Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The End of a Culture

I make my own yogurt (more on that in a later post). But today I ate the last of the same culture I've been using since January 2nd. I have to make new yogurt, at a minimum, every three-four days to keep the culture alive and healthy. So this means I haven't been away from my yogurt for more than four days this year.

And in fact, I haven't been away that long since I arrived in Okinawa a year ago. I did some math a few months ago and realized that in my first year here, I haven't travelled more than about 45 miles/65km from my home. And without the fishing trip with my parents off the east side of the Okinawa mainland, that distance would only be 31 miles/51km.

This is a rather interesting statistic mostly because I can't imagine a circumstance where it could ever be duplicated again in my life. I will be breaking the streak next week when I travel to northern Japan to see my sister, then to central Japan to see a friend, then to Osaka for a two-week language course.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

Money in Japan

[but Japan doesn't]

One of those annoying things about Japan is the banking system. My finances are simplified by the fact that everything I do is through the post office. Japanese post offices offer banking, money transfer, and pension help in addition to traditional postal services. But the post office does present the same challenges that the rest of the Japanese banking system does, most notably ATM machines whose hours reflect those of the teller inside (including closure on weekends and holidays). Why ATMs close at night in Japan is an inconvenient mystery to everybody from a foreign country.

And Japan doesn’t accept foreign credit cards, either, for the mysterious and ubiquitous reason of ‘security.’ Seriously, are American credit cards not credible enough? This is almost entirely a cash-based economy. From what I hear, it’s very challenging to even get a Japanese credit card, so it’s just easier to carry huge quantities of cash around. The only way for me to pay my Yahoo! Auctions winning bid is through one of numerous bank transfer services. But it has to be the same one that the seller accepts, which means it’s far more complicated than the Ebay system of check, money order, or Paypal.

It’s annoying and makes me thankful that I don’t really spend money or travel much.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Updated Population Numbers

Everybody (including Wikipedia, until yesterday) says that Zamami has 1000 people. I regurgitated this number to those who asked because I had no reason to doubt it - the mayor even told me. Well, when my parents were here my mom inquired at the information desk and they gave her much more exact, lower numbers.

Recently the new census came out and here are the numbers:

Zamami Island: 608 (281 women, 327 men)
this is broken down between Zamami (447) and the smaller hamlets of Asa (79) and Ama (82)

Aka: 307 (145 women, 162 men)

Geruma: 69 (38 women, 31 men)

The three-island total is 984.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JET Calendar

You may recall last October when one of my photos was selected to appear in the JET calendar. This is my month!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Girlie Water

Is it just me, or is this water reminiscent of an American feminine product?

One of the teachers orders this stuff from France and raves about getting it online for only about $1.80/bottle.

I am reminded of that Eddie Murphy movie (I don’t recall the name) where he is the heir to a great fortune and he can either take $30 million up front or, if he can spend $100 million in a week, he will get $300 million. The numbers and reasoning are all a little fuzzy, but that was the idea. Anyway, he proceeds to buy really expensive rare stamps and use them for actual postage and pay exorbitant salaries to people for meaningless jobs. Essentially he’s really wasteful.

That’s what French water is to me: inventing the most ridiculous reasons (French water is good for you) to add as much carbon to the atmosphere as we can.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Girls and Friends

This morning I was riding the boat with Yuki, a guy who works at a coral-growing place on Aka. He’s in his twenties and says he has five girlfriends on the mainland (and he seems kinda serious about it). He was asking me if the letter I was reading (from Amanda) was from my girlfriend. I said no, it was from a friend. “Girlfriend?” he asked again. I explained, as best I could, that she is a girl and my friend, but not my girlfriend. Then I told him I don’t have a girlfriend. He asked the requisite question, “do you like Japanese women?” “Of course,” I said.

He proceeded to list off qualities of mine: running, fishing, cooking (he couldn’t think of more, but I provided some) and asked why I was still single. This is not an easy question for me because I get it a lot from men and taken women. I have flaws and good qualities, like everybody, but I don’t know what it is that keeps Zamami girls so disinterested.

Last night I was finally going to have the girl over whom I have a crush on. She had a rare day off from the busy life that is the dive industry and she seemed excited about making pizza and going to eisa afterwards. But she stood me up.

Sometimes I think Peace Corps was an easier experience for me because there wasn’t even the possibility of a girlfriend. It might be better to have an excuse than to be rejected.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oh White People!

My friend Erin writes me letters from South Africa and uses the phrase “Oh Africa” to pass off the ridiculousness of some of her encounters (like a neighbor asking if she rode her new bike to the village from America). So I’m going adopt the phrase to describe the encounters I have with white people on Zamami.

My friend Vaughn visited this weekend to go diving. During his first visit back in whale watching season I described an interesting phenomenon I experience with white people here: they snub me. It’s not the case with all, but easily the majority of whites I greet flat-out ignore me.

My theory is that they are being protective of what they think is their 'secret' discovery. But I wonder, would they also snub a Japanese person who was greeting them? Doubtful. So why are they rebuffing me? Are we really competing for this place? (And if we are, they don’t immediately know it, but I won.)

It happened to Vaughn this weekend with military and again to me tonight with two girls I passed while running. It used to really bother me, but now it just cracks me up – especially when those people get a chance to see me later as a member of the community. “Suckahs!” is my getting-back-at-them thought.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Engrish Hat

A four-year old girl is wearing this:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


I got an email from my dad last week that he had to put my dog down. Nicki was a Christmas present (in the form of a certificate) for me in 1993 as a freshman in high school. She was born in March of 1994 and we drove down to Oregon to pick her out. We had second pick, which was important since she was coming from of a litter of high quality hunting dogs.

She never disappointed, leading us to many pheasants with her nose and bloodline instinct. Her greater legacy, though, is as a family dog. She was perhaps my best friend in high school, making countless cliff-jumping trips to Whistle Lake and insisting on going for a ride even if it was only to the video store. She fetched with a passion and gave birth to three litters of puppies. She had great animosity for our cat, but was pretty friendly with Abby, her successor.

[Nick with my dad, the day before I left for Japan]

So at age 14, with a full life under her collar, death was inevitable. I figured it would happen while I was in Japan, but it’s still a tough pill to swallow. She meant – and means – a lot to me and I only wish my life was more conducive to spending time with her and Abby. But there are consequences to all of my decisions and this is one of the drawbacks to everything else that is going right in my life. I am thankful and appreciative that she had my dad to take care of her.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Yuki-chan has been visiting Zamami for a month. How she worked that I don't know, but she also did it three years ago. And back then, near the end of her stay, she went around Zamami with a girl photographing certain locations. She then put those photographs into a book. Being the only (or, as I prefer, the best) photographer she knew on this trip, she asked me to do the same thing. I obliged and so Saturday mid-day we walked around sweating and taking photos.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sabani Pictures

More Sabani pictures, as promised. The Zamami men's boat - ざまみ丸 (Zamami Maru) - was seeded first and won, which was good news. Nice to keep the title on Zamami. The two Zamami women's boats both capsized, which sounded exciting. They recovered and finished, but I was unclear if there is a separate women's category (and if so, who won?) or if there are even categories at all. The Zamami school boat did very well, finishing 16th for the second consecutive year.

Considering the potential of this photo opportunity, I wasn't particularly pleased with my shots. I think I took about 450 and only got a couple that I even halfway liked. The funny thing is that I knew it wasn't going to be a good photographic day for me when I went over at sunrise to begin. I just wasn't feeling it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Swallowing Spiders

Have you ever heard the urban myth that you swallow three spiders during your sleep each year? Well, just in case it’s true, rest assured that I took care of your quota last night. I noticed this spider in my big tatami room and was curious about that big ‘plate’ she was clutching beneath her.

It didn’t take much time to determine that plate had been holding her thousands of babies, which were now crawling all over my apartment. They were everywhere, but also small enough that I wasn’t too concerned with swallowing them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Eisa, Sabani, and Camping

Friday night was the Yacht/Sabani Race party. Saturday 30-some yachts raced from Naha to Zamami and Sunday about 40 Sabani canoes raced to Naha.

Of course the highlight of Saturday was my first eisa performance. I was able to do two run-throughs beforehand, which did a lot to soothe my nerves. But I was given the stage left placement, which meant that I had nobody on my left to follow (two of the three songs have components where we all face left, which meant I was ‘leading’, or at least not following). My timing was out of whack and I made all sorts of mistakes, but there weren’t any lights so I was reprieved from most people noticing. At the start of the Sabani song – the third – I put a hole in my drum! I didn’t know what to do so I stopped, switched the drum around, and then joined back in. I finished well and was really pleased to have the first performance out of the way.

[I think eisa outfits are not very fashionable]

Sunday was Sabani, one of the most important days of the year for Zamami. I recognized the event as a great photo opportunity, so I woke up at 4:30am to photograph the boats at sunrise. I organized my ride on the support boat of the village office team and was requested by them to photograph the start, which is what I was going to do anyway. At about 8:15am the race started and a few minutes later I went over to the village office’s boat location. And couldn’t find anybody. I frantically scanned the beach as support boats hurriedly came ashore to pick up their riders. No village office boat. In five minutes it was all over with and, despite the help of two different people, it became apparent I was not going to be a participant in the Sabani race as a paddler, cheerer, photographer, or party-goer. My boat had left without me.

[The start]

Moping seemed like the best solution so that's what I did most of Sunday. But not wanting to waste the weekend I decided on a last-minute camping trip to Yakabi Island (about a 1.5 hour paddle). Upon arriving I was dismayed to find the wind and swell coming out of the West. I observed the breaking waves until I thought I could make it through. I was wrong – I rolled the kayak. Thank goodness for dry bags. I set camp and hurried out to a rocky point to fish till dusk, where I actually caught a sizable needlefish - about 4’ long and 6-7 pounds – but turned him loose.

Just after dusk I arrived back and ate my dinner in the last moments of light (I forgot my headlamp). A storm arrived about 40 minutes after I lay down. I was the only thing holding my tent down, so I had to wait for a break to run out in the rain, find two big rocks, and tie my tent down to them.
At 3am I awoke to another storm. But this time sand was blowing up against my tent. With patterned spacing. I had a hunch what it was so I investigated. I was right: it was a turtle. She was building her nest immediately at the foot of my tent. I got a couple pictures before moving the tent forward a bit. This one only took 1.5 hours so I still got some sleep before sunrise. I hooked a fish – somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds I figured – but lost it just as it was dragging me into a sure-disaster area of crashing waves.

[My alarm clock]

[Can you follow the trail to my tent?]

The day turned out beautiful and the diving team with the girl I have a crush on came up to me while I was paddling home. I asked if they were doing any afternoon dives and they were so I booked right there on the water. And at 3pm I went out for a beautiful shallow-water dive where we got into a school of tiny, translucent fish (I could see their skeletons!).

More Sabani pictures later this week.