Monday, March 29, 2010

Indies, "Death trap-GIG"

Alright, everyone! Time for another round of indies! Been awhile, hasn't it? Did you miss them? No, probably not, lol! Well, this particular round was may more awesome than the usual round, so I recommend giving it a read!

So, what was going on with this live? Well, for starters, it was being hosted by the band VAJRA in light of their new single. I'd heard about VAJRA from Ashley, so I came to know them as "the band that punches people." Ashley also believed that a band like VAJRA wouldn't allow any "colorful" bands to play. I was skeptical about how much control VAJRA has over the line-up, but... after seeing a picture of them, I was pretty sure any happy band with frills or rainbow colors would shit themselves at the sight of VAJRA and run away screaming. Well, we'll get to all that later. Anyhoo, today's venue is a new one for me: Yotsuya Outbreak. If the name Yotsuya sounds familiar to you, that's because Yotsuya is where my university is. In fact, Outbreak was only a few minutes walk from Sophia's campus (good to know for those times when I need to run out of school screaming and hide in a live concert, lol). Because of Outbreak's location, my friends and I went to Yotsuya as if we were going to school. We met outside Atre across from the campus gates in order to get some delicious bagels before the show. As if Outbreak's location couldn't be more fantastic, we also discovered that it has a Starbuck's directly across from it - which we ducked into before the show. Mmm... sakura steamers... Anyways, I really liked this venue, which gave the show a good start. The woman who gave us our tickets was super friendly. A lot of times the people at these venues are in a hurry and rushing and act as if they'd rather you go the fuck away than give them your money. But this woman was really nice. She even asked if we wanted the fliers, rather than shoving them at us. Very nice woman! Other than her, there was a man with a ponytail running all the technical stuff in the venue and he was totally wearing a Rammstein t-shirt! HELL YEAH RAMMSTEIN, WHOO! I wanted to go over there and tell him I like his shirt and fist-bump him, lol! The venue itself was small, though I've seen smaller. The barriers and walls weren't padded and there was no curtain in front of the stage, so the place was a little ghetto, but it had a disco ball and a big projector screen acting as the curtain. The ghetto-ness is endearing in my opinion, lol.

Inside the venue we spotted Caroline, who'd gotten there before us. She thought she'd be the only foreigner at the show because ALSDEAD wasn't playing. Hahaha, she has a point. Well, other than the lack of foreigners, the first thing I noticed was a difference in crowd: all people in dark clothing, piercings, lolita dresses, etc. Hmm? Could it be... that there really weren't going to be any oshare-ish bands playing? Could it be?

So yes, there is a name for the fake-happy, cutesy bands that make me go "OH GOD MAKE IT STOP" on the blog. They're called oshare-kei and it's a sub-genre of visual-kei.

So let's get started! Hmm... to be honest, I'm not exactly sure which band went first. Believe it or not, this show had ten bands. It was supposed to be eight with an extra, but we had two extras, and the show ran for six hours. So, obviously, my memory won't be perfect. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say... Serendipity started:


Obviously my lack of memory means this band had nothing to write home about. There wasn't a single "bad" band at the show, but not every band successfully keeps my attention. Yeah, I really don't remember enough to say anything about them... They look kinda oshare in the photo but they really weren't.  At the end, they all grabbed hands and jumped into the air. Um... whoohoo!

Next up, I think we had BALLY (one of the extra bands):

Because of the lack of curtain, we could see the band setting up on stage behind the projector screen. My first thought was... is that bassist wearing a mask? A rhinestone-encrusted mask? Ooookay. Anyways, once again, the band wasn't anything that stole my attention, but they weren't oshare! They were decent enough to listen to, the audience was head-banging and rocking out instead of dancing around, and no one on stage was pretending to be happy! Buuuut, I think it was around the time of this band that something in the audience came to my attention.

Nesting Girl. Nesting Girl made our night on multiple occasions, and I'm going to detail the adventures of Nesting Girl throughout this blog. Nesting Girl was, at first, Nesting Guy, as we'd all mistaken her for a boy. Oops. Well, anyways, she was up and about during the first band, then somewhere during BALLY, she decided to sit out. My friends and I were standing along the right side of the stage near the wall. My right foot was only a few inches away from a giant pile of coats and bags that a group of girls had left there. Somewhere during BALLY, Nesting Girl managed to slip her tiny self in between my friends and the wall and basically nested into the coats and bags and fell asleep. Yeah, she fell asleep amidst ear-splitting levels of music and screaming. Talent. She looked so adorable in her giant, baggy clothing and her spazzed-out blond hair. She used the side of my foot as a prop for her own foot while she was sleeping. I realized, however, that my friends didn't know she was nestled right behind us just asking to be stepped on. The moment BALLY was done I immediately tapped Ashley and said "don't step back! There's a guy nesting behind us!" Ashley turned around, looked surprised, and said "so there is." Anyways, we'll keep coming back to Nesting Girl, so stay tuned!

Next band up... Lloyd (another extra band):

Huh. Well... this was one of the odder things I've seen up on the stage. I could see the guitarist setting up behind the projector screen wearing the cloak with the hood up. I turned to my friends and jokingly said "what, is this next band dressed up for Kingdom Hearts?" Anyways, when the projector screen went up, we came to realize that the band consisted of... two people. A guitarist and a singer. Um... what? The bass and drums were all pre-recorded. Mmkay. Now, let me just say that the above photo does not do the mood of this band justice. The amount of doom and gloom coming off these guys pretty much saturated the audience in a thick jelly of depression. I could see the expressions of the people in the crowd growing darker and darker and sadder until I was worried someone was going to have a regressive flashback to childhood woes and shoot themselves in the middle of the act. I can't even explain it. First, they were missing a member, so they were obviously not happy about this and apologized to everyone. Then, like... the band was just... they never took off their hoods and we never saw the guitarist's face. The guitarist kept rubbing his eyes like he was going to cry, and the vocalist kept singing and growling like the world was going to end and he was totally okay with that. I think that's just the way the band is, though. They're miserable and depressed and they just get on stage and continue to be miserable and depressed and everyone watches, growing depressed. The end. When they were done, my friends and I were just like "...phew."

Up next... I think it was sevIIens:

Um... crap, I don't remember anything about this band, lol! I eventually got tired of standing and sat down for several bands, making it hard for me to see past some of the people who were standing. I sat down next to Nesting Girl, who'd been woken up by her friends but only managed to stay sitting up for a few seconds before collapsing back onto the pile of coats and falling asleep. Every now and then she'd awaken, sit up looking like a disheveled, sleepy kitten, then collapse back asleep. Eventually, my leg became her foot prop again and I sighed and resigned myself to not moving too much so I wouldn't wake her up.

Next band up I think was ROZERO:

Again, I don't particularly remember much about them. I think, around this time, Nesting Girl woke up and stayed up. She sat with her legs crossed and somehow my thigh became her knee prop. Geez, the more I moved away the more I became this girl's cushion, lol. She didn't seem to care that she was constantly on top of me, so I didn't really care either. While the band played, she sat there rocking her body from side to side in time to the music. She did this so rhythmically and so continuously that I was fairly certain she couldn't stop moving (like when you jiggle your leg and it's almost impossible to pause it). Sure enough, when ROZERO was done and there was nothing but static, Nesting Girl continued swaying side to side. My friends and I were giggling at her. Ashley even started swaying. Every time we looked at this, girl we just had to laugh. We decided Nesting Girl was awesome.

Next band up... so here's an interesting little nugget. Now, I highly doubt it, but does anyone remember this rag-tag band called diva?

They were the first indies band I ever saw because they opened as the first band at Shinjuku HOLIDAY the first time I went to see an indies show. I showed up late to their set and no one was watching or paying any attention to them. They were so new, they didn't have costumes, and the drummer continuously made mistakes, and the string section's harmony with the singer was laughably terrible. My friends and I made fun of them quite a bit. We thought they had potential, but the string section needed to seriously stop singing. I could barely even find a picture of them or proof that the band existed. Well... that was only about four months ago... Yesterday, we saw diva again... and here they are now:

Whoa. Seriously. Whoa. When diva came out, I commented to my friends that the name sounded really familiar, and we decided it was because the band hands out a lot of pamphlets. I didn't even realize it was the same band we saw four months ago until I was gathering photos for this blog post. In fact, I was so filled with doubt that it could be the same band that I checked and re-checked the info. Sure enough, it's diva! Only one member is different! Well, they really worked the kinks out of that band! No drumming mistakes, no bad harmonies, and everyone looked glamorous! And the audience was all up and excited! And they were selling a ton of merchandise! Boy did they spring up in only a few months! What a change! Huh... well done, boys, lol.

After diva was done, Nesting Girl decided to finally get on her feet. She'd been rocking from side to side for quite some time now, and when she got up, she practically bounced up like a spring. My friends and I were like "uh oh... she's been sleeping awhile and now she's probably full of energy." Sure enough, while we waited for the next band, Nesting Girl decided to start dancing in place without any music. Then her friends started to boogie with her. Every time we looked at her, we just had to smile. At one point, I glanced over and she'd hauled one of her friends onto her back and was now dancing with her friend on top of her.

I think it was also around this time that a tall, skinny guy with poofed-out black hair crept through the audience looking awkward and carrying a big case on his back. He ducked through everyone and ran into the door marked "staff only." I watched him go by and my brain was like "is that... Chihiro from ha;qch... with no make-up? Holy crap, it is Chihiro!" I guess the bastard showed up late and had to sneak through the crowd, lol. Wow, I never thought I'd see him without make-up, lol! Without make-up he's rather adorable. He thought he was so sneaky, but a guy who's 5'10" or more isn't sneaking through that audience, lol.

Anyways, next band up is Vampire:

Except... this picture doesn't really work for the show we saw. When I saw the band setting up, we were all kinda like "um, what the hell", because the guys we could see behind the screen were dressed in totally normal, non-VK clothing. Which is fine and all, but it seemed a little out of place at a show like this. Well, when the band came out, sure enough, they were all dressed in normal clothing... except the vocalist, who decided to come out in a poorly-fitted lolita/maid dress and pigtails (though he still had the gauzy material and make-up on his face). I slapped a hand to my face and sighed. I had no idea what this was supposed to be, but the audience was really excited to see them (I should add that this venue was too small to accommodate the crowd we had. VAJRA is popular, as are some of the other bands, so we had about two-hundred people crammed into a place that probably never sees that many audience members at one time). Anyways, Nesting Girl was super excited for this band, and I think this was when we realized it was a she. First of all, she had a high-pitched voice. Second of all, she jumped around a lot and... boobies. Anyways, we just smiled non-stop, watching Nesting Girl as much as the band. During the parts where the entire audience hops from one side of the stage to the other while knocking into each other (a mild form of slam-dancing), Nesting Girl faced away from the stage, towards her friends in the back, and hopped back and forth to the music while waving at them. 

Now, Vampire did explain itself. Apparently, it was "casual day", which was why they were all dressed in normal clothes. It was "casual day" but, as the bassist pointed out, the vocalist's idea of casual clothing was a little okashii (okashii means weird/strange/funny). Um, yeah, I'd say an undersized maid dress and pigtails is a little okashii. My guess is the band showed up late and didn't have time to get their make-up and costumes on. We saw many groups of bands sneaking in late during the show and slipping through the crowd to get backstage. Hell, Chihiro did it. Maybe these guys were just too late, lol.

Next up, we have α:Vout:

Hmm... I dunno... at this point, I was just so antsy, I was growing sort of bleah. I didn't really pay much attention during this band. Plus, their girly drummer with the giant fake eyelashes was weirding me out. And poor Nesting Girl got hurt! See, the thing with this venue is, the barrier isn't padded - it's just metal! So anyways, booty-bumping happened, and Nesting Girl dangled over the barrier, but somehow when she got body-slammed, the bar must have gotten her in the hip badly and she collapsed off the barrier onto the floor. But she was a determined little thing! She kept one hand on the barrier to hold her spot while she clutched her hip with the other hand. Then she got back up and continued to hop the barrier with one hand while holding her injury with the other. Eventually, she went back to rocking out like nothing happened. But seriously... ouch. Plus the barrier was so rickety it swayed every time people jumped on it. When it was time to do more back and forth hopping/slam dancing, Nesting Girl joined in, but I think her hip still hurt, so instead she did something that made my friends and I laugh out loud. When the audience all started hopping to the left, she started marching towards them like she was a soldier herding the troops. When the crowd hopped to the right, she continued marching backwards like she was retreating. It was soooo funny.

Anyways, next up... it's time for our old friends, ha;qch! Ugh, I don't want to post this picture because it's so out of date now but... it's all I've got:

Now's when the real fun starts! Well, first of all, it was pretty surprising and pleasing to us that ha;qch (remember, it's pronounced "hakuchi") would be going on as the last band before the headliner. If you recall, ha;qch ran into some bad trouble recently when their bassist, Saku, simply disappeared without a word and couldn't be contacted. As terrible as it is, such a thing gets a band demoted. After that incident, rather than appearing as a headliner like ha;qch often did, they were demoted to first or second - totally tossed aside because the band wasn't in its best condition. It was a good sign that they'd be appearing at the end of the show.

Buuuuut, it seems a black cloud of bad luck follows these boys around wherever they go. Before they came out, the front row realized the middle section of the barrier had broken. The barrier was made up of three separate metal pieces, and the middle section had fallen down and had to be removed. I guess that's what happens when you take a show with no oshare bands.  Lots of body-slamming against a weak barrier. I suppose the audience should take pride in the fact that they managed to break down a metal gate but... right before ha;qch?! Are you kidding me?! Sigh...

Now, I dunno, I was just in one of those "moods" before the show even started... I love ha;qch, but before we even entered the venue, I had this urge to just sit out for the whole thing and be lame. I know it probably seems like I'm a "who the hell cares, I do what I want!" type but... I'm not really always like that. Sometimes I say "fuck it", and sometimes I just want to not be involved or participate in anything in the world ever. I dunno if it was that I didn't want to be looked at or watched or noticed or what but... I just wasn't in the mood to really go out there and participate. Well, my friends ran up front and grabbed third row and I was sort of hovering behind them. Ashley kept trying to pull me up closer saying "but you love ha;qch!" and I was sort of resisting and pulling away. I dunno, sometimes I get like that. I also made a joke that I didn't want to go up there because the barrier was down in the middle, meaning Chihiro was on the loose! I mean, really, it's like they put a hole in the fence of a wild animal! Well, as it would happen, a bunch of Japanese girls in the second row suddenly turned around and began beckoning us into their spot. I couldn't understand why a group of girls who seemed to have happily taken second row would now be trying to make us take their spot. Either they overheard us talking, or they'd seen us up towards the front for ha;qch at other concerts. Either way, they wouldn't take no for an answer and practically dragged us up into second row. Well, they dragged Ashley, Ashley dragged me, lol. This was incredibly nice of them, so I couldn't really refuse.

And then I looked straight into the crate on the stage, realizing that I was about two feet away from Chihiro's territory... with no barrier. If that's not terrifying, I don't know what is!

Wait, hold on, Satoshi says he has cake! Holy shit, and it's a green tea roll cake! Sorry, blog, you're gonna have to hold on a minute!

Okay, I'm back. Mmmm... green tea roll cake... Back to typing, lol!

Anyhoo! So the usual psycho strobe-lighting ha;qch intro started up. They each came out, decked out in head to toe leather as usual. Now, remember how my friends and I made up this theory that the reason Saku disappeared was because the support bassist wanted his job and killed him and fed him to Chihiro? Well, I think yesterday's show solidified that theory. The support bassist last time was a blond guy in a t-shirt and jeans. Today, the same "support" bassist came out and his blond hair is now a violent pink and he was wearing a leather costume to match the rest of the band. Yup, our explanation must be right. He wanted that job, so he killed Saku. Well, you know what, it's nice to see ha;qch with five members for once!

Finally, Chihiro came out. Having just seen him looking like a normal person less than an hour before, I believe he might be the fastest make-up artist in the world. He came right up to the front and I was like "Oh shit, he's like right up in our faces..." He's like a gargoyle or something. Anyways, they were totally awesome. Now that the whole band is in one piece, they're so on. The music was intense and insane and everyone was rocking out and headbanging until it hurt. Ashley and I had a fairly good technique going where we'd grab hands so we could headbang without falling over. The headbanging was going on for so long that I was starting to get dizzy. We would often have to headbang side to side, stop, and start jumping up and down, which is easier said than done after you've knocked your brains out of your ears. I was pretty sure I was going to either be so dizzy that I jumped into someone else, or I'd simply fall to the floor. A few times, I had to stop and let the room stop spinning. I wasn't just headbanging with my head, I was going full-out with my neck and shoulders.

Well, then it came time for gyaku-dive. Um, wait... now what? We're missing a third of the barrier! When everyone else pulled themselves over the barrier, the two girls directly in front of the crate (and directly in front of Ashley and I) started to back away, since there was no barrier. Well, Chihiro decided this was unacceptable. He lashed out into the crowd, grabbed the two girls roughly by the hair, dragged them forward, and slammed their upper bodies over the top of the crate. Uh oh... Ashley and I looked at each other in confusion, not sure what we were supposed to do. Chihiro locked eyes with us and made the fiercest face I've ever seen. Then he started ferociously slapping the asses of the two girls on the crate, demanding that we get our own asses up there and slam them. Well... if that's how it's gotta go down... Ashley and I shrugged, rushed forward, jumped, and body-slammed. I was worried about hurting the girls because the crate's edges are so sharp. Plus, the crate is a lot lower than the barrier. At first I rushed forward but slightly bent down and bumped the girl lightly with my lower back. But I came to realize that being cautious kills the oomph of the whole thing, plus... let's face it, if you take front row for ha;qch you want to get hurt. Those girls take front row knowing full well that Chihiro is going to step on them, pull their hair, spit on them, and treat them like trash. Well, anyways, for every round of gyaku-dive after that, I decided to say fuck it and rushed forward and slammed the girl with my butt like I would in any other circumstance. She can take it. At one point, Chihiro was leaning onto the two barrier girls and put his arm along one girl's back, holding her down on the crate. I decided to take an opportunity to amuse myself and I ran forward and body-slammed Chihiro's arm. Take that, Chihiro!

Another amusing tidbit... so Chihiro used to like spitting on the crowd, but he hadn't done it in awhile. Ashley theory is that it's because one time, Chihiro spat on her and she looked pissed off, prompting the other band members to rush over and throw picks at her. Well... I will say this about Chihiro: the dude's got balls. Big fuckin' balls. During the show, without any warning, he looked Ashley right in the eyes and spat like a camel. He missed and got the person next to her, but still... the dude's got balls. I was laughing so hard, I smacked Ashley in the arm, prompting Chihiro to glare at me.  Sowwy :-(

Anyways, I dunno what it is about ha;qch, but they get me soooo riled up. I don't know if I've ever headbanged as fiercely in my life as I did for ha;qch. They ignite my passion to fuck some shit up. I think I could punch through wooden blocks while they play. I was sad when it was over, but... although I'd been reluctant to go up front earlier, now I was pumped. I felt much better. Thanks, ha;qch, that was just what I needed. I'm glad you guys are back to your old stamina!

Well, now it was time for the headliner. Today we're going to meet VAJRA, who hosted the show. VAJRA has only been around for about six months, but they've gotten really popular in a short period of time. I'd heard of them, but not seen them, but I'd heard they were scary. I searched for a picture of them before the show and it elicited a "whoa, geez" from me. This is VAJRA:

Hoo boy, VAJRA. The reason there was no oshare-shit at this show. Alright, how do we get started on VAJRA... So, when the band started up, the vocalist, Nobro, was crouched on the crate like some kind of animal. And, well... if you can't tell by his costume (he's the one in the middle), I think looking like an animal is what he wants. Nobro has horns and looks like a demon, and bassist Kiyuki was wearing a Hannibal Lecter muzzle. Not to mention their pink-haired guitarist, 『L.』, has apparently punched out fans in the past and should be avoided. So yeah, scary stuff.

Now, the first thing I noticed about VAJRA was that the music was enjoyable live. The second thing I noticed: Nobro is a clone of Kyo from Dir en grey. Like, 100%.  We didn't know his name, so my friends and I referred to him as Kyo Two or Little Kyo or Kyo Junior.

In fact...

As the performance went on, I noticed something weird about Nobro's body. He had a pretty big, fuzzy coat-thing on, so it was hard to see, but every now and then, his coat would open a bit and I'd see these weird marks. Eventually, I got a good look, and my stomach fell through the floor. Nobro doesn't just have cuts on his body, he has fucking full-length knife slashes. Like, Kyo takes a safety pin or a razor and scratches, right? Well, the only way this little dude could've made his wounds was to take a fucking knife and cut long, thick lines across his chest and torso. All the way across.  These cuts were huge and deep and long and violent looking - like he'd tried to perform surgery on himself. And the wounds were so puffed up that I had to wonder if he'd sprayed hairspray on them to make them larger. Now, my first reaction was to be pissed off. My first thought was that this guy was a big attention-whoring drama queen who cut himself to be some kind of spectacle on stage. If so, shame on him! But then, a few minutes after noticing his torso wounds, I got a good look at Nobro's left wrist. Aaaaw, dude. His inner forearm and wrist were almost completely white with old cut scars. Very old scars. But like... he'd cut his wrists, man. I don't know if he'd been attempting suicide or what but... I realized at that point that Nobro was isn't some attention-whore... this dude means business. Well, then I just felt terrible for him!

But, overall, the band was really enjoyable! Nobro had a good voice, and that 『L.』 guy... my god, what a nut. He had a water bottle that was taped up funny, and my first thought was "does that guy have vodka in there?" Well, it wasn't just me cuz, later on, Ashley leaned over and said "I think he has vodka in that bottle!" He certainly seemed drunk! Towards the end of the show, 『L.』's violent tendencies finally showed through. He didn't punch anyone like I'd heard about, but he is definitely rough. At one point, everyone on his side got riled up. Remember Nesting Girl? She suddenly ran forward and slammed the whole barrier with her body. 『L.』 responded by grabbing her and dragging her body over the barrier. Then he continued to reach in, drag girls forward, and pull them over the barrier. I didn't even know that was possible, especially with one arm.  Later, he moved to the left side of the stage and put his hands on the head of one of the barrier girls and started shoving her to the floor. She resisted a little, so he put his foot on her shoulder and continued to push her down. Yeesh.

Anyways, when the band was done, everyone screamed for encore. But the bands had been running really late and it was already almost 9:30. Despite this, VAJRA did come back. They said they were out of time for an encore and then... did one anyways. You go, boys! During the encore, drunken 『L.』 decided it was a good time to sit on the crate and stick his face right in Nobro's crotch and pretend to do naughty things to him through his pants. Well, I guess little Nobro is not one to be upstaged, so he responded by violently humping the shit out of 『L.』 's head until 『L.』 went away. Goddamn, you guys, hahaha.

When the show was over, a lot of the bands were shmoozing around in the back and chatting with fans. Much to my surprise, three members of ha;qch were out, including Saku's kille- er, I mean, the new bassist, and - the big shocker - Chihiro was out with no make-up on and his hair de-poofed! Of course, he had giant sunglasses on. It was tempting to go say something to them but... I dunno... I never know what to say. I just watched Chihiro and smirked at how adorable he is offstage. At one point, he sort of sprawled over the merchandise table and helped some girls pick out which pictures of the band they wanted.

Anyways, it was 10:00 by the time we got out of there, and the show had gone for six hours. My friends were hungry, but I was queasy and dizzy from headbanging too much. Still, I knew food would do us some good. We went to Jonathan's dallied a little too long eating parfaits. I realized I was probably going to miss the last train. I made a mad dash to my station and found that the line was still running, but would only take me as far as Ikebukuro. Aw, fuck. I took the train to Ikebukuro and decided that, because I wasn't too far from home, a cab ride would cost me less money than staying in an internet cafe or karaoke bar till 5 AM, so I took a taxi home. I guess Ashley didn't make it all the way home either and spent the night in an internet cafe. Somehow, Geri and Caroline made it all the way home - lucky ducks! That's alright, though, nothing was going to kill my mood. I got home at 1:00, discovered D'espairsray's new music video was online, died of ecstasy all over again, then went to bed. This morning, I woke up and whoo-boy does my neck and back hurt from headbanging. Oooouch. That's okay, though, I'm happy!

And that's my all I've got for today! Hope you enjoyed! I'll see you all on my next big adventure!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Okinawa

Time for the giant Okinawa post of doom! I narrowed my 250+ photos down to less than 70, so enjoy the slide show and remember that you can click on any photo to enlarge it!

First off, where and what is Okinawa? Okinawa is, as you can see in the map below, a series of islands at the Southernmost end of Japan.

What foreigners might not know about Okinawa is that those islands were not originally part of Japan and were, in fact, the Ryukyu Empire. It was an independent empire with its own language and government, and an important area for trade because it was between Japan and China. As such, everyone fought like cats and dogs over who would take over the empire. Japan has it now, but Okinawa can differ from Japan in various ways. Some of the Ryukyu languages are still in use, and people in Okinawa casually speak Japanese with a very heavy dialect that is difficult for mainland people to understand. Okinawa is also tropical, so the food is sometimes different. Traditional dress and architecture is different too.

I had been somewhat reluctant to go to Okinawa, because someone like me is obviously not into tropical beaches and getting a tan. I like my black clothes and shopping and chai lattes, thank you very much. But I somehow got roped and dragged to Okinawa by my friends Geri and Elena, and I suppose at least I've gotten it over with, lol. Everyone goes to Okinawa at some point, and I guess it's a place to visit at least once. But I've got some nice pictures, so let's take a photo journey down to Okinawa, shall we?

The plane ride from Tokyo to Okinawa's capital, Naha, is only a couple hours. Of course, I pulled an all-nighter, so I wasn't particularly thrilled during the plane ride. Our hotel was fairly nice, and a buffet breakfast was included. Beds were comfortable. Now, the one thing that made me feel any desire to go to Okinawa was warm weather (I despise cold weather). Okinawa is supposed to maintain a temperature in the 60's or higher all year because it's tropical. Well, leave it to irony that I wound up in Okinawa during the one cold fucking week of the year. Probably would've been warmer in Tokyo, where we still need coats! So that was annoying, but I tried not to let it get to me.

For starters, we took a three hour bus ride to the north of the big island to see the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is one of the biggest, and is most famous for being one of the only aquariums in the world with whale sharks (and it has the highest number of them to boot).

First, we have a squid made out of flowers:


And Geri posing with turtles made out of flowers:

Inside, there was a tank with various starfish and fuzzy sea-slug things. You could reach into the tank and touch or pick up anything you wanted. Wait... wait... I can't... I can't control myself... I... STARFISH LOVES YOU AAAAAAAGH (ten points to anyone who gives me a good Charlie the Unicorn one-liner in the comments, haha):

Here's a Big-Ass Shark:

A Big-Ass Sea Turtle:

I like this photo. It makes me look professional, lol:

Here's a Big-Ass Ominous Shark (I am quite the marine biologist):

These are literally jumbo shrimp. And when I say jumbo, I mean each of these shrimp is larger than a human. The picture makes it impossible to tell but this tank was floor to ceiling and pitch black (I lightened the photo) and these shrimps were each so huge that one antenna was probably as long as a child. The word for shrimp in Japanese is "ebi" and all the people around the tank were going, "Ebi? Ebi?!" in disbelief.

Here's a Big-Ass Crab that was in the tank with the Jumbo Shrimps:

Big-Ass Eels:

Tiny little wormy creatures of adorable-ness! Aaaaaaw!

Here is one of the aquarium's three most prized specimens: whale sharks. Whale sharks are the world's biggest sharks, but they feed by inhaling plankton like a whale. I believe this picture says everything about the size of the whale sharks and the manta rays in the tank, since you can easily see a human to whale shark/manta ray ratio:

In the same tank, we have an awesome leopard-spotted sting ray!

That giant tank also has a cafe next to it, so you could sit and eat lunch alongside the over-sized fish. The manta rays kept brushing up against the glass next to us. They seemed curious. Meanwhile, the whale sharks just drifted around the tank being effing enormous and having awesomely dopey faces.

Anyhoo, here's something interesting held at the museum: one of the few intact giant squid specimens:

There were also tanks for super deep-sea creatures, meaning these critters glowed in the dark:

Gloooooooooowing:

Anyways, back in Naha, our hotel was on Naha's main street called Kokusai-Dori (Kokusai Street). Here's a photo of the nightlife:

We managed to meet up with a good friend of mine named Mike. We lived together in Nihongo Hausu in Madison, and he's currently studying way up on Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, meaning we can't exactly say hi every day. But, by coincidence, we were both all the way south in Okinawa at the same time, so we met up for dinner. Leave it to Mike to know the most ridiculous (and awesome) place to take us for dinner: the Afro Nest:

All the employees of the Afro Nest have afros, and the place specializes in Okinawan food, good drinks, and a reggae atmosphere. Many of the people there were chilling or being very drunk and silly (a whole group of girls put afro wigs on their heads), but the "chill" atmosphere was kind of nice after rushing around at the aquarium all day.

As much as I would have loved to drink, I knew we had to get up early in the morning, so my friends and I stuck to delicious fruit juices, like pineapple juice and mango juice. But Mike got this really cool colored drink:

We then started ordering anything Okinawan that sounded good. We started with fried chicken and french fries. Doesn't sound Okinawan, probably, but unlike normal Japanese food, the fries and chicken had so many spices cooked into it that I almost wondered if someone hadn't tipped a whole spice rack on top of the basket. Deeeeeeelicious:

Then we ordered Okinawa's most famous dish: champloo (or spelled chanpuruu if you want to get all hiragana-specific). This dish is so famous that there's a very popular anime called Samurai Champloo. It's basically an Okinawan stir fry. In this case, the dish contained firm tofu, egg, vegetables, bits of pork, and one of Okinawa's favorite ingredients: bitter melon. It's not really bitter, but it's called that because it's a fruit that isn't sweet. It's sort of like eating a mix between a soft bell pepper and celery. Here's a photo of the deliciousness:

We also had Okinawan fried rice, which included avocado and some kind of tomato sauce:

We also had seafood pizza (already partially consumed here):

We liked the food so much, we ordered doubles on almost everything. Delicious! I was worried I'd hate Okinawan food because I hate tropical food with fruit in it (I love fruit, just not mixed in with other food - it's a pet peeve of mine) and I'm not fond of pork, which Okinawans love (the saying goes that Okinawans eat everything but the hooves and the squeal)... but the food was actually quite good.

Outside we found this really funny sign for a place called Henna Gaijin, meaning "Weird Foreigner" lol. I wonder what it is...

Anyways, we sadly parted ways with Mike and his infinitely awesome sense of humor and amazing ability to make me keel over with laughter by imitating South Park. After basically not sleeping at all again, our next stop was the Shurijo Castle Park.

A photo of Okinawa on the way. The mountains were very prominent here and heavily forested, reminding me strongly of Mexico:

Here's a Big-Ass Wall. I guess this used to be some big city wall or something. I thought it would've been funny if the Mongols had come like in South Park and knocked the wall down for fun, but no such luck.

Anyways, Okinawa is also known for its wild, venomous snake, the Habu snake. We frequently saw signs warning us to beware of Habu:

Here's a big gate of some sort, where we can observe the peaceful, historical tranquility of a butt-load of tourists:

These are big guardian lions statues. We saw these everywhere in Okinawa. It seemed like even regular homes had these statues positioned outside their front doors.


Another giant gate thing (I'm such a historian):

Here's the Shurijo Castle, or what's left of it. Seriously, the amount of construction happening in Okinawa is beyond annoying. I don't even mean the restoration of castles, I just mean everywhere. Every inch of the city is under goddamn construction all the time. It's like being back in Chicago.

Here's a closer shot of the castle so you can see the detailing. I like the sneezing dragon at the top, hahaha:

You could go inside the castle as well. I took a lot of cool pictures of this. You had to take off your shoes to go inside, but it was interesting to see the old offices and tea-making rooms.

I think this was the king's throne room. Very colorful:

This is a small model of what the castle grounds may have looked like while still in use:

Next, we headed off to an old structure of some sort. I think it's called the Tamaudoun. On the way, we found some totally awesome trees. Eeeeeevil trees:


Here's the old building:

There was a very pretty blue and red bird sitting on the stone wall:

We also went to the Shikinaen Royal Garden nearby. It's kind of a tropical garden:

A big stone bridge:

Another shot of the city (these photos make the city look nice, but it's actually kind of a dirty, ugly city for the most part. I kind of missed the clinical cleanliness and sterility of Tokyo):

We stopped off for some more food. Something that's great about Okinawa is the ability to have Mexican food. Tokyo is severely lacking in any form of Mexican food but, due to the fact that thousands of Americans are stationed in Okinawa, and the fact that Okinawa naturally has some of the ingredients that make Mexican food easy to make, it can be quite nostalgic for an American.

For starters, I had this drink made out of a popular Okinawa fruit called Shikwasa, which can only be found in Taiwan and Okinawa. It's similar to a lemon, but when used in juices or food, it tastes like a cross between a pineapple and an orange. Here's a glass of Shikwasa juice:

Taco ingredients! I had tacos for the first time in over six months!

Tacoooooos!

Anyways, here's a really pretty cat we saw sitting on a rock:

Here's a temple we visited. You can see a priestess walking around the grounds:

Funny story, but a woman was walking a corgi onto the temple grounds, and when she had to purify her hands and mouth, she purified the dog's mouth too. But it didn't work too well, cuz the corgi walked three feet, stopped, and pissed on the temple grounds, lol. Good dog!

We also visited a famous military cemetery on the grounds where Commodore Perry first landed in Japan to demand the country open up to trade. Here's a rock commemorating his (extremely rude) arrival:

Back on Kokusai-dori, we did a bit of shopping for friends and family. Here's a shopping street:

Later, we stopped for dinner. I decided to try Okinawa-style soba noodles. It was quite tasty, and the red ginger floating on top slowly turns the soup red:

Here's the color of my soup by the time the noodles were gone. Bad-ass:

The next day, Geri and Elena and I went to Manza Beach to see Okinawa's more natural beauty. Here's a shot of the ocean through the trees, with some rocks connected by rope in the distance (I think they're called "wedded" rocks, or something):

Because this is the wonderfully sterile country of Japan, the beaches were almost impeccably clean, with nearly no litter, and fresh, white sand:

There was even a wedding taking place on the beach!

The long, wide Pacific Ocean:

Some young men enjoying the sand and practicing volleyball:

More wide ocean:

Geri and Elena enjoying the scenery:

Here's a rock with a clam still stuck in it:

We also visited Gyokusendou, which is one of the largest and most extensive limestone caves in the world. Having visited this place, I'm thoroughly convinced that the world of Super Mario Bros. was designed after this place. The whole place was made of tall, phallic pillars that sparkled, with sparkly cave walls and slippery areas that look like ice. Seriously, it's the Super Mario Bros. world! I kept waiting for a big green tube to pop out of the ground and transport us away. Here's some photos (I brightened most of these, by the way):

The extremely ominous cave ceiling:

The Super Mario World is quite treacherous looking in real life:

Dagger ceilings:

Strange, sparkly white substances created by the dripping limestone:

Very angry ceilings:

I'm not sure why this water was glowing blue, but it was:

A very nasty overhang being admired by tourists:

And then our trip was over, and it was off to the airport to return to Tokyo! And no blog post would be complete without a picture of me riding a giant pikachu!


Anyways, so my sum-total review of Okinawa...

I guess, it's a nice place to visit if history or tropical getaways interest you. For someone like me who prefers the natural history of Starbucks over looking at old buildings, it's the kind of trip that should probably only be done once. I liked the scenery, though. I may be a pale goth kid who spends most of her time in malls or concerts, but I really enjoy gardens and clean beaches and wildlife. Because of that, I liked the aquarium and Manza Beach, and the limestone cave a lot. But let's face it, the hippie, reggae atmosphere of the place doesn't really interest me, and I'm not really interested in ever having a romantic getaway there like a lot of people do. Also, the city is dirty and there are almost no trains. I don't like cities where you have to rely on cars so much. Thankfully, taxis in Okinawa are fairly inexpensive. Also, the amount of tourists and tourism in the city makes Okinawa feel like a parody of itself. I can't imagine living there, because it would be like living in a cheesy amusement park. A little tourism is fine, but the way the whole place seems geared towards it (to the extent that a few people even tried to trick us tourists into doing touristy things we didn't want to do) makes the whole place a phantom of what it should be. Sometimes I felt like Okinawa sold its soul (similar to how I felt when I had to pay to see the Buddha statue in Kamakura). So I did it once, and I can scratch it off the list I never wrote, and that's that. Enjoyable for three days, but after three days I missed Tokyo terribly and was dying to go hop on a train and buy hair accessories. I'm really not a shallow, vain person like you might think but, what can I say, I know what I enjoy in life.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed my adventure in Okinawa! See you all whenever I have another adventure!