On New Year’s Day I flew from Narita to Honolulu where I was to meet my brother for a ten day vacation on Oahu and the Big Island. Imagine my surprise when, on exiting the terminal and looking for my brother, the first thing I saw was a mass of media guys with mikes and cameras chasing one of Japan’s most famous comic raconteurs cum terebi talento (TV personality), Shofukutei Tsurubei.
Shofukutei Tsurube was by far the most famous Japanese person I saw during my ten days on those rugged and majestic islands, but he was not the last! The streets of Waikiki, while not exactly awash with Japanese tourists, had a strong Japanese presence nevertheless. Certain streets of Waikiki toward the western end were almost devoted to Japanese tourism with buildings bearing nothing but Japanese signs, and luxury fashion boutiques that looked as if they’d been imported as is from madding Ginza. To enter one was to compound the illusion, as almost all the customers were Japanese, making anyone else, especially, perhaps, local Hawaiians, feel like the foreigners.
Waikiki Beach, however, although crowded with bodies of all shapes, sizes (and I mean SIZES!) and colors was conspicuously lacking in Japanese. Where were they? Off on tours of their own, I guess.
The highlight of my stay happened on the Big Island when I went to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and taking the Chain of Craters Road and then a two-and-a-half hour tramp over a treacherously craggy volcanic landscape to see lava flowing into the sea.
Soon into the hike I saw what was left of the end of the Chain of Craters Road by a 2003 lava flow which deluged the now undrivable part of it: a lone ‘No Parking’ sign poking up tragicomically from amongst the tortured shiny gray-brown sculpture that is dried lava.
From almost two kilometers away you could already feel the immense heat and see the clouds of steam roiling into the air as the molten rock hit the ocean. Closer up the lava itself was clearly visible once the sun went down, and the fury of the literally boiling ocean as the burning gobs of liquid rock dropped into it was something to behold (see photo below). Twice I experienced a sharp but brief sting in my eyes from tiny wind-borne drops of acid created by the chemical reaction. It was an encounter with greatness that, while perhaps not as newsworthy as encounters with famous people, left every bit as deep and lasting an impression.
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Friday, January 12, 2007