Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Diving For Treasure

Last Monday I went fishing after school. I kayaked around the west side of Zamami to the point where I caught the big Giant Trevally last year. I wasn't really expecting to catch anything because I never really catch anything, but I had a 15-20lb. grouperish-looking fish come up and slam my lure. I probably could've controlled it easily by cranking down the drag, but since I saw the fish and knew its size I thought I'd let it put up a fight. Big mistake because these bottom-dwellers go right back down and hide under something. In this case a coral head, which the fish promptly attached my lure to and disattached himself.

And this is when a GT fisherman swears at himself for using 65lb. test line, a 200lb. test leader, and hardware that is all rated at a minimum of 330 pounds. I am not going to break any of that by just pulling from a kayak. While I was surveying my options I came up with a brilliant idea. I would have to cut the line, but if I could find something to tie the line off to that floated, I could come back later and dive for the lure. So I emptied my water bottle and tied it off with about 6-8' of extra line. Then I triangulated my position based on landmarks and took off.

Wednesday I went back but the current was too strong to let go of my kayak for too long. Ditto Friday. Bad weather all weekend kept me away until I finally decided to try from shore yesterday.

[my lure was somewhere on the bottom 40m off that point way out there]

I went at low tide and was able to walk 3/4 of the way around the bay before entering water and snorkeling the rest. But between the 10' swells (a typhoon is in the area) and the strong current, things were a little tenuous. The water bottle was gone with the high swells and I was having trouble triangulating, but suddenly I spotted a lure 5m off the bottom. It was the same make as my lure, but a different color and I thought for sure this was another fisherman's loss. I dove down 10m, grabbed it, then surfaced and discovered it was in fact my lure.

On the return trip I had a curious turtle swim circles around me, coming within a meter. I also saw a Bluefin Trevally, Rainbow Runner, grouper, lobster, and whitetip shark. Quite a good snorkeling trip!

[me and my $50 lure - definitely worth going back for]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jail in Japan

A couple of Okinawa ALT's (English teachers) were arrested Friday for drug importation. Though the details were slim at first (and still are), I was glad to hear via an official email sent out by our lead JETs in Naha. Because that night it was the lead story on Okinawan news, and on the front page of the Okinawan newspaper Saturday morning. Apparently the two girls ordered a drug called 'mind candy' from the U.K. The pill has a substance illegal in both the U.S. and Japan. Authorities intercepted the package in Tokyo, then passed along the information to the Okinawan police.

I've been thinking about it all weekend - how you can be going about your life, making plans, getting annoyed at little things, and suddenly it's all turned upside down. It seems that these girls' (one of whom is my friend, and the person I stay[ed] with when I go to Naha) Okinawan lives are probably over. They've apparently admitted to ordering the pills, but 'denied' guilt by saying they didn't know they were illegal. I believe them, but that doesn't appease the laws.

I've also concluded that I really need to thank my parents and my upbringing - especially my choice in friends - for never getting me involved in drugs. For various reasons I've mostly figured out in adulthood, drugs don't mesh with my lifestyle (health and athletics). But they are also a terrible thing to mess with when you're in a foreign country. Here, when you're under contract, and you go to jail, you lose not only your job, but also your life. You lose your friends, your apartment/utilities/cell phone contracts, and any belongings you can't fit quickly into two suitcases, if you're even that lucky. Plus you might get jail time. I see it as a much bigger loss than getting busted in the U.S.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Free Flowers

A few months ago an old lady cultivated this small patch of dirt next to my apartment. I was really happy that somebody got around to it because I had considered it many times. But I was deterred by how unhealthy the soil looked and the effort it would take to get water to the ground.

Anyway, last week the 'crops' came up in the form of sunflowers and wildflowers. So selfless of that lady to turn those weeds into beauty.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Right Choice

After my last post, where I spent much time discussing the rip-off entry fee and only one sentence mentioning the women who came to Zamami, Wren made an apt comment about my priorities not being in order. But I got them in order on Sunday, a day I could choose between hanging out with all the skinny, fit swimmer girls at the beach or going marlin fishing with three guys.

I will always choose fishing or hunting over girls. Arguably there is no season on girls (though, if they only come to your island once/year, arguably there is a season) like on fish and ungulates.

It was the first marlin fishing trip this year [that I've been on] that we didn't touch a single fish all day. Our consolation prize was getting into a pod of these:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rough Water Swim, Zamami

This weekend marked the biggest athletic event on Zamami, or 'the weekend all the Japanese girls who Dave wants to date come to Zamami'. There are often couples wandering the back alleys and waterfront of Zamami on warm weekends, but on RWS weekend they are jogging. Everybody's fit, everybody's cool. There was even a girl wearing a Patagonia fishing hat whom, when I commented on it, volunteered that she loves fishing. And being fit. Siiiigh.. (she lives in Tokyo)

I committed at last year's event to participate this year, no matter how slow I am at swimming. Unfortunately my limited training was further shortened this last week when my goggles broke. But I [correctly] assumed I could just bum a pair off another swimmer at the event.

[Apparently tiny Speedos (the kind I was wearing) are no longer in style]

I found out the day before that the signup fee was $40, which was about $30 more than I wanted to pay. I didn't want the tshirt, I didn't want the gift bag, I didn't want the dinner, I just wanted to participate. So I purposely waited until the last minute to sign up hoping the lady would accept the 2000yen I had on me as my only cash. But the event was rescheduled a couple hours because of lightning, so she had no sympathy to my plight and would not budge on the 4000yen entry fee. I complained briefly (especially because there were over 50 bags of people who signed up but were not attending the event - why couldn't I just borrow their number?) and then an old lady made me feel bad by donating a 500yen coin to my cause (and she wouldn't take the money back).

I came back later with the money and wasn't offered a tshirt (I didn't want one anyway), nor was there even a gift bag (it was just a bag). The entire event was heavily sponsored by PowerBar, yet there wasn't a single PowerBar in attendance. How crazy is that? Pretty crazy.

So, 290 of us swam the 1.5km course, which was a big triangle. I had planned to oscillate between freestyle and breaststroke, but opted to stick with breaststroke exclusively because (A) I have always been faster with that stroke and (B) I was regularly getting cut off by old people so breaststroke offered greater visibility and maneuverability.

I finished 161st, in 28 minutesish. I have no idea what that time means, but I imagine it's pretty slow (10 minutes behind the winner).

That night they had a dinner/party which I was dancing eisa for. I decided to at least get something out of my entry fee and have a plate of dinner, but I was turned away at the door because the dinner was an extra $40. This put me over the edge, but luckily I only swore to myself. I pay $40 to run an entire 42k marathon, get a tshirt (of higher quality and better design), a gift bag, a medal and certificate, and get a free meal afterwards. For the Rough Water Swim, I paid $40 and got a PowerBar swimming cap. I understand I need to pay for the right to participate, but that is obscene.

The Rough Water Swim is a 6-7 race series through Kagoshima and Okinawa and it's operated out of Tokyo, so I assume some of those entry fees are paying for all the flights of the organizers. But as a Zamami resident who just wants to participate (there were four of us, none of whom are 'swimmers'), I am not particularly interested in funding that stuff, especially when there were 67 people who paid to come and didn't (so it's not like I cost the event anything). I expressed my concerns to a couple people, one of whom promised to pass them along during the wrap-up meeting (in the form of a suggestion that there be a discounted 'local' entry fee next year).

[Did I miss out by not getting a tshirt? No way.]

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trouble in Taiko Land

So I joined Zamami's taiko drumming group in January. My goal was to play a couple songs and do at least one performance. But I knew that I would be extremely slow in learning, like I was with eisa last year. Music is not something that makes sense to me. Have you ever seen Steve Martin's 'The Jerk'? There is a scene near the beginning where he is trying to find his rhythm to some blues music, but instead it looks like he's got a bad twitch. That's me.

At this week's practice I was caught off guard when the leader told me I have to choose between taiko and eisa for the performance in August. He said the reason was because I have to give 100% concentration to whichever activity I choose. I asked why this was necessary, since I already know all of the eisa songs and the eisa practices don't overlap. But it didn't get through translation very well. He (they) was being a bit ridiculous, since most members of the group participate in at least one other weekly activity (baseball, the band, etc.), but I realized that this was probably a dislike on the leaders part towards me or the eisa group. I had heard whisperings of the latter before. So I didn't push it and I just told them I am definitely doing eisa and if that means I can't do taiko then so be it.

I was in a pretty sour mood the rest of practice because I paid 5000 yen (about $50) a couple months back to join and I was just told I can keep coming to practices but I don't have priority on the drums nor will time be spent teaching me.

But there's more: I have an insider. And the insider informed me the next day that the guy who gave me the ultimatum doesn't like me. A month ago we had a practice that coincided with the return of the marlin fishing boat. I kept checking out the window at the breaks and when the boat came in the harbor I left at the next break for 5 minutes to see how they did. While I was gone I guess this guy (the leader) told the group that if there are not enough drums for the performance, he didn't want me to perform (because I wasn't concentrating that day). (We currently have more people than drums, but we borrow drums from Geruma on performance day so that shouldn't be an issue.)

So now my insider has appealed to another 'elder' in the group about the practice of making members choose - and they might have a meeting about it. But I told the insider to back off because I am no longer interested in participating this season. I joined because I wanted to learn taiko and have fun. Neither of those are happening for me anymore so I don't want to hold the group back or, worse, cause resentment.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Marlin Season's Not Over Yet...

I was a little afraid that the tournament last weekend might mark the end of this year's marlin fishing season. But yesterday, after arriving back on Zamami from Geruma by boat, I looked over and noted Yukibo's boat to be absent. I was happy he was out fishing, but I also whined to myself, 'but, but.. you forgot ME.'

He was in Naha with some of his staff Monday night for the closing party of the fishing tournament. They came back on the 10am ferry from Naha and I guess Yukibo got a phone call on the boat from a friend who had just had a triple-hookup of marlin out near where we fished Sunday (they landed one). So after arriving back to Zamami at 12pm, he took off at 1pm with just two of his female staff. Throughout the afternoon they had a total of 6 marlin hits - and they were only running three lines because they had so few people on the boat. Every time Yukibo tried to leave (he had a meeting at 8pm) another marlin would hit (but not get hooked). He'd circle around and go after it again, then try to leave. At 6:30pm they finally hooked up. But Yukibo had to run the boat from the bridge so the two girls had to take care of bringing in the loose lines, getting Miki into the harness, then getting the rod into the fighting chair and attached to Miki. That would've been a fun scene to watch. Yukibo knew that Miho couldn't handle all the spears herself so Yukibo called some Zamami guys who were fishing nearby. They came over and tied their boats together, then boarded just in time for the end of the fight at 8pm.

[Yukibo guessed it at over150kg, more like 160kg, but my official guess is 143kg - we'll find out today]

I was at eisa practice, but the community knew to come find me. Somebody got a phone call (and, I found out today, I got an email from Miki at 8:15!), then came to tell me. I kept an eye out and at 8:45 ditched eisa practice when I saw the lights enter the harbor. They'd been so overwhelmed they hadn't even taken the lure out of the marlin's mouth yet! I helped wash the rods down, remove the spear hooks and gaffs, and get the marlin into an ice-filled blanket to preserve for cutting up today. What an adventure! (and I wasn't even there!)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sam's Cup Bill Fishing Tournament 2009

[sorry, this post is way long but i don't have time to edit it down because i'm on a school computer and I have to go home now...]

Leaving the Zamami harbor at 1pm on Friday while everybody else was at work and school felt pretty great. It's nice to have a day off anytime, but when a fishing tournament is the reason, there is nothing better. We arrived in Ginowan (30 min. north of Naha) just before 3pm, leaving a couple hours to kill before leaving for the party at 5:30pm. I thought we would go shopping, but instead we just hung around then went to a fast food restaurant. Eating before going to dinner wasn't logical for me, so I only had something little.

The party was a party. Lots of good food, very little in scheduled activities. I wandered around and talked to foreigners I've met through fishing, and met other people who knew me from winning last year. It's amazing the 'cred' I have by coming from the winning boat.

We returned to the marina at 9:30pm. Everybody wanted to stay at a hotel/pension, which again didn't make much sense to me. We were leaving at 6am the next morning, which meant being at the boat at 5am. So instead of paying for a hotel and the transportation, I opted to stay on the boat. And since I can sleep anywhere, this could have turned out to be a good decision. Except it was hot. And I needed to crack a window (port hole). And then a mosquito got in. And drove me insane. I couldn't find him with the flashlight so I had to drag him to another room then close the door on him. I repeated this 4-5 times throughout the night, netting maybe four hours of sleep. Ugh.

[Ginowan Marina - every boat that is not a sailboat was participating in the tournament; our boat is front and center]

At 6am the 30 boats participating in the tournament gathered outside the harbor and took off together in a shotgun start.

[The shotgun start]

We arrived at our fishing grounds at 7:30am and set the lines. Nothing much happened until 9:25 when a marlin hit briefly. We sped up and played with him until he struck harder on the right flat (no outrigger) pole and hooked himself well. Miki, a 'seasonal' worker from Saitama who has been on Zamami as long as me, fought the fish. She did really well, though struggled near the end because it just takes so much muscle. There were at least 8 other boats patrolling the same waters and it didn't take long for them to see we had a fish on. Another boat circled in close and picked up another marlin (they apparently often travel in pairs). We could see theirs jumping while ours was still taking line out, then ours began jumping off their bow and they had to change course.

[Miki digging deep]

[Yukibo providing support and giving directions as the fight nears its end]

My record as first spearer is yet untarnished, so I continue to hold that position when it comes to the boat work at the end of a marlin fight. This marlin would not come to the boat easily, though, making many short runs during the approach. Eventually we got him pretty close and I made the farthest spear attempt I've tried yet and it was dead-on through the gills. I brought him up with the rope attached to my spear point, then grabbed a gaff and gave it to Yukibo to bury in the gills.

[Nice first marlin, good start]
We picked up a nice (13kg) wahoo a few hours later, then hooked another marlin around 1pm. He took a bunch of line out then, as I was getting the last of the rod/reels stored away in the cabin, he got off. Not a huge loss because he was small (~50kg), but the small ones still count toward the overall weight category.
We headed back to Zamami at 6:30pm and got there at 7:30. We had a meeting at 9pm to discuss the next day's plans. The meeting was at Yukibo's restaurant, which was packed with fishermen. So packed they were turning groups away. And so busy that the two girls who were fishing with us all day (on the boat for 14 hours) went straight to work from fishing. No showers, no changing of clothes.
Our 'meeting' went much longer than I'd hoped. It wasn't 10:30 until I got home, then I whipped up some chocolate chip pancakes to take on the boat because I knew nobody would think of breakfast when we were meeting at 4:30am. I was right, and thankfully I also made some french toast out of some white chocolate cinnamon bread I'd been storing because it turned out nobody thought of lunch either (that's not true - they forgot it at the restaurant).
Sunday, albeit a beautiful day, was a dreadful day of marlin fishing. We set our lines at 5:30 and had our first hit at about 11am. It was a 1-2kg barracuda. Another 2kg mahi-mahi an hour later. We trolled all over our secret point that we accidentally discovered earlier this year - but nothing. We trolled over to another faraway island, then back. We were were nearly back to the secret point when a marlin struck our center outrigger at 2pm. He went nuts, jumping like crazy and really making Yukibo work hard with the boat to keep the line taught.

Naoki, who has been on the pole for something seven lost marlin in a row, seemed to have a good chance with this one. The marlin didn't run too far initially, but he refused to give ground for the next 40 minutes. After setting up all the spears and gaffs and getting gloves ready, Tsutomu and I started washing down the gear and putting everything away in preparation for the trip to Ginowan, which would follow the landing of this fish (6pm deadline).

After one hour of fighting Naoki had the marlin close. We opened the doors and readied the spears and Yukibo was preparing to start handlining. Then... the hook came out. Only 10 meters from the boat. After one hour of fighting. This was a difficult situation for Naoki. He's been on the wrong side of good luck this season on the marlin boat. He caught a 50kg marlin early on, then has lost eight consecutive fish, including this most important one (it would have won us the overal weight category). But it's probably not his fault. In fighting a marlin there is not much skill beyond keeping the line taught (which a surprising number of people seem to fail at). Naoki is just unlucky, but this doesn't prevent us from giving him a really hard time about it (waiting an hour, of course).
On the trip to Ginowan we had a really cool encounter in the open ocean: a whale shark:

These are rare(ish), but just really hard to come across. It was pretty tame and curious. Enjoy these pictures - they don't come along very often.

We made it to Ginowan at 5pm and weighed in our marlin at 122kg. The third biggest at the time, but we knew it wouldn't hold. Shortly later a nice 153kg marlin came in from near to where we'd been fishing. I didn't get final results, but I think they won, then a 150kg, then 132kg, 128kg, 122kg. Something like that. I don't know about overall weight, but I didn't see anybody weigh in more than one marlin, so I'm sure our two would've taken the honors. Bummer.. but, that's fishing. It would be a lot less interesting if a hooked fish meant a guarantee it would be in the boat.

[Team Heartland]

[the sunset on the way back to Zamami]
[that's Zamami on the left]
We returned at 8:30pm, cleaned the fish, went out to dinner at 9pm, then I was in bed by 10:30pm. I slept really, really well.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sam's Cup (billfish tournament)

You may remember a pretty fantastic story from last year about the marlin tournament. It is upon us again. Today I got the afternoon off from school because we'll leave at 1pm to head to the Okinawa mainland. I assume we'll do some shopping this afternoon, then we have the opening party tonight. As the defending champions I will have to give the English side of our speech.

Tomorrow the tournament starts at 6am and we will be heading out on the dot after sleeping on the boat tonight. We'll fish until dark tomorrow - close to 8pm, then we'll be up again at 4:30am on Sunday to reach our point at daybreak. The tournament closes at 6pm so we will have to make it back to the mainland by then for weigh-in, assuming we have enough fish to make that trip worthwhile.

My last class today ends at 12:45pm. I have to run to the post office to hopefully pick up some marlin lures that are due to arrive in the mail, then I have to go home to change and repack my bag, then hurry to the boat by 1pm.

がんばってます!(good luck to us!)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Asa Banana Diet

The Morning Banana Diet caught on big in Japan last fall. I noticed it because the prices of bananas in my weekly catalogue shot up. This was annoying because bananas are the cheapest fruit available in Japan (about $2.50 for 2 pounds, when they are on sale) and I was suddenly outpriced because a nation of 100-pound ladies found a new fad to try to get slimmer.

One of my teachers just took up the diet, which is this: eat a banana (or a few) for breakfast and drink room temperature water. She says this combination is supposed to create an enzyme which helps with digestion. Digestion of what, I don't know.

I asked her what she will do when she reaches her weight goal since she isn't adding exercise to her routine. She shrugged her shoulders and said 'I don't know'. Which is why 'diets' don't work, and won't work for her. It took her years to get to the weight she's at now and she did it through her lifestyle. If she wants to achieve a different weight she'll need another lifestyle change.

Here's a quote from a Time article on the diet:
Professor Masahiko Okada of Niigata University School of Medicine questions the hype around the banana diet. The human body has three essential nutrients — carbohydrates, fat and protein —, he says, and "the golden rule is to balance these three nutrients and a daily calorie intake. Once you understand that, you don't have to be swayed by the fad diet any more, whether it is a konnyaku (alimentary yam paste) or a banana diet." But a nation prone to dieting fads often ignores such sober advice.

And one more, on demand:
Supplying the spike in demand will be lucrative, because banana prices in Japan have risen about 20% as a result of supply shortages that have coincided with the diet fad.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


My computer died last night while writing up a blog post. Google searches haven't yet returned any solutions that work. It looks like a trip to a service center might be next. I get to figure that out in Japanese and also hope the price of fixing doesn't exceed the worth of the computer.

In the meantime, I think blog posts will be fewer. I won't be able to use pictures as I don't have easy access to the archive nor do I have a place to store any photos from here forward.

Fortunately I have all my photos backed up on an external harddrive, and I updated it just last week.