As I mentioned in my last post, the past few weeks have just flown by. I can hardly believe our daughter is over a month old already! Having a newborn is definitely not the easiest thing in the world…I have never been more sleep-deprived in my life…but I wouldn’t want to miss a single coo or smile! We’ve had a lot of family visit over the past few weeks to visit the new addition and also give us a hand so we have managed to get out of the house a bit and I managed to make sure not every item on this month’s list is baby-related. 😉 (more…)
February was quite a busy month. So busy that when I went to write this post, I discovered I hadn’t ever finished my January Things I’m Loving post! I knew I’d worked on it but I forgot that I still needed to add photos and hit Publish. >_< Oh well. It’s done now. The one good thing about it I suppose is that it further supports my decision to cut back on my commitments. I’ve just had too much going on and was beginning to feel rather run down. I did reduce my hours on one project so hopefully I’ll feel like I have a little breathing room for a change. Considering this post isn’t a month late, maybe it’s already working! ^_~ (more…)
It’s hard to believe that it’s already the end of November! Living in Hawaii, seasons just kind of blend together and sometimes it doesn’t really feel like time is passing. (Then I check to see how long it’s been since my last blog post and I’m shocked!) I’ve been hearing about the beautiful autumn leaves (and now snow) from family and friends in Virginia so I’ve been feeling like I’m missing out on Fall. My solution: looking through my Fall photos from Japan! Last year we enjoyed a lot of time in Showa Kinen Park and the autumn leaves were simply gorgeous.
Lots of people visit the park during the peak season for the autumn colors. It’s a bit similar to the viewing of cherry blossoms in Spring except it doesn’t quite draw the same crowds (the cherry blossoms only last a few days so everyone is viewing them at one time) and you don’t have the picnics beneath the trees.
Still, we tried to go on weekdays when there were fewer people. There was an exhibit the park presented with images created from flower petals and twigs from trees. These must have taken a lot of time! The first image is from an anime named Gatchaman Crowds while the second is a scene with fireworks and autumn leaves.
The entire park was filled with beautiful autumn leaves so we just enjoyed walking down the various paths and enjoying the beauty while enjoying a hot chocolate from a vending machine.
We even found some flowers blooming!
The Japanese garden section had some of the most beautiful autumn scenery so we spent quite a bit of time there. There were some turtles enjoying the scenery and fading light as well!
With that trip down memory lane, I’m feeling more in the spirit of the season! 🙂
I was just relaxing and checking the news after a busy day of class and work when I realized that today is Culture Day in Japan! Of course we missed all the celebrations this year but we were in Tokyo last year for Culture Day and had a great time at the celebration held at Meiji Shrine. Remembering that led to an immediate search through my photos to relive some fun memories. (more…)
I’m back! It has been such a busy couple of weeks…I organized an event on campus, started a new job, and had midterms. I’ve had a lot of fun while being busy because these are all things that will give me great experience and help me figure out my career path but it has been exhausting. I just finished my last midterm exam this morning so I wanted to celebrate with a post of something happy and light. Thus, I present to you the night-blooming cereus! (more…)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and this year I decided to join the fight and participate in a walk put on by the American Cancer Society here in Honolulu. Like a lot of people out there, I have family members who have fought and some who are still fighting this disease. Leading up to the walk, I learned a lot about what the American Cancer Society does with the money raised, including making mammograms available to women who need them and funding research to not only find better ways to fight the disease, but to hopefully one day prevent it from ever occurring. That is something I will definitely get out and walk for! (more…)
I know the temperatures are starting to fall in a lot of places but not here! The unusually hot weather that arrived at the beginning of the month seems to have decided to stay and if today’s hot, humid weather is any indication, we’re in for more. All this hot weather has me thinking back to the last festival we went to before leaving Japan: the Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival! (more…)
This past month has been so very busy. At the end of July we’d pretty much just arrived in Hawaii and were staying with a friend while we looked for an apartment. Now that it’s the end of August, I’m happy to say we are settled into our very own apartment and starting to get into our new routines. The past few weeks have been packed full of buying furniture, moving things out of storage, and then of course the dreaded unpacking. I cannot believe it but I still have one box to unpack! >_< There were also two hurricanes that threatened the islands and threw us into “secure everything” mode and really delayed our settling into the new apartment. Thankfully the hurricanes turned and didn’t affect our area though they did do damage on the Big Island to the east of us. Now that things seem to be settling down, it’s time to share some of the things I’ve been loving this past month!
Okay, so this could really be on the list every month but it has just been so great to see our Hawaii friends again. We had a lot of fun with friends in Japan of course and I do miss them but we’ve been having a lot of fun catching up with friends we haven’t seen for so long. (And I am trying to convince friends in Japan to come visit us in Hawaii. ^_~) Our change in time zones has also meant it’s been easier to find convenient times to talk to friends and family elsewhere in the US. That’s definitely a plus! And remember how I mentioned we stayed with a friend until we found an apartment? This was the view from our temporary home! (In case you are wondering…no, our own apartment has no such view.)
2. Wind maps
One of my friends showed me a website where you can see current (within a few hours I think) wind patterns for the entire world. You can get a wide view of the earth or zoom in for a closer look at your own location. The photo is a screenshot of the wind patterns here in Hawaii after hurricane Iselle had already passed and we were waiting to see which way hurricane Julio turned. See those little dots to the left of the hurricane at the center of the picture? Yep, that’s Hawaii. I found this absolutely mesmerizing to watch!
You might have noticed from the many posts I’ve done on visits to parks that I really enjoy surrounding myself with nature. One of the things I’ve really been enjoying this past month is that I have only a short drive to so many great hikes. And unlike the manicured parks I mostly visited in Japan, these are hikes through wild rainforest. There is just something about being surrounded by nature and getting away from the sound of civilization that is so relaxing and energizing to me. I love it!
4. University of Hawaii campus
That’s right. I’m a student once again! Classes have just begun but I spent some time on campus even before classes started just to take care of some admin items and reacquaint myself with where everything is. The campus is really beautiful with many tropical plants and a Japanese garden, too. They even have a map of various spots with botanical points of interest so you can take your own walking tour. I have a feeling I’m going to get to know the campus really well by the end of the semester.
5. Dark chocolate covered macadamia nuts
I have such a weakness for these! As soon as we went grocery shopping, I was hunting these out to add to our shopping basket. They come in several different varieties but the dark chocolate is my favorite by far. It’s dark chocolate and macadamia nuts. What’s not to love about that?! The only danger is that once I’ve opened the bag, I don’t want to stop. It’s a serious exercise in will power.
So that is my update for now. I’m going to seriously carve out chunks of blog time in my calendar so I don’t come back at the end of September only to discover I’ve barely posted anything. I still have a lot of things from Japan I want to share and I’m already thinking of lots of good stuff from my adventures here in Hawaii that I’ll be sharing, too. Look out September, here I come!
On our last full day at Ishigaki, we decided to take a day trip to nearby Iriomote Island. Though the second largest Okinawan island, Iriomote is largely undeveloped and covered by jungle and mangrove forests. Our goal for the outing: to explore the mangrove forests lining Nakama River.
Nakama River Cruise
After a 40 minute ferry ride from Ishigaki to Iriomote’s Ohara Port, we signed up for a Nakama River cruise and were soon on our way! Our boat driver and tour guide was a resident of Iriomote and pointed out the area where he lived as we passed by the private resident dock. Strangely enough, he said he never used that dock to go out in a small boat because he gets sea sick! The cruise itself didn’t seem to bother him though and he described various interesting points about the river and mangrove forest, calling the area the “Amazon of Japan.”
The mangrove forest is part of the Iriomote National Park, so the trees are mostly left untouched by residents and visitors. Our guide pointed out damage that had been caused several years prior during a typhoon. Years later, the damaged trees were still there and you could clearly see swaths of the forest that took the most damage.
A species of palm called the Satake Palm can be found on Iriomote Island. We saw a large swath of them growing on the side of the mountain and we saw several fruits on palms lining the river but, according to our guide, they are not good for eating.
Our boat cruise made one stop before turning back down the river. We all hopped off the boat to follow a short path to the Sakishimasuou tree, a 400 year old mangrove tree with some of the most amazing roots!
On our way back down the river, our guide pointed out two rock outcroppings that are said to look like two cats. I really didn’t see the shape of cats in the rock but maybe if you just keep staring at it…
Our guide also passed around a giant clam shell he’d found in the river. He said these are the same kind you often find in miso soup, although those are much, much smaller. Apparently these large ones are not so tasty but if you look through the little hole in the side, you’ll see the future. So what did I see? Well, there was nothing inside but it was very bright with the shell catching and reflecting the light. So, rather than thinking the future is empty, I’ll say it’s going to be very bright. ^_~
Once we were back at the port, we decided we’d just not had enough yet. Most of the tours went on to various stops along the island before going to activities like water buffalo cart rides that we’d already done so we decided to take a walk and see if we could rent a canoe to explore the river on our own.
Walking Around Iriomote
Remember how I said Iriomote is mostly undeveloped? Our walk from the port to the canoe rental shop was probably about half an hour but we saw very few people in that time. We passed a gas station and a couple souvenir shops but other than the staff waiting for customers, no one seemed to be out and about. Of course maybe that was because it was a rather hot, humid day and everyone else was inside with AC somewhere. We picked up some water bottles from a vending machine and then crossed the bridge over Nakama River. We found two cat statues guarding the bridge.
When we finally reached the rental shop, we chose a two person canoe for our little river adventure. After going over the safety information and a map showing some of the hidden underwater hazards we’d need to avoid, we were given life jackets and sent on our way. I think the person helping us out thought we were a little crazy because I’d never been in a canoe before and we both had cameras and phones, etc. that we had to store in the canoe. In our defense, we assumed there would be little lockers for our valuables because they appear all over Japan and are always so handy. But I guess Iriomote is not the kind of place people go walking around so most people lock valuables in their car…which we obviously didn’t have. Silly us. ^_^;
Exploring Nakama River By Canoe
Two of the big advantages to exploring the river on our own was that we could go at our own pace and since we were in a canoe, we weren’t restricted to staying in the middle of the river where it was deepest. It was so much fun to check out narrow breaks in the forest!
Since we were in what seemed like the perfect environment for mosquitoes, I used lots of bug spray AND I wore an insect repellent wristband. Mosquitoes really seem to love me (I get bitten when no one else around me does) so I was hoping the citronella oil on the wristband would provide a double layer of defense. Plus I couldn’t resist wearing something with Rilakkuma on it!
Being able to get so close to the mangrove trees was really a great experience. I’m glad we did the river cruise because we got a lot of information from the guide but exploring on our own was definitely a lot more fun for me. With the sunlight streaming through the trees, it felt like we were in some kind of mystical place.
But I will admit that sometimes it felt a bit eerie when the forest began closing back up on our chosen course, especially since there was no one else around and it was just so quiet.
Our map showed a spot where you could pull the canoe up against the rocks and take a trail up to an observation point and we made that our goal. We were going against the tide so it was definitely work to paddle up the river that far. A guide from a river boat that passed us along the way shouted, “Ganbatte!” It’s an expression used to encourage someone to try hard or do their best. We definitely worked hard but we did finally make it to the small dock and began trekking through the forest. The start of the trail was fine but further up it was not well maintained and we were constantly on the lookout for any venomous Habu snakes that might cross our path. We didn’t see any snakes but we did come to one point on the trail where the side of the path had become a beehive and there were lots of bees buzzing around. Rather than try to walk through/by them or go off trail through possibly snake infested forest, we decided to play it safe and turn back.
Once back in the canoe, we decided we should probably start heading back and explore the opposite side of the river as we went. One of the really interesting things I learned about mangroves is how they survive and thrive in inundated areas. The trees are often propped out of the water somewhat by their root system that acts like stilts to keep the main trunk above the waterline.
The trees also have lots of roots that stick back up out of the water like little breathing tubes and this helps them to take in more air. All those little pieces that look like they could be small, broken trunks are actually roots that have grown back up to reach the air.
The trees also have a clever way of dealing with all that extra salt from the seawater. Their root system does a fantastic job of filtering out extra salt and according to our guide, the trees get rid of any remaining excess by sacrificing certain leaves. You can see that most of the leaves are a healthy green but a couple are yellow. These yellow leaves are supposed to have that excess salt stored in them, allowing the remaining leaves to stay healthy.
As we headed back to the rental shop, the tide was going out and we encountered several sandbanks that had become impassable. As we worked our way around these and back to deeper water, we saw several egrets making an appearance. Perhaps low tide means dinnertime for them!
When we returned the canoe, we discovered we’d been out and about for 3-4 hours. No wonder my arms felt like they were going to fall off! It was a lot of fun to go exploring on our own but I will admit, I was exhausted. And I was very grateful when the staff offered to drive us back to the port so we didn’t have to walk another half hour in the heat!
Back at Ohara Port, we had just enough time before the next ferry to look around the gift shop and buy some souvenirs. I also got distracted watching the jellyfish and what appeared to be some type of puffer fish swimming around the shop’s small aquarium.
One thing I would have liked to have seen but knew I probably wouldn’t was an Iriomote yamaneko (西表山猫, “Iriomote mountain cat”). This cat is found only on Iriomote Island but a sighting is very rare since they are not only nocturnal but also since so few remain that they are considered critically endangered. The closest I got to seeing one was this information board.
Dinner at Fusaki Resort Village
After such an exhausting outing, we headed back to the resort and relaxed until dinner. We’d enjoyed the resort’s Japanese Restaurant Yuntaku so much the previous night that we decided to go back again for our last dinner there. We ordered more of the tasty Okinawan leeks served tempura style and the delicious beef sushi we couldn’t get enough of. This time around we went with the charcoal grilled beef as the main course and it was just so good. We really don’t eat beef very often at home so we definitely splurged in a big way on our trip and it was delicious!
After all that paddling, I definitely felt like I earned every bite of dinner that night. With all the exploring, learning interesting new things, and eating delicious foods, it was quite a satisfying day!
One thing I loved about our stay in Ishigaki was that we could easily hop a ferry to visit one of the other nearby islands for a day or afternoon. On our third day, we took a day trip to Taketomi Island, a small island southwest of Ishigaki. It’s the location of a traditional Ryukyu village that has been beautifully preserved. Just a 20 minute ferry ride from Ishigaki, it’s well worth a day trip to explore the village and enjoy the beautiful scenery and beaches. (more…)