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One of Japan’s Best 100 Sunsets

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 27, 2011

July 16 – 17, 2011

All Pictures

Of course I brought the wrong camera for sunset photos…


I have blogged about Mark’s and my many attempts to see the sunset at Matama beach. This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful sunsets in Japan and we, up until this time, have always managed to miss it.

This time we showed up a good 4 hours before sunset. We ate at the restaurant on the beach, then sat in the water until the tide came in. When it was almost sunset we got out of the water and sat on the cement steps leading to the sea.

They didn’t notice me fall.

Right before the sunset I noticed that my shoes were a bit sandy. I wanted to rinse them off in the ocean water before I put them on. I stepped on the last step above the water, which was beginning to get flooded. There was a patch of slick moss under my foot and before I realized that I was falling, I was on the ground with one leg under me and the other awkwardly reaching out into the water.

I got up and I felt no pain initially. In a few seconds there were streams of blood running down my right leg. I rinsed it off with the salt water so I could see the wound. It was not too bad. I enjoyed the sunset as I bled.

Enjoying warm shallow water

Japanese Lesson for this situation

So, I’ve been living in Japan for almost a year now and that’s a total of almost 2 years of my life spent in Japan. But still I speak very little Japanese. Don’t feel bad Japan, I grew up with 2 Spanish-speaking parents and still have no idea what the heck Speedy Gonzales says. It’s not you, it’s me.

I basically learn just what is needed for me to survive. This is why I can order food in Korean, I can say, “Fill-her-up,” in Japanese, and say bad things about your mother in Spanish. But I can’t ask about the weather in any language other than English.

And for the record, my parents did not teach me to say bad things about your mother in Spanish. …And tu madre es una dama simpática.

I will put here, for future reference, for me or whoever else needs it, the vocabulary needed for this situation.

Rubbing alcohol 

  • 消毒用アルコール
  • (Shōdoku-yō arukōru)
Topical antibiotic cream (Like Neosporin in the US, or Fucidin in many countries)
  • 抗菌外用薬クリーム
  • (Kōkin gaiyō-yaku kurīmu)
  • Make sure to ask a pharmacist about this one. Not all topical antibiotic creams are for wounds, most in Japan are for rashes.
  • This one might be hard to find.
  • 絆創膏
  • Bansōkō

or in my case

  • 大きい 絆創膏 (Big band-aid)
  • Ōkii bansōkō
No need for sentences. That will just give me more things to forget.

Guards of Scotch


Before we went to Matama beach we pitched our tent and Mark sprayed it down with Scotch Guard to make it more water proof. The last time we were camping, the tent leaked so this needed to be done. Before we left the apartment we saw that a typhoon was heading our way. The storm would hit Oita Monday night, so we didn’t cancel our trip. The Scotch Guard would help us if it started to rain a couple of days before the storm.

Just to get something straight before I continue. I do not recommend camping during a Typhoon, or even a tropical storm. A tent is not good shelter from anything other than mild rain. We checked the weather forecast before heading out and we knew that we were good for camping until Monday evening. By then we were safely back in our apartment by Monday night.

St. Croix

Mark –  “What’s the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?”

Me     – “Geography”

I grew up on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As a kid I loved hurricanes. It usually meant that my parents would let me stay up late to see what was going on. The electricity would sometimes go out, and my mom would bring out her kerosene lantern.We would sit in the living room listening to the radio. I would curl up in a blanket on the sofa next to my mom or dad as the wind whistled outside. The reception on the radio would crackle as the fire in the lantern danced about. I loved the sound of the radio snow over the howling of the wind along with the smell of the burning kerosene. I would go to bed hoping that school would be cancelled the next day.

Usually, nothing more than a couple of trees or telephone polls would be knocked down. Most of the time, I and many other kids, would be in school the following morning making up tales of people blown away in the winds. The hurricanes, would either just miss us and only dump rain on us, get down graded to a tropical storm, or turn away from us completely. My first real hurricane was Hugo. Few people on the island were prepared for the disaster Hugo would bring.

The aftermath

You haven’t seen a real hurricane yet!

The morning of September 17, 1989 I was excited. It was a Sunday. Not only was my piano lessons for that day cancelled because of the hurricane, but so was school the next day. I hated piano lessons!

My family and I went to the crowded grocery store where everyone was buying the hurricane essentials, batteries, water, canned food… I, for one, was thrilled. The air was filled with hurricane anticipation as everyone, excited about the hurricane, talked about what they thought about the storm.

The afternoon we and all our neighbors prepared for the hurricane. I remember my parents arguing about some sand we had in the back yard. My parents were fixing up the house, so my father bought some sand with which to make cement. My father said that it wasn’t necessary to cover the sand with tarp. “Would you cover the whole beach with tarp?”

Mom – “No but the beach gets its sand from the ocean. If some sand gets blown away, more will wash up on shore the next day. I’m telling you, if you don’t cover the sand, it will be gone by tomorrow.”

My father covered the sand, but it and the tarp would be gone by the next day anyway.

My mother was the only one, who seemed uneasy. Everyone else was looking forward to a little excitement and a day off that Monday. This would be the biggest hurricane the island had seen in over 60 years, so schools and businesses had already announced that they would be closed on Monday.

My mom walked around like Cassandra warning people that this hurricane would not be any fun if it did hit St. Croix. She lived through hurricane Hattie when it hit her home town of Belize City, Belize. “We were excited, just like you are now.” My mom made my dad take extra precautions. They parked the cars closer to the house and away from the trees in the backyard. They took in anything that could be taken indoors.

The size of my island compared to hurricane Hugo

I didn’t know wind could do that!

The hurricane was supposed to hit late that night, so I was surprised, when at 6:00 pm I could see the bushes in the yard in front of ours laying down because of the wind. “Wow, I didn’t know wind could do that!” My mom dryly replied, “This hurricane hasn’t even started yet.”

I wanted to stay up, but my parents made me go to bed around 9:00 pm. I’m not sure how long I was asleep, but sometime that night my father woke me up. “Come, we have to go to the living room.” I was a little groggy, but I got up and followed him. He seemed worried and agitated. As we passed my bathroom, I stopped. “Can I used the bathroom first?”

I asked, only out of respect. I didn’t really think  he would say no. He hesitated, looking back down the hall where we had just come. He seemed to be thinking it over. “Make it quick.”

I didn’t understand what was going on. I was a kid and I was too sleepy to care. When we got to the living room my mom was sitting on the floor with her flash light. The electricity was out. I started to remember the hurricane. “Are we camping out in the living room?” This seemed like fun.

“No”, my dad said, “It’s… it’s… ”

“Just show her,” my mom interrupted.

My dad took my hand and a flash light and led me back down the hallway. My parents’ bedroom door was closed. “One quick look, then we have to go back to the living room.” I could not imagine what could be in their bedroom that would cause them to spend the night in the living room.

He opened the door. I could hear the wind outside screaming around the house, but everything looked normal. He closed the door. “What? I didn’t see anything.”

He opened the door again, but this time he turned on the flash light. I followed the spot of light with my eyes. It moved from the floor, onto the bed, then up the wall. There was a gap between where the wall ended and the roof began. The roof was moving up and down. “Wow! Do you think that could happen in my room?”

My room was across the hall from my parents’. “It is happening in your room. That’s why we woke you up.” I didn’t believe him. I was asleep in that room not more than 10 minutes ago. If my roof was dancing, I think I would have noticed. He open my bed room door to show me. Sure enough, the roof was bobbing up and down like a play thing of the wind.

I felt sick. I sat in the living feeling cold on the inside. The roof of my bed room was being pulled off the house as I slept. I was right under it and I didn’t even know. What if my parent slept as deeply as I did?

We tried to get some sleep. Just when I had calmed down I heard a crash. The chandelier on the living room ceiling came crashing down inches from my mom’s head. I began to think how lucky that was. If she have been hit, there would be no way of getting her to the hospital any time soon. After that I could not sleep.

I sat there rocking myself as my parents tried to sleep. My mom kept telling me that everything would be okay. From her tune of voice, I knew that she didn’t believe what she said. My stomach didn’t feel so well.

Sometime after that we heard a big woosh sound. My dad went to look at the rooms down the hall. I followed too. My parents let me. I guess they thought that my imagination was too active and I would be less afraid if I saw what was going on, then if I didn’t.

We looked into my parents’ bedroom. The roof was gone. The bed, clothes, and other things in the room were spinning around as if being stirred with a giant invisible spoon. “This can’t be good,” I said to myself.

We all went back to the living room to wait out the rest of the storm. No one tried to sleep now. I don’t know what was going on in my parents’ heads, but my mind was buzzing. “What is tomorrow going to be like? My parents will have to sleep in the living room until the roof over their room is fixed. Maybe we’ll have to get a new house.”

Sometime after that we heard the woosh sound again. It was the roof over my bedroom. We just sat there. We did not feel the need to look. I knew that all my things were gone.

Later the winds died down. My dad went outside the check on the cars. He wanted to walk down the street to see what happened to the neighborhood, but my mom wouldn’t let him.

“The hurricane is not over. This is just the eye.” She told us.

“What? You mean there’s more?” I asked.

“That was just the first half. Now the wind will come in the other direction. We should really move to the other side of the house, but…”

I had never heard of an “eye of a storm” before. I don’t think I was the only one, because later I heard stories of people going out during the eye thinking everything was over, only to be caught outdoors when the second part of the storm began. I don’t know how true any of those stories were. Maybe they thought the eye would last longer than it did and didn’t have enough time to get back indoors.

Hurricane Hugo

When the storm started again we sat in the living room. No one spoke a word. The winds roared outside mocking us. It moved like a monster trying to rip open our home to get at us.

I looked up at the roof on the other side of the room. “Mom, this roof is going to go.” My mom shone her flashlight where the roof and wall met. It looked normal. There wasn’t even a crack on the wall. “I think it will be fine.”

“No mom. This roof is going to go.” I insisted.

“You’re just scared. Everything will be fine.” she said.

I muttered to myself, “That roof is going to go!”

Half an hour later, as I was staring at the roof, it just lifted up. It broke apart in the air and disappeared into the dark windy night. It even took the lighting fixtures with it. I don’t remember the sound it made. I just sat there, looking at it go, blown away like paper. The blackness of the night came in my house and it brought rain. I was getting wet.

My parents grabbed me and took me to the middle room. They closed the door and we sat on the bed.

I felt really sick and I really needed to pee. Even though the bathroom was right across the hall, my mom would not let me leave the room. There was an orange tub that she used to bathe me in when I was a baby. She gave it to me and told me to take it to the closet and pee in it. I went to the closet and sat over the basin, but I could not pee. I was just really scared.

My mom did not want to be trapped in the house. She and my dad started to think of things they could do to ensure our survival.

“If this house catches on fire, something crashes down on this roof, or this roof goes, we’re trapped.” My mom said.

“If only we had a basement.” My dad put in.

Houses in the Caribbean don’t have basements. Under our houses, we have cisterns, where we keep the water from the rain that falls on the roof. We use this water to flush the toilets and for showering. I did hear of a family who, after losing their roof and most of their walls, spent this hurricane standing in their half empty cistern. They must have opened some sort of lever to keep the water flowing out the cistern so it would not fill up and drown them all.

“But, Mr. Ash, has a two-story house. We must go to Mr. Ash’s house.”

Mr. Ash was our next door neighbor. I had been over to his house countless times to play with his oldest daughter Kizzy. The family lived on the second floor and Mr. Ash worked on the first floor.

He made and improved houses for a living. He had his own business. He designed his house. The first floor of the Ash house was his office. It looked like a smaller version of a hardware store. There were tools, machines, and equipment on this floor of the Ash residence. Kizzy, her sister and brother, me, and all the other kids in the neighborhood were never allowed on the first floor. So of course, we were always trying to get in.

The family lived upstairs. There were steps that went from their front garden to the second floor, completely bypassing the ground floor. I don’t even think there was a way to go from the first to second floor without going outside.

The Hess Oil Refinery on the Island

I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of walking out in the storm. The dangers of that only occurred to me years later. I didn’t want to see the living room without its roof again.

In the spare bed room, nothing had changed. It looked like it did before the hurricane. Its roof was still on. Its floor was still dry. Everything in the room was as it should have been. Outside the room was complete disorder. And the storm was just about halfway passed.

Later we would find out that the hurricane was moving very slowly. Although the winds were moving at 140 mph the storm itself was moving at about 3 or 4 mph. I remember my dad using his car to show me how fast 3 mph was. “I can run faster than this!”

My parents each held onto one of my forearms. I was given a hat and jacket and was told to cover my face and keep my head down. The wind was so strong, I remember, that it stung my face. It was very hard to walk because the winds made putting my foot on the ground almost impossible.

We got over to the Ashs’ house and their gate was latched but unlock, like it usually was. They had 2 big, mean looking dogs, Blackman and Whiteman, that guarded the house, but they were indoors for the storm. We opened the gate and closed it behind us. We got to their downstairs door and started yelling and banging on the door. My mom prayed that they would hear us. We stood out there for a minute or two wondering if we had made a huge mistake. When the door open, I fell in.

The National Guard was called into St. Croix.

I sat on the floor in complete shock. I could not stop shaking. I threw up and kept throwing up even though my stomach was empty. I saw Kizzy and her brother and sister. They looked scared too, but they were not in the state I was in. Mrs. Ash, kept bringing me water and asked if I needed anything, but I just wanted to be alone with my vomit bucket. I move to a corner where I fell asleep.

The next day I woke up on the floor. My bucket was gone and so were my parents. I sat there thinking, “I’m homeless. I don’t have a home anymore. Where am I going to sleep tonight?” Mrs. Ash told me that my parents went to do something for the house. She tried to feed me cereal, but I could not eat.

The upstairs of the Ashes’ house was heavily damaged. Parts of their roof had been damaged, but it did not come off like the roof of my house.They spent the next couple months living on the first floor until the upstairs was completely fixed.

When my parents got back they took me to see the house. “Is it safe? There is a lot of water; what about live wires?”

“There is no electricity on this island. No stop lights. Nothing is working.” My dad said.

We walked through the house. It did not look familiar. Everything was thrown about and wet. The only glimmer of hope for me was that, among all the soaked and bloated items floating around our house, was the piano. Well, it didn’t float.

My mom sat on its bench which sagged a bit and threatened to give out. She stood up and tapped a key. It groaned like a dying cat. “Oh no, not the piano. I wanted to have at least one child learn to play the piano well.” Days later when we loaded up a borrowed truck of our things to be taken to Anguilla, the dumpsite, I happily tossed part of that piano bench in. Did I mention that I hated that piano?

We went to the back yard. “There’s our roof! Can we just put it back on?” I asked.

My parents looked at the roof suspiciously. It was a completely intact roof, laying galvanize side down. All it was missing was the rest of its house. “That’s not our roof.” my mom said.

I looked at the thing. It was smaller than our house and it was the wrong shape. Besides, we didn’t lose our whole roof, just the bits in the front and the bits in the back. Many of our neighbors roofs were missing but none had a roof like that.

Mr. Ash came over, along with other neighbors and they butchered that roof. Parts of it went on our house, Mr. Ash’s house, and other neighbors’ houses to keep the rain out. There was a small tropical storm coming and it rained the entire next day.

The tropical storm was Gabrielle, formally hurricane Gabrielle, but by the time she got to us, she was weak and old and only delivered rain. She would have never even stayed in my mind, if my house had a roof. But when she came every Cruzan was listening to the weather forecast on his or her radio like it was the latest gossip.

Thankfully, our radios still worked. They were our only connection to the outside world. We had no electricity and the phones were down. The day after Hugo we stay glued to the radio as we tried to clean up what we could. I remember that the governor at the time, Alexander Farrelly who lived on St. Thomas, got on the air and told the world that the US Virgin Islands were all oaky.

Those of us on the island of St. Croix were shocked. Apparently, the island of St. Thomas was not hit as severely. But since we, on St. Croix, had no electricity or any means of contact to the outside world, the governor assumed that no news was good news. Later he would have to retract his statement and ask President Bush, not only for aid for St. Croix, but for soldiers to put the island under Marshal Law. There was wild looting, fighting, and all around chaos in the streets for days following Hugo.

My parents were a few of the lucky people who were able to collect their insurance money. Many insurance companies went bankrupt. It took people months, some years, to repair all the damage. Some of them had to pay for the repairs all on their own.

Within a year, our house was completely fixed. The new roof that was put on, not only had 3 new sunroofs, but was designed to withstand any hurricane. The roof had smaller eaves and was connected to the bottom of the house. The builder told us, “For this roof to go, the walls must go with it!” As far as I know the house is still there.

All Pictures



How to get there:

You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.

Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.







  • Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan.  Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
  • InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cashandcallyourbanktoaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
    • ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
  • You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan. I’ve never been a tourist.)

Matama Beach
(Matama Kaisuiyokujō)

How to get there:

  • 33°37’20.9″N 131°28’23.3″E

From Oita by car –

  • Take route 10 North.
  • When you reach Hiji town, you can stay on route 10 or take route 213
    1. If you stay on route 10 at Hiji town, you will get on route 213 in Usa. Be careful because the turn is at an odd angle making it a little easy to miss. This is the shorter way.
    2. If you get on route 213 in Hiji, stay on route 213 until you pass the beach.
  • It doesn’t really look like a beach when you’re driving by. It is mostly a cemented area with lots of parking across the road from the “beach”.


〒872-1101 大分県西国東郡真玉町2144-12



  • Free


  • always available


  • There is a little restaurant at the beach that sells drinks, snacks, and meals.
  • When we went, the water was not deep enough to swim in. But I don’t know what it is like at high tide or at other times of the year

Nagasakihana Resort campsite
(Nagasakibana Rizōto Kyanpu-ba)

How to get there:

  • 33°40’55.9″N 131°31’29.3″E

From Matama Beach –

  • Get on Route 213 heading east.
  • You will pass 4 tunnels.
  • After the 4th tunnel you will be in a little town. You will need to make a left onto a little road that is opposite to a pedestrian tunnel. The first time you go, it will be a little tricky, because you can’t really see the pedestrian tunnel when making the left. But if you reach a 5th tunnel, that is kind of long, turn around and you will be able to clearly see the pedestrian tunnel.
  • Take the road across the little one lane bridge and take the biggest road up the hill.
  • You will pass a rape field and a sunflower field.


4060 Mime, Bungotakada, Oita Prefecture 872-1207


  • 0978-54-2237



  • 1,000YEN per tent   &
  • 300YEN per person
  • The second night they only charged us for the tent. I don’t know if they always do this, or they just liked us.


  • Open year round
  • Reception hours are 9:00 to 17:00


  • They also have cabins, some with AC.
  • There is a beach at the campsite.
  • There are free electric bikes you can borrow.
    • 1 person – 1 hour max
    • 2 people – 2 hours max


Posted in Bungo Takada 市, Japan, Kyūshū, Matama 町, Oita 県, St. Croix, United States, The, US Virgin Islands | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Where America’s Day Begins

Posted by Heliocentrism on February 21, 2010

February 20-21, 2010

All Pictures

A beach on Guam

The US in Asia

When our plane landed in Guam it was almost 4:00 am local time. We hopped into a cab and checked into a hotel. The next day, or rather later that same day, we got breakfast, walked around, and went swimming.

Guam is a US territory. It is the US, but not in state form. I grew up in a US territory, St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. Because of this I’ve had people ask me questions like, “What is your first language?”, “What country are you a citizen of?”, “Can you run for president?”, “What type of passport do you have?”

Well, as a Virgin Islander:  English is my first and only language, though many can speak both English and Spanish fluently. I am a citizen of the United States. I cannot run for president, but only because I am not old enough. I have a normal US passport.

Me age 5 in my 2nd passport

State vs Territory

So what are the main differences between a US state and a US territory?

  • Geography.

Living in a territory can feel a bit isolated. They tend to be far away from the contiguous 48 states. Growing up, I sometimes felt a bit forgotten. Most US citizens don’t know that some of the Virgin Islands are part of the US. In fact most Americans cannot name any of the territories.

According to Wikipedia, there are 14 US territories.

It is the US, and there is a huge American influence. But being far away and a bit removed from the contiguous 48 with a history of being part of another culture before joining the US, there is a small difference. Here in Guam there are two languages spoken. In the VI we mostly speak English, and a sort of broken English, which is expected being in the middle of the Caribbean.

There are throwbacks from the British, Dutch, Danish and other cultures that have been a part of St. Croix’s past. There are holidays that we celebrated of whose origin  most Cruzans might not even remember.

  • Taxes.

A US Virgin Islander pays income tax, but  since the USVI is not a state there is no state tax or sales tax.

  • Right to Vote.

A US citizen who is a resident of a US territory can vote for local political candidates, but not for presidential candidates. If, however, he or she moves from the territory to any of the 50 states and changes residency, the citizen can then vote in a presidential election.

  • Driving.

Most US territories have laws in place to demand its citizens to drive on the right side of the road, like the citizens in the states. The people of the US Virgin Islands drive on the left. Why? I’ve asked this question throughout my childhood and have never gotten a decent answer. What makes things even more curious, is that cars with the steering wheel on the right are used to drive on the left side of the road.

I Love Guam!!

All Pictures


Bangkok’s New Airport

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, bus, or train.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to Thailand. But, you will need a visa to stay longer than 1 month or if you been to Thailand for at least 3 months already in the past 12 months.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 30-day visa at the port of entry.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Thai embassy in your country.






  • Do not say anything negative about the king or anyone in the Royal family. And definitely do not write anything bad about the king or royal family. This offence could land you in jail. You don’t want to go to Thai jail.
  • Don’t use the city ferries in Bangkok during the peak hours. They fill those things past capacity and sometimes they sink. Use them during non-peak hours when they are not crowded.

The United States of America

How to get there:

You can enter my country by land, air, or sea. But I think flight would be your transportation method of choice.

I have no clue how to get a visa to the US or who needs one. Just assume that you need one if you are not American or Canadian and check with your local US embassy.


  • Use 911 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance
  • Use 411 for information (This might cost money.)






  • It’s a big country. You’re going to need a car.


How to Get There:

From Bangkok –

  • The best airline that I found to get to Guam from Bangkok was Philippines Airline.
  • There’s a long stop over in Manila’s airport. (I will blog about the Ninoy Aquino’s shenanigans later.)

Guam has one commercial airport, the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport. It’s near Hagatna.

You pretty much have to fly into Guam. There are no boats, and trains are just ridiculous.



  • Guam is a territory of the United States. This means that if you are American, you do not need a passport to travel to Guam.
  • If you are not an American, then you will need the same visa to enter Guam that you would need to get into the continental United States.
  • The people of Guam are United States citizens, just at a better climate.
  • You can only use US dollars here.
  • I recommend renting a car unless you are with a tour group.
  • Although Guam is a small island, it is not anywhere small enough to just walk around.
  • The beaches here are great.
  • There are 2 military bases on the island.
  • Forget about seeing Point Udall. Just forget it!


Posted in Guam, Hagåtña, St. Croix, United States, The, US Virgin Islands | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

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