Saturday, February 27, 2010

Peace Prayer Park

Living on Okinawa, I sometimes forget that this island is more than just pretty beaches and yummy foreign food. It also has an incredible history, being that the Battle of Okinawa was fought here during World War II. In fact, it was the ending battle to the whole war. Many Japanese natives during that time committed suicide by jumping off the high cliffs into the Pacific Ocean in order to avoid being tortured and killed. Beside all of the Americans and Japanese that lost their lives in the battle, these innocent people taking their lives was one of the great tragedies of the war. Doing some research on the battle, I learned that, "The 'Typhoon of Steel' that lasted for ninety days disfigured mountains, destroyed much of the cultural legacy, and claimed the precious lives of upward of 200,000 people". Wow! Today, a memorial called Peace Prayer Park is located right on that cliff-side where so many lost their lives. The park, which is home to the Peace Museum as well as many beautiful gardens and monuments, overlooks the turquoise blue Pacific Ocean and is dedicated to peace.

Its been raining so much here lately, but last weekend, we finally had a sunny day and decided to take advantage of it and visit the park. Peaceful was truly the best word to describe it - perfectly landscaped lawns with rows of flowers and Bonsai trees, people having picnics while kids flew kites on large lawns that stretched out in front of towering monuments dedicated to those who lost their lives... They even had rows and rows of stone walls, covered in the names of Japanese and Americans who were killed in the war. It was definitely a serene and memorable place - we will have to go back sometime and visit the museum as well.

Matt at the entrance to the park

One of the monuments

Peace Hall

Beautiful pathway through the park

Pretty river with the Peace Museum in the background


Rows of stone walls with names to remember the lost

The Cornerstone of Peace - this was erected to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa and WWII. It is a place to remember those who lost their lives as well as to pray for world peace.

The Flame of Peace fountain

It was right on the edge of the cliffs

Gorgeous view of the ocean

After visiting the Peace Park, we explored down by the cliffs a little more:

A bunch of cool waterfalls

Thanks for following & thank you everyone for all of your thoughts and prayers during our earthquake and tsunami warnings over the weekend - we are truely blessed with amazing family and friends!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hooked on Books

So, the title of this post isn't just a nod to my cousin's book store in Missouri - I actually AM hooked on books! I think my New Year's resolution should have been to read more, because I started on New Year's Day and am now on my 9th book of the year! While it's nothing like jet-skiing or scuba diving, I like to think of it as my new hobby - I'm currently reading The Kite Runner, which I had "read" in college, but just enough to pass the test on it. I'm so glad that I decided to read it for REAL this time, because I can't put it down!

One of the things I used to enjoy back in the States was going to bookstores like Barnes and Noble when I was bored to browse. Here, I really have no use for the Japanese bookstores, as everything is written in Kanji symbols, so I, naturally, don't spend much time browsing their aisles. The other day, however, I happened to wander into one, because I noticed some English words - GLAMOUR! Yes, this one store had a few American magazines! In fact, they even had old issues of the same magazine - they had Feb '10, Jan '10, and even Dec '09 on their shelves! Crazy, since in America, the old issues are ripped from the stands as soon as the truck carrying the newest issue rolls in! Another thing I noticed - every American magazine was a little bit more expensive than in America - I guess because they have to travel all the way to Japan??? The Glamour Magazine I was looking at had a sticker placed over the American price of $3.99 that said Y1890 (1890 yen = $21.72 at the current conversion rate)! Wow! And the Architectural Digest with Jennifer Aniston on the cover - Y2583 ($29.68) - for ONE magazine! I was so close to purchasing it, just because I'm in love with Jennifer Aniston - never mind that that is more than what I pay for a year's subscription - but I curbed the urge. Who buys these magazines?!?

Although I wasn't heading toward the books at all, I couldn't help but wonder why all of them seemed to be stacked in piles upside down. When I went over to get a closer look, I realized my mistake - it seems that cars are not the only things that are backward in Japan! Books here are bound on the RIGHT side instead of the left. Maybe some of you reading this blog were fully aware of this, but I was not. I was confused. Doesn't it feel like they are starting a book at then END when they are reading? I asked myself. I guess it's not the end to them if it has a front cover on it. It's interesting how you grow up knowing things to be a certain way - even something as simple as a book. Then, when you put yourself in another culture, it takes a minute to realize that just because you've never seen books that open the opposite direction doesn't mean that is the WRONG way necessarily. I'm learning that it's all about perception - the way you've always perceived things based on your own culture. I'm sure they look at our books and wonder why they are backward as well!

Oh, yeah, and did I mention that Japanese read and write up to down instead of left to right:)

Side note: Matt is done with his deployment to Thailand! I am picking him up from the airport early tomorrow morning! Thanks everyone for your prayers and support while he was away!


Friday, February 5, 2010

What I've been waiting for: Sakura Matsuri!

Sakura Matsuri is Japanese for Cherry Blossom Festival, and I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for it! Around this time last year, Matt and I found out that we would be moving, and the only thing I knew about Japan was Cherry Blossoms! Back then, I remember having visions of Okinawa, covered in beautiful, pink Cherry Blossom trees all year round. After doing some research on our new home, however, I learned that these special trees are not full of pink flowers all year round. They are not even blooming in the spring or summer. In fact, the Cherry Blossom season is very short-lived here in Japan and only occurs during the end of winter. Each part of Japan is slightly different when it comes to their blooming season, but here on Okinawa, we get to see these gorgeous trees come to life from about mid-January to the end of February. In fact, Okinawa is unique in that it has the earliest blooming Cherry Blossom trees in ALL of Japan! We also have some of the pinkest blossoms in all of Japan - the farther north you travel, the lighter in color they get. In mainland Japan, they are actually white!

So, back to Sakura Matsuri... Okinawa probably holds a bunch of festivals to celebrate the Cherry Blossoms taking over the island, but I'm only aware of the 2 largest and most popular ones. There is one held up north of us in Nago, and there is one held south of us in Naha City. Because the trees bloom from north to south on the island, I decided to go see the earliest of the earliest Cherry Blossoms in all of Japan and went up to the Nago festival the other weekend. I took a drive all the way up the expressway, and then I made my way toward Mt. Yaedake where the majority of the trees were.

My drive on the Okinawa Expressway

This toll booth lady posed for a picture - even her booth was decorated for the festival!

Wild Boar Crossing

The trip was not a short one, but, once I got to the base of the mountain, I began seeing more and more pink trees. On the drive up, I was creeping along, bumper-to-bumper, up a narrow and winding road that was lined with Cherry Blossom trees who's pink blossoms stood out against the greenery of the mountain itself. There were a lot of people walking up and down the road as well, taking photos of all the trees. It was hard not to hit them! Just kidding, but the road really was too narrow for them to be walking along with the cars! After getting half-way up Mt. Yaedake, there was a large street, which seemed to be out-of-nowhere, and it had a HUGE line of festival tents and vendors - some had carnival type games for kids, while others were selling unusual Japanese food and desserts. I ended up parking near the heart of the festival and walking up and down the street checking out the tents and getting some noodles to eat (one of the only things I recognized). I saw a handful of Americans, but the majority of the people were locals.

The drive up Mt. Yaedake - lined with Cherry Blossom trees and strung lanterns

Driving down toward the heart of the festival, you can see the enormous line of tents

There was even a huge bridge that they had decorated for the season

After finishing my noodles, I started to walk up the second half of the mountain (now I was one of those people walking the narrow road!) and taking photos of the gorgeous blossoms. There were so many of them, but each so beautiful and deep pink - some were almost magenta!

While the largest concentrations of these trees are in areas that the festivals takes place (Nago, Naha), there are also pink trees popping up all over the rest of the island. Driving down the usual streets to go to the market, the mall or the post office, I notice a new pink tree each day it seems! I'm enjoying it now, because I know in a month, it will all be over!

Thanks everyone for following - we love and miss you all!