Love and Radiance:  Sunflowers of the Ryukyus


“The sunflower bathes its flesh in golden oil, languidly craning up so high – oh how small the sun” ~Tanka poem by Yugure Maeda

MIyakojima Sunflower Field

MIyakojima Sunflower Field

Jody and I were out exploring the rustic coast of Miyakojima during a recent island getaway, with no particular destination in mind.  Heading down one of the many detours we took that afternoon, we happened upon a tall, shimmering field of sunflowers begging for attention.  Of course we had to stop… and stop we did!

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27324539151_6bbb25bba7_bThe Sunflower (ヒマワリhimawari) is a popular plant in Japan, cultivated here since the 17th century.  Over time, it has come to represent respect, passionate love, and radiance, not surprisingly.  As a countless mass of yellow and green, they were certainly standing tall that day, busily basking in the glimmering rays of the sun.

Radiance and Sunflowers

Radiance and Sunflowers

27358829101_8b6fd30fcf_bNot only did Jody happened to be wearing just the right dress for the occasion, she also happily obliged my request for an impromptu modeling shoot.  Usually reserved and quite contained, Jody seemed to absorbed some of the flowers’ radiance, then reflected that back to the iris of my waiting camera.  The flowers spoke silently to us, as they do for so many others, an essence of such plants true the world over.  But more so in Japan.  So much so in fact that the Japanese have developed a symbolic language of flowers called hanakotoba.

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26823387523_4c9bdf3e89_bHanakotoba (花言葉) is the Japanese language of flowers, or more correctly, the ancient art of assigning meanings to flowers.  Historically, and in many societies, flowers were given meaningful codes and not-so-secret passwords.  If you wanted some to know you were interested in courtship?  Wear this one.  Want to express condolences for another’s loss or suffering?  Wear that one.  This interpretation of nature takes account of the overall psychological effects and even physiological reactions which can happen under the influences of a flowering plant’s color, texture, and smell.  In other words, flowers can directly convey emotion, and communicate quite clearly without the need or use of more pedestrian words.  More mystically, flowers are often used to express that which cannot be spoken.

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27120015580_47ce4d0a95_bThese pictures are already some of my fondest memories of Okinawa this time around (See Paradise Lost for a less happy memory).  The low afternoon sun and the temperate breeze made our time in the flowering field not just comfortable, but comforting.  There’s just something about sunflowers that is special.  I’m not sure if it’s connected to childhood memories or just their sheer size…or both.  Well, it’s probably because I got to capture my beautiful wife among them and freeze the moment for all time.

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27154089480_6e3e0fe7bc_bIn Japan, flowers are not just given to women.  And when they are given, the act is not taken nearly as lightly as it is in the United States.  The underlying meaning of the flower given determines the message sent – and hopefully received.  Communicating without words can often ease tension and break the ice which is often stifling and thick and permeates many aspects of Japanese socialization.

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For me, the sunflowers speak to Jody, whispering to her of her radiance and beauty.  Things in her case for me that are best expressed through nature as they cannot be fully appreciated through spoken word alone.

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The Fiery Passion of Mounting Mount Misen


“Our love is written in the stars and burns bright on Mount Misen.”  ~Our Ema left in the Lover’s Sanctuary, the Hall of the Eternal Flame

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Kiezu-no-Reikado, writing our Ema WM

The interior of the diminutive Buddhist hall was dark and uninviting. The top half of the open entry was filled with thick, sooty smoke attempting to escape confinement within the enclosure. The imposing yet mysterious chamber was too much to pass up, and like a curious cat, I ducked below most of the effuse and entered, all senses alert….

Mount Misen Attractions

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, mountain creek and waterfall WMMiyajima 2015, Mount Misen, stone steps WMAt more than 535 meters (~1,800’) above sea level, Mount Misen (弥山) is the highest peak on Miyajima. It is considered a holy site situated within the World Heritage area of Itsukushima Shrine (the subject of a soon-to-be published blog). On clear days, it affords spectacular views of the dramatic Shikoku Mountains in the distance and the beautifully island-studded, oyster-farming waters of the Seto Inland Sea. A number of Buddhist structures, most of them near the summit, are found here, including the gloomy Reikado Kiezu-no-hi (“Hall of the Eternal Flame”), described above.

Reikado Kiezu-no-hi, The Hall of the Eternal Flame

Reikado Kiezu-no-hi, The Hall of the Eternal Flame

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Kiezu-no-Reikado, leaving our lovers' ema in the shrine WMMy eyes quickly adjusted to the gloom, but not to the smoke of the smoldering fire. The effuse continued to sting my eyes, and the acidic vapor irritated my nostrils. But the scene that assaulted my very consciousness was something out of Tomb Raider meets Indiana Jones (see Tomb-Raiding Angkor for more adventuresome explorations). The ceiling of the space was covered in soot so thick that stalactites were forming, as if to reach down to the Eternal Flame from wince it came.

The Eternal Flame and Cauldron of Curative Waters

The Eternal Flame and Cauldron of Curative Waters

Floating Shrine

Floating Shrine

Buddhism was first practiced here by Kobo Daishi, founder of its Shingon sect and one of Japan’s holiest religious persons. The “Eternal Flame” is a holy fire said to be lit by he himself in 806 and continues to burn here, uninterrupted, even now. The temple structures near the summit all are satellites of the fabulously intriguing Daisho-in Temple found at the mountain’s base on the outskirts of town.

There's more smoke in there than this picture does justice. TRUST ME.

There’s more smoke in there than this picture does justice. TRUST ME.

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, sacred ground during our climb WMThere was no flame visible, only the red-hot embers of a number of logs meant to feed the fire for quite some time. Smoke filled the cavity, tainted the walls black and stained dark brown all the recently hung wooden ema (see Shinto Shrines and Snake Oil Sales for more on this intriguing way of praying). The far recesses of the chamber were home to a whole wall of various statues and figurines, whose meaning was lost on me. We were the only visitors, the silence broken only by the crackling of the fire pit. The full frontal blitz of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell created an ambiance that was transformative.

The candles seem oddly redundant....

The candles seem oddly redundant….

Fire God

Fire God

Water boiled in a large iron cauldron over this fire is believed to provide curative powers over various ailments, and although we didn’t know it at the time, the water is always available for anyone to drink. The flame here also served as the source of the Flame of Peace in Hiroshima’s Peace Park (see Atomic Footprints in the Sands of Time for a blog about that moving place), a pilot light transferred in 1964.

The Rear Wall of the Hall.

The Rear Wall of the Hall.

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Kiezu-no-Reikado, eternal flame under a temple cauldron WMThis holy fire, burning continuously for over the last 1,200 years, is designated a Lover’s Sanctuary by no less than Japan’s First Lady of Brides, Yumi Katsura. Seems a logical connection has been made of an eternal flame being akin to the burning passion of eternal love. Yumi, Born in Tokyo, spent time as a young woman studying haute couture while living in Paris. Returning to Japan in the 1960s, she realized there was no bridal industry of which to speak. Seeing an opportunity, Kumi opened her first bridal salon in 1964, and soon after presented the first bridal collection show ever held in Japan and published The bridal Book, the first Japanese book specializing in bridal fashion. Now one of the world’s most prolific wedding dress designers, she has expanded globally, her collections now found in some of the most exclusive stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel and Neiman Marcus.

Ema Prayers and Wishes Hanging in the Hall.

Ema Prayers and Wishes Hanging in the Hall.

A Desperate Prayer

A Desperate Prayer

The Hall itself, however, is a relatively small building. Although the interior is completely unlit and filled with murky smoke, the lure of the eternal flame proves irresistible to most. If you enter, be forewarned: you will smell like delectable beef jerky for the rest of the day, until your clothes are changed and hair thoroughly washed! Of course those leaving locally purchased ema inside are said to be granted their loving wish(es). I, more cynically, believe it’s yet another way religion has found to keep itself – like the eternal flame, self-sustaining.

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Kiezu-no-Reikado, Jody with our Ema in the darkened temple WM

A Sad Prayer

A Sad Prayer

Jody and I, of course, left our own personal ema within the hall. While more of a declarative statement than a prayer or wish, surely we would not tempt the gods without paying our respects. To them and to our shared Love, both of which hopefully remain eternal.

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Kiezu-no-Reikado, Jody playing our couple's ema in the temple WM

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, approaching the Kuguri-iwa (Duck-under-rock) WMMiyajima 2015, Mount Misen, heading down the mountain WMWhile the hiking courses to the top advertise a 1½ to 2 hours climb, a more realistic number is probably actually closer to three. That is, if you stop to admire the scenery, check out the temples you might pass along the way, take a few photos, and rest to enjoy a swing of water every now and then. Even taking the ropeway roundtrip, we were still gone for easily 4 hours. Hiking the mountain up and down is clearly at least a full half day’s endeavor. But the true beauty of the area’s national forest, replete with rugged landscapes and giant rock formations, along with the dotted islands floating on the Seto Inland Sea below, are all probably at their most enchanting on foot. Thankfully, for those lacking the time or the willpower, a ropeway (cable car) leads up most of the mountain.

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Miyajima Ropeway

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Jody climbing the mountainMiyajima 2015, Mount Misen, Kiezu-no-Reikado, Lovers and their eternal flame 2But when the ropeway ends, don’t believe that you’re close to your goal! Getting to the summit and seeing the main attractions that the mountain has to offer will require a consider amount of further walking. The ropeway station near the summit sits more than 100 meters (~330’) lower than the peak, and situated across a small valley. The path climbs and drops and then climbs again. Besides the energy-draining up and down serpentine design of the course, the summit is about 1 km (~0.6 miles) in horizontal travel away.

Red Oriental Bridge Along the Way

Red Oriental Bridge Along the Way

When you’re in Miyajima, take the time to journey up Mount Misen, if not to the summit, than at least to enjoy Reikado Kiezu-no-hi, either with that special travel partner you might have in tow, or in the hopes of gaining one in the very near future.

Selfie at the Summit on a Hazy Day

Selfie at the Summit on a Hazy Day

Getting Around Mount Misen

The ropeway station is about a 15 minute uphill walk inland from Itsukushima Shrine or a 25 minute walk from the Miyajima ferry pier. The ropeway ride up the mountain takes about 20-40 minutes, the exact time depending on any delay in ropeway transfer that is required along the way. From the ropeway’s upper station at Shishi-iwa Observatory, it is still at least a 30 minute fairly strenuous walk to the summit. The Misen Hondo (main hall) and Reikado buildings are located along the trail, about five minutes before the summit.

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, temples and shrines along the way

Miyajima Ropeway

Hours: Daily 9:00 to 17:00 (hours of operation vary slightly by season)

Fees: 1000 yen (one way), 1800 yen (round trip)

Pi Day in Japan, a Math-lete’s Dream!


“Curves:  the loveliest distance between two points.” ~ Mae West

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William Jones, an 18th century self-taught mathematician, was the first to realize that the decimal 3.141592…, the number approximating the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter, never ends, but continues on randomly without any repetition. “The exact proportion between the diameter and the circumference can never be expressed in numbers,” he wrote. He recognized that this important proportion needed its own symbol, and thus began every math-lete’s love affair with pi….

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Saturday, March 14, 2015, was “National” Pi Day, a sometimes rational celebration of the irrational figure that describes the most sublime feature of circles. National Pi Day, although wholly unofficial, is a holiday that, in my opinion, serves three important if not incongruent purposes. For fellow mathletes like me, it’s a chance to celebrate a love of numbers naturally found in nature, proof that god in whatever form you believe (or not), is a geometrician. For those analogs challenged by this digital slant of the world, the holiday offers at the same time a chance to partake in the more literal if not delicious culinary desserts of the same-sounding homonym. And here in Japan, it coincides with the celebration of “White Day,” the Far East’s formal equivalent of Valentine’s Day, but this one only for the lady-folk. See White Day for a full explanation of how Japan interprets the West’s day of love and lovers.

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But this particular year hosts no ordinary Pi Day. In fact, March 14th of this year marks a once-in-a-century occurrence: at precisely 09:26:53 wherever you happen to be (local time), the date and time will read 3.14.15 9:26:53. I hear you asking, “Whoop-dee-do Basil, what’s it all mean!?” Those ten digits are exactly the first 10 digits of pi! This rather random coincidence ignites passion across the globe, and for most of us, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime affair worthy of marking in some odd fashion or another.

What goes well with Alien Crop Circle?  Pi!  Or so it seems....

Crop Circles even enjoy Pi, or so it seems….

But what’s so special about the non-edible version of pi that seemingly connects so easily to so many people? It’s not like differential equations (i.e., calculus) are on anyone’s hit parade, or that a statistical two-tail alpha test of significance rocks everyone’s boat. No, pi strikes a chord with people of all backgrounds, educations, and cultures. Part of its allure lies in its very simplicity, infused with the mysterious flair of things supernatural: a circle, nature’s simple shape of infinite perfection, is defined by something that can never be known with complete precision, so much so that we represent it only as a symbol. Pi is not just irrational, it’s transcendental, and its infinite value holds true no matter the circle in question.

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Almost everything is in Japanese

Almost everything is in Japanese

Okinawa White Day 2015, Mary's leaf pies are deliciousOf course Pi Day every year coincides with “White Day” here in Japan, a fun-filled day of candies and gifts for girlfriends and wives (may they never meet), which Jody and I celebrate in style and excess in some surely rational approximation of what the Japanese irrationally may or may not do. It’s hard to even know what you’re buying when everything is in Japanese, none of which can easily be read (even the Google photo-translate feature fails miserably). Thank goodness for the samples which are openly displayed in most stores! Most of the photos featured here are from the gifts Jody received this White Day as small Far Eastern Flirtations reminiscent of my growing love for and steadfast commitment to her since first meeting back in the late summer of 2010.

White Day presents for Jody

White Day presents for Jody

Okinawa White Day 2015, 3-14 White DayAnd in that meeting there is even deeper meaning for us personally, one more delicious than pie, more intriguing than the most sublime mathematics, and certainly something worth celebrating often throughout the year. Our own personal Ultimate Pi Day, one of Epic proportions and profound meaning. You see, when Jody and I first met, it was for a “pie date.” Let me elucidate.

Flowers on White Day

Flowers on White Day

Okinawa White Day 2015, fun and delicious gummy-aid for nurse JodyMeeting online through Match.com in early 2010, Jody and I had corresponded on and off for about 6 months prior to her transfer from Cuba to Pensacola, Florida, which happened later that summer. We were certainly interested in each other, but the timing of Jody’s arrival combined with my own schedule and our uncoordinated travel plans proved a challenge that would frustrate any attempt in jump-starting any type of relationship.

White Day Wrapping!

White Day Wrapping!

Okinawa White Day 2015, surprise flowers fcee7d6bf94730deb82a971eb4776dbbBut I was eager to do just that. Besides being a woman with almost every quality I was searching for, and certainly there was clear and unambiguous chemistry present, Jody’s curves – from her enticing bluest of blue eyes, to the arc of her smile, to the sexy arch of her foot, to her fertility doll geometry – her curves come close to outstripping the very transcendental nature of pi itself! As Mae West so perfectly stated, “the loveliest distance between two points is a curve,” and Jody’s are any mathlete’s dream.

Spring Time Happy Joy Chocolates

Spring Time Happy Joy Chocolates

Okinawa White Day 2015, Gugelhupf cakeJody had arrived in town while I was away on a business trip, and the day after my return she was traveling up north on a couple of weeks of leave. While she was to be on leave, I was starting my own much-needed vacation, a 3-week trip to New Zealand to skydive, ice climb, and do other things extreme. It turned out that we had only one night consisting of just a couple of hours to try and hook up…but not for that kind of pie (wink). If we didn’t get a chance to see each other on that particular Wednesday night, it would be about 5 weeks until we had a chance to see each other again. Neither of us was willing to wait.

Cloisonné Tea Pot Gift Set

Cloisonné Tea Pot Gift Set

Okinawa White Day 2015, cupcake chocolates shpolaWe made plans to meet, and since she lived way out in “west-west Pensacola” (Beulah, FL), and because of the limited time we had to dedicate to a first date, we decided to meet locally for pie. Jody likes pie (and ALL kinds of desserts as it turns out!), and commented that she had had a hard time finding any good pie while stationed for the last 18 months at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Favorite Framed Photos for Jody's Office

Favorite Framed Photos for Jody’s Office

Okinawa White Day 2015, Warming Heart CommunicationSo, I chose a local diner mid-way between where we lived. It was an easy place for Jody to find in the dark back roads of quasi-Alabama, and an easy drive using simple primary roads. I believe we agreed on a time around 9 pm, and upon our arrival (we were both early – a good sign!), we found the diner closed…of course. Pensacola is a small, conservative town, and many local businesses close down early. This Mom & Pop joint was no exception.

White Day Far East Flirtations

White Day Far East Flirtations

Okinawa White Day 2015, beautiful chocolatesCracker Barrel was nearby, an eatery sure to have delicious homemade pie, but it too was also closing. In that part of town there are not many other options. Being out on a first-date, I needed desperately to leave a lasting impression while doing my darndest to woo this woman. I had a feeling that boyfriends, past, present and potentially future were part of her travels plans starting the very next day. Luckily for me, there was a Ruby Tuesdays nearby, and although I’m not one to turn to chain restaurants for food or value, this was one place that stayed open serving dependable, late-night dessert. We were quickly seated at a table for two, and our great love affair started right then and there, blossoming over the pie we were served. A truly epic Pie Day for the books.

Okinawa White Day 2015, Jody with her presents

Like my fondness for Jody, pi/pie days of every flavor have all become even more magically intoxicating. And as surely as pi continues on and on forever, so too does my love for this woman called “Wife.” Happy White Day Jody King!

At least there's chocolate with booze!

At least there’s chocolate with booze!

Now, if we only could find really GOOD pie here in Japan! (wink)

Happy White Day, Wife

Happy White Day, Wife

Love Jugs in the Far East


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I love jugs.

All shapes and sizes.  Hard or soft.  They make me tingle with giddy excitement as I think about fondling them.

And Jody has the best Love Jugs around!

Now, for those of you with your minds in the gutter wrapped around the more vulgar slang definition of the word, and while I salute your rather singular and worthy focus, those are not the kind of jugs I’m talking about.

Jug-themed Love Shack motel room

Jug-themed Love Shack motel room

No, I’m not talking Love Jugs in the guise of some weird morphing of Japan’s Love Motels (see Tin Roof Rusted) expanding franchises into their prisons or jails, as “jug” sometimes refers to…at least for the criminally minded.

The P-47 Thunderbolt is affectionately known as the "Jug."  This French one is certainly more of a lover than a fighter....

The P-47 Thunderbolt is affectionately known as the “Jug.” This French one is certainly more of a lover than a fighter….

And, although as an aircraft aficionado one could easily assume I’m talking about airplane piston engine cylinder assemblies (a much less well-known and equally unentertaining slang use of the word) , you’d be wrong once again.

Can you spot the Love Jugs on this Harley?  It must be cold out (wink)....

Can you spot the Love Jugs on this Harley? It must be cold out (wink)….

Or, perhaps you guessed that I’m longing for the melodious sound of my Harley’s jugs rolling down the country roads of Pensacola, Florida…. You guessed wrong.

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What I am describing is our “Love Jug,” Jody’s idea from a couple of years ago.  Taking a rather pedestrian old-tyme glass candy jar, the kind with the opening at a 45 degree angle and capped with a thin metal top, Jody transformed the humdrum container through decoration and ribbon into our very own sexy “Love Jug”!  See my earlier blog Do Sweat the Small Stuff for more on our Love Jug in our lives.

So what do you do with Love Jugs?  I can already sense your minds wandering off-topic again….

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The Love Jug serves as a repository of recognition for any intimate behavior that we deem worthy of acknowledging through a monetary contribution.  Now I know this sounds like we are walking a fine line between intimacy and, say, prostitution, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  The point is, when you and your partner make deposits into your relationship’s intimacy account, you find yourself wanting to add more and more credits.  Intimacy begets intimacy (compounded daily, no less), and then, over time, you have a Love Jug full of cash that you can use to celebrate the intimacy that you’ve created, nurtured, and furthered.

Scotland is proudly proclaimed our on Love Jug

Scotland is proudly proclaimed our on Love Jug

Our first Love Jug was started about two years ago.  We decided, for our particular goal, that the proceeds from our intimacy (since they were no longer going to result in a child), would go towards funding a big yearly vacation.  So, the first Love Jug was decorated to reflect our aspiration of traveling to Scotland once we finished our Masters degrees that we were in the process of completing.  Eight months later, when we went to cash out our Love Jug for our European fling in the spring of 2013, we found that we had amassed over $1,800 in just fifteen months!

Our trip to Scotland was worth every penny!

Our trip to Scotland was worth every penny!

“How is that possible,” I hear you asking?!  Well, prostitution pays.  I’ve always not-so-secretly wanted to be a male gigolo….

Duce Bigalow is a master of intimacy.  And a gigolo!

How it works is deceptively simple.  There are only a few rules.  Rule #1 is that you must recognize intimacy early and often.  No IOU’s, no credit with interest.  Nope, you just have to DO IT.  Yes, you have to physically put the cash-money into the jug!

Hey Jody, nice jugs!!

Hey Jody, nice jugs!!

10436758926_f445d0b8e8_bRule #2 is equally as important:  use an exceedingly loose definition of intimacy.  Intimacy is not sex, nor is it the concept of “love.”  Intimacy starts and ends in one’s mind, and can include anything from cooking a favorite meal, to surprising someone with a small gift or card, to washing, folding and putting away the laundry.  These are the deeds that most people would not consider intimate, but think about it:  overly time, it’s always the smallest measures in life that have the most impact.  Anyone can send flowers on an anniversary; how many men can shop successfully for clothes (not lingerie) for their wives, let alone know their sizes?  Intimacy takes on many forms, and those forms depend entirely on your perspective.  If you free your mind from the more predetermined constructs and norms of typical relationships, you’ll find yourself making many trips to the Love Jug, cash in hand.

Our Jug in Okianwa

Our Jug in Okinawa

pavlov_conditioning_dogsNow that you are ready to recognize some small act of kindness as intimacy, and since you most likely already have some loose change in your purse or pocket (or murse for you progressives out there), Rule #3 comes into play:  the amount doesn’t matter.  Seriously.  One of the best things about our particular love jug is the sound the tin top makes as it clatters against the glass jug.  It’s an unmistakable cacophony of chords, and can be heard throughout our homes, both in the states and here abroad.  And when you hear that sound of your partner making a deposit, I dare you not to smile as you your heart swells and feels all warm inside!  That sound is enough to entice you to make your own deposit, in a reaction not unlike Pavlov’s dogs…only with less slobber.  Pennies, yennies, dollars bills, and even refund checks – they all work exceedingly well as tacit and tangible reminders of the intimacy in your life.  And, of course, they all add up over time….

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So why write about this in connection to our Far East Fling?  Well, we are readying to leave for China on Sunday, our big international trip for 2014!  And, I am getting ready to cash-in our intimacy of the last 15 months to fund what will surely be yet another intimate fling within the far reaches of the Far East.

7396745592_80e51b6e91_bStay tuned, and I’ll let you know the value of our intimacy…this time around.  And although Jody’s Jugs are precious and priceless to me (and to other admirers no doubt), it’s the cash money which her jugs garner that will help us travel far and abroad.

Start your own intimate love affair with the Love Jugs in your life today!

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Paradise Lost: Okinawa 2004-2005


PARADISE_LOST5“The only paradise is paradise lost.”  ~ Marcel Proust

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  ~~ John Milton, Paradise Lost

My wife (at the time) was getting glammed up for another practice with the Okinawan rock-band (Pavlov’s Dogs) she had befriended while I was deployed and who with she was going to sing a gig in the coming weeks.  Her being naturally theatrically inclined and blessed with an alluring presence much more than a singing voice, I actively supported this opportunity for her.

Taken the night she spent "with the band."

Taken the night she spent “with the band.”

“Just don’t sleep with the band,” I half-jokingly commented as I righted her head scarf, readying her to head out into the chilly night air.

But she did….  And so much worse.

My ex's haunt while I was away.

My ex’s haunt while I was away.

I’ve written extensively about my first time living on Okinawa (1999-2001) in Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys, and this reflection serves as the 2nd installment of what will become a three-part series covering my drastically different flirtations with the Far East.  While my first can best be characterized as a fun-filled and zany-at-times misfit adventure, my second foray in Japan bypasses all the shades of gray and takes a much darker turn to black.

My Mother ended up passing away in 2001 while I was half-a-world-away on some stinkin’ gray-hulled ship off the coast of Australia.  Her death was expected, and thankfully I had been previously sent home when she was diagnosed with inoperable and rather advanced, terminal lung cancer.  Oddly enough, that was my second time home on Emergency Leave within a year from Okinawa, since months prior my brother was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 kidney cancer.  It was a tough time on my family, but particularly for my ex.

My spouse, “DJ”’ as she was called, seemed to react increasingly poorly to these crises, particularly to my mother’s death, but these were probably only precipitating events.  She entered a very dark time in our collective lives.  After a year or two of intense therapy and treatment once we moved back to the states in 2001, she was diagnosed as suffering from intense Bipolar Disorder.  In hindsight, it made perfect sense:  her highs were what set her apart and made her so intriguingly creative, energetic and attractive, but the days and sometimes weeks of zombie-like lack of participation in life (sans the brains-eating perhaps) was the price everyone had to pay.  There was treatment (primarily meds), and slowly, she started to come back to more “normal” life (if there is such a thing) starting in 2003.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

My ex and kids had become enthralled with Okinawa during our short time spent living there from 1999-2001, so much so that we jointly and mutually agreed as a family to ask for reassignment back to Japan at the end of my duty in Miami, Florida, in 2004.  This was an easy assignment to get; remember, the job I asked for was as the de facto Misfit Toy-in-Charge in the land of many.  My Detailer, the officer who assigns jobs out to the fleet was more than eager to “pencil me in” to that specific billet exceedingly early, since filling the job was historically like pulling teeth…from a pissed off rabid cat…with sharpened claws.

Of course I did have some ulterior motives in seeking and taking these orders.  Recall at the time that we were intensely engaged in active combat operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now this isn’t meant to be a discussion focused on politics or even war; suffice it to say that I, back then and now, simply couldn’t support any of our actions in the Middle East, and wanted no part of what has turned out to be insanely bad ideas and perhaps America’s worst decisions of the new century.  The military forces I would be assigned to in Okinawa have historically been “fenced” or set aside from potential out-of-area global commitments so that they would always be ready and available to respond to certain likely, more local contingencies.  Namely, issues concerning North & South Korea, but more so, supporting Taiwan if China made any aggressive moves.  Oh yeah, and there’s the defense of Japan against, uhm, maybe the pissed-off whales that they continue to kill every year under the lame guise of “scientific research.”  So, in taking these orders I would return to a treasured 2nd home, and I would not be going to the dessert…either one (take your pick)…again.

Of course when you actively try to dodge an unwanted fate, sometimes you unknowingly dodge right into fate’s crosshairs.  So, we show up on Okinawa for the 2nd time in August 2004 and find out that the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which I was tasked to support with Tactical Air Control, was on a no-notice open-ended deployment order for Iraq.

Fate is a bitch. But what I was to learn is that this deployment would be the least of my worries.

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

The three-ship Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and 3,500 of my fellow sailors and marines were due to leave within two weeks.  Luckily for me, a series of serious typhoons in the area – a common occurrence in “typhoon alley” in every fall – delayed our departure (see Typhoons: A Divinely Okinawan Experience), enough so that I could buy and register the family two vehicles, secure an adequate domicile out in town, and get my pay settled and the kids enrolled in school.  I was PISSED at my command, particularly my commanding officer, who elected to tell me NOTHING of this situation prior to my family’s overseas move.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex.  I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex. I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

“But it was classified, and we had no way of contacting you through secure means,” my Skipper protested in his defense.  “C’mon Skipper, how ‘bout ‘Hey Elvis, might want to leave your family and cats in the states for now….’  It’s not f–king rocket-surgery,” I complained, strongly voicing my disapproval of his lack of concern over my family.  I most certainly would have left my family in-place in Miami while I deployed for what turned out to be nearly 8 months; it seems I already sensed that nothing good would come of leaving my ex alone and mentally vulnerable.  Let’s just say the charged and colorful conversation with that particularly bad CO was the most insubordinate and disrespectful I’ve ever been while serving on Active Duty.  He deserved it.  He knew it, and as a result, said – and did little in return.

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

Off I go to war…again.  Ah, the Middle East.  I had already spent a year of my life deployed to the region in 1991 and 1993.  Now I was going back, this time assigned to the relatively safety of a ship instead of flying into harm’s way.  I admit I found myself in an increasingly depressed place.  I had not expected to be shipped away from my family for such a long period of time and to a combat zone that I would find almost ridiculous…if it weren’t for Americans spilling their blood and spending our treasure.  I held absolutely no support for the undeclared “war” that our privileged politicians elected to fight in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11, and certainly had even less to do with weapons of mass destruction.  But under these fanatical tenets that lamely justified our deadly actions, whole masses of people were to be slaughtered.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

176441272_a67bf93025_bFinding myself angry most of the time, I spent a lot of time in the ship’s gym.  Unfortunately, I seriously injured myself there early in our transit to the Persian Gulf.  Tearing a rhomboid muscle in my upper back, I no longer could work out or even be active, which was one of the few things allowing me to hang onto to my already stressed and strained sanity.  Worse, at the time there were only two qualified watch officers in the ship’s Tactical Air Control Center (TACC), and I was one of them.  As a result, I ended up standing “port and starboard” watch, working for 12 hours a day, every day, week after week.  More damaging, my work center more resembled an Okinawan cave than an office:  a constantly dark and dank radar room, kept at a morgue-like 60-65 degrees….  You know it’s bad that when you do go outside in the sunlight, your eyes actually HURT from being under fluorescent light for so long.

Me and "Sarge" on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

Me and “Sarge” on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

I’m not afraid of working, but pulling this type of shift-work for six or seven weeks at a time puts a heavy strain on anyone.  I found myself staring into the abyss; I was troubled, mentally and physically.  I started pulling back and becoming less and less interactive with my friends and shipmates afloat with me.

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

And while my wife certainly was fighting her own battles back home, our lives were slowly becoming unraveled.  It would seem obvious that we would be openly communicating at this difficult juncture in our lives.  However, given our individual trials and tribulations, instead of positive, reinforcing and mutually support, neither of us could find the means to back the other.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

She also claimed to be a victim

She also claimed to be a victim

Yes, or course I am in-part culpable for some, maybe many of the problems that existed between my ex and I; I am clearly no saint and have skeletons in my closet just like everyone else.  BUT, I certainly did not turn to promiscuity as a solution.  Long before my ex even hinted at her growing displeasure with our marriage, she was already looking for solace in places one shouldn’t – someone else’s bed.  Worse, her close friends and family knew, and not one of them actively stepped in to give her some hard advice and tough love.  By the time I returned from this deployment, the marriage was lost.  I just didn’t know it yet.

Another frequented bar for my ex

Another frequented bar for my ex

My proof was about this good.

My proof was about this good.

Returning back home early in the spring of 2005 due to on-going problems with my neck (bulging disc) stemming from the poorly healed muscle tears in my upper back, DJ acted excited and happy.  Maybe she was.  However, she had already established her secret, slutty double-life.  And like anyone living a lie, it’s not long until the truth comes out.  She was caught, sticky-handed as it were, just before Easter in 2004.  “Black Friday” is what it became to be known.

One lady in my life stayed with me!  my loyal Okinawan cat "Tora"

One lady in my life stayed with me! my loyal Okinawan cat “Tora”

Dressed for the buffet of boys

Dressed for the buffet of boys

She moved out, and took up independent residence a few blocks away from my apartment in Chatan-cho, Okinawa.  The kids initially alternated a week there and then a week with me, but ultimately it was decided (against my wishes) that my son would stay with me and my daughter with her mother.  We even split our two cats.  Splitting the family was bad enough, but my ex’s repeated seconds at her all-you-could-eat “buffet of boys” constantly and readily available on Okinawa was where we both, I believe, bottomed-out.

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Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

She claimed to be “in love” with a punk she met in a bar.  Her relationship with this newly proclaimed “soul mate” – the 2nd soul mate on the island counting the lead singer of the band mentioned in this blog’s opening – is a tale as old as time.  Screwing anyone in a minivan forty minutes after meeting in a bar is not love, it’s just skankiness.  I was pissed, partly because my ex was being played so badly, and everyone knew it, it appeared, except her.  When I tracked this hooligan down, it turned out he had a wife and kids back in Hawaii (and the band’s singer was married with kids as well) where he was stationed as a Marine.  Oh, but it gets better:  a Thai bar-girl, a nicety for prostitute, showed up on Okinawa a week or three after his affair with my ex was found out, claiming that her infant was his.  He did not deny it to the Marine Corps or to my ex (who believed that he was just helping the prostitute out of the kindness of his heart), and actually declared the child his dependent.  Karma is a bitch; while the USMC wouldn’t do much about his affair with my wife, there was no way to dodge a charge of adultery when there is ultimate physical proof:  a baby.  He was, at best, looking at forced separation from the service, and potentially even a Courts Martial.  He certainly doesn’t deserve to be called “Marine.”

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

For a few months I made this untenable situation work.  But not well.  Initially I tried to repair and patch the marriage.  I was entirely unhappy and rather depressed; I stopped eating, attempted run my anger away into miles of pavement, and generally ignored work and the more enjoyable aspects of life.  I felt lost on the island that I considered a second home; my passion for the Okinawan culture and scuba diving that had so much subsumed my attentions of the past seemed to have been lost.

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter's bedroom window, 2004

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter’s bedroom window, 2004

Because of my ex’s corrupt conduct, and as she was not only putting me in a difficult situation, but a whole slew of enlisted men in similar circumstance, I approached my Chain of Command asking that my dependents be returned early to the states.  In conversation with my Chief of Staff at the time, I distinctly remember telling him, “Nothing good will come of this; this island is too small for both of us [my ex and I] to share….”

Another way of portraying "nothing good will come of this"

Another way of portraying “nothing good will come of this”

To make a very long story short, I ended up involved in an altercation with one of my ex’s lovers, a 21 or 22 year-old Army Specialist.  He ended up at the ER, and I ended up being investigated by the Army’s version of NCIS.  Believe me, it’s NOTHING like the TV show.  It was a messy situation:  a very junior army enlisted man committing adultery with an officer’s wife, culminating in a fish-fight with a Navy officer in the foreign and sensitive streets of Okinawa.

The punk is still alive.

The punk is still alive.

Interestingly and justifiably so, no charges were pressed and the Army issued an Order that this particular soldier stay away from my family (the Marines did the same with the “other” guy).  I was given a “Non-Punitive Letter of Reprimand,” which was just fine with me.  At least I won the fight…and would safely retire upon reaching twenty years of service.  Oddly enough though, instead of my ex being kicked off the island, I was the one who was unjustly punished and sent home nine months early.

Leaving Okinawa was bittersweet.  One of us – my ex or I – needed to go.  But I was the one who had job as an Active Duty service member, but most importantly I didn’t cheat and ultimately cause this cascade of woe.  It was clear that my ex and kids would be much better served back in the states in more familiar territory and with a much larger support network.  And I would have financially fared much better as I ended up paying for her separate and sinister life since she remained largely unemployed on Okinawa.  The military lawyers, however, thought differently, and so did my Commanding Officer.

My ride home, late 2005.

My ride home, late 2005.

In the end, my own personal saving grace materialized quite unexpectedly.  When the Admiral I worked for, Admiral Victor G. Guillory, found out about my altercation, of course he wanted to see me ASAP.  And of course I was scared to death to see the man under such embarrassing and regretful context.  He and I had worked well and closely in the past months; in fact, I became his “briefing boy” for 7th Fleet since I could brief and stand my ground with senior officers.  When I walked into his office, he unexpectedly greeted me with a warm handshake and a smile.  I was shocked and taken aback.

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“Elvis [my callsign during my time in the Navy], we – I owe you an apology,” he started the conversation.  I was stunned into silence, expected rather to have my ass handed to me for such regretful behavior.

“I had no idea what was going on with you, and let me be clear:  The Navy has failed you,” he continued.  I had been trying for months to get help and placate the situation.  First, through the command’s Senior Medical Officer since my ex shouldn’t have ever screened for living overseas with BPD, and then through official Legal channels to force my ex back home.  My ex had her diagnosis changed to a condition that was approved for overseas, and the lawyers –being the spineless reptiles they are – ridiculously ruled that compelling my ex to leave would potentially violate her rights, a risk they were not willing to initiate.  I then attempted to get help through the Chaplain, who did nothing but offer me counsel, and both first and finally through the Admiral’s Chief of Staff, who simply failed to raise any of these issues beyond his office.  From what I understand, is was the COS who actually got his ass handed to him, the Admiral carefully explaining that he deserved to know of any serious issue affecting any of his officers.

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

The Admiral said he would genuinely miss me, but that Big Navy was adamant about getting me off the island due to the sensitive political situation that seems to be permanently present in Japan.  I understood.  While I wasn’t able at the time to voice my deep and sincere appreciation for the compassion and empathy that the Admiral showed, it has never left me and since has informed my own sense and style of leadership.

While my Okinawan paradise may have been lost, I slowly started to find myself again.  Between my unexpectedly honorable treatment by the Admiral at my departure, and a truly gifted PhD psychologist (thanks Dr. Ing!) who opened my eyes and mind to a stark and unwanted reality, I was able to start climbing out of the abyss.

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The mind can indeed and usually does create a prison stronger than any steel or concrete, and often fabricates a hell far worse than anything prescribed in scripture.  Having pried my mind open to the light of a brighter future, I sadly said “sayonara” to Okinawa.  However, it was with optimism for an unknown future, one that lay in the brilliant sunrise of a new day as I prepared to travel home back East.

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.

senbazuru_by_trustourworldnow-d3bota0

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!