Kawaii Monster Café: Monstrously Adorable!


“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”  ~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Masuda

Masuda

The Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku opened not too long ago, but apparently it’s already become a “must-see” stop for locals and visitors alike in Tokyo.  Created by well-known Japanese avant-garde artist Sebastian Masuda, the mastermind behind the famous “cuteness-fashion” store 6% DokiDoki (see the video below), the candy-colored, monstrously darling café has become a top competitor for the title of Japanese Queen of Cuteness.

For just a 500 yen cover charge (a little under $5) visitors can spend 1 ½ hours inside just gawking at the overboard, overwhelmingly cute designs and décor inside.  No purchase necessary.  But you’ll buy something if you go in – it’s all just so…enticing.

68324480ce1544b59a9d4d864baffbd5

I have to admit this establishment was Jody’s “find” online.  I think she searched for something like “uniquely obscure places to eat” and this café of cuteness topped the list, every list, although maybe just behind a vampire themed – and staffed – restaurant.  It was her birthday, I mean actually her birth day, so we had to have a party, right?  What better place than one with a larger-than-life birthday cake turned merry-go-round?  I’m not sure what’s coming out of those lips on the top, though.  And that’s just the start of the cute oddities that, like the Robot Restaurant (see Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto for more on our visit to that iconic Tokyo venue), can only truly be produced and experienced in Japan.

Entry with "Choppy"

Entry with “Choppy”

We went on a late afternoon, and were pleasantly surprised to only have one small group (of Americans) ahead of us waiting to get inside.  I have read reviews of people waiting well over an hour….  There is a waiting lobby, crazily decorated, but that’s just a hint, just a small taste (pun intended!!) of what’s to come.  The café’s monster mascot, “Mr. Ten Thousand Chopsticks,” or just “Choppy” for short, is first seen here.  The entrance to the café is through doors shaped like his tongue.  As the staff warned us, we were about to enter the belly of the beast!

Selecting Your Eating Area

Selecting Your Eating Area

The hostess will take your name and ask you what “area” of the café you’d like to sit in.  Not knowing much, and quickly reviewing a video screen with a named picture of each area, we picked the “Mushroom Disco,” an odd choice since we are both NOT fans of mushrooms…of any kind.  In a disco, however?  HELL YES!

Jody with the Sweets-Go-Round and Monster Girls

Jody with the Sweets-Go-Round and Monster Girls

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-monster-hostesses-to-our-seating-in-the-mushroom-foresttokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-kevin-selfie-with-a-monster-hostessWhen your table is ready, double doors open and you are greeted by one of the five resident “Monster Girls”!  All I can say is WOW.  This is where the weird journey down the rabbit hole really begins….  Keep in mind that this café is square in the middle of Tokyo’s Harajuku district, which is well-known as Japan’s mecca for zany fashion and alternative youthful culture.  Seriously, there is such a thing as “Harajuku Lifestyle,” and the “Monster Girls” are prime examples.  From the café’s own website, Harajuku is described as “a colorful and crazy town that has been creating its own original culture by engulfing the world’s most trendiest fashions and cultures.”  One of Japan’s most famous pop and fashion icons of the moment, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, was in fact a repeat customer of DokiDoki, and a close collaborator with Masuda.

kawaii-monster-01-860x480

The shop is hosted by five of these so-called “Monster Girls” in all their hallucinatory glory —name Sweet Baby, Selfish Dolly, Happy Candy, Sexy Nasty, and Moody Crazy, names hopefully divorced from their ideas of customer service.  These young girls are carefully selected, embodying the eye-popping lavishness of the café’s very essence.  Their characters where developed by Masuda himself to reflect the different personalities of the café, and to help promote the idea of Japanese Harajuku “cute culture” abroad.  We only had three attending to the café during our visit; I would image all five are present during rush times.  It’s hard to tell if they role-play their character per their name; there is very little English spoken here, so we didn’t have much interaction other than various photo ops.  They do walk the floor and stop and chat with most everyone.  Oh, and it’s hard to figure out who’s who, unless you have the cheat photo from their website!

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-one-of-the-monster-hostesses

There are four main seating areas splayed throughout the interior.  The “Mushroom Disco” includes larger-than-life, neon-colored shrooms of all types, surrounded by alien vegetation, which makes for quite a psychedelic-drug induced dining experience.  According to the shop’s website, this area is “a big forest with its ceiling covered with poisonous colorful mushrooms and space plants.  There is also a secret room for gossip ladies further inside!”  I’m not sure how “disco” fits the motif, but hey, it’s Japan, and it’s CUTE (kawaii!!!).  And gossip is always fun.  For ladies apparently.

9516_ext_02_en_0

Milk Stand

Then there is the “Milk Stand,” a corner of the café where massive heads of giant rabbits, sheep, and unicorn adorned with large non-descript creepy unfeeling lights for eyes drink milk from tubes emanating from oversized baby bottles hanging from everywhere the ceiling.  I honestly am at a loss here; this is unlike any nursery I’ve ever seen.  The website describes it this way:  “It’s a crazy baby room where the animals drink their milk.”  Okay….

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-jodys-birthday-monster

“Bar Experiment” is another area, and reserved for adults (mostly).  The motif here is ocean, but maybe a darker side of the deep sea, including a somewhat sinister black lit flickering jellyfish engulfing the countertop bar.  It’s a bit more sophisticated and offers silly drinks that have a rather adult silly effect.  The café says this:  “The bar counter is surrounded by mysterious glowing jellyfish and is the experiment room for lurking adults in the deep sea….”

Mushroom Seating

Mushroom Seating

Finally, there is the “Mel-Tea Room,” a more open and spacious area of sweets-on-parade where “ants will lead the way through the sugar signs and will take you to a tea party with melting ice cream, chocolate and macarons.”  How can this level of Alice in Wonderful-esque bizarreness possibly be resisted?  Regardless of where you’re sat, walk around and experience all the other areas, each with a crazy twist of their own.

Sweets-Go-Round

Sweets-Go-Round

The café centers on an actual revolving merry-go-round in the shape of an extravagantly decorated cake, appropriately dubbed the “Sweets-Go-Round,” which serves symbolically to capture the very essence of any visit.  Obviously the perfect place for a photo, and Jody’s birthday cake for 2016!  “This cake shaped merry-go-round going round and round is the symbol of KAWAII MONSTER CAFE and also a photo spot.”

capture

Don’t expect your typical diner fare.  The food is certainly as cutesy and colorful as the eye-popping décor, and varied to an acceptable extent.  The menus themselves are absolutely adorable touch-screen cakes, easy to navigate and with screens provided in English.

Electronic Cake-Shaped Menus!

Electronic Cake-Shaped Menus!

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-jodys-kawaii-pasta-lunchtokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-monster-burger-for-lunchJody opted for the totally fun pastel-colored pasta (“Rainbow Palette Pasta”) cleverly arranged on a painter’s palette and flanked with swishes of differently flavored sauces which appear as paint.  I selected the special that day, a monster burger of curry, chicken and pork with fries.  Literally, shaped and decorated as a monster!

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-jodys-picaso-birthday-lunch-pasta

The food was okay; Jody like hers, and mine was not bad, but our meals came out at least 20 minutes apart, and mine was not very hot.  And I had to ask a couple of times about getting my meal.  There are other varied and whimsical selections, all of which are heavily dosed with food colors certainly not found in nature, but be prepared to pay for this level of cuteness.  Apparently being so cute is not cheap.  The fact is, I’m pretty sure people don’t come here for the food.

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-jody-with-her-experimental-cocktail

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-kevin-with-one-an-experimental-cocktailWe ordered some adult beverages as well.  Alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions are offered of each drink, the booze served in mock test-tubes.  While we can’t recall Jody’s kawaii-cute fruit-based concoction, mine was listed as “Druggy Cocktail (Experiment).”  I poured and mixed my two test tubes with a measure of foreboding, not knowing exactly what to expect.  The drinks were fairly good, but failed to deliver drugs (and their effect) on any measureable scale.  Waiting for our food, we wandered wide-eyed and with mouths open around the café’s various zones.

Monster Girl Show

Monster Girl Show

There was a “show” after we finished our meal.  Theatrical lights came on, the music and bass started pounding (ah, finally the disco!), and we all knew something was in store.  Everyone gathered around the Sweet-go-Round, and the wait staff came out and started clapping.  After building a good measure of suspense, the Monster Girls paraded about, boarded the carousal and started some type of “cute” performance!

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-kevin-with-the-monster-girls

After their couple of songs, there was an invitation to join the Monster Girls on the Sweets-Go-Round for pictures, but only after buying a 500 yen lollipop as your ticket.  I attempted to encourage Jody up for a birthday photo, but I was the one who ended up hanging with the girls!

Jody's Monster Cupcake

Jody’s Monster Cupcake

For dessert, I ordered a completely over-the-top ice cream sundae named nothing less than “Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme.”  It was killer kawaii and certainly a monster to eat!  I didn’t finish it.

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-kevin-with-his-monster-dessert

Jody ordered the special, a new addition to the dessert menu with a much more pedestrian name of “Monster Cupcake.”  It was less-than impressive, covered with what we thought was rather tasteless icing, but which turns out to be sweet potato paste.  Only in Japan.

kawaiimonster

In the final analysis, if you are on the fence about what to do in Tokyo, GO TO THIS PLACE.  Weird, campy, but fun, and have I said “cute!” yet?  Hitting this and the Robot Restaurant in the same day is part of a Japanese Trifecta that probably can best be completed by unwinding in a cat café….  Remember, the Kawaii Monster Café not cheap, and the food and drinks are spectacular presented, but this is all about ambiance, and perhaps captures part of the very essence of what makes Japan…so Japanese!

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-monster-girl-merry-go-round

Oh, and for my birthday girl armed with an active imagination aimed at battling a more mundane reality of the common birthday?  Couldn’t have been better.  Happy Birthday Celebration and blog #2 Jody!  There’s still more to our celebration of Jody’s birthday in Tokyo.  Stay tuned.

tokyo-2016-kawaii-monster-cafe-jodys-birthday-monster-2

Choppy says “Happy Birthday Kawaii Jody!”

Kawaii Monster Cafe

Open Mondays to Saturdays for Lunch from 1130-1630 (LO 1600), and Dinner from 1800-2230 (LO 2200).  On Sundays and Holidays, the café is open 1100-2000 (LO 1930).  Reservations are NOT taken on weekends and holidays.

Cover:  500JPY / person

Address:  YM square building 4F, 4-31-10, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo-to

Address (Japanese):  東京都渋谷区神宮前4丁目31‐10 YMスクエアビル4F

Phone:  +81-03-5413-6142

The Day I Became a Japanese National Hero


“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I may be a living legend, but that sure don’t help when I’ve got to change a flat tire.” ~ Roy Orbison

 “Hero, hero,” the energetic cries bellowed one after another, becoming louder and more passionate with each verbalization! The herd of Japanese kids were beaming smiles at me as I stood up, overly appreciative for apparently saving their very lives. Or so it would seem from their reaction to the drama that unfolded over the last ten minutes. Yes, this was the day I had waited so long for. This was the day that never came over 20 years and multiple wars serving in the military. This was the day, finally, when I became a treasured National Hero…of Japan.

funny-picture-join-the-marines-they-said-youll-be-a-hero-they-said

“Everyday people do Everyday things but I can’t be one of them

I know you hear me now We are a different kind We can do anything

We could be heroes Me and you”

Hero defined (dictionary.com): a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities; a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal, as in “He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.”

Or, in my case, when I changed a flat tire.

 

tumblr_inline_mqjdu1eCU01qz4rgp

No, no, no, not YOU too! Please, you’re embarrassing me. Really, it was nothing; just doin’ what any red-blooded American manly male would do. Really, nothing. There was no danger. Well, there was a LITTLE danger (wink), but hey, I put a brave face on and trudged through it. There was this family’s touristy agenda at stake, the very fate of their vacation hung in the teetering balance of the car on its jack….

Maeda Point, Okinawa, Japan

Maeda Point, Okinawa, Japan

11043707896_ce4469909b_bI had arrived at an Okinawan divesite and popular tourist destination called Maeda Point. It is one of those iconic south Pacific island spots which provides a cliff-high scenic overlook of inviting blue ocean waters unable to hide the mysterious subtropical reef just below. In the last decade the Okinawans have gone to great lengths to make this site much more accessible, and thus throngs of mainland Japanese come here to take guided snorkeling and scuba diving jaunts into the sea.

A Darker Side to Misa Misa

A Darker Side to Misa Misa

I call these tourists, or at least the females of the bunch, “Misa Misas” after the bubbling-over cute but amazingly shallow female character Misa Amane in the popular anime series Death Note (see the embedded video below and Japan Hub’s ranking of anime for Americans). These female Japanese mainlanders seem to lose much of their emotional control on Okinawa in a way that may be slightly reminiscent of “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” At least when they are swimming at Maeda Point, it seems. They shriek, they cover their mouths when they giggle (and they giggle all the time), and all seem to be wearing pig tails, better known as “twin tails” in Japan, as they crowd the waters that scuba divers covet.

I had parked next to a small Okinawa rental car which had been backed into its parking spot. In it was a younger, attractive woman at the wheel, but as I parked my truck, I noticed that her rear passenger tire was flat. Like completely done. Kaput. I struggled with what to do.

6e77d9d78e64b417492cd2f7ccd611294f134423002de36757ee3795229197c9

Not wanting her to think some barely dressed American was hitting on her (I was set to go diving; the Japanese are very proper about covering up), I at first thought that maybe she would figure it out on her own. But then I spied the baby car seat in the back, and knew right away that I had to get involved.

Moving over to the passenger window, I got her attention. She remotely lowered the passenger side electrically controlled window, and I attempted to speak with my friendliest non-threatening, uncreepy smile I could muster, “Sumimasen!” (excuse or pardon me). “Flat tire,” I continued as I pointed to the problem.

7791fd375fa983e8c9d0db6159a9a2aa1ccfc19b94b8ed5471338a52ef69256d

I’m not sure if she understood, but she understood enough to get out of the car and come over to my side. She gasped when she saw the problem, and took my hands in hers in a gesture of thanks, all the while mumbling exasperations in Japanese. She immediately shouted to a few people nearby in the parking lot, and returned to the driver’s seat with her cell phone already at her ear.

I walked away thinking that my involvement was over. I started to prep my scuba gear for the upcoming dives; all my student divers were late due to a bad traffic accident on the roads leading to this relatively out-of-the-way site. Which got me thinking even more about this woman and her baby attempting to drive away to some uncertain fate that I had a chance of affecting for the better.

I kept one ear on the group, now much larger since an oodles of kids had shown up, and glanced at their goings on. It appeared that Mrs. Flat was visiting Maeda with Mrs. Mom driving another nearby car, and both had what appeared to be a small tribe of kids in tow between them. Seriously, something like 8 kids (and those were just the ambulatory ones), and not a man or boy in sight. Even the Japanese snorkeling concession they were utilizing for their aquatic adventures could only muster the slightest of a man-child, who obviously either didn’t know the first thing about car tires, or didn’t want to get involved.

That's me in the background coming to help in a more "romanticized" version of the story....

That’s me in the background coming to help in a more “romanticized” version of the story….

“Okay,” the inner voice starts in my head, “you’ve got to do something to help.” I hesitate again. There is a precarious relationship between the US military presence in Japan – especially on Okinawa – and the locals. But the powers that be – the US and Japanese governments – will have you believe it is much more caustic than it is in reality. In fact, I have never once had an issue in Okinawa in the seven years I’ve spent here, although I have been “uninvited” from bars up in Honshu…. I debated whether they would eagerly accept my help, or maybe read a darker side into my forwardness. I elected to play ambassador, but more so, to just be a good neighbor.

How can you not help sad Japanese girls?!?

How can you not help sad Japanese girls?!?

I walked over and inquired about a “spare tire” as it seemed they were searching the victim car for one. And from that point on, anything I said in English the kids would energetically repeat. “Spare, spare…spare tire, tire, spare….SPARE!” And not just two or three times. Again and again and again! I doubt they knew much meaning behind the words, but they were happy to be speaking English – even if just phonetically – in a very real context.

But there was no spare! There was a jack and a lug wrench, and even a place for a spare, but no tire. Many of the smaller Japanese cars don’t carry one, but instead carry a can of “fix-a-flat” tire inflation gas/fluid. None of that either. I even checked under the back seat and under the rear of the car to make sure. “No spare,” I muttered astonishingly….

“NO SPARE NO SPARE NO SPARE,” came the misplaced excited replies, like it was a good thing. I smile at the kids and even patted one of the smaller ones on the head, thinking of just how wonderful the innocence of youth is as a treasure that just can’t be valued by the young properly in the those youthful moments.

I ask about her friend’s car. “Spare,” I questioned as I pointed in that car’s direction. Mrs. Mom understands and has her hatchback open in no time. “Aaaaahhhhhhhhh, SPARE-O,” comes her excited reply. That’s all I need to start to get out the tools of the tire-changing trade and arrange them at the ready.

Kids are so wonderful, no matter where you find yourself in the world. Non-judgmental, accepting, sponges for knowledge, and awestruck with the wonders of everyday life, they are so easy to engage and communicate with. They huddle around the tire as I ready everything for the change.

“Parking brake?” I question Mrs. Flat. She doesn’t understand. I approach the passenger side door, wary of making anyone uncomfortable with the baby asleep in the back seat. I mime to open the door to which she offers her eager yet nonverbal consent. I pull the parking brake up and on, stating (for the record and the enjoyment of the kids present), “Parking Brake!”

“PAW-KING BREAK, paking brake, parking brek,” the replies sound again.

I move back and start with the tool phase of the process, more properly referred to as the “Oooohs and Aaaahs” of the change. Each time I manipulated a tool against automobile structure, at least a baker’s dozen “oohs” and a healthy pint of “aahs” sounded. I began to feel almost superhuman at this point with such audience participation.

Trying to keep my language to a unrepeatable minimum, I start to show how things work and fit together. I demonstrate how the jack-screw raises the scissors of the jack lift.

“OOOOOOOOH, aaaaaah!”

I showed how to place the lifting portion of the jack against the notch in the car’s frame.

“EEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHH!”

I took the flathead portion of the lug wrench and wrangled off the cheap plastic hub cap, giving it to one of the nearby children to examine firsthand.

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOO, WOW!”

31-FLAT-TIRE

But now came the strongman show of this circus. There were only 4 nuts holding the tire on, but of course each was most likely tightened into place with a pneumatic torque socket. It takes a little force to break that grip, and I used my body weight to help loosen the nuts in turn. Pushing on the first I barely grunt under my breath, just as the nut starts to give way with a metallic crunch.

“OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

But now there’s an audible change: “Gentleman!” The word spreads like a Santa Anna wind-blown wild fire in a California drought. Gentleman: A chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man; a man of good social position, especially one of wealth and leisure. I may lack social status and the wealth of the top 5% of Americans, but my leisurely actions of the day were no doubt courteous and chivalrous. Nonetheless, I smile, somewhat embarrassingly, turning a bit red as the accolades only continue.

Repeat that sequence three more times and the flat is off in a jiffy. I quickly rotate the tread examining it for damage, and find a nice shiny screw completely imbedded in the tire, having entered on the inner side of one of the tread channels.

“EEEEEEEEEEEH,” came the exasperated replies from the only two drivers of the gang.

I place the spare on the bolts and hand-tighten the nuts into place. I mimic how you must tighten bolts in an X-pattern to ensure the right fit and ride, and then I’m back into superhuman character, tightening the bolts into place using my body weight and muscle power against the lug wrench’s resistance.

The tire is back on. I lower the car and the suspension accepts the replacement without question or complaint. I pull the jack and tools and stand up to look Mrs. Flat in the eye. “Small tire,” I say as I mime motions for small. “Drive slow,” I say as I mimic the hand signal, at least in motorcycles and diving, for slow. And just to be cautious, I end with “Be safe” while smiling, embarrassed at the unearned and unnecessary accolades I was receiving.

Previously, I had only ever been a Guitar Hero

Previously, I had only ever been a Guitar Hero

I was also a Mathlete Calculus Hero in High School, and had I been Val Kilmer and/or an Astronaut, I would have used math to save lives….

And with that my characterization of “gentleman” takes a light-year leap and becomes “hero.” I am proclaimed by all present, particularly the tween and teen-aged girls, as their “hero.” Over and over as I politely reject such a label, you know, for changing a tire!

My adoring fans did make me feel like this though

My adoring fans did make me feel like this though

Okay, seriously, “hero” is a word that EVERYONE uses way too often, all too easily. I’m sorry America, you are not a hero for putting a uniform on. You are no hero if something bad just happens to you while wearing said uniform. Underpaid teachers and non-profit volunteers are wonderful people who literally weave the fabric of our society, but they are not heroes. The idea and label of “hero” should be reserved for the very few that deserve it, and it should be held back for those esteemed occasions where it could/can be applied with great effect. Tire-changing is not one of them.

Unless you were The Batman

Unless you were The Batman

Each of the Japanese gang of Misa Misas came up and thanked me, some in Japanese, and others in English. They all took my hands. “Hero” was a word said often, and each time I politely rejected the very notion, smiling but shaking my hand “no” rather emphatically. Pictures were taken with various cell phones, me towering over the group, with my arms around them and hands shooting double peace signs so ubiquitous in Japan. I so uncomfortable with becoming a Japanese National Hero that I didn’t ask for the photos to be sent to me, but by now surely there’s been a monument erected in my honor in the group’s hometown. Perhaps a proudly chiseled (and buff) statue. Or a play-park full of tires.

batman-changing-a-car-tire

And to complete the celebratory spirit of the afternoon, as the group were leaving the parking area, the thanks continued. The kids – I mean all of them – had their heads stuffed out every open window of both cars, waving and yelling their thanks and my newfound title of “hero.” The cars move away, but stall waiting to pay for parking at the exit gate. Oh boy, even more time for the Japanese to thank me is this most uncomfortable way. “Thank You Hero…Gentleman…HERO!” It continues, but now being yelled across the entire parking lot at Maeda Point. I wave nonchalantly, trying to downplay my overblown role in their lives. And then, as the cars exit the area and drive away down the road leading away, the yells of “Hero” and “Gentleman” turns to screams of “Goodbye” and “Thank You!”

23289-superhero_time_header_image

No, thank you Japan, for embracing me as a National Hero, if only for 20 minutes one lazy Okinawan afternoon!

Pop Life Circus


Okinawa POP Circus 2015, Jody welcome to POP Circus

“Pop life, Everybody needs a thrill

Pop life We all got a space 2 fill

Pop life Everybody can’t be on top

But life it ain’t real funky Unless it’s got that pop” ~ Prince, Pop Life song lyrics

 “Every country gets the circus it deserves. Spain gets bullfights. Italy gets the Catholic Church. America gets Hollywood.” ~ Erica Jong

cp_top_pop-circus_t

And Okinawa gets PoP Circus’ “World Circus Festival”, a performance under the Big Top with lends an air of mystique and excitement for kids of all ages.  Established in 1996, PoP Circus – the “Pursuit of Pleasure” – consists of over 30 performers making up various acts, and is eagerly received in Okinawa as an innovative and extravagant performance.

Okinawa POP Circus 2015, world circus festival WM

While PoP Circus is marketed as a spectacular to amaze and thrill, it will appear initially as nothing more than a low-scale, poor quality knockoff of the much more well-known and praise-worthy Cirque du Soleil. It occurs in, however, a much smaller venue, one that creates an intimacy between spectator and performer under the not easily missed illuminated purple Big Top. While it may lack the powerful live music, overdone intrigue and gaudy costumes, there is at least no obscure French storyline to try and decipher….

Okinawa POP Circus 2015, Jody at PoP circus big-top

16513_705775022868557_3321045115409053877_nOkinawa POP Circus 2015, snack banners bilingual WMSome of the starring attractions include a pair of romantic aerial ballet dancers who circle the audience while performing acrobatics suspended by flowing ribbon anchored to Big Top’s overhead. Two Chinese Acrobats perform an incredibly breathtaking feat of balance, strength and contortion in a display of stamina and grace that is hard to beat and which rivals any of the type I’ve ever seen.

circus-IMG_5335

circus-IMG_5696

Really, the Confederate Battleflag?!?

Really, the Confederate Battleflag?!?

Of course a circus wouldn’t be a circus without a spastic collection of bungling clowns. While the festival’s are billed as comically entertaining, I still find clowns – the whole idea – creepy at best. Kids, however, seems to always approve through their joyous laughter and smiling faces. And the Japanese, as innocent as they are, expressed loud approval to the clowning around.

No, Clown, you can't have my cotton candy....

No, Clown, you can’t have my cotton candy….

10690090_1050498828300807_4268954099007393626_n11017874_709183169194409_8864077044129416114_nYes there is a dog show starring lots of dogs large and small, and while it may be somewhat predictable, it’s fast pace of tricks one after another make it a surety as a crowd-pleaser.  A young flying trapeze troop from Australia, the Flying Aces, performs almost 40 feet overhead, and a group of Russians pretending to be Celtic (go figure) perform on a set of swings that we never had on the playground as kid!.

10363250_705774706201922_7595782895479727764_n

Okinawa POP Circus 2015, souvenir book WMOkinawa POP Circus 2015, circus souvenirsMaking a prolonged stop in Okinawa every two or three years, they are now performing at Onoyama Park in Naha City. But don’t wait too much longer; they are only here through the 6th of April! The World Circus Festival is running its 2-hour show daily except Wednesdays, with weekday shows at 1320 and 1900, Saturday shows at 1030, 1320, and 1900, while Sunday shows are at 1030, 1320, and 1600. The Circus tent is located at the eastern corner of Onoyama park in Naha (). Beware there is very limited parking available at the park and surrounding vicinity, but a convenient monorail stop is located adjacent to the park.

Lots of Yummy Goodies!

Lots of Yummy Goodies!

Okinawa POP Circus 2015, show costs and timesOkinawa POP Circus 2015, welcome to Pop Circus WMAdvance tickets for adults are ¥2,500 (¥2,800 at the gate), while tickets for kids age three through junior high school are ¥1,200 (¥1,500 at the gate).  Special Boxes for up to 4 are available for extra fees of ¥5,000 and ¥4,000, depending on exactly how close to the stage you want to be seated.  Reserved bleacher seats with center views are an additional ¥800, the option we elected since the cheap seats’ views are pretty badly blocked by various Big Top support structures. The official website is www.pop-circus.co.jp/ and offers minimal information in English. If you want a sneak-peak of the performances, check out their Facebook page (in Japanese).

See you there!

See you there!

Geishun (迎春): Welcome Spring and the New Year!


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

The New Year is perhaps the most important time of the year in Japan, akin to the way the West views Christmas. At the end of the year, the Japanese traditionally say, “I wish you will have a good new year,” or in Japanese (formally), “Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai (よいお年をお迎えください).”

Although we’ve been flirting with the New Year as the world always does for the whole of December, the Year of the Sheep is fully upon us. And, being the Far East Flirts that Jody and I are, we celebrated differently this year than we did last (See Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker to read about our past flings).

This year Jody and I took another island-hoping jaunt to another remote near-by island (see Tropical Trek to read about another), this time Ie (pronounced “Eeee-A”) Island. Taking the military up on one of their pre-arranged good-deal tour packages, we embarked on our 2-night stay at a Japanese “resort” over the New Year’s. And our journey – and the festivities were both full of surprises.

Celebratory Dinner!

Celebratory Dinner!

The Japanese New Year (正月, Shōgatsu) is an annual festival in Japan, similar to others celebrated elsewhere across the globe. Since 1873 the Japanese New Year has been celebrated according to the western Gregorian calendar on January 1, or New Year’s Day (元日, Ganjitsu). However, much of Okinawa, being much more closely aligned throughout history with China rather than with the Empire of Japan, still recognizes their New Year as the contemporary Chinese lunar New Year, which varies based on the moon but usually occurs in late January or sometime in the first half of February. It’s a pretty good convention; why have only one New Years in a year when you can have TWO?!?

Finding ourselves on Ie Island in the heart of a very elderly and rural population, the customs and traditions surround the Welcoming of Spring (which the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrates) were well represented, and in which we eagerly participated.

Soba for Long Life in the New Year...and beyond.

Soba for Long Life in the New Year…and beyond.

The night of the countdown, the hotel served us fresh dishes of buckwheat soba noodles, to be topped off with steaming broth. The stretching and consuming of the long noodles are representative life stretching well into the future. Although feasting on soba noodles is traditionally done after ringing in the New Year, our resort made the traditional dish available starting at 10pm. Of course, after our Korean BBQ feast that only started just a couple of hours prior, we had to literally find the room in our bloated bellies, else we tempt the darker side of fate in the coming year.

Traditional New Year decorations in Japan

Traditional New Year decorations in Japan

Bubbly makes everything better.

Bubbly makes everything better.

The hotel offered typical Japanese fun and games during New Year’s Eve in a bonenkai party of sorts (read Bad Year? Fogetabout it! for more on how the Japanese dismiss their troubles of the past), to which such fanciful fun is typically reserved. We missed the – and here I am not kidding – the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game, and interrupted the “Guess what’s in the Box” amusement with our late arrival. Although I was the first to win at bingo, just before midnight Jody and I retired to our room for a more private countdown and personal kiss (or two).

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, zoni soup, explanation at the YYY ResortIe Island New Years 2014-2015, zoni soup, broth, taro, spinach and rice cakesNew Year’s Day, however, came with a whole host of celebratory events. January 1st and 2nd are generally regarded as feast days throughout Japan, and our hotel didn’t fail us in this regard. A hugely popular dish made and consumed during the day’s festivities is ozōni (お雑煮), a soup centered around mochi rice cakes. Our soup at breakfast was served with soft-boiled taro and some fresh spinach, topped with a salty clear broth.

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, pounding rice for mochi rice cakes on New Years

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, Kevin and Jody pounding rice for rice cakesHowever, it’s not just the consumption of mochi that is important; it’s the actual creation of the cake from raw rice that’s the heart of this long-lived ritual. In Japan rice is more than food; it’s considered a sacred grain. According to Shinto belief, the ritualistic act of creating mochi invites kami (gods and spirits) to visit. The mochi themselves are thought to contain the presence of kami; and as such they represent perfection and purity and are believed to imbue the eater with these qualities. The ceremony involving these cakes starts with boiling sticky rice (餅米, mochigome) and placing it into a wooden bucket-like container called a usu (臼). The rice along with large, heavy wooden mallets called kine (杵) are both hand-patted with hot water so the rice won’t stick. Using these kine held high overhead, two or more people take turns pulverizing the rice, a cadence being necessary to avoid simultaneous strikes.

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, dusting mochi rice cakes with flour WM

After a period of beating, the rice is turned and folded by hand, and then beaten once again. This rhythmic cycle goes on again and again until the rice becomes a sticky white dough, when it is finally transformed into spheroid-like solid dumplings. Although the dough is usually made before New Year’s Day, the hotel allowed the guests to participate in this important tradition on January 1st itself. Served as kinako mochi and coated with brown sugar powder and soy flour, such treats are eaten specifically for good luck in the coming year.

Breaking open the New Year's sake barrel.

Breaking open the New Year’s sake barrel.

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, Kevin toasting the New Year with sake fresh from the opened barrelIe Island New Years 2014-2015, toasting the New Year with sake in a traditional wooden cup (masu)Traditional Japanese culture also makes frequent use of sake as a way to observe special events, and is perfect for toasting a New Year. Our sake was served to us from a freshly opened large timber barrel and presented in a traditional small square wooden cup called a masu. Sipping our generous portions of chilled sake on a blistery cold and windy New Year’s Day definitely helped keep us – or at least our spirits – warm and toasty. As rice represents the soul of Japan, sake brewed from rice represents its very essence.

Waiting for First Sun of the New Year on Mt. Gusuku

Waiting for First Sun of the New Year on Mt. Gusuku

There are also a whole plethora of things to celebrate as the “first” of the New Year. Perhaps foremost of these firsts is the “first sun” (hatsuhi) or “first sunrise,” which Jody and I celebrated (or attempted to) together from the top of Mount Gusuku, the highest perch on Ie Island affording a full 360 degree panoramic view of the East China Sea and Okinawa Island. Although the previous day’s 300 step hike up the steep slope was under clear, blue skies, the overcast and scattered rain showers of New Year’s morn kept the disc of the sun well-hidden; our first twilight will just have to suffice!

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, Kevin and Jody looking for first sun hatsuhi on top of Mount Gusuku

We were still able to share a few quiet moments together in silent contemplation on that mountaintop, only to be broken by our “first laughter” (waraizome). In Japan, like most any place else on the planet, starting the New Year with a smile is considered a very good sign. And this year, I plan on smiling more than ever. So, from the Far East Fling to you and yours,

Happy New Year!

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

あけましておめでとうございます。

510516661

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

Tokyo3LARGEFINAL

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.

15305923486_912bbfeb37_b

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!

15305938586_e76aa5879c_b

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.

15346257282_1884bcb1b8_b

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!

15142278320_9de3ffef1a_b

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.

15142232819_b349540627_b

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!

Spetacular Spelunking: Okinawa’s Gyokusendo Cave


“The frame of the cave leads to the frame of man.”  ~Stephen Gardiner

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Kevin in chest-deep water

So, while I’m still med-down from most things I love to do that involve summer-time crystalline waters, swaying palms, sauna-like sun and sea creatures most can only imagine, I’ve had to reinvent how to explore Okinawan waters in different and unexpected ways.  Okinawa offers much more, of course, than the ocean to escape the oppressive heat of summer.

Okinawa 2014, Okinawa World, shisa lion-dogs at the park's entrance

Okinawa World 2014, Gyokusendo Cave, Kevin dropping down into the cavesThe Gyokusendo cave is the second-largest cave system found in Japan and largest on Okinawa, and is open to the public…for a fee (of course).  Water streaming through the rock and down various waterfalls has helped form the stalactites, stalagmites and “flow-stone” over the past 300,000 years.  Hand-railed metal stairs and catwalks make strolling the cave a memorable and easy experience.  Motion detector-operated lights offer dramatic backdrops and psychedelic shows of colors.  The soothing sounds of rushing and falling waters are heard trickling throughout the cavern.

Okinawa World 2014, Gyokusendo Cave, dramatically lit pooling waters

Although the journey can be peaceful, relaxing and quiet (if you let the loud school-children pass you by), the landscape of the cave is foreign at best.  And it’s imposing enough to imagine it a place of other-worldly monsters, so much so that the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mecha Godzilla movie was in part filmed here.

elpQArjBfr2GOdZA18cnDA8meVu

Okinawa World 2014, Gyokusendo Cave, fantastic pathways through the cavernsAlthough the cave system totals over 5 kilometers of maze-like tunnels and caverns, those accessible by walkway runs for just about 900 meters (about ½ mile).  If you take your time to thoroughly enjoy the journey and take a plethora of photos (like we do), you’ll be in the cave for at least an hour.  And during that 60 minutes or more, if you are like me and find yourself needing facilities in the most inaccessible of places, urinating from the walkway elevated about 3 or 4 feet above the underground stream produces a loud and echoing splash.

Okinawa World 2014, Gyokusendo Cave, soothing path through the cave

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, this way to adventureHowever, that’s not where the adventure ends; rather, it can just begin there.

 

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Kevin coming under a low passageDuring summer months (July and August), Okinawa World offers a special spelunking cave tour that lasts about 90 minutes and takes you to places not normally seen from the walkway.  It requires some uneven trekking and a good deal of energy, so you adventuresome types will find it tons-o-fun.  While not really “spelunking” as I have always imagined it, it’s probably as close as I can get here in Okinawa.

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Jody smiling in the underground caves

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, navigating through the caveOkinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, peaceful Jody excited about exploring the cave!It is more of an off-trail guided tour, but it does meander through the more mystical paths of the Gyokusendo caves.  It does traverse over hidden obstacles along an underground river and some parts of the path are narrow and require a healthy measure of dexterity to navigate.  While the water is not deep, often times you have to duck under obstructions, putting you in the 60 degree water up to your waist.  That certainly makes for a cool-cool summertime activity.

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Kevin in chest-deep water

The stalagmites and stalactites are hard not to touch, but when they take up to three years to grow just one millimeter, the slightest touch can destroy hundreds of years of nature’s finest work.  Some of the growths are measured in many meters inside the cave!

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Jody navigates a very tight passage

There are some critters in the cave, although we didn’t see any of them other than the small bats that silently fly overhead.  While they often stay at the caverns’ ceilings, there were some surprising near-misses as these winged creatures flew up and down the passages.

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, soda straws on the cave's ceiling

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, crawling through low ceilingsOkinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Jody navigates a very tight passageYou’ll need yen for on-site locker rentals, and if you are bringing a camera, it needs to be completely waterproof (housed or amphibious).  Pants and a long-sleeved shirt are required, and for good reason – it will save you from more than a few potential scrapes and contusions.  Footwear choice, perhaps, is the most important decision; I wore waterproof, closed-toed sandals, but almost rolled my ankles any number of times.  Gloves are also a nice touch, since some of the rocks you may grab for footing are sharp and/or slippery.  We wore parts of our scuba wetsuits, but that was overkill; of course since you’ll be wet to your waist or chest, you’ll need a change of clothes and a towel.  There are hot-water showers (with soap and shampoo) offered as part of the admission fee, and parking is free.

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Jody pauses in the cave's passage

If you’re looking for an unusual and unusually-cool (figuratively and literally) adventure on Okinawa, be sure to not to miss this one.  For me, it was good to be back in the water.

Okinawa Cave Spelunking 2014, Kevin and Jody couples cave exploration

 

Okinawa World

Phone:  098-949-7421

E-mail:  info@gyokusendo.co.jp

Times:  9:00-18:30 (April-October), 1700 closing in Winter.  Last admission 30 minutes prior to closing.

Website:  http://www.gyokusendo.co.jp

The spelunking tour is NOT recommended for people with knee or back problems and pregnant women.  Child must be at least six to participate.  Although we were under the impression that this was only available through MCCS+, you can reserve directly through the caves.