Well, December was a very busy month. Starting off with Denis' birthday, we made dinner for some friends to celebrate at a friends house, because ours is far to small to have more than one guest over, and Denis had a terrible cold and wasn't feeling up to the regular ridiculously drunk birthday parties we have. It was very nice, we had champagne and got to visit with everyone before we all went our separate ways for the holiday season.
Then it was a barrage of Christmas parties, we had our work party for all our adult students, the first party was at the office and was very nice and then after the official party everyone went to a karaoke bar for all you could drink and all you could sing, needless to say the all you could drink helped the singing. The next weekend we had the children's Christmas party complete with Santa although most kids were terrified of Santa but enjoyed the goodie bags and they were all very cute singing the Christmas carols we taught them. We also were invited to a Christmas party at my student, Tsugawa's house. It was very nice with GREAT wine and food that he made himself. We got to meet some very nice people and I got to practice my Japanese which seems to get better when I am drunk cause I carried on a whole conversation in Japanese with these people and Denis was astounded!
The last week before our break started on December 23 was full of Christmas parties, even one where Denis got to play Santa for 3-5 year olds! Although he was the skinniest Santa ever, but that didn't phase the kids, they really thought he was Santa and when they asked him the questions they had been practicing, "how old are you?", "where do you live?", "how do you fly?", and a whispered "kiss me"...Denis answered in his very best Santa voice, "very, very old - I forget how old I am, I've lost track", and "I live at the North Pole" which we would accept as the right answer but people in Japan think Santa lives in Finland, so the translator had to cover up for him, and "magic, and I can only fly with my magic reindeer and my sleigh" and after thinking he had misheard the request for a kiss, he picked the girl up and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Then we were on a 2 week vacation and ventured south to the southern most islands in Japan, Okinawa. We stayed at this GREAT guesthouse in Miyako (about 40 minute flight south of Okinawa's main island), it was a fluke to find the best place to stay in Miyako since the website wasn't in English but the pictures on it were really cool we decided to stay there anyways. Turns out both the guys who run the place speak great english and were super friendly. There was an older man, Amane-san, who was so kind and generous offering Denis many homemade concoctions to cure his everlasting cold, ginger tea, turmeric tea, awamori and hot water (awamori is a special Okinawa alcohol) and offering advice on where to go and what to see and helping to arrange a rental car. The other man, Hiro-san, spent time in the Netherlands and all of Europe and lived in America for a few years in New York and was really into photography and explained lots about Miyako and Japanese culture to us. The guesthouse was so warm and welcoming and relaxing it was the perfect start to our vacation. Although we were hoping for warm enough weather to go snorkeling, we weren't so lucky, but it was nice enough to hang out on the beach and read a book and build sand castles and take lots of pictures. We had a great time and the ocean in Miyako was so clear and blue and absolutely beautiful, and the town was full of many surprises. We found a great ramen shop and ate soba noodles at Koja, which has been around Miyako serving soba for over 50 years and although the lady running Koja was 76 years old she spoke great english and was very, very nice. We had half the people in the restaurant at our table talking to us after she would tell people we were from Canada and living in Japan. We also found A&W in Miyako and were so happy, it was sooo good! If you are heading to Miyako and need a place to stay check out Hiraraya http://www.miyako-net.ne.jp/~hiraraya/index2.html, just email them, they can email you back in English - it really felt like we were just at home and we were really sad to leave!
Then we flew off to the main island of Okinawa, although we were planning on taking the ferry, the ferry schedule didn't cooperate so we flew. The first hostel we stayed at looked great on the internet but sucked in actuality, it was separated men and women dorms which is fine but there was no common area to hang out in so Denis and I had to walk around or go to bed and after a whole day of walking you just want to sit and relax, a common room is very important! and no kitchen to cook in so it was McD's for breakfast everyday after three nights I couldn't take it anymore and we lied to get our money back and went to a different hostel that was way nicer! The second place we stayed was Sora House and was really nice, a little loud but it was fun, the owner's sun put on a magic show one night and we met some really nice people there, there was a great common area and a kitchen and even a roof top patio. We arrived in Okinawa on December 30, and spent the night checking out the main street Kokusai-dori which is the busiest street in Naha and has all the hot spots and a ton of souvenir shops. We found somewhere to eat and did a lot of walking around. The next day we walked to the Tsuboya pottery area of Naha, where there is a huge kiln made in the 1680's and while in this area of the city there used to be 10 kilns of this kind this is the only on left after WWII. We found out that the fighting that occurred between the Americans and the Japanese in Japan occurred in Okinawa and that Okinawa severely suffered, the island was destroyed and 1/3 of the population was killed. After browsing the pottery shops that still operate in the area, and some of Japan's finest pottery happens here, we went to the Makishi market. During WWII the Makishi market was a black market for American goods and other goods that weren't available readily because of the war but now is a crazy market divided into four sections, seafood, pork, tofu, and pickled things. Pork is very popular in Okinawa and in the market you could buy any part of the pig, in the supermarkets we had seen pigs feet (which Denis ate!) and ears and the skin from the face of the pig including the nose and ears, but at the Makishi market we saw the whole hear, whole legs for sale with the feet still attached, anything you could imagine, very interesting. After the excitement of the market we wandered to a Chinese garden and found the city beach and hung out for a while before heading back to the main strip for Indian food and some partying for New Year's Eve. We found this great place, Mike and Paul's Place a little Canadian owned bar right on the main street and decided it would be a good place to hang out for the New Year. It was pretty slow when we first got there but after meeting the bartenders, Brian, Julie and Wayne, who were super cool people poured in and it eventually turned out to be a pretty crazy party and with real beer and vodka and Red-Bull I don't even remember leaving! The next day was really rough, and we had planned to go to Shuri castle to see the traditional New Year's day ceremonies of the Ryukyu kingdom (Okinawa used to be its own country before it was invaded by Japan so it has a very different history, different culture as it had many trading partners within south-east asia including many influences from China). We saw the festivities and after returning to the hostel for a nap we saw the traditional Ryukyu dancing, which appear to be women but after the second performance we realized they were men. The next day we rented a car and drove around to all the castle ruins in Okinawa. There are seven World Heritage sites, one being Shuri castle, the rest are just ruins destroyed during the war but lots of cool stone gates! The next day we cruised the island a little more with the car and went to another pottery village, one that is still operate using the old techniques and went to the sacred rocks where it is believed that were the origin of the Ryukyu kingdom and were very prominent in their religion. We also went to Okinawa Cave World, where there is a huge underground stalactite cave, the largest in Japan. It was very cool. There were many things to see and do there, we watched a couple traditional performances and walked through a recreated old village. On our drive back we found a place that blows glass, which Okinawa is also famous for and watched that for awhile. We spent the rest of our time relaxing, eating tacos (real mexican tacos!) and other Japanese food and returned to our favorite bar for our last night where Denis was invited behind the bar to make his signature shot.