Louis Wai

Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Singing the roadwork blues. Much like O‘ahu, roadwork around Okinawa seems never-ending. There is traffic congestion everywhere, be it due to construction on streets or new buildings abutting streets and roads. One major difference here is that because of the lack of space, the construction equipment sometimes overflows onto the streets. Construction cranes are often parked on streets, closing off the only lane of the road, or at least one lane of a two-way street, or sometimes as many as two lanes of a three-lane street. When this happens, crossing guards are hired to assist with street and pedestrian traffic.

When the work blocks the sidewalk completely, barricades are set

Picking up trash after the Naha Matsuri is serious and organized work.
Picking up trash after the Naha Matsuri is serious and organized work.

up in the street to create a pedestrian walkway. If tree-trimming work is being done along the sidewalk, crossing guards — maybe I should call them “sidewalk guards” — blow whistles to tell the workers trimming the trees above to stop so that pedestrians can walk safely under the trees.

Where’s the beef? Recently, I went to a high-end yakiniku restaurant here for a prime Japanese beef dinner. It was a Sunday night and the place was packed. There were rooms for groups and counter seats for pairs. Most of what we ordered was the expensive beef that is weighed on a scale to exact amounts. The most striking difference between Japanese meat and American beef is that the Japanese meat I ate did not taste at all like beef. The Japanese meat we ate came from Ösaka and, as I was told beforehand, did not taste like beef — it was very fatty and sweet. If you have eaten otoro — top of the line maguro (‘ahi to Hawai‘i folks) — then you know what I mean, as it doesn’t taste like fish.

Obachan, what you doing?! Imagine a grandma driving a car on a two-lane road trying to make a U-turn from one lane to the opposite lane. And then imagine that she’s trying to do this on a bridge . . . at 5:30 p.m., the height of the rush-hour traffic. Even though her car was small, she could not navigate a complete turn and tried to climb the curb. Because it was a bridge, however, the curb was high, so that was a no-go. So, she went forward and backward four or five times before finally completing her U-ee. Akisamiyo! (Oh my goodness!)

The Gomi Gang. The Naha Matsuri, which was held Oct. 10 and 11, included the giant tsunahiki (tug-of-war) and an adjoining festival featuring many performers. There were picnic tables set up in the circular festival area with seating for about 1,000, with tarps in front of the stage for people who wanted to sit up-front, plus lots of standing room in front of the food and alcohol stands. Also impressive about this event — besides all the entertainment, food and drinks — were the gomi (trash) gathering crews walking

The “sidewalk” in the street along Route 58. (Photos by Louis Wai)
The “sidewalk” in the street along Route 58. (Photos by Louis Wai)

up and down the aisles, collecting trash and recyclables. I came across three people carrying different bags — one for combustible trash, one for PET bottles and one for aluminum cans. If your trash was in a plastic bag, they asked you if there were any recyclables in it and then they remove those recyclables themselves.

Aloha local girls! I went to Miyagi Island, off of the eastern coast of central Okinawa to visit the Nuchi Masu salt factory. Okinawan nuchi masu, or sea salt, contains 21 kinds of minerals. Much to my surprise, there were some “local girls” there — and I don’t mean local Okinawan. They were Hawai‘i Okinawans visiting their ancestral homeland on a tour. I had a chance to talk story with them — a few of them said they recognized me from my Hawai‘i Herald columns. “Ladies, matan mensoree, like you promised!”

Okinawan word of the week:Matan mensoree,” which means “please come back again.” In Japanese, it is “Mata kite kudasai.”

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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