Okinawa

The purpose of my trip to Okinawa was for SCUBA diving specifically to see the mantas so this is what I did with most of my time. There is a local Okinawa dish I tried called "go-ya chanpuru" made from an okinawa vegetable named "go-ya" which looks like a fat studded cucumber. Ishigaki also has a local Ishigaki island beer. And then there is always Orion beer which seems to be the main beer of choice on the island. For SCUBA divers the main attraction of Ishigaki during October is the mantas.

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Ishigaki island

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Our Ishigaki hotel room and Ishigaki at dusk as seen from the hotel room

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The gentle giants swim over tens of divers watching in awe

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One of the dive masters shows a sea snake he caught (photo courtesy of Doug)

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The Blue Cafe

Taketomi island

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The main thing to do on Taketomi island is rent bikes and explore the island. The bike rental place has good maps of the island showing the shops, restaurants, and scenic spots. Just a couple of hours is plenty to make the ferry trip worth while. The ferry from Ishigaki was less that 1000 yen and only took about 15 minutes.

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A bull-drawn carriage worker gives his bull a bath

Iriomote island

The next island is Iriomote. Ferry is the only method for getting to and from Iriomote. If the sea is rough Funaura port will be closed and you will have to go to Oohara port and take a one hour bus to Funaura area, assuming this is your destination. I stayed at the Iriomote Island Hotel. The only thing within walking distance from the hotel was a small supermarket and a ramen noodle shop.

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The local kids play the shamisen every Tuesday night

I went to see the local kids play shamisen (Japanese banjo) at the town hall (or school). The shamisen, literally 3-sounding strings, is a traditional Japanese instrument that looks similar to a banjo. A standard shamisen is made from stretched skin from the belly of a female cat (I am not making this up). Cheaper models use dog skin. To make these cheaper models appear authentic, markings are made in the pattered of a cats nipples which are visible on the more expensive shamisen. In okinawa the shamisen is called a "jamisen", because the instrument is made from snake skin instead of cat skin, and so the character "ja" which means snake is used. Of'course there are much cheaper shamisen and jamisen made from non-natural materials.

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Mandarin and Pajama Cardinal Fish (file photos)

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One of the mandarin fish I saw a just little over an inch in length

We descended to a reef and spend the entire dive looking inside the coral for a glimpse of small, rare fishes. One species was so rare we were told there were only a total of 3 fish! I didn't see these, but I did see a couple Pajama cardinal fish and a couple Mandarin fish. The Mandarin fish sat on the coral and would "walk" around on their fins. Very cute, but they were hard to photograph because they were so shy.

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A clown tries to hide from me in his soft coral home

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Clown fish dart into the soft corals but soon come back out to see what's going on.

Iriomote has a population of just 2050 people despite the fact is it slightly bigger than its neighbor Ishigaki which is quite developed in comparison. There is a trek from one side of the island to the other. An 8 hour trek through Japan's only jungle environment complete with poisonous snakes, wild bore, wild cats, and leeches. The trek can be dangerous because of the many people who have gotten lost and never returned. Not having enough time for a two-day hike, My friend and I opted for a full-day kayak & trek trip through the jungle which was a lot of fun.

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Mangroves at high tide (photo) and low tide (inset)

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We parked out kayaks and started the trek into the Jungle

We started out trip on kayaks and paddled through the sea and brackish waters until we reached the jungle's river. Despite the island's small population it has two universities, on dedicated to the study of the mangroves. After parking the kayaks we were briefed the rules of the jungle. For example, not to touch anything in the jungle including using trees for balance while walking past them.

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Ikari-san our guide cooks us an Okinawa lunch while we take a swim

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A centipede (left) slowly makes his way across the trail. Stick bug (right)

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A very friendly or curious lionfish

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A habu inside a jar of "Habushu", Okinawa sake and fermented snake

Naha, Okinawa island

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A lion-dog wards off evil from this Naha sky-scraper

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Scenes from a Chinese memorial in Naha

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Shooting some pool in a Naha bar