JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when traveling.


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In central Naha, Kokusai-dori is the city's main drag of shops and restaurants. Mostly for tourists. The nearest rail stations are Kencho-mae and Makishi Stations on the Yui Rail. Large building on the right is the Okinawa Prefectural capitol.
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Intersection in front of Kokusai-dori.
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Entrance to Kokusai-dori.
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Entrance to Kokusai-dori is flanked by two shisa guardian lion-dogs.
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Entrance to Kokusai-dori.
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Shisa guardian lion-dog.
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Shisa guardian lion-dog at the entrance of Kokusai-dori.
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Shisa guardian lion-dog at the entrance of Kokusai-dori.
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In central Naha, Kokusai-dori (国際通り), main drag of tourist shops and restaurants. Lined with palm trees.
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Map of Kokusai-dori.
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Gift shop modeled after Shuri Castle.
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Gift shop modeled after Shuri Castle.
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Beni-imo tarts are Okinawa's most famous confection and omiyage gift. Made of Okinawan sweet potato (purple yam) in a boat-like crust.
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Beni-imo tart is sold everywhere in Okinawa. Like macadamia nut chocolates in Hawaii, there are many Beni-imo tart brands in Okinawa. I'm told the most famous brand is Okashi Goten (御菓子御殿), the confection's inventor.
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Okashi Goten (御菓子御殿), shop of the company that invented beni-imo tart. https://www.okashigoten.co.jp/
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Inside the Okashi Goten (御菓子御殿) tart shop.
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This new tart flavor is also good.
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Beni-imo tart shop.
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Habu liquor or habu-shu with a dead habu snake inside. Made with awamori or brandy. The extract from the snake supposed to be good for you. The snake's venom is somehow neutralized by the alcohol, so it's not poisonous when you drink it.Never tried it. What do people do with the snake after drinking the sake? Would a bird of prey eat an alcohol-soaked snake? ハブ酒
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Lots of T-shirt shops on Kokusai-dori, but most are not made in Okinawa.
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"Okinawa Aloha," apparently Hawaii is idolized in Okinawa.
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Haisai T-shirt. "Haisai" is a "hello" greeting for men.
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Kariyushi shirts, Okinawan-style Aloha shirts. Make sure the shirt is made in Okinawa. Cheaper ones are made elsewhere in Asia.
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Kariyushi shirts, Okinawan-style Aloha shirts.
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Taiko drums for sale on Kokusai-dori.
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Sanshin for sale on Kokusai-dori.
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Okinawan dolls for sale on Kokusai-dori.
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Okinawan dolls for sale on Kokusai-dori.
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On Sundays, Kokusai-dori is closed to traffic.
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Haisai Okinawa Building on Kokusai-dori. ハイサイおきなわビル
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Haisai Okinawa Building on Kokusai-dori. ハイサイおきなわビル
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Haisai Okinawa Building on Kokusai-dori. ハイサイおきなわビル
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Haisai Okinawa Building entrance on Kokusai-dori. ハイサイおきなわビル
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Haisai Okinawa Building on Kokusai-dori. ハイサイおきなわビル
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Haisai Okinawa Building on Kokusai-dori is where the Nenes/Nenez perform at Live House Shima-uta on the 3rd floor.
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Live House Shima-uta. About 50 people can fit into the club. Entirely non-smoking. Reservations recommended.
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Famous Nenes/Nenez perform at Live House Shima-uta on most nights. Third floor of Haisai Okinawa Building on Kokusai-dori.http://livehousesimauta.com/
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Doesn't feel like I'm in Okinawa until I see and hear Okinawan music. Well-known Okinawan female quartet since the 1990s.They played their original hit songs like "Kogane no Hana" (黄金の花), Okinawan folk favorites like "Tinsagu no Hana" (てぃんさぐの花) and tracks from their latest CD.
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The show is from 7 pm to 10 pm when they play three sets (two intermissions) for a cover charge of only ¥2,300 (as of Nov. 2020). Food and drink are extra.http://livehousesimauta.com/
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The show is great with colorful costumes and singing. There's also audience participation. Not allowed to go up and dance though.
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The Nenes have been around since the 1990s, made famous when Sakamoto Ryuichi featured them in his Okinawan CDs and took them on a concert tour.
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They've lasted this long thanks to occasional personnel changes. The current members are the sixth incarnation of the group.
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In recent years, they've been spelling their name in English as "Nenez." However, the original spelling is "Nenes" which is how I still spell their name. Not to be confused with the Hawaiian goose. "Nene" means "sister" in Okinawan, equivalent to "ne-chan" in Japanese.
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From left to right, the current Nenes/Nenez are Kohama Rin (小濱凜), Yonaha Ruon (与那覇琉音), Uehara Nagisa (上原渚), and Nakazato Haruhi (仲里はるひ). ネーネーズMost are in their 20s, and two of them have grandmothers who were the original Nenes from the early 1990s. Amazing! (As of Nov. 2020.)
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Kohama Rin (小濱凜) wears a bingata kimono. 紅型 They wear different Okinawan costumes for each set. Colorful eye candy. Wish they also explained the Okinawan design of their gorgeous kimono. Crowd-pleasing entertainment.
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She plays the sanshin (三線), another icon of Okinawa. The three-stringed sanshin came to Okinawa (Ryukyu Kingdom) from China in the 16th century. It later evolved into the shamisen on mainland Japan.
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The sanshin is Okinawa's main musical instrument. What the sanshin is to Okinawa is what the ʻukulele is to Hawaii. Famous for the snakeskin (python) covered body, but cheaper sanshin might have fake snakeskin which is easier to care for.
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Still photography is allowed, but no videos.
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Rin also plays the ʻukulele as a hobby.
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Yonaha Ruon (与那覇琉音) is the youngest member and plays this Okinawan instrument called the "sanba" (三板). It's three small pieces of wood strung together to make clacking sounds. Love the sanba.
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Okinawan instrument called the "sanba" (三板). It's three small pieces of wood strung together to make clacking sounds.
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Uehara Nagisa (上原渚) is the oldest and current Nenes leader. Member since 2004.
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The sanshin is a modest instrument, used to complement the singing. Okinawan folk songs focus on the singing, not the instruments. This is opposite from the Tsugaru-jamisen (shamisen) in Aomori Prefecture which uses the showy jamisen as the main focus with long jamisen instrumentals.
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Uehara Nagisa (上原渚) plays another common Okinawan musical instrument: the finger whistle (yubi-bue 指笛).
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Nakazato Haruhi (仲里はるひ) plays many instruments, centering on the sanshin and taiko drums.
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Taiko drums is also big in Okinawan music.
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All the Nenez are very talented singers and musicians. See their YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/Q5GY1dabA2U
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The food and drinks at Live House Shima-uta are good. This is goya-chanpuru (¥700), my Okinawan favorite. You can eat during the two intermissions.
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Live House Shima-uta menu. Reasonable prices. Official website usually has a coupon for a free side dish.
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The club had their CDs on sale, but they weren't autographed.
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Pedestrain paradise on Kokusai-dori on Sunday.
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Heiwa-dori shopping arcade, a side street off Kokusai-dori.
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Heiwa-dori shopping arcade
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Rubber slippers
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Rubber slippers
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Not so many people during a pandemic.
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Okinawa Mart
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Most cheap clothing not made in Okinawa. The cheap ones especially.
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She's selling goya (bitter melon) juice. I tried it.
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Colorful fish in the old Makishi Public Market where you could pick the fish to be cooked for your meal.
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My lunch.
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Pickled vegetables.
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Ichiba-Hondori shopping arcade.
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Surprised to see Don Quijote on Kokusai-dori. One of the few shops that's not Okinawan, but I was glad to see Kokusai-dori not overrun by non-Okinawan businesses. Hopefully we'll never see Gucci, etc., here either.
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Don Quijote on Kokusai-dori in Naha, Okinawa.
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Don Quijote does have an impressive selection of Okinawan products.
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Goya chips.
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Colorful neon signs at Kokusai-dori, Naha.
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Nice Okinawan shop signs here and there on Kokusai-dori.
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Sam's Maui on Kokusai-dori, Naha.
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Naha Bus on Kokusai-dori. There are larger buses too.
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Naha Bus stop on Kokusai-dori.
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Tenbusu Naha てんぶす那覇
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Noren-gai restaurant complex on Kokusai-dori. のれん街
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Noren-gai restaurant complex.
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Noren-gai restaurant complex.
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Lots of Okinawan restaurants on Kokusai-dori.
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Rawhide on Kokusai-dori.
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Raunchy artwork and graffitti on Kokusai-dori.
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Not so many tourists in Okinawa during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Another Okinawan live house on Kokusai-dori.
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Lizard on Kokusai-dori.
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Go to Travel discounts were great in autumn 2020 in Naha, Okinawa.
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A&W restaurant's Kokusai-dori branch is at the entrance to Kokusai-dori on the 2nd floor.
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A&W restaurant (Kokusai-dori branch) is another Okinawa favorite from the US. Took only a few root beer sips to relish teenage memories. Too much sugar for me now.
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Washita Shop's Kokusai-dori branch. Well-known chain selling Okinawan products. They also have branches in Tokyo (near Yurakucho) and major cities in Japan. https://www.washita.co.jp/info/shop/ginza/
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Washita Shop sells CDs besides food and drink.
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Blue Seal ice cream, another brand associated with Okinawa.
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Beni-imo soft service ice cream cone from Blue Seal.
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Intersection in front of Kokusai-dori, looking toward Pallet Kumoji mall.
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At Pallet Kumoji mall, there was this Shuri Castle illumination monument complemented by paper lanterns. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)
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At Pallet Kumoji mall, there was this Shuri Castle illumination monument complemented by paper lanterns. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)
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Shuri Castle illumination monument was lit up in the evening until midnight from Oct. 28 to Nov 15, 2020. Many local businesses sponsored the artwork. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)
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Shuri Castle illumination monument at Pallet Kumoji in Nov. 2020. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)Lit up in the evening until midnight from Oct. 28 to Nov 15, 2020. Many local businesses sponsored the artwork.
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Shuri Castle illumination monument at Pallet Kumoji in Nov. 2020. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)
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Shuri Castle illumination monument at Pallet Kumoji in Nov. 2020. (首里城うむいの燈(あかり)モニュメント)
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Pallet Kumoji steps.
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Kencho-mae Station on the Yui Rail, the closest station to Kokusai-dori. 県庁前駅
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Kencho-mae Station on the Yui Rail, the closest station to Kokusai-dori. 県庁前駅
     
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