Sefa-Utaki

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So the other day, we load up in the SM-X and head towards Peace Prayer Park. Hannah had been there on a field trip last year and was impressed. After a quick lunch at the Brazilian steak house, we set off. Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn. Easy enough to do in Okinawa. Streets are not always marked well, and street signs…well let’s just say they can be less than accurate. As we made our way around the south end of the island, I spotted Sefa-Utaki. We had previously tried to find this place with no luck. I figured it was as good a time as any.

Pulling in to the parking lot, I had high hopes. It was full. That is usually a good sign in Okinawa. Sefa-Utaki is the holiest site in Okinawa and a World Heritage Site (like every thing here). It was the place where the priestesses of the Ryukyu court performed rituals, told fortunes, and did other religious business for the kings. I figured it would be a fairly cool place. Heck, Okinawa magazine had even done a feature on it a few months ago, so it had to be worthwhile.

Now before I say it wasn’t worth it, I guess I just expected something different. The whole place is really small. The Welcome Center was about the size of my bedroom. Okay, maybe it was a little bigger than that but not by much. They had 3 artifacts. A bowl, some coins, and a few golden claw looking things used in fortune telling. After the underwhelming reception area, there is a treacherous path up into the jungle. This is not a place to go when it is raining or damp. The walkway is steep and slippery on a completely dry, sunny day. I had trouble with a good pair of sneakers on, although there were several Japanese women with high heeled platform type (hooker) shoes on making the trip look easy. Guess I’ve got no skillz.

The site itself is split up into 3 areas, a small platform where the priestesses were ordained/blessed, an area for ceremonies related to fortune telling and new year’s offerings, and the most sacred area pictured below.

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The opening is pretty interesting. That is not a perfectly flat surface, but it is close. I always wonder how things like this “occur” in nature. I’m sure those guys on Ancient Aliens would say higher beings came to the Okinawans and helped them make that opening or some such nonsense. Whatever the explanation, it is cool. Through the rock passage is a small area with a good view of the Pacific. Not much else to the whole site.

Overall, I would say that it is not a place to kill a whole day. There is very little to see, it was crowded with tourists, and it was difficult to take pictures because of the lighting in the jungle. It took less than 30 minutes to see the entire thing. I am glad we did it though, even if it was only to see the rather impressive selection of vending machines in the parking lot! If you are lost on the south side of the island with nothing to do, you could do worse.


Kin Kannon-do Buddhist Temple

I admit, I like all things Buddhist. The temples, the tradition spanning back thousands of years, the stoic levitating Zen master handing out riddles while meditating on top of a mountain. Okay, maybe that last part was a little much, but when we got orders to Japan I thought there would be a monastery on every corner and monks meditating in little groves in every park. That’s not quite the case. As a matter of fact, I know of only 4 sites in all of Okinawa. A temple in Naha, one close to Nakagusuku Castle, a meditation room next to Shuri Castle, and Kin Kannon-do temple in Kin town.

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I certainly don’t know all of the history of this temple, heck I didn’t even see any monks. I guess they were out meditating on a mountain while we were there. The grounds of the temple were small, but nice. A statue here, a little garden there. The main attraction is the cave on the grounds where the monks store/brew Awamori, a type of Japanese liquor or wine.

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No good pictures inside the cave as my photographic skills weren’t up to the task. It’s way too dark in there. I will say it’s damp, dark, and winds back for about 500m. There are many large bookcase style shelves that hold about a hundred bottles of liquor each. There is probably 100,000 bottles down in the cave. The entrance/exit is steep, slippery, and spider infested. I was proud of Angela and Hannah who didn’t offer a single protest. Spiders are usually kryptonite to this family. On the way in, we also noticed the ingenious tram system someone had devised to get the bottles up and down the treacherous cave opening. Work smarter not harder right?

The only other feature, outside of the mandatory gift shop, is the temple itself. It’s pretty small and open on 3 sides. It has a few shrines, a little place to kneel and say a prayer, and a little box where you can take a paper with your fortune on it. On the way out, you tie your fortune paper to the rope lining the entryway. Easier said than done. All 3 of us ended up tearing our papers, which I hope doesn’t mean our fortunes won’t come true as they were all good.

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In summary, if you happen to be in Kin town and have nothing better to do, it’s worth 30 minutes to go see the temple. It is definitely not what I expected for a Buddhist temple, but neat nonetheless. Maybe next time the levitating Zen master will be in.


Rolly slide madness pt.2

It’s not an obsession. I promise.

On the way to Sefa-Utaki today, we drove past this awesome rolly slide. It’s right on the side of the highway.

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The park looked really nice, so we slowed down and looked for the entrance. No luck, so we went further down the road, popped a U-ey, and backtracked. Still no entrance. Defeated, we went on about our day. On the way home, I got us lost in Urasoe. While trying to find our way back to a road we know, I ran smack into the entrance to the park. Destiny!

This slide is in Urasoe City Park. It is probably the nicest park we have been to. Very nicely manicured, clean, plenty of parking. And the view from the top of the hill is pretty amazing.

The really unique thing about this slide is it’s location. It is literally right off the road (330), and not too far from the Futenma flight line. There were several planes doing low altitude flyovers the whole time we were there.

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A few times, it feels as if you are out over the road. Kinda fun with all the cars whizzing by. The slide itself is fun. Definitely one of the better ones, and it is Angela’s favorite so far. This is the first one I tried without any padding under my butt. I kept losing it on the way down anyway. I wouldn’t recommend going au naturale. Needless to say, it’s my last slide for a while.


And she’s buying a stairway…

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268 steps. Just 268 steps. Keep thinking that as you climb higher and your calves try to explode.

Located just behind Camp Foster, off of 130, is someone’s idea of fun. A completely insane persons idea of fun. The “Stairway to Heaven” as it’s called is a great way to get in some butt burning cardio in Okinawa, or just a good way to torture yourself in the tropical heat.

I think this staircase was originally envisioned as an easy way for Marines and their family members to get from Plaza housing to Camp Foster. In reality, it’s an easy way to get down from Plaza to Foster, but there is nothing easy about the way up. I’m not sure how many flights there are, but they vary in pitch and number of stairs. I think the person responsible for the blueprint was drunk when they drew them up. Some of the steps are deep, others are shallow, and the whole thing is only one person wide. There are landings between each flight, but you wouldn’t want to have a bunch of people on this thing at one time. Not the most user friendly design, but a lot of things in Okinawa are not user friendly.

I took Hannah over for some pre-kickboxing conditioning. I should probably be turned in to Child Protective Services for that.

I made it up twice before my legs were shaking harder than a fat guy on one of those coin operated motel beds. I wasn’t real sure I was going to make it down without falling.

Hannah also made it up twice. Slowly, but without a single complaint. A small miracle worthy of mention for my grumpy 12 year old.

So if you’re up for a little torture, uh I mean exercise, give it a go. And yes, there are only 268 steps. I promise.


Rolly Slide Madness

Because I have this fantasy about being a travel writer, and generally nothing better to do, I figured I would start a blog. This is actually my second attempt at blogging. The first one made it 6 entries. I hope to make this one a little longer.

On to business.

For our first Okinawa adventure, we have rolly slides. For those of you not familiar, we have these crazy slides here that use hundreds of small rollers to slide you along. Completely different than the metal surface slides we are used to in the States. Other than the sliding surface, these slides also tend to be longer and taller than their U.S. equivalents, just check out the pictures to see for yourself.

First up is Manta Park. This park is over in the Awase area, just down the road from Aeon, Sports Depo, and Nitori. The park features a large tower with a large rolly slide and a smaller concrete slide.

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I’ll be honest, it looks impressive but it pretty much sucks. You just can’t get going. I had to constantly pull my self along the slide just to get down. The rollers are large ( about an inch in diameter) and painful on the bottom.

The little concrete slide in front (the blue one) is actually a lot of fun. Second best slide on the island so far. You get on and the bottom just drops out. And I think the Japanese designers just forgot to put in a landing zone. There really isn’t one. It’s pretty tough to stop 190 pounds in less than 5 feet! Be careful on this one. I could see a broken ankle here.

Second is the equally impressive looking slide at Tobaru Koen Park.

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To get to this slide, you have to climb a pretty big set of stairs. Not a welcome sight considering Hannah and I had climbed the “Stairway to Heaven” a couple of times two days before. Needless to say, we only did this one twice. It starts of rather slow. Lame actually. The spiral part at the top could be awesome, but there just isn’t enough pitch to the slide. That all changes about halfway down. The angle changes drastically. You will build up quite a bit of speed on this one. There was a nasty bump (flat spot) that caused me to lose my cardboard (more on that later) towards the end, but overall it was a lot of fun. If the whole slide was like the last half, this would probably be the most fun you could have in Okinawa.

Outside of the slide, this is the best park we’ve been to in Okinawa. It has a nice running track around it, nice public restrooms, and get this…they even cut the grass there regularly. Astonishing, I know.

Last up is the slide at Yaejima Koen or Civic Center Park. This is the best slide so far. The park itself is rather unkempt. The grass is really tall and overgrown and you can smell the bathrooms from the parking lot, but the slide is worth it. To get to the slide, you have to climb up a spiral staircase inside of this fake wooden treehouse thingy. It’s a little tricky to get on, but once you do, hang on. This one is pretty fast from the word go. Just ask the group of elderly Japanese men playing yard golf nearby how much fun I had on this slide. I was howling like an idiot from start to finish. Definitely an A+. Sorry, no picture of this one until next time.

There is also a drop slide in this park. That’s a whole different animal. My advice is to avoid this one, especially if you’re wearing flip flops. Don’t ask!

Now, a bit of rolly slide advice. Don’t even think about trying a rolly slide with good clothes on. You should wear clothes you could get dirty or torn up. These parks aren’t always clean, the slides are exposed to the elements (read: dirty), and there is quite a bit of friction generated between the slide and your…um..bottom. Which leads me to the second piece of advice, bring cardboard to pad your butt. It needs to be a substantial piece of cardboard too. You’re going to slide all over it, and probably lose it altogether about halfway down the slide. I think a piece of thick plastic would actually be better. I’ll have to look for one next time I go to Makeman (Japanese Walmart/Home Depot). That would probably make the slides faster and more enjoyable, especially for my butt!

That’s all for now. If you know of any super cool rolly slides we should check out, please post to the comments section. Thanks!