This Is About Souvenirs

CONTRIBUTED BY MEREDITH NOVARIO

My life was a highway. I was sailing along in fifth gear enjoying the East China Sea, some coffee and a few rounds of Old MacDonald to keep peace with the boys. After two years and change on this road, I have been in cruise control.

And then on New Year’s Eve it turned into 2008.

Two. Thousand. Eight. The year of the mouse. Also, the year we are leaving Okinawa. Gadzooks.

So it’s more like third gear on the same highway now. The engine like a sack of exclamation points squealing at me. I will spare you my new rainbow of emotions. At the moment I am trying to sift the rainbow into lists because lists are order and sanity. Leaving and starting over is not sanity.

One super important list is called WHAT TO BUY BEFORE LEAVING. Super important. I save the big ticket souvenir shopping for the end of my travels so that I choose things that reflect my feelings about that place. Feelings isn’t the right word. I want things that represent what I have started to know and dig about the country, the people, the culture, the food and on and on.

So I made a choice.

Last year, almost exactly one year ago, we started this blog and added pictures from a Flickr group called Okinawa Lovers. These are the same pictures you see in the left sidebar now. Every time I saw a picture that I loved it was taken by annya_okinawa. And for a year I’ve enjoyed her work and how it captures something true and raw and gorgeous about this here Okinawa. So I’m going to buy me some of her stellar prints.

Here are just a few of the ton that I love:

King, Blue, Friday, Zori, Obaasan, New Bike, Ocean, Omikuji.

I can totally picture some day in a different home, in a different country, at a different desk looking at these shots and getting transported back to our three years in Okinawa where Eli got his first stitches, where Henry was born, where Joe and I caught a groove in our marriage and where, despite having no family around, we made a home.

How about you? What will you bring home from Okinawa?


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24 Comments
  • April 12, 2010

    Just arrivegd on island and thought I would stop in to tell you gals how much I LOVE this blog. It has made my transition so much smoother- thank you.
    I too am in search of the aforementioned apothecary table. Any pointers on where I might find one?
    Thanks!

    Nicole
    Reply
  • November 15, 2008

    Does anyone know a phone number for Sachi’s?

    Lesli
    Reply
  • January 14, 2008

    Aviva & Pam, a photo mission sounds like fun! Would love to tag along and pick up some pointers! ;)

    Pam, good luck with your move…hope it’s soon!

    Julia
    Reply
  • January 13, 2008

    Pam, you know we’re going snappin’ – with or without the kids :) At least I have some hope of finding new folks who arrive AFTER me so that some friends will still be here when I’m getting ready to go. Sorry about the delays for you, Pam – that stinks. Especially moving kids around in the middle of the school year. Let me know if I can help at all.

    Reply
  • January 13, 2008

    We were set to arrive before Jan 31st, but in true Marine Corps style, orders have been changed to mid feb-mid march….something to do with the reinlistment taking too long…I hope I love it too! As long as the kids and I have friends we’ll be OK!!!

    Pamelala
    Reply
  • January 11, 2008

    Pamelala, when are you finally supposed to arrive on Oki? Funny how you get to “know” people through the blog. Hopefully you will love it as much as the rest of us do.

    Julia
    Reply
  • January 11, 2008

    Ahhh….the trash truck song. I love that tune. I was really surprised to find out it wasn’t ice cream they were hauling around.

    I haven’t heard it in a while but I also love that noon time melody they play over the loudspeakers off base too.

    And if only we could take the wonderful customer service home with us.

    Meredith! Of course there is plenty of space for your John Hancock on my sayonara doll! ;)

    Julia
    Reply
  • January 11, 2008

    Oh gosh, I am not even there yet and already have this shisa dog obsession! I also love all the photography I have seen from you guys and can’t wait to add to my photo collections out there! That’s if I ever get there! Aviva, I’ll hang out with you on photo missions, I already miss everyone else leaving and I don’t even know any of you!!! LOL

    Pamelala
    Reply
  • January 10, 2008

    Wow – Firstly, I’m definitely going to get myself to Schilling on the 26th with hubby (another admirer of your photos, Annya) and kid. I’d love to meet you!

    Suwanee – I am truly bummed that you’re leaving soon too – I just got here in June and so many amazing AMAZING people I’m meeting are already on their way out! I love your work, and was inspired by my neighbor, Leighanne, to check it out. I saw your work at the Foster library recently, and really enjoyed it. The portraits are just incredible, I’m hoping for the opportunity to shoot more people in this incredible place.

    There are definitely proper hanging rods for kimonos – I want to say that you should check with that shop in the Four Seasons mall at Foster that sells them. Even if they don’t sell the wall hangers, the staff should have some idea of where to send you.

    Staci – Love that list too. The smell of tatami rooms also sticks out – as does the smell of my sweat during the summer here! Smell is our best memory sense, but I love the sound and visual memories too – an audio tape (MP3 for the iPod!) is a fantastic idea, Kelly.

    I think an appropriate addition to the list is the ice-cream-truck-like song of the trash trucks making their way through the neighborhood – at least off-base folks will understand that one.

    So many foods already to put on this list, and I’ve only been here 6 1/2 months!

    But since I’ve caught the photography bug, the concrete, the blue ocean, the INCREDIBLE clouds and sky at any given moment, and the shining children’s faces that seem to be everywhere are etched in my mind and will always be great memories.

    Reply
  • January 9, 2008

    Um, Kelly, could I just make a date with you and we could shop together. Pretty please? You know stuff I can’t fit in my brain. I’d rather you just hold my hand and lead me around town.

    Annya, I didn’t want to put out all your details for January 26th in case you wanted to keep a low profile. BUT I can’t wait to buy some of your groovy prints and meet you, of course!

    Suwanee, HOWDY! Are you going to be at Schilling with Annya? Would love to meet you too and see your amazing work in person!

    Mishka, I cannot figure out how to fix this crazy REMEMBER PERSONAL INFO? thinagmajig. I’m so sorry.

    Joelle, Staci has these rods that she hangs obis and stuff on in her house. Ask her. She’s got eleven-teen or so of them.

    Reply
  • January 9, 2008

    As a relative newbie, it’s so great to glean all this info from ya’ll. I did find my first “kimono area” the other day when I was in one of those alleys off Kokusai Street. There must have been a dozen vendors all together. One woman pointed to an expensive one as $500 which was much less than I had expected. BUT, is there a usual way to hang kimonos on the wall or do you just have to rig something up yourself?

    Joelle
    Reply
  • January 9, 2008

    Meredith, thanks for the link to the flickr group…nice pics on there.

    Kellyerace, thanks for the info on the fish prints. When we left the island three years ago, two of the must haves were not purchased, and when we were asked later by friends that were still here, if there was anything they could find for us, those prints were one of the things (and they couldn’t find them anywhere) we wanted.

    The other thing was big shisa dogs.They actually did put a pair of huge shisa dogs in their shipment for us so we did get those. Now we are back, and I can get the fish prints and fullfill my Okinawan requirements.

    Note to other readers, I made these cute smaller dogs at the Kadena Crafts place with Jorge…they were about 30 bucks and I love them. I don’t know if he still does classes there, but I highly recommend them if you do and do them with friends…it is really fun that way.

    Reply
  • January 9, 2008

    Meredith,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comments and feedback. Like I said, it was really for people like you who inspired and encouraged me to take my photography more seriously. I’ll be looking forward to meeting you in person. Too bad that you’re going to leave shortly after that :( You’ve done such a wonderful job with this blog, a real service to the american community here, especially the newcomers. You’ll be missed.

    Kellyerace, I will have my first print sale at the Schilling Community Center on the 26th of January from 10am to 3pm. Please come check out some of my work. (I’m a little nervous, and will appreciate the support!) ^__^

    Annya
    Reply
  • January 9, 2008

    Well deserved recognition Annya, congrats. Your work is always stunning and it’s a pleasure always to journey through your photos of Okinawa!

    Suwanee
    Reply
  • January 9, 2008

    P.S. Annya Okinawa. Love those images! I’m sure many others would love them as well. Where are you selling your work?

    Staci. Great great list. I’m inspired to write my own now, but it’s past midnight. Will have to wait another day!

    kellyerace
    Reply
  • January 9, 2008

    I find that wherever I go I seem to be attracted to textiles and pottery. Luckily, Okinawa has tons of both. My favorite place to buy pottery is the co-op on 58. http://www.ocvb.or.jp/card/en/0110982100.html
    (On 58 going north, pass Rte 6, pass Rte 12…it’s on the left after “Gan’s Bar”) While I like the pottery village better for visiting/atmosphere, I think this place is better for purchasing ’cause there is a ton of variety and the selection is really well edited. You find the best of the best there. Also, you can use a credit card.

    Another great place to go for souvenirs, especially if you like fishing/diving/marine life, is a store called “Kaisou” off Kokusai Street. http://www.kaisou.com/englishsite/englishkaisou.html
    (“Always live in a feel of the ocean. Okinawa, Japan.”) They’ve got the best t-shirts. I’ve gotten a couple for my husband, for my brother-in-law, and as going away presents and they are LOVED.
    Great quality and perfectly Okinawan. They also sell jewelry, soaps, towels, photographs, etc. I think it’s a fantastic pit stop for going away presents/souvenirs for visitors. Here’s the general direction — Go to Kokusai Street. From entrance of Starbucks look across street and you’ll see two entrances to the covered shopping arcade. Take the one on the right. Walk down (don’t remember how far…but not that far.) and it’ll be on your right hand side.

    In addition to pottery and t-shirts, my husband and I will be taking home LOTS of fishprints. Though I’m not an angler myself, I have to admit that the prints are quite beautiful and I actually wouldn’t mind hanging (some of) them in my home. Just so you can see what they look like, here’s a link to a gallery where they’re sold in Hawaii http://www.gyotakushop.com/gallery2.htm
    They are expensive in Hawaii: like $200. Here they cost between 3,000-8,000 yen, depending on the size of the fish. And in my opinion, the lady here does a better job. You can have them print your own fish, in which case they’ll write your name on it in katakana and the name of the captain, where you caught the fish, the date and the kind of fish you caught. Or if you don’t fish, but just think they’re purty, you can just buy a print of a fish some random person caught for like 2000 yen. My husband always goes to the big fishing store off 330 near Plaza housing. From Foster to Kadena, it’s on the left side of the road. Sorry, those are the best directions I’ve got for you right now. Oh, by the way, they are printed on cloth and he just usually hangs them (in his office) from a bamboo pole from Makeman. Of course, you can also frame them and they look really nice when you do.

    Speaking of framing, one way I recommend turning even the cheapest little souvenir you pick into a lifelong treasure is to get it professionally framed. Yes, it costs money, but in my opinion, custom framing makes a WORLD of difference. Not only do your things look much better (than when you just pop ‘em in a store-bought frame), they are better preserved as well. When I was working at the frame shop (you see the bias shining on through now?!), we framed all kinds of stuff: shells, sand, marathon medals, postcards, bingata, sticks from Mt. Fuji, Naha tug of war rope, weavings, fishprints, origami, flags, newspaper articles, etc. etc. You love that little picture you picked up from the 100yen shop? Your kids drawing of the ocean? Frame it and it’ll look like a million bucks!…To cut down on the cost of framing, sign up for the 1 day framing class (Sue teaches it at Foster Framing and Fine Arts 645-3500. She’s amazing!) then do it yourself. Much cheaper, and fun too. I totally recommend the Foster Framing btw!!! (It’s in the Community Center.)

    Oh, there are two more souvenir recommendations I have real quick! One, regarding the shisas. My husband and I made our own little bitty shisas at that big glass shop near Itoman. They are sooo ugly, but we love them. We use them as center pieces on our dining table and they never fail to generate lots of conversation when we have guests (usually about how ugly mine is compared to his). You can also make shisas at Murasaki Mura in Yomitan near the Zanpa Hotel and lighthouse. (You can make glass there too, bingata, pottery, weaving, brown sugar, etc. Very fun.) You can make shisas at Sachi’s Antique Shop near Pizza in the Sky. There aren’t any shisa classes at Foster anymore, but I know they had some recently at Torii Arts and Crafts.

    Finally, audio recordings. I haven’t done this here yet but had some from when I was in Mongolia. Just audio of conversations, street life, even shopping trips. In Mongolia, my friend recorded a visit we took to another friends for New Years. In the background you could hear the Mongolian TV, grandma talking to grandchildren, laughter, some singing, motor scooters, and answers to questions we had about cultural things. It was just neat to listen to now and then.

    Okay. Well, that about covers it for me!

    kellyerace
    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    Marie, HOWDY! I have no idea where we’ll be next. I’m hoping for the DC area so I can be near my cousin and in-laws. We can finally meet!

    Aviva, I forgot about that blue noren at Murasaki Mura. I do need it. Now.

    Snuffy, Yes, shisa. Maybe we can go on a mission one day. Shisa or bust.

    Julia, I love those kokeshi dolls too. If you want we can all sign your sayonara doll for you. Practical that way!

    Staci, A LIST! I LOVE A LIST! I want to write a list back. Must think on that.

    Lan, You have a three-week old baby and your thinking furniture?! Sigh.

    Thanks for piping up!

    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    Oh, Staci, I’m already starting to feel so reminiscent of Okinawa and we still have 7 more months to go! I love your list of sensory memories that will always make me think of Okinawa (I will sorely miss those clean, hot towels before a meal and the level of customer service here cannot be beat!). But you’re right, it’s the beautiful memories of genuinely good people that have crossed our paths that I’ll take home with me.

    Re: souvenirs, for me, it’s all about the beautiful pieces of furniture that I’ll be bringing back. I’m campaigning w/hubby to find a perfect hibachi table and step tansu and apothecary cabinet and butterfly storage trunk and well, the list goes on!

    Lan
    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    A few other senses here (favorite things):

    the laundry soap smell at the Japanese clinic where my son was born
    soft familiar voices on the loudspeaker at the airport or train station
    watching a gift being wrapped
    hot, white clean towels before a meal
    perfectly shredded produce on a mos burger
    trees singing with cicadas
    dedication to precision and presentation in all forms
    the sulfurous mist at an onsen
    white gloves on taxi-drivers
    the acoustics at karaoke houses
    respect for the elderly and teachers
    the arid-ness of a tatami room
    pen-pals
    getting a really good dinner at a convience store-

    staci
    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    sniff-sniff. you’ve already got the most important souveniers- lovely memories, great photos, this amazing blog- and life long friendships. I once had someone tell me that the closest friends they ever had “as an adult” were the friendships made while overseas. Very true.
    So, back to souveniers, for me it’s all about smells:(next post)

    staci
    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    I like those cute little kokeshi dolls. I saw a beautiful sayonara doll a while back that I couldn’t resist buying even though I wasn’t planning on actually giving it away to anyone!

    I also recently picked up some note cards from the Lester Gift Shop with various photos from Okinawa including ones of a shisa dog and dancers from Ryukyu Mura. They’re so beautiful I’m not sure I can give those away either! I may have to get some prints as well!

    Julia
    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    You have to buy a Shisa Dog. Not only will it protect your house from evil spirits, but It’ll remind you of Okinawa. And you can’t buy one of those Chinese cheap ones from the AAFES gift store. You have to buy an honest to goodness Shisa from the pottery village. The ones that weigh 500 lbs. I still haven’t made the plunge yet, I’m looking for that “perfect” one. :p

    Snuff
    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    So funny that you wrote this, Meredith – just as we were walking through the tchotchke section at one of the shoppette malls killing time, Craig said, “This is the stuff we buy before we leave.”

    Photos are key. (Of course you know I agree on that.) I’m not a knick knack girl – those gather dust. We plan to get a couple of local furniture pieces, but it’s so nice to get art and furniture that speaks to you and that you love and grin at every time you view it. (Buddah.)

    I think a kimono might be on my list, maybe a sanshin guitar or a drum. I know how much you enjoyed the Eisa dancers so a drum could be very cool for you. Go buy that hand-dyed curtain thing you saw at Murasaki Mura that you love. Some locally-made pottery or glass would be great too. And go to the rabbit store or San-A to get bunches of t-shirts and other clothing with the Japanese/English that only happens here – buy big items for the boys! It’s tough to feel that you have to cram this into 6 months, but you can do a lot. I’ll help. :) I’m going to miss you, my friend.

    Reply
  • January 8, 2008

    Do you know where you’ll be stationed next, Meredith?

    Reply