the machine. Turned out they didn’t speak any English at all, but after getting out our respective military ID cards, I think they at least got the idea that we all were serving our respective countries. They offered me a paper I couldn’t read, and after a few more attempts at niceties, I came back into the terminal building, where one of our handlers was waiting. He was smiling at me upon my return, and stopped me quite casually.

I had to check out the Soviet-style crash truck!

I had to check out the Soviet-style crash truck!

“It is good think it is not three or five years ago,” he states matter of factly.

“Oh, why is that?”

“Then you would have been arrested and taken to prison for going out there….”

“Well, good thing then!” I meagerly respond, realizing just how potentially foolish that excursion may have been….

The old terminal building at Nha Trang

The old terminal building at Nha Trang

Psycho didn't fit well in the Coo Chi tunnels!

Psycho didn’t fit well in the Coo Chi tunnels!

10454006803_96f841d1b1_oVietnam is a surprising place to visit. It’s by no means open the way most Americans think of vacation, but neither is it closed or closed-off to the West. I have a good friend, a die-hard, card-carrying member of the Republican party, who was downright mad at me for traveling there. I tried to explain to him that holding a grudge against Vietnam in 2008 would be like an American refusing to travel to Germany or Italy in 1980. It just makes no sense to hold grudges and keep a bogus war going for no good reason other than maybe we lost…. I told him when I saw him after our trip that Vietnam was doing okay, and he asked me to justify that statement.

Another version of Independence

Another version of Independence

2325326527_73cfa44298_o2328358208_80538ba212_oI simply responded that for me to be able to freely walk down the street, hop on the internet at an open and uncensored internet café, and then to cross the street and use my American VISA card in an ATM to get Vietnamese money, the country is doing pretty okay. What I also learned is that the very reason we couldn’t win in Vietnam is that there is very little way to defeat an idea, other than threatening to obliterate an entire race and culture of people, like was the case for Japan in World War II. In every shop, in every home was a portrait of Ho Chi Minh, revered in Vietnam as their version of George Washington. And after visiting their national “War Remnants Museum,” where I expected to see a good dose of false propaganda but failed to find any at all, I came to realize that we Americans were simply another in a long line of colonial powers trying to exert their will over a foreign people…and that foreign people just wanted self-rule. Whether you agree with this conclusion or note, there is something here that is directly analogous to what is happening throughout the Middle East. At some point, perhaps, we will starting learning the hard lessons of history.

The Vietnamese George Washington, a national and highly revered hero

The Vietnamese George Washington, a national and highly revered hero

2327648801_926cf84346_oMy friend ended up scoffing at my remarks. Either he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear, or he was offended at my Che Guevara t-shirt and green communist hat complete with a Vietnamese red and yellow star! Either way, we all – including the Vietnamese – could use a little more humor in our lives, and a lot more compassion and empathy for our fellow-man. Those are the things in the end that make the world go ’round, and those are the most basic kinds of peace work in which we all can engage.

A smile is indeed international

A smile is indeed international

Have you been to Vietnam? What’s your favorite story while traveling there? I’d like to hear if others have had similar experiences!

Say Hello Kitty to My Little Friend: Okinawa’s Scarface??


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“Of all injustice, that is the greatest which goes under the name of law; and of all sorts of tyranny the forcing of the letter of the law against the equity, is the most insupportable.”  ~ L Estrange

“Say HELLO (KITTY) to my little friends!!!!” says Scarface Sally to the Japanese Customs and Law Enforcement officials.  Of course the assault weapon of choice in Japan simply shoots peaceful love and hearts….

One of Jody’s coworkers recently received in the mail, without asking and quite by accident, a package of toiletries from their home, sent to Okinawa by her husband since he is getting ready to join her here.  The package consisted of the remnants of the medicine cabinet…which for most of us, is a perfectly normal thing to pack and send.

They should have read the script closer.  Seems harmless.

They should have read the script closer. Seems harmless.

Yes, these few pills, consisting of over-the-counter legal (in the United States, at least) Sudafed, and legally prescribed Percocet and Vicodin, in Japan makes one a drug trafficker.  A Drug Kingpin of sorts.  The head of a cartel no doubt.  Or at least that’s how Japanese officials treat such circumstance…and people…in a darker – but no less humorous – episode of the Far East Fling.

If AMC had ships to move people to Okinawa, they would be just like this one.

If AMC had ships to move people to Okinawa, they would be just like this one.

Scarface_Al-Pacino-wedding-suit-full_image-credit-Universal-Pictures-494x325sideshow-scarface-tony-montana-12-inch-figureImage Okinawa just like Florida during the height of the Mariel Boatlift.  They both share many similarities:  palms, climate, and latitude (if not attitude), and it suffers a continual flood of clearly criminalized Americans – if you believe the hype, that is.  And from our treatment by and actions of the military leadership we’ve experienced thus far, island- and service-wide, but particularly at my wife’s new duty station, it seems the American military flushed their own personnel toilet back home in the states, one which drains directly to Okinawa, much as Castro did between Cuba and Florida back in 1980.  In a concerted effort to elude the unavoidably resulting drug culture, Japan uses a “zero-tolerance” policy for most drug-related crimes, complete with hefty penalties.  And thank goodness, because the fashion associated with an emergence of Scarface Sally would be a HUGE step backwards for the esthetics of the population here…already borderline with their sense of style of hair color as it were.

The 80s live on permanently here in hair coloring & styles.

The 80s live on permanently here in hair coloring & styles.

Bad Broken

Just one Sudafed package away....

Just one Sudafed package away….

Japan, in a somewhat overly paranoid and uncharacteristic culture of fear, has a much different notion of what is considered an illicit drug.  For example, in order to stop Breaking Bad-inspired meth labs from spontaneously breaking out among the well-educated, homogeneous, and basically law-abiding Japanese citizenry, common over-the-counter medications for sinus and allergy problems are here downright banned.  Yes, I’m talking about the gateway drug of choice:  Sudafed!  No, you can’t even slink back to the Rx window of the local drugstore, wearing your dark sunglasses, looking wearily over your shoulder, just to get your fix…and clear your sinuses.  Nope – you might as well be the figurehead of a South American drug cartel if you neglected those ubiquitous pills left idly in your shower bag over the last three years.

Not Touring in Japan.

Not Touring in Japan.

And don’t even think about running your old prescription narcotic painkillers…even codeine is banned.  Have a valid prescription from a licensed medical doctor, and the pill bottle script matches your name to the letter?  Sorry, still not good enough.  Obviously if one went to all that trouble to get the drugs, one has certainly begun their slide down the slippery mucus-covered slope – ‘cause you can’t take Sudafed here – of a budding criminal enterprise.

Like Mustang Sally, but different.

Like Mustang Sally, but different.

When caught red-handed, and while the gravity of the situation started sinking in, Scarface Sally reached out to one of her Cartel Captains, my wife.  “Jody I need your help…this could be an all day and possibly most of the evening interrogation.  I don’t feel okay about our leadership…. [Scarface Sally’s command deserted here completely, not even providing a command rep or even checking in on her during her trial and tribulation].”

How Scarface Sally probably imagined herself in Japanese Jail.

How Scarface Sally probably imagined herself in Japanese Jail.

The ignorance of the law excuse provides no efficacy against character assassination once you, a nascent Scarface, are in-country.  No matter the circumstance, you can still be fined or jailed for bringing in illegal substances to Japan.  Simply received a package?  GUILTY!!  You can be held liable for such drugs that are mailed to you, much to your surprise and chagrin.  Hell, if I had known this is all it took to cause BIG trouble, I would’ve been sending multiple “special car packages” to my ex-wife all along, who remained in Okinawa for six months after my departure back in 2005 when we were then only separated.  While it still may be a man’s world and a woman’s court, I would assume that our legal system would not show so much compassion or deference to an international drug Kingpin.

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“When it’s over, let us know your prisoner and cell number so we can come visit you,” Jody writes Scarface Sally, in a clearly supportive and serious manner.  “Ha!!  Thanks for the loving support!!  Bring curry, dammit,” answered an upbeat Scarface Sally.  Curry here can be used as currency in the slammer, it appears.

Who polices cartoons???

Who polices cartoons???

Papers, please....

Papers, please….

Generally in Japan, a two month supply of over-the-counter meds and vitamins are okay, and a one month stash of Rx scripts are okay…but to a point:  any drug must first be allowed by Japanese law.  Even then, the “allowed” prescription drugs have to be permitted, and then a copy of the Rx must be included, along with a letter from your Doc stating the purpose of the drug.  Oh, and as our very own Scarface Sally found, you cannot mail prescription medicines without obtaining first a Yakkan-Syoumei import certification from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.  I’m sure that quite a simple and quick process (wink).  See, it’s like the Japanese government is pushing innocent and naive Americans into a dramatic life of crime.

I'm positive that this is a quick and easy process to navigate.

I’m positive that this is a quick and easy process to navigate.

“I have been temporarily released from questioning.  I have one more appointment to sign relinquishment paperwork for Vicodin and, oh yeah, the Sudafed that turned out to be in the box!  Yeah, that too is contraband here,” lamented Scarface Sally after spending all morning with Japanese customs.  Her afternoon with the Japanese police was yet to come.

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She was, in fact and in all seriousness, facing Jail time on the order of 14 years.  Getting out of her penal pickle turned out to be quite tricky, emotionally exhausting, and downright personally embarrassing.  Police interviews in Japan are long, drawn-out affairs, where legal representation is not allowed, and which are recorded only in written format.  For Scarface Sally, this meant an all-afternoon interrogation (after spending all morning with Customs), complete with a “translator” that much too often referred to his Japanese-to-English dictionary, and where, at the end of the day, Scarface Sally was mandated to sign her “confession,” which was totally written in Japanese and for which no translation was provided.  And in Japan, there is a 99% conviction rate for cases brought to court; putting your signature on a confession automatically leads to guilty verdicts….  Yikes.

I'm pretty sure the JNP - or Scarface Sally - were playing any games.

I’m pretty sure the JNP – or Scarface Sally – were playing any games.

So, this brings us to the idea of “Fair” versus “Right.”  Fair: Having or exhibiting a disposition that is free of favoritism or bias; impartial.  Right: That which is just, morally good, legal, proper, or fitting.  Both terms are rather easy to understand and easier still to recognize, no?

Following the letter of the law.  The cat no doubt sees this as completely "FAIR."

Following the letter of the law. The cat no doubt sees this as completely “FAIR.”

No, they actually aren’t.  In the real world, things are much more complex.

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Ask yourself this:  what is more important, the literal letter of the law, or its central spirit?  When obeying the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is in keeping with the law but not its intent.  Conversely, when following the law’s spirit but not its letter, appropriate legal intent is upheld, but the literal wording may be broken.  Most of us would hypothesize that it’s “unfair” for anyone to violate the law’s spirit, regardless of whether or not the letter of the law has been fully followed.  In other words, there has to be a realistic and pragmatic way to apply accepted social norms in the application of law, rule, or regulation.

If all this had been mailed to Scarface Sally, then interrogate her all you want....

If all this had been mailed to Scarface Sally, then interrogate her all you want….

A great example is this:  when is it “fair” for law enforcement to ticket speeders?  We all would be PISSED if we got ticketed for going 1 mph over the limit, and then there’s a point where almost no one would argue speeding as a ticketable offense – like for those traveling recklessly at 100 mph on a crowded highway.  The real rub, though, lies somewhere in the middle, where enforcement should be designed and tailored to have the most effect.  And that effect, I argue, should be to shape and mold behavior so that the SPIRIT of the law – regardless of what the literal reading of the law may be – is maintained.  So, using this example, on American highways, this number is somewhere around 82 mph.

Shots are not treated as drugs.

Shots are not treated as drugs.

Neither is beer.

Neither is beer.

Halfway through her police interrogation, Scarface Sally writes, “OMG, you would not believe everything they go through!!  It’s like a top secret security clearance questionnaire, only the Japanese guy is saying it in Japanese, and then the interpreter is interpreting into English after he consults a Japanese-to-English dictionary.  Then I have to sign the damn paper written completely in Japanese!  I even got questioned about John’s [her husband and chief drug mule] college major and the classes he took….”

What about all that South American coffee??

What about all that South American coffee??

So, rather than prosecute harmless Americans for mistakenly mailing prescription meds when moving overseas, perhaps the Japanese could focus their efforts in a better on the sizeable American community resident on Okinawa.  For instance, an aggressive – and anonymous “Drug Turn In” program, conducted jointly with US and Japanese customs and law enforcement officials, along with a robust education initiative to better educated us stupid Americans about what we can’t bring into the country, could fetch most “illicit” drugs, getting them off the mean streets of Okinawa, and out of Japanese communities, which is EXACTLY the spirit of the strict Japanese laws on drugs.  While the military hospital on the island does offer a drug turn-in program, it’s more focused on helping to keep the water clean, rather than keep poor American sailors out of Japanese jails.  Oh, and let’s not forget the many thousands of household goods deliveries that happen every year here, which go almost completely unscreened.  I’m sure none of those shipments had medicines from back home; I know that ours did not (wink!).

I don't see Scarface's mule trail to Okinawa.

I don’t see Scarface’s mule trail to Okinawa.

“OMFG Jody, they have made me recount my entire life history, including all my kids names, dates of birth, addresses, parents vitals…EVERYTHING….  This is nerve wrecking, but at least they are nice to me.”  The demure Japanese police were probably scared of Scarface Sally.  I know I am.  “I just feel like a criminal.”

Some anime should be against the law.

Some anime should be against the law.

Spending this amount of effort on an American commissioned office, with a clean record, who recently just moved to Okinawa, is silly.  Focusing these many resources on an ignorant American who had nothing to do with her husband innocently mailing some meds to her after packing up their house is just frackin’ silly.  The whole scenario is not, in a word, “fair.”  And it certainly misses the mark, the very spirit of the Japanese law.  Good news for our starring villainess though; after apologizing profusely, batting her long eye-lashes, and shedding shameful tears, she was finally released.  Japan got their pound of emotional flesh, and what do they have to show for it?

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Scarface Sally’s personal stash of decongestants and painkillers.  Which she can refill at work anytime she wants….

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Read more about the law and fairness here:  Social Norms and Fairness.

Okinawan Kijimuna: Mythical “Red Power!!”


Lucille-Ball

“Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead.”  ~Lucille Ball

“While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.”  ~Mark Twain

“Red Power!”  ~Eric Cartman, South Park

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myth-gingers-dont-have-soulsRed hair appears in people with two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16 which causes a mutation in the MC1R protein.  At least that’s what scientists want you to believe.

Red hair is really because such people are born soulless….

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Alina, Cindy’s daughter

Now, I can say this (and other things about redheads), without fear of repercussion or reprisal.  You see, I have some near and dear Gingers in my very own family:  my beloved cousins Suzanne, Cindy, and her daughter, Alina.  I can assure you, besides being three of the prettiest women I know and being some of the very best human beings on the planet, they all have souls.  Not sure if they were there at birth though (wink).

Red Hair and Green Eyes - Cindy is Beautiful, inside and out

Red Hair and Green Eyes – Cindy is Beautiful, inside and out

ginger-kid-106953-530-804Red hair occurs naturally in only 1–2% of the humanity, and occurs more frequently (2–6%) in people of northern or western European ancestry, and less frequently in other populations – like those of Asia.  Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England have the most redheads. Scotland leads with 13% having red hair and ~40% possessing the recessive redhead gene.  Ireland is next with ~10% redheads, and ~40% carrying the gene.  The U.S. of A is harder to gauge, but let’s take the average of the estimates and say ~4%, which, in total numbers, gives the United States the largest redheaded population at about 12 million.  Now that’s some Red Power!

Red Hair is common in Japanese Anime

Red Hair is common in Japanese Anime

video%20games%20clouds%20trees%20redheads%20long%20hair%20game%20cg%20gym%20uniform%20necklaces%20running%20shorts%20ponytails%20o_www_wallmay_com_92In the Far East, flings with genetically-based red hair are rare, and can really only be found in the Levant, Turkey, the Caucuses, Northern Kazakhstan, and among Indo-Iranians.  The use of henna on hair, along with more modern western hair dyes, are both common in Asia, even if red hair isn’t.  However, such dyes result in various rather unnatural shades of red.

That's *probably* not her natural hair coloring....

That’s *probably* not her natural hair coloring….

Malachi

Malachi

Throughout history, redheads – “ginger,” “auburn,” and “strawberry blonde” – have been feared and revered, loathed and adored, degraded and exalted.  No other single human trait has provoked such a dichotomy of feverish emotions in so many others.  Prejudice and suspicion has always confronted the redhead, along with an almost worldwide belief of fiery temperament, an artifact of the Scots and Celts being such fierce and notoriously violent warriors.  And things appear not much different here in Okinawa….

Only a redhead would turn her own mother into a bear.

Only a redhead would turn her own mother into a bear.

The Kijimuna (キジムナー) are well-known wood and tree spirits, sprites or fairies of Okinawan mythology native only to the Ryukyu Islands. They are said to look around three or four years old and covered in red hair.  They are believed to live in trees, most commonly large banyans called gajumaru, which gives such trees a rather special place in Okinawan’s hearts.

Okinawan Kijimuna Tree Fairy

Okinawan Kijimuna Tree Fairy

010In fact, my first time on Okinawa, in 1999, an officer I was stationed with here was having serious plumbing problems in the home he was renting not far from where we elected to live out in town.  When the plumber’s reports were finally translated, it was found that the large banyan tree in their tiny yard had expressed its roots all through the home’s underground plumbing.  When we in the west would most likely haul up and out a tree causing such problems, here in Okinawa, such a course of action was simply out-of-the-question:  the tree would stay; the innards of the house would be dug up instead.  You know, least they disturb and anger the Kijimuna….  To keep the spirits in the trees, however, many such gajumaru near homes and schools will have nails driven into their trunks.

It appears this one used the nails...to build a home.

It appears this one used the nails…to build a home.

ijimuna are described as being child-sized, they are said to have unusually large heads topped with red hair, which sometimes covers their whole bodies.  Often they are depicted as being red all over, hairy or not.  Being excellent fishermen, they only eat the left eyes of their easy and abundant catch.  Another name for the kijimuna is bungaya, which means roughly “Large-Headed.”  The Kijimuna can be very mischievous, playing pranks on and tricking humans, but are generally innocent and friendly.

A Different Perspective on Kijimuna.  They really dislike octopi....

A Different Perspective on Kijimuna. They really dislike octopi….

kijimuna_fears_tako_by_chichapieOne of their most well-known tricks is to lie upon a person’s chest, making them unable to move or breathe, a condition known as kanashibari.  And even though they have been known to make friends with humans, such relationships don’t last and often go sour.  The kijimuna dislike people passing gas while riding on their backs (as odd as that sounds), and absolutely hate octopus, with which humans often have to drive kijimuna away after relationships have turned!

Like much of Japan, orthodontic care is not a priority for the Kijimuna

Like much of Japan, orthodontic care is not a priority for the Kijimuna

vampire-redheads-factSuch beliefs related to redheads do seem to permeate many cultures.  The ancient Egyptians played both sides, exalting many redheaded pharaohs while burning gingered-maidens.  The Greeks believed that redheads became vampires at death; isn’t that the plot of varied and highly successful teenybopper movies of late?  The Romans paid a premium for red-haired slaves, a symbol of strength and vitality.  During the Spanish Inquisition, known for its objective due process and impartial judges, red hair was literal evidence of hell’s fire, and usually was extinguished by being burned as a witch.  In the Middle Ages – not a rich period of enlightenment, redheads were associated with the Devil; it was thought that a child born with red hair was conceived during a woman’s “time of the month…”.  How silly; astrologers have all but proved that it’s primarily due to the undue influence of Mars-rising….

She knows why.

She knows why.

ron gingerBiblically speaking, red figures supremely.  The Hebrew “Adam” can mean “to be red” or “ruddy,” but in all fairness this probably refers to skin color rather than hair.  Judas Priest – not the band, but the original poster boy of zealotry gone bad, sometimes has red hair.  And, the original bad gurl Mary Magdalene is often portrayed the same way (but with no biblical reference to her hair color).  Similarly, red hair has been thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration, both positives in my ‘lil black book…which if they came in red I’d own one.  It is a common belief that redheads are highly sexed.  Oh behave!  Are redheads bad, or are they just drawn that way??

BOTH

BOTH

Of course anything seen as evil in the world couldn’t be comprehensively described without some reference to the Nazi’s, who, as the logical stewards of developing the master race felt that ginger-kids shouldn’t wed or reproduce.

Too late.  A breeding pair.

Too late. A breeding pair.

Such beliefs, if unchecked, can give rise to “gingerphobia” (fear of redheads) or “gingerism” (prejudiced against redheads).  Redheads are sometimes disparaged with the moniker “carrot-top,” and for one, it seems discretely applicable.

The pictorial definition of "Gingerphobia"

The pictorial definition of “Gingerphobia”

So, if clichés are to be believed, while brunettes may be smarter, and blondes may have more fun, neither are wrapped so tightly in mystery and intrigue that they become an enigma enveloped within an enigma.  And, in an ironic twist of time and Mother Nature, most redheads go from red to blonde to white, with hardly ever a grey hair to show.  So, while the rest of you color-challenged cohorts start covering your grey in your 30s or 40s, those redheads that have been the center of so much drama will remain gorgeous, but with time, as strawberry blondes.  Karma is a wonderful thing.

Maureen O'Hara:  Timeless

Maureen O’Hara: Timeless

The kijimuna however, do not age.  And as long as there are flourishing banyan trees and tall-tale telling grandmothers in Okinawa – less any proximity to octopi – the bungaya will live on, fiery as ever, forever.

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(Read more myths about red hair here)

O Christmas Half-of-a-Tree!!


“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”  ~Burton Hillis

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.”  ~Larry Wilde quotes

“Remember, if Christmas isn’t found in your heart, you won’t find it under the tree”  ~Charlotte Carpenter quotes

(See Christmas is…for Lovers…in Japan for even more fun Japanese Christmas music)

Everyone seems to almost instinctively know what a Christmas tree is, and that is now no different here in Okinawa than say, in Duluth, Minnesota.  Such icons universally consist of a decorated tree (usually an evergreen), real or artificial.  But how many of us really know or understand the roots (pun intended!) of The Christmas Tree?

Nothing says Christmas Tree like a Bonsai Bush!

Nothing says Christmas Tree like a Bonsai Bush!

Christmas trees have long been traditionally decorated with foods widely available, such as apples and nuts, but today can consist almost of anything with strong emotional or sentimental value, but often include garland, tinsel, and candy canes.  In the 18th century candles were often added, which then morphed to modern lighting with the wide introduction of electricity.  An angel or star often tops the tree, usually in representation of the Star of Bethlehem (from Jesus’ story).

An Origami Overture to Christmas and its Tree

An Origami Overture to Christmas and its Tree

Our current cultural and religious custom of the Christmas tree comes from 15th and 16th century devout Christians (including the reformist Martin Luther) who resided in the area of Europe now associated with modern Germany.  However, what most of us may find rather surprising is that the Christmas tree didn’t acquire popularity beyond this area until the second half of the 19th century, or well into the mid-to-late 1800s!  The Christmas tree has also been known as the “Yule-tree” (or Tree of Life), especially in discussions of its folkloristic origins.

Original Sin.  It's her fault.  Are modern ornaments still symbolic of forbidden fruit?

Original Sin. It’s her fault. Are modern ornaments still symbolic of forbidden fruit?

tumblr_mxnxjvkXQ61qdg05vo1_500While the origins of the modern Christmas tree are clear and undebated, there are a number of speculative theories of such custom and tradition prior to the 1400s.  Such icons are frequently traced to the symbolism of evergreen trees in pre-Christian winter pagan rites and rituals.  Such use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands has long been utilized to symbolize eternal life by widely diverse cultures, including ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews.  Thus, a type of “tree worship” became common in ancient times and thus was common among the pagan Europeans when Christianity started to sweep the continent.   And, luckily for us, the rite and ritual survived the pagans’ conversion to Christianity (mostly through its continued use as the “Tree of Paradise” stage prop in the popular Paradise Plays of the 11th century), and became decorations for the house and barn alike (sometimes as wintry homes for song birds at Christmastime), and were sometimes used at the New Year to scare evil.

Now that's a tree, Japan!!

Now that’s a tree, Japan!!

I hope she doesn't celebrate ANY other holiday....

I hope she doesn’t celebrate ANY other holiday….

Given this backdrop, and having no tangible ties to any particular strong religious tradition (I think of Christmas and all its trappings, including the trees, as more symbolic of a generalized spirit of love and giving), we decided to leave all our more conventional holiday decorations at home during our move to Japan.  Sure, we brought a Santa hat and our stockings (we both still have our Mother-made stockings from our childhood!), but not much else, including our tree.  We decided to let the spirit of Okinawa and our living space dictate a new holiday rite for me and Jody.

When space is an issue....

When space is an issue….

First thing we had to do was find a tree.  Not a real one – those are hard to come by in Okinawa, a relatively remote sub-tropical island in the Pacific Ocean, but an artificial one.  But, we had to contend with our relatively low condo ceilings, along with a want for space.  On top of this, we find out that the initial artificial tree shipment to the base exchanges sold out in mere days…and, of course, we missed what only could’ve been a mad rush for trees.  Lucky for us we meandered one afternoon into the base craft shop looking for extraordinary ornaments for our as of yet unsourced tree, and behold:  a room full of artificial, pre-light, small-ish Christmas trees!  Expensive ones, but we were in luck.

Whole or Half:  You Decide

Whole or Half: You Decide

11491260433_bd0d618afe_bWe actually found (and purchased) a “half-tree.”  And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like:  a half of an artificial tree, with a stand that will support its lopsidedness, but which also has an anchor point/hook high up on the trunk in case you have to deal with, say, an unruly cat who may decide to climb the tree when no one’s looking….

Charlie Brown's Tree, the Japanese interpretation

Charlie Brown’s Tree, the Japanese interpretation

11491247796_7593c905da_bThe tree works perfectly in our place!  It is maybe 6.5 feet in height, and since it’s only half a tree, we were able to push it back into a corner to conserve space while allowing us to fill in the visibly accessible part of the tree that much more.

For once all our decorations fit into ONE normally-sized box!

For once all our decorations fit into ONE normally sized box!

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11491176634_19e24c83fc_bFor decorations we went with our initial Asian, Japanese, and Okinawan-inspiration.  So, our ornaments consisted mainly of origami art (cranes, butterflies, and angels), paper crafted shapes, wooden dolls, miniature obis, and other flirtations with the Far East.  These, combined with the minimalistic white lighting of the tree, results in a quite unconventional appearance by most western standards.  We love it!

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11491244823_1861dafb41_bBut, to top off our tree, we wanted truly spectacular and of local custom and tradition.  What we found was perfect for the occasion:  a Hanagasa.  The Hanagasa is a brilliantly colored, flowered-adorned hat worn in many areas of Japan, but here the Okinawans have developed their own particular tradition regarding this type of headdress.  Worn by Okinawan women performing a dance called Yotsudake (“four bamboo,” referring to the bamboo castanets played by the dancers), the large and unique silk hat features a gold-trimmed design of a stylized lotus flower and ocean waves, set against a backdrop of blue skies.  It’s mesmerizing to watch one dancer on her own with her slow, graceful movements; it is breathtaking to see five or six woman so adorned move as one.

...Cleo waits patiently....

…Cleo waits patiently….

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11491181675_17fb20f702_bWe found a smaller version of the Hanagasa designed for display on dolls, and it worked perfectly to complete our tree.  Like the symbolism that a topping star may hold for others, our Hanagasa makes for an unforgettable sight, and its harmonious flowers seem to sway in time to the carols we often play in the background, things which should remind us all of the beauty, resilience and connectedness that we all share, with each other, and with every other living thing, during this spiritual time of love and giving.

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11615344235_28dcdd1a5c_bMerry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and Happy Holidays.  Whatever YOU prefer to say, please don’t forget to pause your daily grind, express your thanks to those that deserve it, be giving to those that need it, and let Love and Hope win for just a few fleeting moments as you gaze upon your own tree, or other perhaps more appropriate symbolic icon of the season.

coexist-holiday

How are you celebrating Christmas this year??

Sakura-wishes-you-a-Merry-12-Days-of-Christmas___-itll-be-her-turn-soon