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“Manhole”?! Oh. May 2, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Other Arts, Photos.
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When my mom first returned to Okinawa five years ago, she took photos of a bunch of manhole covers. They have really unique designs, often denoting a particular neighborhood or district. I thought I better continue the project:

Tonaki Island




And my mom’s finished product


Adventures in Haiku April 8, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in Language, Other Arts.
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Today we went to a haiku class at the Yonabaru community center. The woman we’re staying with, Miyuki-san, helps conduct these classes and has traveled all over the world studying haiku. So here’s what I wrote today:

となき しま
うみわ しあわせ
なにも いない

“Life goes on. Fuck it.”
No regrets, no funeral.
“Let’s eat a sandwich.”

お-はな さく
そして はる わく

あかに なる
なつ ばかな がか
やけてる よ

Translations and more

History Lesson in the Middle of Nowhere March 15, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Photos.
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While Tonaki is now a peaceful village and haven for a few weekend tourists, it once played a key role in Japanese defense before and during World War II.

From this mountaintop structure, guards would watch for flares from the neighboring island, signaling an attack from China. These flares daisy-chained from little island to little island across the Ryukyus until reaching mainland Okinawa or mainland Japan.

Now the structure is the pivotal tour stop to overlook Tonaki and all its neighboring islands. The sister island two miles away is controlled by the U.S. Armed Forces as a practice shooting range.

But Tonaki itself has been preserved — the land and the culture. To ensure a continuation of the island’s traditional ways, the Japanese government deemed Tonaki a “Conservation District of Traditional Architecture” in 2000. I am thankful for this, to be able to see what Okinawa Island was like before WWII, before U.S. occupation, before Westernization.

Tonaki Time Warp March 14, 2010

Posted by Elisa Hough in History, Photos.
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We spent this weekend on a tiny island about 30 miles west of Naha, courtesy of the Japanese government. Tonaki Island is only about 2 miles long, and the sole village is no more than a 1/2-square-mile. What you see here is pretty much all there is. Untouched by American influence during or after World War II, Tonaki seems kind of trapped in the past, in the best possible way.

Most of Tonaki’s population are seniors, living simply as farmers or fishermen. Students have to leave the island to attend high school, so the average age of citizens gets older and older until … well, we’ll find out in 20 years. Maybe that’s why the government pays for tourists to visit, to lure them back. But for now, the people on Tonaki seem content, in a way of life that I’ve only ever seen in Totoro.

More Tonaki stories and photos to come. Here are some teasers for now:

This beach was a 1-minute walk away. Sigrunn and I found skirtfuls of pretty seashells and broken pottery, plus a 20-inch turtle shell skeleton.

That yellow place on the left is where we stayed, a tatami room guest house with a roof deck! The big building on the right is the one school, grades K-8, which only 40 kids attend.