My friend came upon these photos from within Japanese Love Hotels. Creative stuff:
The birthplace of karate, home to rich culture and traditions and magnificent architecture, Okinawa consists of a 1000 kilometers long chain of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands that can be divided into three main groups: Okinawa Islands, Miyako Islands, and Yaeyama Islands. There is plenty to explore and enjoy in this region; its sandy beaches and breathtaking coral reefs offer a both relaxing and lazy vacation and thrilling adventurous aquatic sports.
Okinawa is the home of the Ryukyuan people. The customs and traditions show influences of Chinese, Thai and Austronesian cultures. Karate is one the most infamous cultural gift to the world, developed originally in the Ryuku Islands. Eisa dance depicts the fun and frolic aspect of the culture. Okinawans do not follow Buddhism like most of the Japanese. Rather, they have their own religious beliefs and believe in ancestor worship, and are devoted to the gods and spirits of the natural world.
The Okinawan diet is very sparse on calories. The nutrient rich food, genetic inheritance and environmental factors have made Okinawa a place with one of the highest life expectancy levels in the world. Traditional diet includes of lot of green and yellow vegetables. Sweet potato is also among the main ingredients. Other well-known specialties include the Okinawa “Soba” (buckwheat noodles), mango, a bitter version of a melon called “Goya,” black sugar, sea grapes, and much more. Okinawans eat a small amount of fish as well. The tastes you experience are quite different from what you would get in typical Japanese food.
In Japan, Okinawa is known for its optimal conditions to enjoy water sports. The archipelago in Okinawa is the best diving destination in Japan. Divers and snorkelers find heaven in the waters as they are home to more than 400 types of corals, five types of sea turtles, and numerous types of tropical fish, in addition to manta rays, hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. Surfing is another famous aquatic activity in Okinawa. Surfers come across some quite challenging waves. Offshore fishing can also be enjoyed in the region. Some of the fish species that can be spotted all year round in the waters are mahi mahi, tuna and marlin.
After a disastrous and tragic month of March this year in Japan, among the ongoing efforts to rebuild and accommodate for the dislocated hundreds of thousands, the blossoming cherry trees of April make us realize that life goes on. Impressive large cherry or “ume” trees are covered with mesmerizing pink flowers, their petals occasionally branching off and swaying peacefully in the warm spring breeze. Their breathtaking beauty provides a sense of hope for Japan’s future.
This time of year is most popular for visiting Japan, and for good reason. Locals and tourists alike flock to witness the “Sakura” or cherry blossom. During this time the Japanese host an exceptional nature event that goes by the name of “Hanami,” literally meaning flower viewing or observation. Hanami consists of picnics and feasts held under Sakura or cherry trees. It is said that “Hanami” began back in the 8th century during the Nara period. It was the Heian period when Emperor Saga himself started holding these flower-viewing parties. For a while the custom was limited to the ruling elite, and events were held in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. However, Hanami spread to Samurai society in the Edo period. It was further encouraged by Tokugawa Yoshimune who planted cherry blossom trees in various areas throughout Japan. The tradition continues to this day, and every year families and friends festively gather under Sakura trees from Okinawa in January to Tokyo in April to Hokkaido in May. Hanami during nighttime is known as “Yozakura.” In Okinawa, for example, you will find Sakura trees decorated with hanging lanterns for this occasion.
You will find cherry blossom trees all over the country, though there are few specific places that are notable for holding the Hanami event. One place that should be there on your list is Yoshino-Yama located in the central part of Nara Prefecture. It is a mountainous region with over 30,000 Sakura trees. Also, the castle town of Hirosaki is notable for its Sakura Festival. Finally, if you are visiting Japan in the month of April, you should not miss out on the cherry blossom viewing tunnel at the Japan Mint in Osaka. This week long event draws hundreds of travelers.
On March 11th, 2011 Japan’s northeast coast was hit by a devastating earthquake causing damage with a tsunami, fires, nuclear reactor explosions, and blackouts. As rescuers dig up bodies and engineers struggle to prevent a nuclear catastrophe, the official death toll rises to nearly seven thousand people, with even more reported missing and hundreds of thousands remaining homeless. The already sluggish Japanese economy has been hit hard, as public transportation and electricity disruptions continue.
I’m not on an expert on nuclear technology. I am neither a seismological expert nor a specialist in crisis management. I can only attest to one thing based on my personal experience in Japan, and that is to the grit, resilience, and decency of the Japanese people. Many have asked why there has not been any looting in the aftermath of the earthquake, and why desperately hungry people orderly line up for food. It is said that true human nature comes out in extreme situations, breaking loose from the chains of society. Well folks, you are now witnessing true and unique Japanese bio-psychosocial nature, and it is quite different from all us other humans even though we are all one species. I can promise to you that Japan will come out of this crisis stronger, and continue to contribute to the world with their technological ingenuity and their message of humility and respect.
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One of my readers whom I helped out planned a trip to Japan has sent me a detailed account of what went on in Tokyo as the earthquake hit. Absolutely fascinating, read below:
“On our way to the studio Ghibli museum we had just left the train and had boarded a bus. We were in the west suburbs of Tokyo. We were idling at the curb and it was shaking badly like the driver was doing something really funny with the clutch, but then it got worse and we realized there was an earthquake happening. We were really bouncing! I looked out and saw the buildings moving. Metal was rippling on the overhead walkways from the train station. People ran out to the streets. It lasted about one or two minutes. We happened to be on a tour with a guide and she said it was the strongest and longest earthquake she has ever felt in Tokyo. But, 5 minutes after the shaking stopped, everyone went on their way and we drove to the museum. We did not see any damage. We entered the museum and then another quake hit and they had us sit down on the floor at first, and. Later they had us evacuate the museum and go out to a park. In the park hundreds of people were out there, and we were given instructions in Japanese about what to do. Fortunately we had a translator who could tell us what was going on. All the cell phones were down for a few hours, but email was still working on the phones. After about 30 minutes in the park with no further quakes, they let us back in the museum. There we were stuck because all the subways and trains were shut down in Tokyo. We heard it was chaos at all the stations packed with people who couldn’t get home. Imagine NYC on 9/11 when everyone stuck in Manhattan had to walk home due to train service out, and multiply that x 2 at least for Tokyo, a city of 8 million.
The rest of the night was a challenge to get back. Initially we stayed at the museum where the Japanese were very hospitable. They served us tea and water and kept us warm. Then our guide got us a taxi. During the hour and a half ride back to our hotel due to severe traffic jams, we saw packed buses and long lines of people waiting for buses. We were heading into town and most people were trying to head out of central Tokyo. Still it was very bad traffic.
When we got to our hotel, it was packed with people stranded from the nearby train station. The taxi line was several hundred people our taxi driver probably had a very long night! The line of people waiting for a taxi to get home was 300-500 people long. Since our hotel is in a more central location, there were lots more people here who normally rely on trains to get them places. The trains move approximately 6 million people every day here. The lobby was packed with stranded people.
As far as electricity i heard reports of outages but didn’t see any outages. However, a large fire in the bay affected the gas lines and caused many cafes to close. After climbing 19 floors to our room because the elevators were closed down, we are safe and have electricity and internet access! Will have to see how this affects our travel plans if the trains stay down we cannot follow our current plans. About 10 pm last night we saw trains going again so at least some of the public transportation is back online. This morning we got rice packets on the doors with a note that the restaurant was closed. The elevators are working this morning.
During the night, we experienced many aftershocks, one of them quite intense at about 4:00 a.m. It feels like first a shaking followed by a rocking feeling since we are on the 19th floor of our hotel. Kind of like being on a boat!
I have been struck by the calmness of everyone during this crisis. The Japanese barely honk horns even in the worst traffic! Everyone was lined up for buses, no mobs of people out of control demanding things, and everyone being so hospitable at the museum and at our hotel we saw they had opened meeting and banquet rooms for the stranded people and set up areas to get tea and water. Our guide took care of us as well.
We don’t have any English language TV channels. All night and still this morning the TV coverage is constantly about the quake and the tsunamis.”