Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Geocaching in Okinawa

Since I've been asked more than a couple of questions about the differences between Geocaching here in Okinawa, and caching in the states, I thought I would cover them all in one post. Well, I'll cover as many as I can think of. The interesting part is that many of these topics of discussion apply to every day life as well.

Navigating to the cache site: Getting to the cache site here is a little different, in that there are no names for the overwhelming majority of the streets and roads. The major highways and roads are numbered, but that does no good once you get off of the main arteries. My GPS will not tell me to turn "left on Main Street," but simply, "left on road." Which road? Giving someone directions to a certain location can be interesting as well. We've learned to use various landmarks as navigational aids. My GPS would make driving much simpler if it would tell me to turn "left at the big cartoon rabbit store."

Local drivers: The common stereotype about Asian drivers is something that I tried to keep an open mind about when I first got here. I've given up on that. What truly amazes me is how much money, time, and effort the Okinawans put into learning how to drive (or trying to). You would think that they'd be really good at it. You would be mistaken. Okinawan drivers represent a real hazard when trying to get to the next cache (or anywhere, for that matter). They seem to be oblivious to other vehicles on the road. They will often stop in the middle of the road to talk on their cell phones, pull out in front of oncoming vehicles, drive down the middle of a two lane road, and drive at about half the posted speed limit. Don't ever try to get anywhere in a hurry here; it's just not going to happen.

Cache containers: Okinawa is a tropical island, and the climate is quite different than most areas within the United States. The extremely high humidity causes metal containers to corrode very quickly here. Geocachers still use ammo cans, but the cans require more than one coat of high quality paint in order to protect them from the elements. Even with meticulous preparation, ammo cans don't last very long here. Rubbermaid and Lock-n-Lock containers seem to be a big hit, since they don't rust.

Muggles: The public here, or muggles, are very polite. The locals will typically do their best to ignore me, all the while taking careful note of my actions. They're only pretending to ignore me. Like most of Japan, Okinawa is a very densely populated space. There are rural areas, but they are not as large as you would find in the states. It would seem that the northern half of the island has more rural areas than the southern half, but that's relative. You don't have to travel very far at all to run across people here, even in the jungle terrain.

Language: Language differences here are, of course, an obstacle. The written language presents an even greater problem. The sheer number of characters that the Japanese use makes it very difficult to learn a useful amount of it. Many adults live their entire lives without learning all of the characters. If I find myself in need of something while out and about, it's very difficult to find it, unless I see a store logo that I happen to recognize. Convenience stores are numerous, but hardware stores and specialty shops are well beyond my ability to recognize (with a few exceptions). Many of the locals speak a little bit of English, but asking for directions is an exercise in frustration. The locals want to be helpful, but they usually lack the ability to do so.

Transfers: With the majority of American personnel here being military, or civilian contractors in support of military operations, there is a high turnover of personnel. The typical Geocacher is only here for three years (or less). This means that many a cache needs to be removed on a regular basis. Moving to a new part of the world and leaving a Geocache behind is about the same as littering. The obvious solution is to have someone else take care of it, or adopt it. This is always an option, but many caches end up being archived, or made inactive when the owner picks it up and takes it with them. Most cachers here on Okinawa are American, and the very few Okinawan cachers don't interact with us very much.

Trackables: In comparison to the states, caches here seem to have far more coins and other trackables in them. Most of the caches here have coins in them. Most of the cachers here have said that coins tend to disappear less here as well. I've done a few searches by zip code for locations in the states, and was surprised at how few the trackables were. It wasn't just the number of micros, or tiny caches, either; there just weren't very many coins or travel bugs out there. That's a bit disappointing. I guess I'm spoiled in that regard. I like to find them, since most of them are real works of art. Perhaps the sheer number of caches in the states will make up for the sparse trackables.

Equipment: Equipment is the same here, since it's all bought in the U.S. anyway. What is different is the maps for GPS receivers. There only seems to be one reliable Japanese map, but it does enable auto-routing (turn by turn navigation). It just gives strange directions, as mentioned above. Many of the nooks and crannies here have critters living in them. Many of those critters bite or poke, and quite a few are venomous. Gloves are a plus. In addition to the critters, most of the rock formations here are actually coral. That stuff is sharp, so climbing it will do a number on your hands if you don't wear gloves.

Well, that's enough for now. I'm sure I'll think of more differences later, but this post is getting pretty long-winded.


Geocaching Online said...

Very, very interesting! Seems like quite the challenge! Of particular note was the part about the ammo boxs corroding quickly and the muggles (They're only pretending to ignore me) :). Looking forward to hearing more about this in future posts. Thanks for sharing.

okinawa said...

Are you a photographer also? This is EXCELLENT information.

Just John said...

Hello John. No; I'm not a photographer. I simply enjoy taking photos, and like to show friends and family back home a little bit of what it's like here. Thanks for stopping by!

P.J. said...

Very interesting reading. Always kind of cool to see how others get around caching in other places. Good info.

Gawfer said...

"Local drivers:"

From personal experience: the quickest way to blind an Okinawan is to put a windshield in front of their face...

And no, it is not necessarily safe to walk on the sidewalks.

Just John said...

Looks like some things never change Gawfer...still gotta keep your eyes open for those rogue mini cars passing stopped traffic on the sidewalks!

Anonymous said...

1- got your tb out tonight.
2- it's been very different, caching here in the U.S. It seems like everything's much easier to find than it was in Oki. Maybe my GPS is just a little more accurate, I dunno.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

Just John said...

Thanks Chris! Glad you made it to the states in one piece. I'm guessing that the caches are a little easier to find there because the vegetation in 29 Palms is just a LITTLE less dense than here. LOL