Introducing the OkiNinjaKitty Calendar


The OkiNinjaKitty Facebook Page is a great place to find out information regarding local news, interesting locations and of course current events. However, I noticed that in the past few days it seems as though some of the newcomers to the page were having a hard time finding events that I had posted a week or so ago. It seems as though the Facebook format had them falling to the bottom of the timeline making them hard to browse through. Then I came up with the idea to create a calendar.

**Check Out What’s Happening In Okinawa**

The OkiNinjaKitty Calendar is a public calendar which can be found at the link above. It features all of the events that I am aware of as well as some brief information and links when they are available. I feel that it will be a great tool for those who are interested in getting out and experiencing the island because you can literally browse through everything that is happening all in one place.

Please feel free to view, bookmark and share the calendar! Also don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts or ways we may improve the calendar in the future in the comments below of at Facebook.com/okininjakitty.

Cherry Blossoms: What you need to know if you want to see them


Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are a well known icon of Japan. They are seen in
Japanese art, cuisine, anime, photographs and even are depicted on the 100 yen coin.  The beauty and elegance of the cherry blossoms make them a must see for many tourists visiting Japan, however there are some important things that tourists should consider.

Japan's First Sakura: Close Up Blooms - Okinawa, Japan

The first thing that Japan bound tourists with the desire to see sakura should consider is that they do not bloom all year long and when they bloom varies depending on the location. Here in Okinawa sakura bloom as early as late December where as in Hokkaido they bloom as late as May. Of course other factors including weather can change the time when the sakura bloom.

Japan's First Sakura: Central Nago Park - Okinawa, Japan

Sakura don’t stay around for very long either. In most cases the flowers become fully bloomed about a week after opening and a week after that they will start to fall from the trees. Rain and wind can also factor in making the season even shorter.

Despite the challenge of getting to Japan for just the right time sakura viewing is well worth the trouble. The blooms are absolutely beautiful especially on a clear day. Here in Okinawa there are also a wide variety of animals which come out to enjoy what the flowers have to offer including bats, ryukyu white eyes, butterflies and bees. For nature enthusiasts this is the absolute best time to get out!

 

Who Needs A Festival: Sakura are all over Okinawa


Cherry blossom season is here and that means people from around the island are flocking to popular festivals. However, it’s not always necessary to make the trip to the crowded parks of Okinawa in order to enjoy the sights. In fact there are sakura all around the island.

In today’s video I made my way to a small neighborhood park not far from Kadena Air Base (along Route 85). The read near the park is lined with beautiful sakura. Ryukyu white eyes were also enjoying the sakura before a rain storm rolled in.

Who needs a festival? Sakura are everywhere!

Chemicals in the Playground – Part 2: Commander raises more questions than he answers


It was approximately 10AM today when the 18th Wing Commander released a statement addressing the recent concerns surrounding barrels unearthed a short distance from two of Kadena Air Base’s schools. (Read more detailed information about the barrels HERE.) Unfortunately if given more than a passing glance the release actually raises more questions than it answers.

Men and Women of the Kadena Air Base Community,

I am aware of the concerns expressed over the discovery of unexplained barrels under Okinawa City’s soccer field between the Okinawa Expressway and Prefectural Highway 23. Our kids are our #1 priority, and we are doing everything possible to stay abreast of new information and address our community members’ concerns. I want to assure you that I am fully focused on this issue and all evidence points to these barrels posing no threat to the people on Kadena Air Base, and specifically to the students and employees at our schools. We understand your concerns, and as such plan to host a town hall at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 28) at Ryukyu Middle School on Kadena Air Base to share further information and address your questions.

First and foremost I think that it is important to note for the purpose of continuity that the barrels which were unearthed are not what I would describe as “unexplained”. In a variety of articles (including later in this statement) it is documented that barrels were labeled Dow Chemicals which, by the nature of the company, would make one assume that there is likelihood of the barrels containing chemicals at one time or another. Dow Chemicals also released a statement which said they could have been used for hospital waste or trash. Furthermore, tests (again as is mentioned in this very statement below) indicate that dioxins, petroleum based oils and heat resistant oils were in the barrels. What was “unexplained” is why it took an outside source, months after the story broke in the local and national news, and a parent’s post on Facebook for the base to even acknowledge that the barrels were unearthed in the first place.

The discovery of barrels under the Okinawa City soccer field is being thoroughly investigated by the host nation, and they have full control of the site. They plan to publish a full report later this year, and we will ensure the results are publicized within our community. To this point their testing has found evidence of petroleum oils, heat-resistant oils and dioxins on some of the barrels themselves; however, the soil across the soccer field around the barrels has been tested and does not exceed Japanese environmental quality standards.

There is no evidence the materials on the barrels have migrated at all. Moreover, the entire space between the soccer fields and the base is designed to draw substances away from the schools. Based on the site set-up alone, it is highly improbable that any material from the Okinawa City soccer field could have reached the schools on Kadena Air Base.

I can’t help but wonder: Why the space between the soccer fields (where the barrels were, and some still are, located) and the base would be “designed to draw substances away from the schools” if there was no prior knowledge of the barrels being buried there? Of course it is naive to believe that the base had absolutely no prior knowledge of these barrels as someone buried them there, likely when the area was part of Kadena Air Base prior to 87. However, if there were no harmful substances, why “design” an area to ensure they are “drawn. . . away”?

There has been significant speculation as to what might have been contained within the barrels originally, and at this point we do not definitively know. There have been three studies thus far conducted by local officials, and those results did not lead to a specific answer. To get the full information, we will need to wait for the results of the host-nation study.

Except there were relatively specific answers at very least from one of the studies conducted. In fact just a month after the barrels were unearthed the Okinawa Prefecture Environment Science Center detected dioxin in all 22 barrels including 2,4,5-Trichlorophenol which is one of the two major components used in Agent Orange.

Although we believe the area to be completely safe, we have collected and analyzed survey samples of soil and air around the schools on Kadena Air Base. All samples have come back well within environmental safety standards, but we plan to conduct an additional round of more stringent compliance sampling in the area in order to provide additional reassurance to parents and community members.

Finally, there have been some concerns expressed about the drinking water in the schools. Let me stress that all of Kadena Air Base’s drinking water is drawn from commercial sources unrelated to the site where the barrels were discovered. Additionally, the base ensures high quality drinking water by running a strict compliance water-sampling program and ensures that all drinking water meets or exceeds EPA standards. Any discrepancies found are published annually on the Internet in the Kadena Air Base Consumer Confidence Report, which can be downloaded at http://www.kadena.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-130610-056.pdf.

In conclusion, I want to assure you that our kids are our #1 priority, and we are doing everything possible to stay abreast of any new information and address potential concerns. I look forward to seeing you in person at the town hall on Tuesday.

-Brig Gen James Hecker
18th Wing Commander

Unfortunately the town hall meeting which is happening Tuesday is scheduled during a week long base wide exercise (during which time military members will work 12 hour shirts participating in a mock war time scenario).

Although some are content with the answer others remain skeptical noting that the information does not coincide with information which has been released through the past 7 months.

OFF ISLAND TRAVEL: ITINERARY


Exhausted, broke and disappointed. . . . . . . . not words most want to use when describing their vacation.  After all vacations are usually what we save up all year (sometimes two or three) for so that we can relax right?

My husband and I have been on a few vacations over the course of our marriage. Some were to places for pleasure, some to visit family. The first few, however, had a continuing theme. We returned back exhausted, broke and disappointed. After sitting down and thinking about things we had realized what we were doing wrong. We knew what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go but didn’t have a solid plan. We didn’t have an itinerary. It was at this point that we decided to build itineraries for our trips and we have been doing it ever since.

Having an itinerary is like having a specialized roadmap made to accommodate your specific wants and needs. Most importantly it helps you organize the places you want to go, the things you want to see, how to get there and when to do it so that by the time you get to your destination there is no stress or critical thinking required. You quite literally just have to go.

Making an itinerary doesn’t have to be difficult either, especially in today’s age of technology where everything is right at our fingertips. In just a few clicks you can find out all the information you need, plug it into a word document and before you can say “control-p-print” you’re done.

So how does one go about making an itinerary? It’s quite simple actually!

The first thing you need to do is decide on your must see locations. A must see location is anything that you simply can’t go home without experiencing. This might be a tourist attraction, restaurant, historic site or anything else you can think of. Once you have all of your must see locations listed briefly research the areas nearby those locations. This will allow you to see what other small attractions, restaurants and/or sites may be in the area that you may also want to check out. 

HINT: During this entire process be sure to note the hours of operation, seasonal closures, admission fees and any other important details. This will come in very useful later. 

With everything listed it’s time to organize all your locations and start to plug them into the dates of your trip. There are many ways to do this but I find it most beneficial to start by organizing each location individually. The way I do this is by taking one of the areas around a must see location and making myself a linear path. This prevents back tracking and ultimately wasting time and energy. Once that is completed I try to see which locations (or more appropriately groups of locations) can be put together possibly on the same day if necessary. This will ultimately cut down on excessive transportation costs.

NOTE: It may not be necessary to group multiple locations into one day. I usually only do this if I am trying to save money and/or if I only have a limited number of days to work with. 

With everything organized all that’s required now is to pop the locations into the dates of your trip. This is the part where knowing operation hours and seasonal closures is important. I also like to go so far as to put a round-a-bout time for everything that I have planned. For example we leave the hotel at 7AM get to location A for 8AM spend a few hours there and grab lunch at a nearby cafe around 11AM. The benefit of doing this (in my opinion) is that it keeps your trip on somewhat of a schedule. If you go off it there’s no huge problem but at least you know where you intended to go and when. This also is a good way to make sure you don’t show up to a location a few hours before it opens.

Take one last look over the itinerary that you just created and make any special notes that you find necessary. I like to add important information such as what time check-in is at a particular hotel, whether or not credit cards are accepted or even “safety restaurants”. You can also customize your itinerary to meet the specific needs of your family. The possibilities are endless!

NOTE: “Safety Restaurants” are what I call places that picky eaters can find something to eat in a pinch. For example KFC, McDonalds and Subway. Convenience stores are also good places to note. Although they are not what some would describe as ideal they are a “safe” place to get familiar food if needed.

That’s it. . . . . you’re done! Now all that’s left to do is head out on your vacation and enjoy yourself!

OTHER HELPFUL HINTS: 

* If possible arrange to visit popular tourist attractions during weekdays rather than weekends when they tend to be more crowded.

* Be sure to have a plan for a rainy day. That way if it does rain you don’t have to waste time trying to figure out what to do. . . . . you’ll already know!

*Try to arrange at least one meal per day especially if visiting a fast paced place like Tokyo.

Tattoo Etiquette: Info for the inked


In my last post Myth vs Reality: “I can’t visit Japan. I have tattoos, I will be arrested” I discussed that simply having tattoos won’t get you arrested here in Japan. Today I am going to wrap up the topic of tattoos by talking briefly about something I mentioned in that post. . . . tattoo etiquette. 

Contrary to the popular belief of some, tattoo etiquette in Japan is not complicated to comprehend or follow. In fact it’s a rather simple concept that you’re probably heard before: There is a time and a place for everything. In other, more tattoo specific, words: There are times and places when it’s ok to expose your tattoos; there are times and places when it’s not ok to expose your tattoos. Thankfully for the Japan bound tattooed of the world a combination of online resources and the people of Japan’s willingness to explain what is required makes following tattoo etiquette relatively simple.

Despite what pictures some travel guides and books paint about Japan it’s not common for the Japanese to assume that foreigners from around the globe understand every bit of culture and etiquette followed here. This includes what is required of those who have tattoos. It is for this reason that some businesses (such as bath houses, onsens and water parks) choose to post signs which clearly indicate that those with tattoos are not permitted within the establishment. It is important to note that it is the choice of the business owner whether or not they want to prohibit tattoos at their facility. This means that there are some onsens, bath houses and water parks that permit those with tattoos. However some may require special private room reservations (onsens) or in the case of water parks that your tattoos are covered. All of this information can be researched or inquired about prior to or during your visit. 

Aside from water related activities there are some other times when covering your tattoos is necessary. Although there are not any solid rules for when and where this might be, what I have found is that generally places with large concentrations of children (such as theme parks) or places where where you would be underdressed wearing a t-shirt (nice restaurants for example) are places where you should or should be prepared to cover your tattoos.  Much like I mentioned before it is not uncommon for this information to be given to you up front. For example it may be in the information pamphlet for a theme park or you may be informed that your tattoos need to be covered before being seated at a restaurant.

Now that you have a general idea of when you might be asked to cover your tattoos let’s talk about preparing to cover your tattoos during your time in Japan. Much like the message I have communicated in the rest of this post covering your tattoos when asked does not require an elaborate scheme. All you have to do is have a garment on you that suits the purpose of governing your tattoos. This should not be much of a problem during the winter months as long pants and long sleeves cover tattoos without much effort but in the summer this can require a tiny bit more thought (living in Okinawa I know all about this). What I do during the summer months when going to a place that may require me to cover my tattoos is carry a very light weight long sleeve (as my most visible tattoo is on my arm) shirt with me. Because it’s light weight I can neatly roll it up and fit it in a backpack/purse/pocket without taking up much space at all. Then if required I have it at my fingertips to throw on and move on with my plans as intended. On days when an entire shirt is too cumbersome I also have a pair of sleeves that I can easily throw in my back pocket and pull on making any t-shirt into what looks like a long sleeve, therefore covering my tattoo, with almost no effort at all. These sleeves can be purchased pretty much anywhere in Japan (especially during the summer months) for both men and women.

Finally I want to wrap this post with the most important thing that tattooed people need to remember when visiting Japan. . . . . . check the attitude at the door. For some reason there is a percentage of people with tattoos who come to Japan and feel that they deserve special treatment. They make a fuss, start a scene and ultimately illustrate why businesses prohibit those with tattoos in the first place. Rather than chest pounding and muscle flexing simply choose to follow the rules or take your business elsewhere with a smile.

 

 

 

Myth vs Reality: “I can’t visit Japan. I have tattoos, I will be arrested.”


Not too long ago I was approached by someone who expressed a love for Japan but said that they cannot fulfill their dream of visiting because they “have tattoos” and “people with tattoos get arrested in Japan”.

Naturally, being tattooed and having lived here for almost a decade, I knew 28582_1448944585873_1575565_nthat this was not true. In fact the thought that in today’s day and age with the internet at our fingertips someone could even hold this notion seemed ridiculous to me. Nevertheless I figured it would make a good, all be it short, “Myth vs Reality” blog post. . . . so here we go.

The history of tattoos in Japan is a long one and not all of it is criminal related. Like many other places on the planet tattoos were used to communicate status or even be used to symbolize unions (similar to the concept of a wedding ring in western culture).

The association with tattoos and criminals likely started in 1720 when tattooing became a form of punishment. Criminals would be given a permanent mark which would show that they committed a crime (also not unique to Japan). It wasn’t until the 1860’s the tattoos became outlawed and that ran until about 1912.

Nowadays tattoos are completely legal and you can get inked anywhere in Japan that you can find a shop. In fact hundreds of thousands (of not millions) of tattooed people visit Japan every year without any legal repercussions for the tattoos they have. There are also thousands upon thousands of tattooed people living here in Japan (both Japanese and foreigners alike) with 100% legal tattoos.

With the myth that having tattoos in Japan will get you arrested taken care of and out of the way let’s talk a little bit about reality. The reality is that although tattoos are not going to land you in prison for simply having them there are rules and regulations put in place that tattooed individuals need to follow. For example it is not uncommon to be denied access to a public onsen because you have tattoos or be asked to cover them when enjoying a meal at a fancy restaurant. Although this tattoo etiquette is in place there are times when a foreigner might forget or not be aware of what they are required to do. In this case staff usually do what they can to assist.

Long story short. . . . . . . . just because you have tattoos, doesn’t mean you can’t come to Japan.