5 Months

A friend drops me off at the airport

“See you in 5 months.” I say.

” What do you mean 5 months? You will be away for 7 nearly 8 months!”

October 12 2021 to 10 May 2022. She is right. I had always told myself and indeed everyone else that I would be gone for 5 months. Where did I get that number from? 7/8 months seems, well actually is, a much longer time. Oh well.

The trip is fantastically easy. I had been dreading all kinds of Covid related hassle but there was none. Checking in at Naha, the wonderfully polite ground staff says, “Could I see your PCR test please?” That was all for the whole trip. Perfect flights, only slightly jaded by the fact that they stopped serving alcohol in the ANA lounge in Haneda at 8:00 pm. I got there at 8:10 pm.

I slept all the way to San Francisco. The airport is deserted. I leave my seat, walk to immigration, no line, the guy smiles and says”Welcome home sir.”

My bag is the first to appear and 15 minutes after getting off the plane, I am standing outside. No PCR check, nothing about self isolation.

Where I get my early morning coffee. Still take away only.
Where Mary comes from.
Pepper tree near the house.
Where I live now.
San Francisco internet speed. I get 1000 Mbs in Ginowan.

Yay 7/8 months of adventures ahead!

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OTT

I have done some consultancy work and receive a nice chunk of cash. I determine to spend it on the finest food and wines for a farewell, farewell dinner. I am off to California in a couple of days and will not return for 5 months.

First to Hanada san’s amazing wine shop. She is so sweet. She gives me a Furoshiki and a very tender card.

A good friend.
How nice of her.

Arisa and I go down to the Itoman fish market to stock up. Best sashimi and truly unbelievable fish soup. The latter is more like a stew and consists of a lot of fish bones and crab shells.

Before the trouble starts.

A main reason for enjoying these dinners so much is that I can use the beautiful silver cutlery that I used as very little boy and indeed my mother used when she was a little girl etc. etc.

We foregather and drink very rare champagne style sake.

This bottle has been in my fridge for many months. The fact I have not drunk it, I take as a proof that I am not alcohol dependent
The best oysters with sashimi. Wine from the Alsace.
I serve up shells and bones to an unsuspecting group.
Authentic and full of bones. Remarkably the people seem to enjoy it. I think this is mainly because they can sop up the liquid with the great bread that Arisa san brought.

Next comes octopus coctel. This is a Mexican dish that cannot be beat.

This is octopus and shrimp with tomato, clamato, avocado and stuff. It is amazing
This is what we drink, not very Mexican.
Tomomi san makes a salad that melds very well into the plate.

Onto the Foie Gras, which Arisa san cooks to perfection.

With cornichon and tomato.
Very good with the Foie Gras.

We are all getting very full but are driven to continue.

Lamb chop with guacamole.
Cake, strawberry, pear
We forgot to take a picture in the heat of battle but here is the dessert wine we drank and one of the exquisite Japanese pears that Ichiro san brought.

Completely over the top. I will only eat lightly boiled eggs and drink water for the next week.

What a wonderful evening. Thanks to Tim and Mary for the cake, thanks to Izumi sensei for the great wine, thanks to Ichiro san for the beautiful pears, thanks to Arisa san and Tomomi san for their support and expertise.

But in the end, is there any greater pleasure than sitting around a well furnished table with good friends and laughing?

Farewell, farewell.

Thanks to Tomomi san for most of the photos.

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Greasy Joan Doth Keel the Pot

Off we go into the night to seek the Yanbaru Kuina, with our tummies full of fabulous food and drink, except noble Ichiro san who is driving. So the deal is that the Yanburu Kuina is a very rare bird that skulks around the undergrowth in the hundreds of square miles of the forest of Yanbaru, which is the totally northern part of the island. The chances of seeing one are low as there are hundreds of square miles of forest but very few birds. However we have a secret weapon – Ichiro san! Not only is he a fine painter but is also a first class ornithologist. We drive along slowly, shining flashlights into the trees.

Within 5 minutes Ichiro san sees one! It is in a perfect spot at the end of a branch with no brush in front. We have an excellent view. The Kuina clamber up into trees to sleep. They are scared of Habus, highly venomous snakes that slide and slither around at night.

Hooray! So good

We keep driving and soon see a baby Scops Owl.

Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
Not a Habu but a Pryers Keelback Snake. https://okinawanaturephotography.com/tag/herping-in-northern-okinawa-with-shawn-miller/

The Milky Way fills the sky or so I am told. I forgot to bring my glasses.

Barringtonia racemosa https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barringtonia_racemosa
Big Crab
Super rare gecko.

We saw lots of other good stuff but I am still struggling with the new lens and did not get any good photos.

Next day we resume the fun at 6:00 am. Again, we soon see a rail looking for earthworms by the side of the road. I screw up the photography. We go up to a headland to watch the dawn.

The dawn comes up like thunder

We go to a beach.

7:00 Monday morning. What a great way to start the week!

Back to the hotel, outside of which there is a tree covered with flaming blossom. The blossom are covered with butterflies.

Hello
I wish I had a butterfly field guide
I don’t like sponge cake
Bye bye

Thanks Ichiro san for guiding us. Such a great trip!

Just to round things up, here is what we ate on the way home.

Breakfast
Lunch. More than I can deal with. My companion, being a Japanese woman, woofs it down!

Click twice on all the photos!

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Dear Meat

Arisa and I go up to Yanbaru for another Okinawa Rail spotting adventure. Before setting off into the raucous night of the sub tropical forest, we have a truly outstanding meal.

I have to underline that we are totally in the boondocks. https://www.google.com/maps/place/Ada,+Kunigami,+Kunigami+District,+Okinawa+905-1503/@26.7557938,128.2617698,19090m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x34e46a9e2f6483c9:0xbd3c293dc0e9f349!8m2!3d26.7505893!4d128.2849463

We are in Ichiro san ‘s house in Ada.

Tomomi san has prepared her own version of Civet de Chevreuil; venison, prunes, onion, red wine and the ingredients that I have forgotten, cooked all day. It is a masterpiece!

Oichi!

To go along with, this she produces a Gratin de Marrons au Canard et Oignons; again her own recipe.

Super oichi!

We start by drinking sake that Arisa has brought from her hometown of Imari, a haut lieu for sake. Look it up on Google maps.

Thanks Arisa!
What a meal in the remotest part of Yanbaru!

Ichiro san has just got back from counting Hawk Eagles in Kumamoto. He brings back bags of chestnuts and amazing pods that grow on vines deep in the forest. They are called Akebi. These he stuffs with minced pork and mushrooms. Unique dish!

It is served with harissa! No one I know has ever eaten this.

We drink a 2015 Chateau L’Argenteyre! The wine is so good with the venison.

Desert is marrons glaces, again handmade by Tomomi san.

In the middle of remotest subtropical forest!

We finish with beautiful grapes from Arisa’s hometown – Imari. They are called Shine Muscat. Her Mum sent them across. Japanese eat fruit differently from we Westerners. The way it looks is probably equally important as they way it tastes, er, I think.

We are all so zoned by the meal that we forget to take a photo of Arisa’s amazing grapes. They looked like the photo but in a much better setting!

I am old but this was one of the finest meals ever! The pleasure was heightened by the uniqueness of the setting.

Thank you Ichiro san, Tomomi san and Arisa san!

Memorable night.

We then wildly launch ourselves into the night to see what we can see.

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Lustre

I am fairly good at housework but I am not meticulous, tiles in the bathroom get dirty, grunge gathers in corners, the floors get grimy, the tatami mats gather dust. You get the idea.

I contact a house cleaning agency and a couple of days later, the wonderful Ai san shows up. She bustles me out and tells me to come back 4 hours later. What to do for 4 hours? Take photos of birds of course.

Little Egret. Notice yellow foot.
Same egret catches a fish.
He runs off but is attacked by another egret and drops the fish!
Marsh Sandpipers, Redshanks, Black winged Stilt. Click on all photos to get biggest size.

Such a good morning as there are lots of birds on the triangular pond again. The new lens is excellent.

I get back to a different apartment, it is spotlessly clean and sparkling. So uplifting; thank you Ai san.

Tatami room
Table room
This is where I sleep.
Shiny kitchen

To overflow the cup, Ginowan City sends me a book of vouchers that I can use to buy stuff in local small businesses. The idea is to stimulate the local economy post Corona, as Covid is known here. I hope Hanada san’s wine shop takes them.

Thanks Ginowan!

Tomorrow, all Corona restrictions are lifted in Okinawa. This means we can drink in restaurants and have parties at home. Hooray!

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The Mountain Sheep Are Sweeter

Not much to report really, mainly dentistry and sailing.

Former colleague, Natori san, who now works for Medecins sans Frontieres in Tokyo, sorry can’t find accents.comes back for a visit. We go for a very bracing sail.

Bounding along!

The weather is perfect, blue skies, er, blue sea, 30 degrees. However perhaps too much wind, gusting to 15/16 knots and the seas, although blue, are broken. I am concerned that this might be a bit much for Natori san as this was to be her first ever sail. Is it a good idea to go out?

It was a dramatic sail, rough water, high speeds, plenty of heeling with the combing very close to the water. I need not have worried. She took to it like a duck to water. In fact all the Japanese women I know are intrepid sailors. Well done Natori san!

The next day Arisa and I go for lunch in a Mexican restaurant that is about 5 mins walk from our respective apartment buildings. Very handy thing to have.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Taco+Maria/@26.2878466,127.7527262,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipO7udtER-68fVnrt9fNpXGRwx17SjHn_iyibXcd!2e10!3e12!6shttps:%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipO7udtER-68fVnrt9fNpXGRwx17SjHn_iyibXcd%3Dw408-h306-k-no!7i4032!8i3024!4m5!3m4!1s0x34e5135c8792c325:0xe0ff5ced6262acd7!8m2!3d26.2874967!4d127.752926

Mexican stuff in Japan.
Fish, carne asada, shrimp tacos.

Not the real thing but a lot of fun. Arisa is the best in all things.

Let’s switch to dentistry. Monday, I go to have the semi permanent crown put on my implants. Great fun as always; they take the best X-rays.

What a mess! You can spy the implants bottom right.

I will be leaving Okinawa for 5 months soon. The final, permanent, crown will be welded on when I get back. It is a long business.

Today, I went to the other dentist to have what I thought was to be the final stage of months of root canal work, the welding on of the permanent crown.

In France and the U.S. my crowns were glued on after maybe 15 mins of adjustment. It is not like that here. It took 2 hours of repositioning, fine tuning until they were finally satisfied. Amazingly scrupulous.

The nurse places colored paper between the crown and the upper teeth. “Tap, tap, tap.” then grind, which in Japanese is “Giri, girl, girl.” They must have done this 50 times. They take delicate grinders to the crown and the crown seat so many times. I feel like saying, “You know, I think that will be OK.” but they have such high professional standards. By the way, this is State medicine. I pay next to nothing.

Giri,giri,giri

Anyway they finally glue on the crown but, thanks Google translate, explain that this temporary glue. They want me to spend some time with my crown to see if we, you know, bond. I have to go back next week to get a dose of permanent adhesive if my crown and I have not fallen out. State medicine.

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Egrets

Sunday 19 September – what a beautiful day! The sky is a clear blue, the sea is, well you know, blue too. It is 30 degrees.

The only glitch is too little wind to sail meaningfully. I generally clean up the boat and chew the fat with Kiyuna san, who gives me another silk kimono belt, which I have learned are called Obi. Again this new Obi features Tsuru. It also has motifs of pine trees, bamboo flowers and cherry blossom. Pine trees and bamboo represent longevity, he explains, and sakura is, as you know, drenched in symbolism.

I wonder where he gets them from? Impolite to ask.
My table. Strong Tsuru theme.

It is very hot, non sequitur coming up, so I decide to drive North to the paddy fields of Kin to practice with my new lens. There are tons of birds for the first time in ages.

Great White Egret and Cattle Egret, already in winter plumage
Cattle Egrets loosing their reddish Summer plumage.

There are lots of waders, which I fail miserably to photograph. I have to learn how to use the new lens to its full potential.

Not bad of a Black winged Stilt

There are also loads of Whiskered Terns but they are feeding above the taro crop and very hard to photograph. I stick to Egrets whom sit more or less still.

Ferocious Cattle Egret.

It gets dark as I drive home. Looking to the West, there is the most remarkable sunset. Looking to the East, the Harvest Moon is rising in the darkening sky. So good.

Not the best but not bad for a handheld snap.

A little more wind please.

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Tempura

I love tempura but have never been able to cook it successfully. My attempts have always been soggy as opposed to crisp. So disappointing. I have suspected that the oil is never hot enough.

On a recent boat picnic, a friend produces absolutely perfect deep fried batter chicken drumsticks. She explains that you can get specialized tempura pans that have a thermometer so you never drop stuff in until the oil is perfectly hot.

Amazon and then a couple of days later my tempura pot arrives.

It works so well! I tempura all my meals. Tempura mushrooms, cauliflower, fish, chicken, prawns, spam. Such fun.

Nearly there.

Last night I did deep fried chicken, not really tempura, and salad.

Bamboo shoots and burdock salad.
On the job
Crisp, crunchy

Everyone should have one.

A Grey Heron, just for fun.

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Tsuru no Hitokoe

Tsuru is Japanese for crane, er the bird. It is number 2 in the hierarchy of birds, number 1 is the Phoenix. The cry of the crane is believed to have great authority. https://japanesequizzes.com/portfolio/tsuru-no-hitokoe/

Anyway, as I am coming back from birdwatching I get a call from Kiyuna san, “Can you come to the marina? I have a bird for you.”

We meet on his boat and sit down for coffee. He presents me with a beautiful strip of fabric.

The motif is of course Tsuru

It looks like a very expensive item, the fabric is beautifully woven. He says it is silk. We have been having a lot of conversations about birds recently. Kiyuna san does most of the talking. He constantly returns to the concept of Tsuru no Hitokoe. Maybe he thinks that by giving me the material more people will listen to me.

Kano san shows up with a new friend, Maki san. She is a scream! She has just arrived at the marina having single handedly sailed a 30ft boat down from Kyushu.

Maki san is a character.

She had never sailed before she set off on this trip! The boat was knocked down twice and Maki dislocated her shoulder. She had to sail with one hand for 2 days in extreme pain. I ask her where she is headed to.

“I don’t know, I am just sailing South.”

“What is your boat’s name?”

“Tsuru!”

“The Tsuru flies South!”

The sudden arrival of Tsuru in my life is a bit disconcerting. They are everywhere.

Before she started her boating adventure, Maki drove around the world on 250 cc Yamaha trail bike.

“What is the best place you have visited?”

“Okinawa!”

Maki san, Kano san, Kiyuna san.

We have a hilarious afternoon. Maki san is a great addition to the community.

Kiyuna san has lost another tooth, making him toothless in Ginowan.

Kiyuna san has many more strips of material and I think I understand that they are used in traditional kimono outfits. They are wrapped around the waist.

Very beautiful.

I use mine as a stringer on the dining table.

Thank you Kiyuna san
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Big

So I have had my beloved Tokina AT-X 300 since February 2015. She is a fabulous lens.

She only has manual focus, which usually I like very much especially if the bird is sitting nice and still. However on my recent birdwatching trips to Yanbaru and Iriomote there were many occasions when I only had very little time to take the photo and could not focus fast enough.

I decide to buy an autofocus lens. After much research I decide on the Nikon 200-500mm VR.

https://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/200-500mm.htm#rex

I hunt one down on Ebay. It is second hand but in excellent condition. It arrived yesterday. Great excitement!

It is big.

At 200mm length
At 500mm length

I rush down to Triangle Pond to take photos of the usually numerous birds. However for the second consecutive visit there were very few to be seen. The trees that used to screen the pond from the road were cut down a few months ago and maybe the birds feel dangerously exposed. They have maybe gone somewhere else.

There are thousands of fish
Coot, no it’s a Moorhen.
Redshanks flapping it wings
Redhanks just hanging around The birds a a long way away.

The new lens is fantastic. You just point it at the bird and pull the trigger. It feels a bit like cheating after years of manual focus.

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