I’m Back. (For Now.)

Okuma, Okinawa, Japan.

Earlier today, we saw my Mother-in-Law off at the airport.  Her two-week visit flew by.  We attempted to show her as much of this Island as possible.  We headed north, east and south, showing her two fish markets, the northernmost tip of Okinawa, three other islands, two salt factories, Okuma, and Shuri Castle.  During her visit, we celebrated Russell’s birthday, ate at Hamazushi’s sushi-go-round, played miniature golf, sampled pineapple sparkling wine, and went shoe shopping for [S] at a local mall.  My Mother-in-Law’s visit also allowed Russell and I to go on a date night.  We watched X-Men:  Apocalypse and dined at Daruma, a local restaurant run by several older women who are kind and gracious.

Tomari Iyumachi Fish Market

Unfortunately, I was unable to give the time and attention to this space during her visit as our days were long and I managed to catch a cold during the final days of her visit.  Yes.  I am sniffling and coughing as I type this post.  But as I lamented the absence of writing, I had the opportunity to do the next best thing:  read.  I began reading John W. Dower’s Embracing Defeat:  Japan in the Wake of World War II in print.  (The paperback book was a gift from my Husband.  Much to my embarrassment, he caught me smelling the pages of the book one evening.)  And I read longer articles of interest online.

The worst miniature golf course ever.

One of those articles was written by a woman who was the author of a motherhood blog site.  She monetized the site, by endorsing products and gained popularity by creating a significant social media footprint.  Ultimately, she divorced and shut down her blog, which made approximately $1,500 per post through advertisements and endorsements.  She wrote about how her blog distanced her from her children.  After all, everything she wrote about had to be upbeat and positive and the photos of her children had to be idyllic, sans any hint of unhappiness or discord.  She couldn’t write about her marital woes.  She couldn’t write about her children acting out.  She couldn’t write her own thoughts and opinions.  And so she deleted the site and gave up the revenue.  Her piece urged people to follow their passion, whatever it may be.  And she suggested that it may be well worth it to leave money on the table, so long as you remain free to write what you want.

A few weeks ago, I contemplated monetizing this site.  After a couple of key conversations, the answer became clear.  No.  To be certain this is more than a hobby.  But it’s also not a business.  And that is exactly where I want to be.  At least for now.

Remembering Hiroshima

President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Friday.
President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Friday.Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

American or Japanese, one likely has an opinion regarding President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial earlier today.  War, much like peace, is complicated and complex, rendering attempts to explain, justify or rationalize wartime acts irrelevant at best.  The use of the atomic bomb by the United States was not without reason.  Far from it.  But the results were horrific.

Today went a long way in shedding light on all of the reasons why the world would be a better place without nuclear weapons.


RE:PRINT (Stars & Stripes): Okinawans shaken by news Marine veteran may have killed woman

It’s not just Okinawans shaken by the news.

If the allegations are true, the crime was brutal and the motive unknown at this time and incomprehensible regardless.  This weekend, thousands of protesters outside of various base gates made known their anger at Ms. Shimabukuro’s murder.  Peacefully.


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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — In between bouts of driving rain, people descended upon a makeshift shrine Saturday that had sprung up by the wooded location where an Okinawa woman’s body had been found days earlier.

Kakeru Miyagi, 20, of Nago, said he had known the beautiful and lithe Rina Shimabukuro since they were classmates in middle school. Now, as he surveyed the yellow police tape and blue tarp blocking the scene in Onna Village’s Afuso district, he prayed for her soul.

Nearby, bouquets of flowers were piled high amid a collection of tea and sweets that the slain office worker from Uruma enjoyed.

An American civilian working on the island is being held by police in connection with the woman’s death. A former Marine, Kenneth Franklin Gadson — who goes by his Japanese wife’s name of Shinzato — has admitted to police to killing her and dumping her body, his attorney told Stars and Stripes.

Miyagi recalled his former classmate as “friendly” and “good-natured.” Shimabukuro was quiet in class so Miyagi was surprised to find she was a talented singer and dancer, he said.

“When we were in the ninth grade, we went to Mount Aso on a school trip,” he said as he gazed down the isolated stretch of jungle-smothered street. “She danced and sang a song by AKB 48 (a popular Japanese idol girl group) with the other girls. It was the first time I discovered that she had that talent, because in class, she would never show off that sort of thing.”

Miyagi said that when he heard Shimabukuro had gone missing, he had hoped she would be found alive and well.

He said he was too in shock by the brutal nature of the crime to direct any anger towards her alleged killer.

“It’s just unthinkable that anyone could do such a horrible thing,” Miyagi said. “I understand (Shinzato) has a wife and a newborn baby. It’s the time when your wife needs your help and support most. How could this ever have happened?”

The incident has shaken the island community and could strain U.S.-Japan relations. The Japanese protest the U.S. military presence on the island each time an American is charged with a serious crime, including a suspected rape which took place earlier this year. In light of this week’s news of the alleged crime, a protest is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday.

Shinzato, 32, was arrested at the remote site that lies in between U.S. military landing zones and ranges on Thursday after leading police to the spot where he dumped 20-year-old Shimabukuro’s body.

Police have referred charges to the prosecutor’s office to indict Shinzato for the illegal disposal of a body. His attorney, Toshimitsu Takaesu, told Stars and Stripes Friday that his client also had confessed to strangling Shimabukuro, so more charges are expected.

Takaesu said his client may have been under the influence of sleeping pills at the time of the confession..

The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, reported Saturday that Shinzato has admitted to raping, stabbing and strangling the woman. Takaesu declined to confirm those details.

Shimabukuro had been missing since around 8 p.m. on April 28 when she told her boyfriend she was going for a walk. Several hours later, Shimabukuro reportedly read a message on her cellphone but did not respond.

Her boyfriend reported her missing the next morning.

Police feared she had been the victim of a crime or an accident because she left behind her car and wallet. Her phone GPS tracked her last known location to an industrial area near her home in Uruma’s Suzaki district.

Shinzato was brought in for questioning after his red sport utility vehicle was among about 300 vehicles captured in security-camera footage from the area during that time period of the woman’s disappearance, police said.

Asahi reported that investigators believe he struck her with some sort of stick and dragged her into his vehicle. The newspaper reported that he allegedly transported her in a suitcase to the site where she was dumped.

Japan television station NHK reported that investigators found a picture of the victim’s phone, open to her Facebook page, on Shinzato’s phone, and that blood had been found in the suspect’s car.

Everything was quiet Saturday at Shinzato’s house, which he shares with his wife, newborn baby and in-laws. No one answered the doorbell for Stars and Stripes reporters seeking comment shortly before the house was searched by police. A sleek, fast-model motorcycle stood in the rain in the front yard.

Takaesu tried to paint his client as a victim on Saturday, perhaps offering an early window into Shinzato’s defense.

“[Shinzato] grew up in an orphanage in New York and his mother is in an alcoholic rehabilitation facility,” Takaesu said. “He does not know who his father is.”

Shinzato’s next-door neighbor, Shiho Kinjo, 23, said she was surprised to hear the news about her new neighbor who moved to the location a month before.

“I’ve only seen him once and I said, ‘Hello,’ to him in English and he said, ‘Hello,’ in reply and that’s all,” she said. “He seemed like a nice person. His wife is kind and very good looking.”

Sunday’s demonstration, organized by Okinawa Women Against Military Violence and other women’s groups, is planned to take place in front of the Marine Corps headquarters building on Camp Foster, according to Keiko Itokazu, a representative for the group and member of the House of Councilors.

The group will be demanding the removal of all the military bases from Okinawa, she said.

“When I think of the victim, a 20-year-old, young woman, who had a promising life, I become speechless. I am filled with anger, sadness and rage,” she said. “Every time when an incident involving military member happens, military leaders pledge to tighten discipline and take preventive measures, but we now know that none of this has ever worked.”

Itokazu said that closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is not enough. The planned relocation of flight operations to Camp Schwab is now “impossible” as well.

She called on President Barack Obama who will be visiting Japan next week to come to Okinawa to offer apologies.

In another sign of the seriousness of the crime, Japan’s Defense Minister Gen Nakatani arrived Saturday and met with Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, III Marine Expeditionary Forces commander, according to Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc.

Nakatani demanded that an incident like this never happen again and called for thorough and effective discipline regarding the approximately 30,000 U.S. troops stationed on the island, it was reported.

“After all, what is needed is an effort by the military,” Nakatani said. “We asked the military to take workable and concrete measures.”

Nicholson promised to take thorough preventive measures, the report said.

A larger, island-wide protest rally also is in the works, Itokazu said. The date, place and time have yet to be decided.

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On the Road, Again.

<b>OKINAWA</b> ISLAND English <b>map</b> <b>OKINAWA</b> EXPRESSWAY,<b>Okinawa</b> Churaumi ...

Miraculously–and thankfully–I awoke feeling well, albeit with a few lingering aches and pains, which are to be expected.  That means, we will hit the road, Route 58 to be precise, and make our way to Okuma.   Okuma is reputed to have some of the best beaches on Island.  During our trip, we plan on visiting at least one castle ruin, various tourist sites (Pineapple Park, anyone?), seeing the flightless and endangered Okinawan Rail (Yanbaru kuina), and the northernmost point of Okinawa (Cape Hedo).

The wrench that could jam up the works?  The weather.  We are on the cusp of the rainy season and it has been raining and cloudy for what seems like weeks.  Regardless, like Okinawans, we will greet whatever weather we encounter with a smile.


On This Day, Years Ago

On this day, years ago, my Husband was born.  For this, I am thankful.  Indeed, I have no doubt that anyone who knew me before his presence in my life–and likes me–is thankful also.  That said, this is the second worst birthday celebration since we have been married.  (The first being in 2014 when he was forced to purchase his own ice cream cake.)  Yes, there is an ice cream cake in the freezer.  Yes, there were reservations for brunch at the Officers’ Club.  Yes, I offered pizza night.  Yes, his Mother is here to join in the festivities.  The problem?  I’ve been sick since Friday night.  Not just a little sick, but I’ve managed to catch an all-out illness.  The kind where you sleep non-stop, experience massive chills, have no appetite, and don’t want to chance infecting even your worst enemy.

That said, Husband, I love you.  And I am grateful for your presence in my life–even if that sentiment isn’t shining through at this moment.  I know what my life was like without you.  And it is much, much, much better with you in it.

Happy Birthday, Love of My Life.

A Drink Well Worth the Trip

FullSizeRender(223)Scotch lovers have long since been aware that Japanese scotch makers have been in the hunt for recognition for well over a decade.  In 2012 the 25-year-old Yamazaki beat out 300 of the world’s single malts in an international blind tasting.

But that was just the beginning of the accolades.  Jim Murray of Whisky Bible fame, awarded a record-equalling 97.5 marks out of 100 to Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, hailing it as “near indescribable genius.”

How could we live in Japan and not sample its famed whisky?  As I was looking for a bottle of scotch on-base, I spoke with a local national clerk about scotch.  He immediately pointed out a display of Suntory bottles.

I was encouraged to try to the 12-year old Yamazaki single malt.  And that is how it came to pass that we found our current favorite drink.  It is smooth.  It is complex.  It is warm.  It is subtle.  It is, I dare say, much like the people and culture of Japan.

The price?  Here, a bottle costs $34.99; in the States, it sells for more than $100.

A Case of Cultural Infusion

After living in Japan for almost one year, I have now become accustomed to having brief conversations entirely in Japanese.  Be it at the commissary, exchange, or out in town.  I am able to discern what is being asked of me, typically responding with an enthusiastic, “hai!”  At base gates, guards are greeted with konnichiwa and a quick, hai, upon receiving permission to enter, followed by arigatou gozaimasu.

At the store, I am typically asked for my identification, how I will pay and whether I have coupons.  I anticipate such questions and respond, often in a different order than asked.  But no English is spoken, regardless.  As a result, hai (yes) has become a common word in my vocabulary, oftentimes paired with a slight bow.

I had several client appointments today.  Midday, one of my clients began asking several questions requiring a yes or no answer.  I noted that, in response, I said hai three times, bowing slightly each time I used the word.  I’m sure I blushed.  After all, like me, my client is American.  And we both speak English as a first language.  My client gave me a second glance when he first heard me use the word, but didn’t appear to think anything of it as I continued.

When I collected [S] from day care today, I inquired how she did.  Our caretaker started laughing.  She continued, “I asked [S] if she wanted a toy; she said hai and bowed.”