Beautiful and tasty. Is there anything more symbolic of Japan than cherry blossoms in bloom in springtime? Well, maybe a snow-capped Mount Fuji. Or the rising sun on the Japanese flag. Sakura trees are everywhere in Japan — as well as in some parts of America, such as Washington, D.C. There are also sakura trees in Hawai‘i — the Okinawan variety in Wahiawä on O‘ahu and in Upcountry Maui, and trees in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
Have you ever wondered, as I have, whether the blossoms turn into fruit — and if they do, can you eat the cherries? My question was answered during a walk I take for exercise around Lake Manko in Naha City. One of the walking paths is lined with sakura trees, which reminded me of my question: Do the blossoms turn into fruit? Sure enough, I saw cherries growing from the blossoms and decided to try some.
When no one was looking, I picked a few from a tree, wrapped them in a paper napkin and brought them home. They were a bit tangy, but the texture of the meat is the same as Bing cherries. You probably wouldn’t find these cherries in a supermarket, though, as they are very small.
Picking the cherries and quickly wrapping them in a paper napkin reminded me of something my friends and I did in high school. We drove to a neighbor’s house, parked the car on Owäwa Street — with the engine running — and stole some mountain apples from the neighbor’s tree. One of my friends fell from the tree into a trashcan, which started the dogs barking. Of course, we all ran away, until we remembered that we had left the car engine running so we had to return to the scene of the crime.
Nevertheless, we managed to get away! Some of the warubozus in that “mountain apple gang” read this column. Guys: remember that?
You dial 911; we dial . . . In Okinawa, we dial 110 for the police, and 119 for the fire department or a medical emergency. If you read the numbers Japanese-style — that is, from right to left, what number do you get? But when in Okinawa, do as the Okinawans: 110 for the police, and 119 for a fire or medical emergency.
Now to another kind of emergency.
Here’s a story about how you don’t want to lose 5 pounds in three days. Granted, it was mostly water, but I would not wish it on even my worst enemy. Yup, you guessed it . . . I had the dreaded diarrhea.
I bring this up, not to talk about the illness, but about the waiting room at Naha City Hospital’s emergency room. It consists of cushioned bench chairs facing small treatment rooms numbered 1 through 9 (at least as far as I could see). The waiting room looked like it could accommodate about 50 people, seated. Behind the chairs are play areas for children and even tatami-matted rooms for people who want to lie down.
Liver soup . . . oishii! If you don’t like liver, then you might want to skip on to the next section. But if you like liver, then you’ll savor this one.
Recently, Hisae-chan made chimu shinji, or liver soup, for me. She knows that I like liver so she made this special treat for me. Besides the liver, other ingredients in her chimu shinji are the long, thin Okinawan yellow carrots, töfu, squash and miso. Some Okinawans believe that chimu shinji is a remedy for many illnesses.
The liter low down. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the cartons of milk sold in Okinawa are 946 milliliters, while milk sold in mainland Japan is a full liter (1,000 milliliters)?
The reason for the difference is rooted in history and America’s long presence in Okinawa — from World War II until today. American milk is packaged in 946-liter cartons, so so are Okinawan cartons.
Another interesting milk factoid: There isn’t much low-fat or 2 percent milk sold here, and hardly any “fat-free” milk.
And, while we’re on the subject of liters, gas here is sold by the liter — one gallon of gas equals 3.8 liters. As I write this, regular gas is priced at 145 yen per liter. If you think you’re paying an arm and a leg for gas in Hawai‘i, consider this. Here in Okinawa, we pay a little more than $6 for a gallon of gas. So quit complaining.
Okinawan word of the week: Mui ringo yunuchira, which means “mountain apple gang.”
Louis Wai was born and raised in Hawai‘i. He practiced law in Honolulu for many years before earning a master’s degree in English as a Second Language in 2009. In 2010, he decieded to move to Okinawa, where he now teaches English.