Da Kine Local Grinds! ... In Kashima, Japan?

"Da kine" is Hawaiian pidgin that is inserted in a sentence when one cannot think of an adjective or sometimes even a noun. It has also become a way of indicating that something is the "real deal". "Local grinds" refers to popular Hawaiian foods as opposed to traditional Hawaiian dishes like baked taro, poi, laulau (pork and taro leaf wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in an imu oven) that one would expect to be served at a luau. So, "da kine local grinds" means "authentic popular Hawaiian foods".

It is always fun to find interesting things in your own neighborhood that may have been there all along but that you never noticed before - as when I stumbled across two very old Buddhist temples (see "The Time Capsule in My Back Yard", and "Further Back in Time" - May 2005 Archives). It reminds me of how unaware of things one can be while distracted by the daily routines of life, as well as how hurried life is in modern society. We not only fail to smell the roses, we completely miss things as big a house! (Or in the case of the vacationing President, a category 5 hurricane.)

I had passed by the pink and white two storey home several times in last few months as it is on a side road that leads to Hamanasu Park less than a mile from the house (described in "Bon Dance Update" and "Tall Stories" - August and July Archives respectively). I had noticed the sign on the roof that said " 'oli 'oli ", but I never stopped to check it out nor thought about what the sign meant as I was usually too busy either cranking my bike up to speed to get over the railway overpass or, when coming back, trying to maintain control coming down off of it. (One day, coming down the overpass, I was going too fast over a rough section and my headlight came flying off the bike and disintegrated on the street).

Anyway, today I stopped. The sign on the roof said in full "Hawaiian Style Cafe & Restaurant 'oli 'oli" with the last bracketed by depictions of pikake or plumeria blossoms. What!? In Kashima? Out in the boonies? As I looked at the sign I had seen several times before, the light bulb over my head finally flickered on and I got it. Of course. 'Oli 'oli is Hawaiian for "always joyful". Hau'oli is the Hawaiian word for happy, as in Hau'oli makahiki hou (happy new year). I am used to seeing signs with English words here (even if the words are misspelled and/or misused), but I never thought of making a connection to Hawaiian and had completely missed this one as a result.

I parked my bike next to a sign that read, "Parking for Hawaiians Only" - hey! that's me! - and went to check things out. As luck would have it, or not, they were closed. Japanese small businesses often pick a weekday to close, this being Thursday, as weekends are busier. Oh well, more opportunity to poke around before committing to a meal.

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Parking just for me?

An archway invites one to walk along the seashell-covered path to the front door. To the right is a large wood deck for outdoor dining. Tiki torches and palms - obviously not coconut palms, but palms nonetheless - let you know you are leaving Japan and entering Hawaii. And in case you wonder if this is going to be traditional old style Hawaiian luau food, a blue surfboard lists a portion of the menu to clue you in that this is modern popular Hawaiian food - or "local grinds" as they say in Hawaii. This kind of food became popular in Hawaii after world war two brought exposure to more foods from around the Pacific as well as military delicacies such as SPAM - Hawaii's favorite meat (I'm only barely exaggerating).

So follow along in your books as we learn about some Hawaiian Local Grinds. If you forgot your book today, just refer to the photo. If you know some or all of these items, good for you, help your neighbor to learn them, as there will be a quiz after class.

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'oli 'oli surfboard menu

First on the menu is Loco Moco (loco is "crazy" in Portuguese, one of the many cultures that emigrated to Hawaii for work over a century ago - in fact, one of my son-in-law's grandfathers is Protuguese and worked as a "paniolo", Hawaiian for cowboy). This is a dish I have never tasted as it looks like an invitation to a heart attack to me. It was developed after the war (WWII that is - there have been so many it is easy to lose count these days) by some restaurant in Hilo as a fast food and quickly gained popularity across the state. It consists of a huge serving of rice topped with a hamburger patty smothered in gravy with a sunny side up egg or two as the crowning glory - or perhaps Coup de Gras if you can't handle cholesterol.

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"Calling Dr. Christiaan Barnard, report to heart surgery...."

Mahi-mahi is the well known "dolphin fish" - no it isn't "Flipper", though that wouldn't stop some Japanese - it is a fish, not a mammal, with a very firm white meat and a mild flavor. Correctly prepared it is a winner every time. Makes a great sandwich.

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da kine Mahi-mahi

Shrimp Scampi. Well, last I checked that one is Italian, but Hawaiian citizens eat their share, so I'll accept that.

Next is Hawaiian Fried Potato, which, unlike one former Vice President of the USA, these people spelled correctly. These are probalby like home fries or country fries, i.e. thickly sliced, and seasoned with sea salt.

Then Tako Poke. Tako is Japanese for octopus, or octopus is English for tako - depends on your point of reference doesn't it? In Hawaii octopus are referred to as tako. Tako Poke (pronounced poe-keh) is a dish made with chopped boiled octopus, limu (a kind of seaweed found in Hawaii), sea salt, chilies, and roasted kukui nut paste. If you go to a potluck in Hawaii and don't find any Tako Poke or the next item, Lomi Lomi Salmon, or the one after, Ahi Poke, then you definitely need to make some new friends.

Lomi Lomi is Hawaiian for massage. This dish is a salad made with salmon that is massaged with Hawaiian sea salt (don't even think of using table salt, though Kosher salt would do nicely) and put in the fridge for 24 hours to draw the moisture out. It is then rinsed, cut and mixed with chopped tomatoes, green onions, pineapple, red chilies, lime juice, macadamia nut oil, fresh black pepper, and butter lettuce. Oh, I almost forgot and Kula onion. Why a Kula onion? Kula is a region on Maui on the side of Mt. Haleakala. The onions grown there are so sweet - I am NOT making this up - that you can almost eat them like an apple. My dad used to make Kula onion sandwiches - a slice of Kula onion between two slices of American cheese, bread optional. Really! They are that mild. Anyway, Lomi Lomi Salmon is ono! Delicious. Oishii. As local Hawaiian's say, "broke da mouth". You'll see "Maui Onion" advertised, but accept no substitutes if you can help it. Kula is no ka oi (the best).

Sorry, I have digressed. I am getting hungry just writing about these foods. Ahi Poke is similar to Tako Poke except the meat is a fish called ahi in Hawaiian. This is your basic b-flat yellowfin tuna. It is used raw in poke dishes (and sashimi of course). Personally, I like a thick ahi steak seared on the outside and raw in the middle, but ahi poke is good too.

Hawaiian spareribs are prepared with teriyaki sauce, which is made with soy sauce (shoyu), sugar, mirin wine, and sake wine. Actually the word "teriyaki" is made of two words, teri means luster and yaki means to broil or grill.

The 'oli 'oli surfboard menu comes full circle back to local fast food with Spam Musubi. Musubi is a rectangle of sushi rice wrapped in nori (seaweed that has been made into a paper thin sheet, black or green). If you have eaten at a sushi bar, you are probably familiar with nori. World War II brought lots of US military people to Hawaii and with them came lots of tins filled with SPAM - the predecessor of today's MRE or meals ready to eat. The salty flavor and high fat content became a favorite in Hawaii. Hawaii's large Nisei population had introduced musubi, so the two were soon combined and now one can find Spam musubi at almost every mom & pop and 7-11 store in the state - it's even sold in gas stations that carry convenience foods. A thick slice of spam on a pressed rectangle of sushi rice wrapped in nori. Mmmm-mmm. (Uh, no thanks).

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Spam Musubi

Well, you may be wondering by now why I haven't mentioned Mother's cooking. I am sure Mom is! Well, it is because I remember different kinds of foods she used to make - especially around the holidays, but of course it was all good Mom! Teriyaki steak and rice and broccoli, mango chutney, mango pies, and pineapple upsidedown cakes were Hawaiian style favorites of mine. (Happily, no spam musubi or loco moco). Thanksgiving was amazing. If I start naming too many things I'll leave something out and be in big trouble, but I always loved the string bean casserole. And most especially, for me, on my birthday, many times she made lemon meringue pie - a glorious creation of love. (What? You thought I was going to leave my mother out of a post that involves cooking?). As they say in Hawaii, "Eh, no get nuts!"

So that's the menu in front of 'oli 'oli. Now I am really intrigued. I am looking forward to finding out how some of these items compare to what I'm used to on Maui, fully allowing for differences due to the location being about 8,000 miles distant. I'm also looking forward to finding out who runs the place and how they came to offer such fare in a rural neighborhood in Japan, and whether this is a hobby or they really do a business there. I'm a little nervous about finding out what the prices are. Maybe I'll order the "etc" to start.

Perhaps the restaurant sensed my concern, for on my way back to my bicycle I saw a glint of light among the seashells under my feet. It was a 500-yen coin (worth about US$4.50). Well, at least I can spend that much now, risk free. Stay tuned.

If you'd like to try any of these items and don't happen to be in Hawaii (or Kashima), do a Google search and you'll turn up lots of recipes for each.



New Blog Link

Check out my newest blog link "THE 1979" by my friend Joshua in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Joshua is a great phototrapher and likes to travel (he visited Japan last year). His posts focus on nature, interesting places and the daily lives of the people he meets. He has a very down to earth style. Must be all those years of reading National Geographic.

So have a look at life in Malaysia by visiting THE 1979.


Do You Know Where You're Going To?

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An American tourist was visiting a Fijian Village and complimented a local fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Fijian.
"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.
The Fijian explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
"I sleep late, pick fruits and vegetables for dinner, play with my grand children, and take a nap with my wife. In the evenings, I stay in the village and talk with my friends, drink kava, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

And after that?" asked the Fijian.
"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Suva, Auckland, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Fijian.
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.
"And after that?"
"Afterwards? Well my Friend, That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" said the Fijian.
"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, pick fruits and vegetables for dinner, play with your grand children, take a nap with your wife and spend your evenings drinking kava and enjoying your friends."

And the moral is: Know where you're going in life... you may already be there.


White Sails On Kasumigaura

It was another beautiful summer Saturday and we were off to Kasumigaura - Japan's third largest lake - a 40 minute drive from home. In ancient times, this lake was part of a river delta, but during the Edo era, massive flood control and canal projects narrowed the mouth of the river and the water rose and spread out to cover 220 square kilometers (about 85 square miles). As a result, the lake is only 4 meters deep on average, and 7 meters at its deepest point. Check my previous post "Of Float Planes and Zeppelins" for some 20th century events concerning Kasumigaura.

The town we were headed for is Tamatsukuri on the east edge of the lake, which boasts a new water themed park, science museum, and observation tower. First we went into the tower for a 360 degree view of the lake and surrounding fields of rice and lotus from 190 feet up. The sky had scattered culumulus clouds and visibility was good enough to allow a glimpse of Mt. Tsukuba some miles away. After a picnic lunch we toured the museum. It had lots of hands-on displays, science oriented computer games and two small theatres with movies playing every 30 minutes or so. It was quite comprehensive in scope, covering the lake's history, flood control, fish and water plants, the water cycle, erosion, human need for water, and so on. A kid at heart, I could have played and learned there all day, but we had come for another purpose.

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There are many types of fish in Kasumigaura. One species popular as sushi is shirauo (called ice fish elsewhere), a small - perhaps one to two inches long - slender fish that is so transluscent as to resemble, well, ice. Shirauo has been fished from the lake since Edo days, and because of its size, requires very fine gill nets to catch. Some people like to eat it while it is still alive and enjoy the feeling of the fish wiggling on the way down. In addition to shirauo, about five thousand five hundred tons per year of carp is farmed in Kasumigaura, and the pens used for this purpose line the shores.

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In the late 19th century, an inventor by the name of Ryohei Orimoto came up with a unique way to catch shirauo. He designed a sailboat which used the sail to pull the boat and an array of lines attached to a net sideways. This allowed the boat to put out a large fine net and provided the strong force needed to pull it slowly through the water. Called "hobikisen" the boats were very successful and were in commercial use on Kasumigaura from 1880 to 1965 when powered trawlers replaced them. Orimoto shared his invention freely with fishermen who used to have to work for large organizations to earn a living. Having access to the new technology allowed many men to earn an independent living and helped to stabilize the local economy.

Nowadays, hobikisen can still be seen on Kasumigaura on summer weekends. They are not used for fishing, but rather take tourists for rides or are sailed on display. They are a beautiful sight on the lake and a nostalgic one for older Japanese people.

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Hobikisen Rig

We took a one hour ride in a powered fishing boat to view two hobikisen in the middle of the lake. There were only three other people on our 25 foot boat, which made for great views and photo shots. We circled the two hobikisen many times and were able to see them and photograph them from many angles and watch them being set up and taken down. Unfortunately for me, my 35 mm camera's computer chip decided to act up and most of the 40 shots I took were out of focus (remember the good old days when cameras where manual?). I would not learn of the spoiled shots until the film was developed a few days later, so it didn't ruin my day. The experience of being out on the water and seeing those big white sails billowing in a fresh breeze before a backdrop of distant mountains and clouds was what we came for anyway.

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I saw several large species of fresh water fish leap out of the water to avoid the nets and one made a huge leap right across our bow as we approached the dock. I'm not a fisherman so I am sorry to say I can't tell you what kind they were. Funny thing was, K didn't see a one and she thought I was pulling her leg when I'd try, too late, to point them out.

For a view of the lake from space, click here: Click Here The photo is centered on Tamatsukuri with Kasumigaura on the left and smaller lake Kitaura on the right. The channels of Kashima Port can clearly be seen to the lower right.


The Kingdom of Tonga - A Paradox In Paradise

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Special guest post by Robert Bryce in Tonga

Tonga is a wonderful mix of culture and humor. Humor prevails in Tonga. Like a theme park, Tonga has all the characters. Living here is challenging, elusive and most interesting. Orderly chaos might describe its internal functions. Like a beehive, the closer in you get the more confusion and disorder you see, but somehow critters that aren’t meant to fly do and things get done, problems get solved or just go away - this is Tonga. If the plane does not fly today, it may tomorrow and that gives you another day to enjoy your stay. Friendly is what Captain Cook called these islands - though he was almost roasted on his visit to Tonga. The people are friendly, gracious, helpful and generous with everything they have. There are four different groups of islands that make up Tonga, each with their own expression of the Tongan creed. If you are looking for adventure but do not want to risk your life, Tonga is probably the choice, be it for your holiday or a better place to live. 

Tonga is politically and functionally independent; no country owns or presides over Tonga. The King has wisely not sold out to, or aligned himself with, any larger country outside the region. Sometimes it feels  as though the the Tongans know something about life that the rest of the world is in the dark about. There are no fears, no rush and no concerns important enough to interfere with the daily fishing and there's always a big smile and a genuine laugh, even if the outboard motor falls off the back of the boat. Tongans take life as it unfolds and they make the best of it, good or bad. 

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Tonga sits on the International Dateline so the travel brochures promote it as the land “where time begins.” It is also where time doesn’t matter. Stress-free and loose schedules are a way of life on the islands, unlike the more punctual Northern Hemisphere. It is interesting to consider that each day on this planet begins in Tonga. Not exclusively, but regardless of who you are, your official calendar day starts here. We live it first and by the time the Stock Exchange opens in New York, it is tomorrow in Tonga.

So, where is elusive Tonga? Somewhere in Africa?… is where most guess who have not heard of the islands.  There are even a few stories around about people sending mail or freight from the USA to Tonga and having had their freight end up in Africa, and sometimes that is where it stays. I guess most people in the world don't really know where their day begins. 

Tonga is located in the middle of the South Pacific (tell your postman) about 20 degrees south of the equator and 180 degrees west latitude. It was one of the last group of islands in the South Seas to be discovered by the European explorers. Tonga continues to be discovered today by pleasantly surprised travelers and tourists. Though on the map most vistors to the South Sea islands fly right over Tonga on their way to more popular tourist destinations like Fiji.  French Polynesia is to the east and Fiji just to the west. New Zealand is to the south about 1,500 miles away, and American and Western Samoa just to the north about 400 miles away. 

Modern sailors have no problem finding Tonga, for the Vava’u Island Group, the crown jewel of the Kingdom of Tonga, has long been a popular port of call for yachts cruising the South Pacific. Vava’u, once spelled Vavaoo, which is closer in spelling to the pronunciation, is home to our family. We too, arrived by sailboat about 4 years ago, checked in at the main port of Vava’u and we are still here. The “Port of Refuge,” the main harbor of Vava’u is very well protected, as is the entire island group. A huge reef system which forms up to 60 emerald islands, shields the islands from the relentless ocean tides that pound the walls of coral and volcanic rock. Even a tsunami would spend its force on the walls around Vava’u. Within the protected islands, white sand beaches, caves, coves, and blue water lagoons decorate each island. Small boats can safely navigate the relatively calm inter-island waterways making this island group unique. There are a few small resorts on the many islands, all of which offer the vistor a true Robinson Crusoe island experience, but with all the amenities. The islands are perfect for charter yacht sailors - no big waves, gentle trade winds and lots of beautiful anchorages.

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Humpback whales have made Tonga their holiday destination as well. Each year the Humpback whales migrate here, probably because they don’t need a “Transit Visa". Here they breed and bear their young, schooling them for their big trip back to Antarctica in October. Tourists that somehow find Tonga may attend classes with the whales, swimming with whales is an incredible experience. This is the only country in the world in which you can swim with whales. 

Governments are like magnets, attracting some and repelling others. Thank God we can still move around the planet. And, it is nice to be free without having to be brave. 

Government is usually where things break down in most countries, but Tonga is blessed with a stable constitutional monarchy, successfully in business since 1860. A Kingdom with a real King and a Royal family that are benevolent in their rule. But like with any bureaucracy, a little political wrangling probably keeps everyone busy and, merrily, most of us feel like we are in a classroom with no teacher. Freedom is having fun without someone being there with a gun; and guns are something they don’t have in our little haven from crime and punishment. The police are armed with smiles and respect the populace. Crime in most of Tonga is very minor.  They tell me the prison in Vava’u used to have a sign on it that said: “Not in by 9 PM, you'll be locked out”  Things have toughened up some lately. Now they have to be in by 6 PM. It’s true, during the day you are basically free, but better get back on time or you will miss out on the Kava party. No one fears getting shot at McDonalds on Tonga … anyway there are no McDonalds.

Life is good in Tonga. The bugs and animals mirror the harmless populace. There are no harmful bugs, except for one species of centipede, no malaria, no snakes, no critters lying in the weeds waiting to harm you. In fact, there aren’t many wild animals at all. If this were Disneyland, we would be on the little kids ride where a child walks safely through the jungle. We do have pigs so, ‘good fences make good neighbors.’ 

Peace of mind has to be mentioned as a part of the appeal of these islands. You take it for granted after awhile.  Peace of mind creeps up on you quite naturally, due in part to the fact that you can rid yourself of the “bad news” addiction you've acquired from watching too much evening television in the States. We have TV, but it is not very popular. Real life is so much more interesting in this Land of Oz than any soap opera and we certainly have no bad news to report. Most of the bad news generated in the big countries has nothing to do with us, anyway. Folks returning from the “civilized world” after a two-week visit, arrive in Tonga exhausted and depressed, but very happy to be back home in their island paradise. Watching all that crime and propaganda everyday is a huge pill to take for a cleansed soul that is not used to any more trouble than some spilt milk - milk being mostly imported.

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No traffic lights, is how I answer the question; “Why did you choose Tonga?” Well, that is part of it. I also enjoy my new freedom of not having to keep one eye on the rear-view mirror. A police officer on every corner may create more crime than it prevents, as evidenced by the success of the law enforcement system in Tonga where you rarely see an officer. Common sense and mutual concern rule. You find you don’t break the rules, written or otherwise, out of concern for others, and not because some uniform might arrest you: concern replaces fear in Tonga. Policing yourself is the key to real freedom.

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Discover that TV is boring compared to the discoveries one makes in Tonga, particularly in the Vava’u Island Group.  Vava’u is like an oasis in the ocean. The huge ring of protective reefs combined with islands strung like emerald pearls results in a sea within a sea, with the pattern of islands resembling an ink spatter on an azure canvas. The islands come in all shapes and sizes and some come as round as a silver dollar. You see colors, hues and views that even a $5,000 camera can’t get right. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the real thing is worth a million. The ambiance is all encompassing. You are surrounded by pure nature and all your senses are activated and enhanced. The air is pure, oxygen laden, with hints of floral scents and exempt of any pollutants. The sea is clear, clean with all the iridescent hues of blue. What you cannot see you can feel and the combination of it all is the appeal. For a delightful experience, put Tonga on your map. 

To contact Robert Click Here


Kayak & Snorkel Korolevu - Fiji

Just off the West coast of Taveuni, near the town of Waiyevu, lies a small gem. It is the island of Korolevu. Triangular is shape and only about 300 meters long (less than 1000 feet), it rises from the water to a height of only 34 meters (111 feet). On its South side it has two small white sand beaches and around to the North a rocky shoreline with caves inhabited by bats. The land rises steeply and is covered in thick forest.

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From the closest point it is only 1500 meters from shore (a bit less than a mile). If you are staying at the Garden Island Resort hotel, you can rent a kayak from their Aqua Trek scuba shack. From there it is a 2500 meter paddle (about a mile and a half). The currents in Somosomo Strait can be strong, so ask for advice about the tides and the best time of day for making the trip. If you don't feel up to paddling, you can hop an Aqua Trek motorboat for a small fee and they'll drop you off and pick you up later. I've done both, but find kayaking more satisfying. The kayaks have storage where you can stow your snorkel gear, an underwater camera if you have one, and perhaps a small snack and definitely a bottle of water or two. As always in the tropics - especially when going out on the water - apply plenty of sunscreen.

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Along the way, the clear, brilliant blue waters change color with the depths and you can see corals and fish below you from time to time. The above water views are of are lush tropical islands wherever you look. It may not be that far, but to save a lot of extra paddling, line up the right edge of Korolevu with an island in the distance and try to stay on that track, keeping the two points lined up, even if wind and/or current pushes you off. You may find yourself paddling slightly at an angle to where you want to go, but your track across the water will be straighter, and thus shorter, that way.

As you get closer, you will make out two beautiful beaches, side by side, with a narrow lava rock wall between them which ends at the water's edge. At low tide you will be able to dash from one beach to the other between waves. At high tide, you'll need to swim or kayak between them. Sea birds live on Korolevu and are a beautiful sight as they swoop over the waves looking for food and showing off their flying skills. Don't worry about bats - they are harmless and won't be out until nighttime anyway when they fly off looking for insects and fruit.

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I recommend the beach on your right, as the snorkeling there is excellent. Waves are usually very small and you can just paddle straight in to the beach without worry. Occasionally you may find a local family on one beach out for a day of fishing who may well be curious to learn where you are from and tell you about their fishing luck. Usually, you will have the beaches all to yourself (especially if you kayak in).

Snorkeling around Korolevu is a joy. Be sure to pull your kayak well up the beach - it's your ticket home! There is a long shelf of sand, which allows one to walk into ocean before donning mask and fins. The coral formations are fascinating and there are brilliantly colored fish everywhere. As you go toward the depths you will come to a place where the bottom "drops out" and the water turns a deep cobalt blue and the fish get larger. (I confess that is where I turn around).

After snorkeling, as you rest on the beach, you can gaze at the panoramic view of Taveuni and pick out settlements and the larger buildings - don't look for anything over two stories. Even with its population of perhaps 14,000 and at this relatively close range, evidence of human presence is scant. One can fantasize of a Robinson Crusoe life. After a bit of a rest, a paddle around the backside is recommended. The depth of the water varies greatly, so the color of the water comes in many shades. The rocks and caves are an interesting sight as well.

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Somehow, the return trip always seems longer than the one out, but upon your return you can reward yourself with a nice shower and relive your day's adventure over a tall cool drink.

It would be easy to drive right by Korolevu and barely notice it from shore, but now that you know it is there be sure to add it to your list of things to do on Taveuni.


Lantern Festival

September brings a double festival to Kashima Jingu, that ancient and important Shinto Shrine located in the heart of Kashima City. The two festivals are Chochin Matsuri (Lantern Festival) and Jinko-Sai (God's Blessing Festival).

Jinko-sai lasts two days and usually is held on September 1st and 2nd. During this festival the object of worship which is normally kept in the Hondo or main building within Kashima Jingu, is moved to a smaller building. It is believed that the god visits during this time. The Lantern festival is held on the first day and is to give light to the Jinko-sai.
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Two girls in yukata stand by a member of the "red lantern" team which is approaching

Paper lanterns, or chochin, are tied to a bamboo tree which is wrapped in heavy rope. Four bamboo poles are attached which are used to steady the tree. You can see some in the first photo of the post "Bon Dance Update". The trees of lanterns are paraded along the street leading to Kashima Jingu and the taken into the ground of the shrine, where a bonfire, kept hot with bales of hay, awaits. That may sound like a nice, simple, quiet ceremony, but it is far from it. Shinto festivals are anything but sedate.

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Steady lads - maneuvering through overhead traffic lights and a phone wire

The trees of lanterns reach heights of 20 feet or more and are heavy and unwieldy. It can take five or six people at the base to lift it plus two on each of four side poles and more people yet on guide ropes to control it. The teams are shrine members, dressed in yukata or happi coats. Each team represents a neighborhood in Kashima City and there were 14 in this festival. Getting around light poles, traffic light fixtures and the occasional wire can be very tricky. Several lanterns struck me as one team lost control of their tree. Every several meters the team stops and pounds the tree up and down on the pavement accompanied by chanting to the beat of a drum. As in other festivals the drumsticks are in the shape of a phallus. Shinto is a religion of nature and fertility after all. Some of the lanterns may fall off during the parade and it is considered lucky to obtain of them. When they reach the shrine, members remove some lanterns for souvenirs and the rest, along with the entire tree, are thrown onto the bonfire. If you are a pyromaniac, this is your kind of event.

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Who's got the marshmallows?

At the same time, five Jinko-sai floats made of ornately carved wood are pulled around a two block area near the shrine by teams of men and women. One of the floats is a century old. The floats have wooden wheels and with a likeness of either a famous historical figure or a god on their roof reach a height of perhaps 20 feet. The figures can be partly lowered into the floats to duck under obstructions. A dozen or so musicians are seated around the float and play flute, drum, or gong. At each intersection, the floats are turned 360 degrees to give everyone a good look. This takes brute strength and two heavy wooden poles are used both as levers and as stops on the wheels.
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During festivals, the streets leading to the shrine are lined with booths selling food, sweets, and toys. There are booths with shallow rectangular pools of gold fish or turtles at which kids pay to try and scoop up a fish or turtle with a rice bowl. Cooking meats, noodles and egg dishes fill the air with an appetizing aroma. I had some takoyaki (octopus balls) made with a mixture of soup stock, flour, and egg, stuffed with octopus, cooked and covered in sauce - oishii! (yummy) or as we say in Hawaii, ono.

At dusk the five floats meet at an intersection in town. On one street, two floats are parked side-by-side facing another pair on the opposite side of the intersection. The fifth float is parked on the other street. After the teams had a break for dinner, the emcee, a woman wearing a kimono, mounted a ladder on the street corner and announced the coming events. Darkness was falling and the floats lit up their lanterns. In turn, the musicians on each float performed for the crowd. The sidewalks were packed with spectators and the streets with the teams who hauled the floats as well as their chanters, each team in a distinctive happi coat or yukata design. The only way to get a photo was hold one's camera aloft and hope your aim was OK.

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Then came a long dance of the participants. Not calm and graceful like a bon dance even the fast ones. The beat was stronger and faster. When the dance finished, the dancers laughed and appeared warmed up and ready for the grand finale. One by one, the floats were brought forward into the intersection. The chanters stood in a circle around the float and as the musicians played, the chanters raised their voices and moved their fans in rhythm to encourage the men who, with shoulders to the float and sweated brow, turned the heavy float in a circle several times. The rhythmic chants reminded me of those old movies where a virgin was sacrificed to a volcano. The effort expended in turning the floats was palpable. And to think they would do it again tomorrow!

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A final note: As we walked through the streets, we passed a booth where the Chamber of Commerce was handing out fans and brochures about local activities. In an adjacent parking lot, chairs and a stage were set up for entertainment. The owner of a local Hula Halau (hula school) was performing "Hawaiian Wedding Song", and other hula dancers were waiting their turn on stage. It seemed quite a contrast, and yet, it was really a connection with all Pacific Islanders as a celebration of life.

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Hurricane Katrina

The devistation of Katrina could turn out to be the worst "natural" disaster in American history. We can point fingers later - to the lack of efforts to halt global warming, the cutting of the Army Corp of Engineers budget to 1/6th of what was needed to make the necessary improvements to flood control systems in the area, to the Pentagon's sending personnel and equipment of the National Guard to a desert in the Middle East. There will be, and should be, a time for addressing those things and bring those responsible to justice.

But right now, thousands of people are in desperate need of help. I don't just mean discomfort, I'm talking life or death. Please do what you can through the charity of your choice. Click on the title of this post to go to the American Red Cross website. The site is super busy at this time of course, so you may want to call them at 1-800-HELP NOW. This situation is likely to get much worse before it gets better. Please help in whatever way you can.

Thank you.

Cow Soap

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For an udderly smooth complexion...

Japan has many unusual products and product names. A common brand of soap is "COW" which advertises something about the miracle of milk. When I first saw it I had to wonder, "is it for washing one's cow?"

I'll leave it to you to come up with your own ad slogan ideas.