Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2018 Japan Vacation, Day 10 - Naha, Okinawa

On our first morning in Okinawa, we visited its most famous site, Shuri Castle, the palace of the Ryukyu kingdom from 1429 to 1879 and now a World Heritage site.

They are recoating the lacquer on the seiden, the main castle hall, so there is scaffolding obstructing the view.

We were able to walk through the inside of the seiden.

This is the king's throne...

And his crown...

Here are some of the workers applying the new coat of lacquer...

After touring the castle, we drove into Naha city.

This is one of the lion sculptures in the city.

We went to Makishi Public Market. We thought we had left the crowds behind in Tokyo but this place was packed.

The market has many stands selling fresh produce. Here my wife is trying umi budo, sea grapes. We liked it so much that we bought some to have with our lunch.

There were numerous places selling fresh fish.

You can buy fish at the market and they will prepare them for you at the restaurant upstairs.

We chose red snapper, a shellfish, and a crab.

The snapper and shellfish were prepared two ways: half was made into sashimi (raw) and half was cooked. Here you can see the sashimi platter.

And here the cooked snapper, with Kai trying to crack open the crab.

Here's the umi budo. Okinawans have the longest life span on earth. I wonder if the umi budo has anything to do with that.

Kai's grandfather had udon with pork ribs, an Okinawan specialty.

After lunch, we walked around the market some more. We saw some interesting things. Okinawans eat all parts of the pig including the face. Kai was fascinated by the pig face on sale.

And then we walked out of the market to stroll down Kokusai Dori, a major shopping street. It was another hot day - the air temperature was "only" 89 but with the high humidity, the 'feels like' temp was 104.

We saw a store that sold Habushu, an awamori-based liqueur made in Okinawa. The awamori is first mixed with herbs and honey giving the clear liquid a yellow hue. A pit viper is then inserted into the liquid and stored until consumed. Per Wikipedia, It is a typical practice to age the awamori for a long period of time. The alcohol helps the venom to dissolve and become non poisonous.

Kai was grumbling about the heat, and wanting to get back to the condo. We stopped for a cold snack and he was happier. Kai had a tapioca drink but I loved my wife's mango kakigori (shave ice). It came with fresh mango which is in season here in Okinawa right now.

We came back to the condo for a break, then went to the beach. Okinawa is in a tropical area and is famous for its beaches. Kai didn't particularly like this one as it was too much of a kiddie beach, so after a short stay, we went back to the beach right outside our condo that we went to last night.

For dinner, we went to American Village, a large complex of shops, restaurants, entertainment facilities. It caters to tourists, as well as to the American military personnel stationed nearby.

We chose a restaurant that specializes in taco rice, an Okinawan dish of Japanese rice topped with Mexican taco meat. My wife is eating a version of om taco rice which is topped with a soft fried egg layer and ketchup.

We then went for dessert. My wife and I had Okinawa zenzai which is red beans and mochi on ice cream and shave ice. We're eating so many desserts on this trip but I can't help it... it is all so good!

We will have two more full days to explore Okinawa.

Monday, July 30, 2018

2018 Japan.Vacation, Day 9 - Traveling to Okinawa

After a week on Honshu, Japan's largest island where Tokyo is located, we departed for a few days in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island.

We started out by walking about 15 minutes to where we would catch the bus to Haneda Airport.

It was another sweltering humid day so by the time we got to the bus stop, we all wanted to use the sweat wipes to soak up the sweat.

It was then about an hour on the bus. At the airport, we bought bento lunches to eat while waiting for our flight.

Kai had a tonkatsu (pork) sandwich. My wife had tenmusu (rice ball with tempura).

And I had rice ball with beef tongue.

In planning our trip, I learned that Okinawa was a lot further away than I had realized. It is about a two and a half our flight on a 777 to get there. The jumbo plane was packed as Okinawa is a popular tourist destination for Japanese.

We got a great treat when we saw Mount Fuji out the window. In five trips to Japan now, this was the first time I had seen Fuji-san.

Japan is renown for everything running with precision. Its trains are crowded but they are clean, quiet, and run on time. Unfortunately, their rental car companies are just as efficient as their American counterparts, meaning not at all!

It took forever for the shuttle to come and then for it to depart as they wait for a full bus before leaving the terminal. But the worst was at the rental desk. The credit card reader did not work, then it took forever for them to put us in the car. Kai got impatient, as did we all, but he was more vocal about it.

It turned out that our car was sitting right in front of us the whole time so not sure why they couldn't put us in it right away.

Traffic in Naha city was horrendous. I thought we had left the crowds in Tokyo but that is not the case! It over took an hour to drive to our condo which should have been a half hour in good traffic.

As a result, we got there after sunset. Kai wanted to go to the beach so we dashed out and let him enjoy until it got dark.

It was late and we were tired so we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was izakaya style with numerous small plates to choose from. We got gyoza and edamame for Kai, and also had assorted dishes including karaage, beef, grilled vegetables, and pork bellies, among others.

Back at our condo, Kai got upset when the wifi wasn't working well. One of the biggest issues with him is how upset he gets when things are not going well, and his long complaints about the wifi preventing him from doing pixel art that he can do at home anytime were particularly annoying.

Tomorrow, we start to really explore Okinawa.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

2018 Japan Vacation, Day 8 - More Pokémon, Shibuya, Harajuku

We awoke to find that the typhoon had made landfall overnight south of Tokyo. The brunt of the typhoon was in Hiroshima which had suffered severe flooding just weeks ago.

The evening before, the winds of the typhoon cooled things off. But this morning it had already gotten hot and humid again. We had a sweaty walk to the train station. A couple days earlier, we learned about cooling wipes that clean away sweat while also giving an instant icy-cool refreshing feel. I thought it was great for these sweltering days but Kai was already too crabby from the heat to appreciate it.

My wife had plans to meet friends so this would be a guys-only day. Though we did take the subway together for a few stops until my wife got off at her stop.

We are finally used to the time change but Kai hasn't been getting as much sleep as he gets as home so he was feeling tired on the train and napped against Mom until she got off.

We were on two trains for about an hour before we got to our first destination of the day - yet another Pokémon Center. Kai had researched and found out that there was a new Pokémon Center on the other side of the city that we had never been to before. Called "DX" for deluxe, Kai was looking forward to seeing if there were any different Pokémon here.

He scanned the shelves.

The Pokémon Centers all have the mostly same selection, but this one did have some different special edition Pikachus.

Kai was not interested in collecting different Pikachus. He was looking for different Pokémon and did find a couple that he did not see at the other stores.

We then went to Shibuya to walk around and see the area.

Kai got upset when we came out of the large train station on the wrong side and needed a few minutes to get our bearings. I lost the internet connection on my phone and couldn't access Google maps for a few minutes. It wasn't a big deal but with Kai, little things often turn into big things. He got angry and complained about the heat and the walk, saying he wanted to go home. As we had spent much of the morning going to the other side of town for his Pokémon, it upset me that he couldn't tolerate something that someone other than he wanted to do. When he gets like this, it takes all the fun out of the life (at least for the moment). I know that it is part of his autism that he has high anxiety that can flare up in unfamiliar places especially, but it frustrates me that he expresses it in the most negative and harsh way.

It was lunchtime and we found a sushi restaurant to eat and to cool off, both literally and emotionally.

It was very tasty sushi!

Per usual, Kai only wanted tako (octopus), along with miso soup.

By the time we finished lunch, we were ready to resume our sightseeing. First we went to the famous Shibuya crossing intersection (which is hard to capture in a photograph taken at street level).

Next we took the subway one stop to Harajuku, renown for its bustling shops and fashion scene.

Takeshita Street is at the center of Harajuku's activities and it was packed full of people today.

There are many places on Takeshita to get snacks. We went to Long! Longer!! Longest!!! which sells an assortment of long snacks.

They have long ice cream, churros, fried potatoes, and, as seen in the photo below, cotton candy.

Kai actually got the one item that was not very long, rainbow ice cream.

I got a frozen rainbow which is basically a long popsicle.

After that, we were ready for more walking. We hopped a train to Shinjuku and went to find a particular souvenir for family back home.

By late afternoon, we were ready to head home. We rested a bit and then it was time to head out to dinner, a yakiniku restaurant where we cooked our own beef.

I love the cook-your-own dinner places in Japan as they make the meal so much fun.

Kai loves meat, so he enjoyed it, too.

By the time we walked home from dinner, according to my smartphone, we walked more today than on any day of this vacation so far. No wonder I felt so tired!

Tomorrow, we fly out to Okinawa.

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