投稿者 HakuAi | 5月 9, 2010

Oh, silly rules…

Rule for Living in Japan No. 509 (no, I’m not keeping track, but I should start):

Never sign your name sloppily.  While this is perfectly acceptable in the U.S. and may even help to prevent signature forgery, here it will cause the insurance company or whomever to come back to your house after you have gotten in the shower to ask you to re-sign, then display great shock and awe at the fact that, yes, you can write your OWN NAME in a legible and even neat manner (after having refused the suggested practice runs, at that) while dripping wet and not wearing a bra.

投稿者 HakuAi | 10月 15, 2009

No music, no Tokyo life.

Okay, this isn’t about Okinawa but mainland Japan…my former hometown of Tokyo, to be exact.

I was unaware before I saw it on TV this morning, but apparently Kansai train stations got rid of their 発車メロ (that genki little melody that plays to let you know the train is leaving) back in 1999.  And now they’re talking about doing away with them in Kanto as well.  The reason?  To avoid 駆け込み乗車 (people running to catch the train before it leaves).

Honestly, I never saw what was so wrong with 駆け込み乗車 in the first place.  I can understand parents not wanting their kids to do it, but for the rest of us adults, whether or not to dash into a train about to leave should be left up to our good judgment.  I say this as someone who has taken a bad fall in a station trying to jump the last few steps into an open train door during the last few notes of a song.  The bleeding hand I got was MY fault – not the melody’s.

Besides, people are still going to run onto trains when they’re in a hurry.  Are they going to get rid of the station clocks or timetables?  I know on more than one occasion I’ve glanced at my watch, then up at the next scheduled departure, and refused to resist the urge to make a run for it – before the melody even started playing.  The melody only heightened the excitement, and then the satisfied feeling you got when you sat down safely inside the train before the song was over was priceless.

Who wouldn’t miss those bouncy little tunes?  They’re part of what makes riding trains so much more appealing than driving.  I always looked forward to hearing the different songs playing at every station.  I remember how the key got lower as you got closer to Tokyo on the Chuo-sen, and how Shinagawa had a couple of different melodies available depending on what line you were taking (the Tokaido/Keihin-Tohoku lines were a friendly sing-along sort of tune, while the Yamanote played more of a space-age, almost spooky refrain).

One of my favorite things about Japan is the theme songs that so many stations and stores seem to have.  They’re comforting, and I find myself humming them when I’m bored sitting at home or cooking.  I know others feel the same way – why else would there be a Yamanote-sen themed clock that plays the melody of the featured station every hour on the hour?  (To anyone thinking of buying me a Christmas present valued at around 80 bucks: I really, really want that.  Or the orange Chuo version.)  I thought it was ridiculous and impossible when I heard them talk about taking them away…until I heard that Kansai stations are already boring and music-less.

But there’s a ray of hope: they have not yet defined an 因果関係 (cause-effect relationship) between the melodies and people running onto trains, and until they decide for certain that the music is to blame, they aren’t going to take action.  So people, if you feel the way I feel about the music, if you know it’s an important part of Tokyo life that can’t be taken away, then do the only thing you can do: tell any JR officials who might ask that you will run like the devil up those stairs and onto that train regardless of whether a song, a droning announcement, or the screech of a banshee is playing over the loudspeaker.  But say you might think about walking in an orderly fashion if they agreed to give Aiko Miyagi some money for airfare.  Hey, I gotta go to the mainland and hear those melodies before it’s too late!

投稿者 HakuAi | 7月 23, 2009

Ryukyu-ken

We had the pleasure of meeting this beautiful family of four in Nago last weekend.  They are a rare breed native to Okinawa.  IMG_1292IMG_1318IMG_1314IMG_1337IMG_1338

I wanted to keep one!

投稿者 HakuAi | 7月 6, 2009

適当に? … Ah, what the heck!

I partially dislike the Japanese word 適当.

The meaning expressed by the word is one of those elements of “Japanese culture” that simply cannot be perfectly comprehended by foreigners and therefore needs no English translation.  Even the folks at http://www.alc.co.jp, the free online Japanese-English dictionary that most often contains the words I am looking for, have failed to come up with an appropriate English equivalent of this word, settling for the not-even-marginally-close yet oh-so-ironic translation “appropriate.”

Thus, those of us native English speakers who do understand the meaning of the word learned it not from consulting a dictionary or textbook, but by experiencing the phenomenon in daily Japanese life.  Allow me to relate a few examples.

Some people, if they are fortunate to have a big enough house to fit a large bed, have their own side of the bed, whether or not they are sleeping alongside their “other half”.  But I would argue, based on experience, that almost everyone has their own DIRECTION of sleeping.  It’s so widely accepted that I’ll bet it’s something few people have probably ever even considered.  You have your pillow at one end, usually the head if it is distinguishable from the foot, of your bed, right?  And that’s where you lay your head at night, with your feet on the opposite end, right?  Not for some Japanese (I won’t name names; the person who does this is an easily offended friend of mine) who like to take their pillows and plant them on the end of the bed where their feet normally go, and then proceed to lie down in a way that most people with any concept of space would label as “backward” or “upside down”.  But such behavior could just as easily be labeled as 逆向き or 逆さま (“backward” or “upside down”) in Japanese.  What makes it 適当 is the fact that these people have not decided, for once and for all, to change the direction in which they sleep.  Instead, they switch back and forth whenever they feel like it, for no apparent reason at all; and if you asked them why, they’d be likely to include the word 適当 in their answer, if not its cousin なんとなく.

Ah, なんとなく.  I remember when Ryusuke Ono (definitely not a friend, and common enough of a name not to provoke any lawsuits without any further identifying information) taught me that word for the first time.  I had accepted a date with him because he seemed nice enough and smart (in that he spoke Japanese and Spanish and understood a good deal of English), although he did say quite a lot of 適当な things in his emails, things so meaningless that I can’t recall even one now.  Pure excuses to email me, I supposed, and didn’t dock him too many points for not having anything of substance to say.  But when I met him at his home station at 7, hungry for a big dinner after a long train ride, I was incredulous to find that he hadn’t thought of a game plan at all!  Instead, he said that he wasn’t really hungry and didn’t know what to do, and when I insisted we go eat because that’s what one expects when asked on a date and therefore doesn’t eat beforehand, he finally took me to a fast food restaurant, where he didn’t seem interested in talking to me at all.  We ate in complete silence and after a painful few minutes I finally asked him why he had ever bothered to ask me out in the first place when he didn’t seem to like me the slightest bit even as a friend.  He muttered “なんとなく” in response.  I asked what that meant, and he said something like, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”  Little did I know, the jerk was right!  It’s not something you expect to be taught by asking, it’s something you learn from experience.  And after several more equally random-in-a-bad-way experiences in this country, I did.

As you may have deduced, the very essence of 適当ness goes directly against reason.  So why would the Japanese, among the world’s leading producers of quality machines which are so because they have been thoughtfully produced according to math, science, data, and other manifestations of reason, treasure such a concept?  Perhaps they are so thoroughly exhausted from thinking so darned hard at work that when they come home at the end of a fourteen-hour day, they just feel like doing something CRA~ZY, like (gasp) taking their pillow, putting it at the foot of their bed, and lying down the wrong way for a snooze – just for the hell of it.  Wow!  I think I just discovered the elusive English translation.  Somebody better notify alc.co.jp!

(Editor’s note: After discussing the issue with Rody, our resident expert in spoken Japanese with almost 40 years of experience, it turns out that the translation provided by alc.co.jp is in fact an appropriate [once again, pun intended] translation for the word 適当 and that the Japanese word originally had a positive connotation, meaning “to match the action to the given situation”.  However, he acknowledges that over time the word has indeed come to be used casually to mean something closer to “just for the hell of it”, which he thinks is a shame.)

(Editor’s note 2: I was just making fun of alc.co.jp because I found it ROTFLOL hilarious that they would use the definition of “appropriate” at all.  They do include a few entries among the many variations of the word “appropriate” that are less misleading in modern context, and any translator knows you need to read all of the entries before jumping to conclusions about word usage. I would never seriously dump on alc, as they are still the free online dictionary that has given me the most support in all my translation needs when Rody wasn’t around or didn’t know the English equivalent for something.  I also prefer their textbooks for English lessons as I find they contain the fewest mistakes of any ESL textbook published by a Japanese company.)

投稿者 HakuAi | 5月 9, 2009

An ancient Okinawan toilet

You think Japanese washiki toilets are bad today?  Here’s what you would have been doing your business in hundreds of years ago.  

Ancient washiki

That girl does not look happy, and for good reason: not only does it smell horribly, as any washiki toilet does, and not only is her okole getting all bitten up by mosquitoes (or would be if she had actually taken her pants off), but she is crapping all over the family’s adorable pet aguu in the pit behind her.  Yes, in ancient Okinawa the pigpen and the toilet were one and the same.  See?  There’s the bowl for the aguu‘s food…

This replica of an ancient Okinawan toilet can be found at Kodomonokuni Zoo in Okinawa City.

投稿者 HakuAi | 4月 23, 2009

This T-shirt is awesome.

http://www.typetees.com/product/623/Haikus_are_easy_but_sometimes_they_don_t

I am sorry I am so technologically incompetent that you must copy and paste this link into your browser in order to see the awesome shirt, but trust me, it will be worth the extra two seconds of your time.  

If you like the shirt, or any of the other shirts on this site, please make any purchases through this link so I can get store credit: 

http://www.threadless.com/?streetteam=Kudopel

Again, sorry for the inconvenience!

投稿者 HakuAi | 3月 31, 2009

Orange you glad you live in Okinawa?

Orange mold peeking outWhat’s that little fluorescent orange speck peeking out of my coffeepot lid?  Did I accidentally drop a highlighter in there?  

 

Orange moldfest

Oh, dear…I’ve never seen THAT before.  Thanks to Rody for bravely stepping up and getting rid of it.

I swear, I left the used coffee grounds out for less than three days…guess you have to be careful even in winter when you live here.

投稿者 HakuAi | 3月 31, 2009

A sad incident at Jimmy’s Awase

I wonder why it is so hard for so many people to THINK.  

So I stopped at Jimmy’s today just to snack on some free cake samples on my way to Kanehide, and I ended up buying canned curry,  beans, bread and cereal because they looked good and because I figured that would justify my taking two bite-sized pieces of chocolate cake.  What a perfect example of logical thinking: put out free samples to guilt passers-by into becoming paying customers.  

Sadly, the folks at Jimmy’s Awase aren’t always such logical thinkers.  When I went to have my groceries rung up, I noticed the fresh apple pies sitting on the counter and casually asked the clerk if Jimmy’s ever sold taro pies.  (Apparently they are a fall item.)  I then asked if I could pay with my JCB gift cards.  (Apparently the only gift certificates they take are Jimmy’s gift cards.)  And when I went to reach for my cash, the lady told me that it was going to have to be “yen onrii”.  

Now, let’s back up a bit here.  I was speaking perfect Japanese from the get-go.  I asked about a local item few Americans would even have heard of without having looked at this site.  I asked if I could pay with gift certificates from JCB, a bank that as far as I know does not exist outside of Japan.  And to top it off, three out of the four items I was holding could have been purchased on base for a third of the price I was going to pay.  The logical conclusion one might come to is, “Oh, I guess she’s Japanese, although her face looks kind of weird; maybe she’s haafu.”  Or perhaps “Oh, she looks like an American, but she speaks Japanese and seems to know about things here, and besides she’s here shopping off base; maybe she’s an exchange student.”  But no, for her, thinking it out logically was too difficult or too humbug, so she assumed I would only have dollars and that she would have to tell me my dollars would be unusable in her broken English, even though she had been speaking Japanese to me without any problem up until that point.  

Why is it that when people look at someone with eyes slanted the wrong way, a “taller”-than-life nose, and more junk in the trunk than a Japanese of equally skinny face and arms could possibly have, they immediately encounter a mental block that inhibits their ability to absorb all other facts and have to press the red emergency Engrish button?  The intelligent people of the world may never know, although we will always be mildly amused complaining about it.

投稿者 HakuAi | 2月 13, 2009

Holy matrimony!

Argh.  I have added another bullet to my list of reasons why getting married is meaningless, or at least why having a ceremony is meaningless, at least as long as I live in Japan. 

Most American girls dream of having the perfect wedding ceremony, surrounded by family, friends, and the occasional coworker with whom they were on exceptionally good terms.  I have been through my own dream wedding once, and while it was perfect in every way except for the unfortunately timed squall (and consequently having to drag out a giant tent), I can safely say I do not care to do it again.  I mean, it’s just such a big production: having to get up in front of a bunch of people and swear “till death do us part”, trying to cry and look all emotional while praying that my hair and makeup (valued at almost a hundred bucks each) still look as picture-perfect as they did in the morning.  Don’t get me wrong; nobody loves to get up in front of people looking gorgeous and put on a show as much as I do.  But if I’m going to put on a show, I don’t really care to star in it as myself, the blushing bride, hereafter expected at least by all of Japanese society to slowly transform into the frumpy housewife and mother who sacrifices herself to put everyone else first…yikes. 

I (well, my parents) spent less than 10 grand on my wedding.  Japanese people spend more.  When it comes to putting on a show, especially when “guests” are involved, Japanese people take the cake.  And when the guest list is required by law (or tradition – same difference) to include every one of your coworkers and your boss, with whom you may or may not be on good terms, you’d better look like you spent enough on the show for a down payment on a pretty nice house. 

How do they afford it, you ask?  After all, these are people who spend hundreds of dollars each month on bowling, drinking, and other optional-yet-mandatory company gatherings, not to mention going out with their friends or families once in a while, if time remained for such frivolity after all company obligations were completed.  It isn’t easy to put aside large sums of cash and save up for a wedding the way American couples (or their parents) do.  Logically, then, the only way to make the most extravagant of shows possible seems to be to make guests purchase tickets, valued at 100-300 dollars per person depending on the region of Japan in which you are located.  And when you consider that every guest you invite is required to attend or face a social stigma that may last for years to come, you’ve got your wedding paid for and then some. 

When I got married, the groom was Japanese and we were moving back to Japan within the week, so many of my friends and relatives gave us money rather than gifts, which we appreciated simply for the fact that it would have been impossible to take so many gifts overseas.  Everyone gave only the amount they could afford, and those who couldn’t gave us small, tasteful gifts instead, some handmade.  Screw culture; this is how it ought to be.  Why stress people out financially on a day that’s supposed to be, above all, happy? 

Three teachers at my current workplace, where I started working on August 25 of last year, have had weddings since I’ve been here.  Two of those weddings took place two months after I arrived.  I am paid by the day, but taxes/insurance/pension/etc. are taken out in a lump sum of approximately 400 dollars each month, which means that my first paycheck (and the first paycheck I’d earned in the three months since moving to Okinawa from the mainland, buying my car, and settling into my new apartment with Rody) was 2/3 of what it should have been, while taxes for the months of August AND September were taken out, leaving me without much room to spend frivolously.  Add to this the fact that the first two teachers who had weddings were guys I didn’t even work with directly and who had barely spoken to me, and the fact that I had just stepped off the plane from Tokyo where the entry fee to a wedding was 300 dollars (how was I supposed to know it was “only” 100 in impoverished Okinawa?), and any reasonable human being could understand why I didn’t want to spend half of my first paycheck AND two consecutive Sunday afternoons sitting at a fancy table with my coworkers and my scary-as-hell boss watching two guys I barely knew put on shows with their white-faced new wives, right?  So I declined both guys’ invitations (which they had so kindly laid on my desk when I wasn’t around) with a nice note, and for the one I would be working directly with after October, I made a couple of seasars (you can see how cute they are at my other blog, Color Champloo). 

Sadly, my scary-as-hell boss, and allegedly some of my coworkers who remain unidentified to me, are not reasonable human beings so much as culturally traditional Japanese. 

I didn’t get an invitation from Ayano-sensei, who got married a year ago but finally had her wedding show on the public holiday last Wednesday.  Ayano-sensei and I teach together and I like her quite a lot, so I was surprised when the week before the wedding arrived and I still hadn’t gotten an invitation, but I figured, oh well – I could have afforded it, but it’ll be nicer to save the money and just give her a small gift of congratulations.  When the boss demanded as to whether I would be attending, I told her I hadn’t received an invitation, so I guessed I would not.  Simple as that, right? 

Apparently not.  According to the big scary boss (she is the very image of terror in a petite, 50-something-year-old package), “some people” around here supposed that my consistent failure to attend weddings and bowling events meant that I was stingy.  Worse in their collective eyes, I make more money by the day than most of the other staff members do for the simple fact that I speak fluent English, and (oh my) I enjoy a two-income lifestyle without kids or a sick, elderly relative to support at home.  So I had better go to Ayano-sensei as soon as possible and ask for a wedding invitation, and then surely show up on the day with a hundred dollars cash in hand (actually it’s equivalent to more now due to the exchange rate), because otherwise people would start to wonder why I bothered to come to Okinawa at all when I could have made more money in Tokyo.  With a final glare, she dismissed me and I took off running. 

When I asked Ayano-sensei (I still don’t know what would be the best, least rude way to ask someone this) why I hadn’t received an invitation to her wedding, making the excuse for my potentially offensive inquiry that the boss had wanted to know, she was instantly embarrassed and apologetic.  “I thought you were just the type of person who didn’t go to weddings, so I didn’t want to make things uncomfortable by inviting you and making you have to refuse,” she said. 

I explained to her that I didn’t know the two teachers who got married last fall, and besides I thought attending would cost me 600 bucks, as it would have in Tokyo.  But since she and I had a good relationship, I told her my boyfriend Rody (whom everyone knows; he’s helped out at both of our special school events held on Sundays) and I would love to go and help her and her husband celebrate. 

Ayano-sensei was the first to voice my opinion of a wedding party as not so much of a celebration as a show for the families and coworkers of the bride and groom.  “Of course, there’s a seat for you at the company table on the women’s side if you want it, but if Rody comes I wouldn’t know what table to seat him at; it would be awkward to have him sitting either with you and all the other women, or alone at the male teachers’ table.  After all, people from work don’t usually bring their families, but just sit together with everyone else from the office.” 

Oh.  Suddenly that didn’t sound like so much fun to me.  Sitting stiffly with the big scary boss and my female coworkers, some of whom supposedly thought I was stingy, and pretending to enjoy my hundred-dollar meal?  And for what, just to prove them wrong? 

“Hey, I totally understand if that’s not your style,” Ayano-sensei said kindly.  “You and Rody are more than welcome to join us at the afterparty – it’s going to be at a bar, and there are no seating arrangements or anything like that.  Probably only the younger teachers will be there, so you won’t have to deal with kyoto-sensei breathing down your neck.” 

“That sounds a lot more like what a wedding should be about – just everybody having fun celebrating with the new couple,” I agreed, and it was decided Rody and I would attend the afterparty but not the actual ceremony.  Ayano-sensei said she didn’t mind at all.  Thank goodness for the reasonable human beings in what tends to be a conservative, traditionalist society more often than I would like. 

Now, how to go about telling my boss I would not be attending the wedding party even after she had insisted I go?  Well, I did the traditionally Japanese thing: I avoided the impending conflict and said nothing, letting her “read the air” and figure it out for herself.  I’m sure she was having an internal fit noticing my empty seat after she had told me to fill it or else, but hey, it’s my right to take my days off off and not show up to work, even though it would have been at a fancy hotel that day instead of at school.  Like I said, I’m paid by the day, and national holidays don’t count.

I apologize if anyone was offended by my blatant badmouthing of Japanese culture and its unyielding respect for tradition.  I’m sure that I could say an equal number of bad things about American/Western culture had I spent as much of my adult life there as I have in Japan.  I basically don’t like culture – everyone has a unique way of thinking, so it’s ridiculous to define someone by a category as broad as the country in which they grew up.  People should use common sense and not use where they were born as a crutch or excuse to not think.  It’s nothing against Japan itself; it’s more a belief that tradition should be viewed in the same way as religion.  It’s perfectly fine to practice it, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights or comfort of other people.  And trying to force someone to pay a set amount of money to go to a wedding by threatening their reputation at work definitely qualifies as infringing.

投稿者 HakuAi | 1月 11, 2009

Just another day in paradise

White, sandy beaches… warm, sunny skies… tropical flowers and lush greenery all around… there probably isn’t anyone in Japan that doesn’t immediately conjure up these images in her brain upon hearing the word “Okinawa”.  But what’s it really like living in paradise?  Take it from someone who used to groan “Again?” every time her mother wanted to drag her away from her Super Nintendo for a day at one of O`ahu’s many gorgeous beaches, paradise is a state of mind.  Okinawa is definitely warmer and greener than, say, Tokyo, but every place has its own challenges in between sunny days at the beach.  

I must admit, after surviving my third Yokohama winter plus a nasty divorce, I was aching to get back to a land where snow was nonexistent and life was not easy, but perhaps easier.  As I was contemplating returning home for good that frigid January, I met Rody, who happened to be from Okinawa and turned out to be the love of my life.  It didn’t take much deliberation at all before I decided I wasn’t ready to leave Japan just yet, so by June I was here in my new home – Okinawa City.  

Rody, who’s lived in Okinawa nearly all his life, tried his best to convince me I shouldn’t expect too much of his hometown.  He warned I’d be lucky to find a job that paid more than 650 yen per hour.  He told me I shouldn’t expect to be able to live without a warm coat or swim in January like in Hawaii, and if anything it was going to feel colder than in Yokohama because of the harsh wind.  He said I’d have to splurge for a car and brush up on my horrible driving skills, because you can’t go anywhere here without driving, not even to the grocery store.  I told him I was up to all of those challenges and more if it meant we would be together.  

So how do these warnings stand up to that hibiscus-wearing Hello Kitty keitai strap image?  First of all, let’s get those climate-related myths straight.  Those posters hanging in Tokyo trains advertising Okinawa as being 20 degrees and sunny in the winter look pretty enticing, don’t they?  They don’t mention the dark, rainy days that get down to 10 – and Rody wasn’t kidding about the wind-chill factor.  I brought my down jacket and wool muffler from Yokohama and I’m glad every day that I did.  Still, I know every reader in Tokyo is going, “10 degrees – boo hoo”, and I’ll admit I’m definitely grateful I’m not huddled four inches from a room heater as I write.  

Cold though the wind may be, at least I don’t have to walk in it any more than the distance between work and my car.  She’s an adorable little red Daihatsu Gino and I got her at an amazing bargain with Rody’s help, but I have to admit that driving was the new challenge I had been least looking forward to.  I relished the daily 20-minute walk from my apartment to the station and back when I lived in Yokohama – it let me stay in shape without even thinking about it.  Besides, I hadn’t driven in years and certainly never on the left side of an insanely narrow two-lane road.  Still, Rody was right: the lack of a train system outside of the capital and the unreliable buses make it tough to get anywhere in Okinawa City without a car.  I did manage to walk to the nearest Jusco and back the day before Rody insisted on renting a temporary car for me, and it only took an hour each way… in the blistering summer sun… lugging about 10 pounds of groceries on each arm, groceries which included milk and other perishables.  I enjoy the heat and don’t get food poisoning easily, but most locals, like Rody, wouldn’t bother to walk two minutes to the convenience store down the street if wheels were available.  

So I had to compromise on the driving, but at least Okinawa City offers the perfect solution for the walker in me: the Comprehensive Exercise Park, the largest and most magnificent free-entry park I’ve seen in Japan, conveniently located just a couple of blocks from our apartment.  Every day I go down there to make up for not having walked to and from a train station, I not only get my exercise but enjoy beautiful scenery of all sorts: winding paths enclosed by trees that make you feel as if you were wandering through the jungle,  a wide road leading straight to the ocean where you can stop and chat with neighbors out walking their dogs, a pond where vending machines sell food for pigeons and koi, and another where you can hang out with turtles, ducks, and the occasional stray cat.  My favorite part is the rickety wooden staircase climbing so high my mother wouldn’t be able to take them without gasping for breath, leading up to an observatory deck with a view of the whole city.  With so many amazing places to explore, walking is no longer a mere necessity to get from place to place but a 40-minute window to relax and unwind each day.  Still, it’s hard to drag myself outside for a walk when it’s 12 degrees above freezing…just barely above, as far as anyone here is concerned.  

Finding a decent job wasn’t impossible either – I was lucky to land a job at an elementary school just a few months after moving in.  Being an ALT isn’t exactly my ideal occupation, but it’s the best way here to save money.  Ingratiating myself with my coworkers has turned out to be something of a challenge, though.  When people here see a face that doesn’t look Japanese, they often write the person off as an intruder from the U.S. military who has no interest in them or in Japan whatsoever.  Many cannot fathom that a foreigner might live among them of her own free will without the shelter of an American base to go home to every night, let alone bother to learn Japanese, and don’t know what to make of one who does.  When I went drinking with Rody and his friends from school days, they were quite crass, cracking “baka-gaijin” jokes every left and right and only deigning to apologize after I told them off loudly in Japanese.  So we found our own group of friends: a Japanese girl my age who barely speaks two words of English and a couple of military guys from states I’ve never been to who, incidentally, are very interested in Japanese language and culture.  We’re not the most typical group around here – no one knows what language they should use to serve us when we go out to eat – but we’re all learning a lot from each other and have great fun together. 

So is Okinawa really paradise to those who live here?  Maybe not when I’m in my car stuck in traffic or suffering from yet another cold, and definitely not when I have to fend off angry anti-American comments.  But when it’s summer, and I’m home playing Nintendo with Rody and our friends as the sun floods the room with rays of light and warmth, the windows open to let in the breeze and the music of the birds – that’s paradise to me, or at least as close as it gets.

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