Wednesday, December 31, 2014
I've wanted to go to Japan for the longest time, and I finally made it! But before I get into that...
The last couple of months have been emotionally difficult for me, to say the least, as evidenced by my last few blog entries. I'm happy to say that my final blog entry for 2014 will be on an upbeat note, due in a big part to my new hobby, aka passion, aka obsession—geocaching.
Geocaching has saved my sanity. It's pushed me out of my apartment and into my surroundings and beyond, to discover and rediscover the magic and life that exists all around me.
If you read this blog and don't knew what geocaching is, it's a kind of treasure hunting game played all over the world by all kinds of people. There are many videos and websites that talk about this fun pastime; here's a short video introduction:
This past weekend I had a rare two days off. Inspired by my friend Ryan, who just a couple of weeks earlier had flown to one of Taiwan's outer islands for a one-day geocaching trip, I made a last-minute decision to go geocaching in Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa is only one hour away by airplane, so it fit my mini vacation schedule perfectly.
This was my first time in Japan, besides airport transfers, and the experience was wonderful. I'm positive I'll return in the future; after all, there are still dozens of geocaches there yet to be found!
The following photos are from my trip. Most are related to geocaching—that was the purpose of the trip—which may bore you, or hopefully get you curious about the hobby.
In the spirit of geocaching, most of my photo comments are "hidden"; you can read them if you're using a computer mouse. (Hint: Revoh ruoy esuom revo eht sotohp)
Click on the photos to see the full size versions.
6:00am at Taoyuan Airport. Breakfast at the airport Burger King, naturally.
I'm in Japan! I took a few minutes in the airport to just sit and take it all in. The first order of business? Go find a geocache, of course!
I located the coordinates at a five-minute walk from the airport. The clue said to find two kittens (see them?), then search in the direction that one of them was looking...
...which was around this tsunami warning.
My first log signed outside of Taiwan! This cache is called Naha Airport Cats (GC4XMBD) as is a Mystery Cache to boot!
Time to try out the Japanese transportation system. I bought a two-day monorail pass, which would take me all over Naha.
By the way, Naha-kuko Airport Station is the westernmost rail station in Japan. That's what this sign says, complete with geocachers beloved coordinates!
Next stop: Akamine Station.
You don't need to be able to read Japanese to understand this safety message on all of the monorail doors. How cute is that?!
Cache #2: Akamine Station. It's interesting that Japan's southernmost rail station is only one stop from its westernmost station.
The Japanese Southernmost Station (GC43VZC) cache log.
It was still morning and so I hadn't checked into my hotel yet. Here's my luggage on a bench near the cache.
With random shoe.
It's true what you've heard: The Japanese love their vending machines. They're literally everywhere.
Next monorail stop was Oroku Station, with two geocaches located nearby. The first was a short walk away at Kanagusuku Park. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, yet I had the place to myself.
So tranquil...I could stay here forever. And I almost did, as the cache was well hidden in that group of trees in the distance.
Jackpot! Cache #3 in Japan, Kanagusuku Kache (GC155P2).
It's time for lunch, it's my first time in Japan, so where do I go? To an American restaurant, of course!
Click on the photo to enlarge if you want to get a better look. This place was pretty popular with the locals.
Walking to the next cache. Notice the indicated areas for bicycles and pedestrians. There's the monorail on the right.
I believe this was a public restroom.
This is the online description of the geocache I was searching for at this time. This particular one is part of a Dragonball series, which means you can find it as a stand-alone, or record the clues that are found on the containers at each cache for a larger puzzle. This owner, Big Dave, adds a lot of detail to his hides, which makes them very fun and quite popular in Okinawa.
Inside the cache lid is a clue to a bigger puzzle, which looks like this.
I reached the park and found Buyon; now to find GZ (Ground Zero) and the cache container.
Find #4 in Okinawa (49th find overall) was especially satisfying, as I really had to use my head and 'geosenses' to figure it out. I decided to drop off the first of my trackables, the East Wind travel bug that you see in the photo. I was going to do this on my 50th find, as sort of a milestone marker, but I really liked this cache, and it had a big enough container to hold the trackable, so in it went. This cache is called Buyon ブヨン (GC4XD9Q)
Time to celebrate with a coffee break. I chose Starbucks because of its familiarity, but mostly because it offers free WiFi and I was itching to log my finds online. I just had to take a picture of the nice message written on my cup.
Outside of Starbucks, at the entrance to the monorail station, I spotted these two Jehovah's Witnesses. Their methods have changed a bit since I was involved with them...
My former-JW friends may be surprised to see these large posters and literature carts that are now being used in public places.
The next cache, which was at Ōnoyama-kōen Station (GC4WZCC), was was an easy find.
This is how I feel when I find a cache...Wa! This is a karaoke place, by the way.
Time to head to my hotel, check in, drop off my bags, and continue the search! My hotel, the Rasso Naha Matsuyama, is the tall building with the orange signs.
The room was small by western standards, but I'm used to living in spall spaces now so this felt normal to me. The bed was comfortable and the room was clean and didn't smell like smoke, which are my main criteria.
A deep Japanese bathtub. Ahhh....
And just across the street...
Now, time to explore my surroundings. Let's see...
Nope, still have no idea where I am. Let's just walk around and see where I'll end up.
That's about US$1.60 / hr. Since I can't rent a car or scooter in Japan without an international license, I'll make a mental note of this place for tomorrow.
The 100 ¥en store, like the Dollar Store, but loads more KAWAII!
It's been a long time since I saw a public phone booth. Can Superman be far behind?
It's also been decades since I've seen a cigarette machine in a public place.
Ironically, this message appears on the sidewalk near the above machine.
The seedy, underbelly of Naha.
Hmm, this is getting interesting.
As night fell I was getting hungrier, and I vowed to finally eat some Japanese food. I spotted this restaurant, and from the photos I knew they served tempura, my favorite!
The fact that it was 7pm on a Saturday night, yet the place was empty, did concern me. The cook looks like he's in a vending machine, right?
Speaking of vending machines...hmmm. Fortunately, somewhere in the dark recesses of my memory, I recalled from my long-ago Japanese class that restaurants in Japan often use vending machines. You first insert your money, make your menu choices, then give the ticket it issues to the cook. No need for waiters or money handling.
As it turned out, the food was light, fresh, and delicious! Clockwise from the tempura: White radish paste; dipping sauce; miso soup; white rice; tea; a bowl of rice, wasabi, and some vegetable things I couldn't recognize, over which was poured some liquid (tea? broth?) from that teapot. It was quite tasty, whatever it was.
It's been a full day of fun, but it's time to head back to the hotel and get some sleep.
Wait, what's this in the desk drawer....
It's a new day (Sunday) and time for breakfast. I briefly thought about Burger King—love those breakfast croissant sandwiches—but the BK in Naha doesn't serve breakfast items (??). Also, they were promoting the Berry Kristmush monstrosity above, from which I fled in terror.
So the plan for the morning was to take the monorail to Shuri Castle—which was recommended to me by a soldier I'd met on the airplane over—and search for geocaches in the nearby area. I found a bike rental shop not far from the rail station, and the proprietor was good enough to snap this photo of me, complete with his thumb.
Gotta first stock up on hydration for my big day out. I was excited to find my beloved Japanese peach water, at the source!
A small temple on the way to the first cache. Let's see, should I stop and soak up the local culture, or take a quick photo then continue on to the geocache?
I think you already know the answer.
I was riding around some nice upscale neighborhoods...
Find #6 in Japan, Ranfan (ランファン). This is the first time I've ever grabbed a trackable (5montreals FTF Talledega Nights), which I'll drop off back in Taiwan.
This area was quite steep, with some very interesting narrow back streets and paths. It was a challenge to navigate sometimes.
The next cache was located at a park high atop a hill with this magnificent view...
...and obviously popular with young lovers.
This was my seventh find in Okinawa, so I left the 7-dot mahjong tile on the left as swag, for a future finder to take if they want.
This next location was one of my favorites. To access it, you first had to find this tiny back road...
...on the way down, stop to pet the friendly pooch...
...and across a small bridge to this strange and wonderful place below street level.
And here is GZ. Amazingly beautiful. If I didn't do geocaching, I'd probably never have seen this place.
An example of what you might find in the cache container. This is actually a clue for a larger puzzle. Find #8 in Okinawa (GC4P0MM).
Find #9 contained a Geocoin, which I took to place in Taiwan. I would probably never have found this one without the help of a hint photo supplied by a previous geocacher. Wana Ridge Trails (GC26N96)
All of this bike riding has gotten me thirsty. Care for a tall Dr. Pepper?
Well, I never did make it to Shuri Castle. This is as close as I got, one of the gates in the surrounding wall. Oh well, next time.
My bike rental time was coming to an end, so I snapped some photos of some interesting signs along the way back to the shop...
Nope, it's not an egg store.
Geocaching is my high.
You know how they say, after many years together couples start
to look like each other...
The next cache brought me to Kokusai Dori, a giant market arcade. There were small streets running every which way, with vendors packed into every tiny corner. Most of it was covered, which caused my GPS to freak out and made finding the GZ all the more difficult.
I finally determined that the GZ was this market, inside....
Can you spot the cache?
This one, find #10, is called Makishi Market Place (GC287K3).
Having a cache inside a store is a good idea, as it brings in business. I mean, after spending so much time in there, I felt guilty if I didn't buy something.
By this time it was dark, and it was starting to sprinkle, so I thought I'd make it a day and go back to the hotel. However, something kept pushing at me, and I decided "just one more." So I walked along the back alleys of Naha to find a small park. The cache was in a tree, under a rock in the braches, and was a pretty easy find (The Bear Thief GC4P4DT), so I figured just one more shouldn't be difficult...
I was wrong. The cache is located somewhere "in the middle of the tree." Now, imagine trying to search through this monster, in the middle of the night, in the drizzle, with no lights. I was crawling and climbing all over that thing, using my phone as a light, trying desperately neither to fall nor drop my phone into the bottomless pit of those branches and roots.
After about 25 minutes of searching I gave up. This was the only DNF (Did Not Find) of my entire trip, so I didn't feel so bad. The tree itself is absolutely amazing, and I feel great that I got to see it.
So I returned to the area of my hotel and found a bar (lots of places in the area called "bar") and had a nice dinner of grilled beef and a peach cocktail. While sitting at the counter I noticed the napkin holder...
...had this strange thing with a clear plastic top. I thought it must be a salt shaker, or magnifying glass to read small print menus, or something. I tried to remove it but it wouldn't come off. The waiter came up to me to see if I needed anything, but I didn't so I waived him away. I continued playing with the thing, trying to figure it out, when the waiter came up to me again.
It was then I realized that the thing was a button for calling the waiter. D'oh!
For my final evening, I sprang for a treat and got an in-room aromatherapy massage. It was 40 minutes of pure relaxing bliss. Worth every yen!
So my weekend trip to Okinawa came to a close. I found a total of 11 geocaches and got to see a new place, all with wonderful weather and no major problems. It was a great mini vacation, and I can't wait to return some day.
Until then, there are plenty more geocaches to find!