By Louis Wai

Plastic to da max. For a country that has so few natural resources and is so conscious about recycling, I find Japan’s overuse of plastic packaging somewhat ironic. Then again, maybe it makes sense, as plastic is human-made — not a natural product — so maybe the two practices aren’t all that inconsistent, after all.

Customers are always thanked when they bring their own recyclable “My Bag” when they do their supermarket shopping. If you don’t have a “My Bag,” you are charged 3 yen for each plastic bag you are given. Still, the American in me has a hard time understanding why many items that are already packaged in plastic are double-bagged in another plastic bag. Items such as eggs come in plastic cartons, and meat is wrapped in plastic — both items are then bagged in another plastic bag. Does this make sense? I don’t think so.

Japanese cherries for sale... $13 for a handful, and, again, wrapped in plastic.
Japanese cherries for sale… $13 for a handful, and, again, wrapped in plastic.

Perfect alignment. Did you know that you can see the reflection of the moon off the surface of the ocean if you are at just the right angle opposite the moonlight shining on the water? While walking over the Tomari Harbor Bridge in Naha at about 8 one night, an airplane was landing. I could see its headlights as it was making a turn about 500 yards in the air. It was a sharp turn landing from the north to the south. First, the headlight shined on me and then on the ocean’s surface. For a moment there, I saw the headlight’s reflection on the ocean. Neat, huh . . .

Kids play. Okinawa and Tökyö were the only prefectures to show an increase in the number of children born this past year, unlike in most of Japan, where the birthrate has declined for 33 straight years. I’m not surprised that the number of births increased in Okinawa, as I see children everywhere. I think there are at least 10 preschools within walking distance of my apartment. Granted, most children seem to start preschool when they are a year old. For many of the government-supervised preschools, admission depends on a number of factors, including the income of the parents. If a parent earns too much, they might not be able to get their child into the preschool of their choice, unlike in America.

Speaking of neighborhood kids . . . Land is scarce and precious here, so most homes do not have yards where the children can play, so they play at small neighborhood parks. Rain or sunshine, they’re out playing — and not just children in elementary schools, but preschoolers, as well. I see them dressed in their rain gear, slipping and sliding down the slides.

Playing on pudding mountain!
Playing on pudding mountain!

One of those neighborhood kiddie parks is called “Pudding Mountain Park.” It’s about an acre in size. It’s called “pudding mountain” because in the center of the park is a mountain-like structure resembling a serving of chocolate pudding, complete with caramel topping. Most of the parks have slides, swings and other hands-on play toys for toddlers to jump on and ride.

Cash to burn. In Okinawa, uchikabi are used for religious events. It is an imitation 10,000-yen ($100) bill that is burned as an offering to the ancestors so they have money to spend in their afterlife.

So, someone here in Naha caught a taxi and, yup, you guessed it, paid with an uchikabi bill — and got real cash as his change. This is the second time in the recent past that this has happened. The taxi driver was an older person, but I don’t know if the driver was targeted because of his age. The crazier side to this story is that the police have asked the business that prints the uchikabi to cease printing.

Let me guess, some of you are probably thinking, “What are they going to do now, burn real money?”

Okinawan word of the week: kuwacchi sabitan, which means “Thank you for the meal.” In Japanese, it is Itadakimasu.

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 2008. In 2010, he decided to move to Okinawa, where he now teaches English.


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