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Drop In: Okinawa, Pt.1

I have to survive 4 days in Japan with only 16000 Yen ($162 USD). I can do this.

One of my best friends whom I consider a brother got me into backpacking 10 years ago. And I don’t mean, ‘Let’s go to Paris and see the Louvre and roll my suitcase along the way with me.’

My first experience backpacking was in 2009. I tagged along with my aforementioned buddy, a backpacking veteran, to North Africa. There he showed me how to get by with just my shoelaces. How to become a local. I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve been pulled out at military checkpoints in West Africa by Gucci sunglasses-wearing soldiers toting AK-47 rifles. I’ve spent the weekend with a retired drug dealer/born-again Christian and his family in a Filipino fishing village.

I can do this.

Day 1

I wake up to teach the morning class at Danimal BJJ, head home to grab my things, and I’m off to the airport.

The trip from Kaohsiung, Taiwan to Okinawa, Japan isn’t bad at all. The weather is actually perfect. Not too hot, not too cold. Goldilocks.

Getting off the airplane is an experience on its own. The airport staff corrals us like cattle into imagination. The airport staff wears face masks while they guide the passengers to the health checkpoint looking for some type of flu going around. I feel like I’ve arrived at an apocalypse survivor camp.

The person in front of me is stopped, and they take her baby’s temperature. Please don’t be sick, I say to myself. The child sits in front of me on the plane.

I make it through immigration but have to stop at the office to declare goods. I’ve never had to declare anything before, and in the past, I would walk through the doors and on to my new adventure. This time I have to fill out a form and give further explanation about my trip.

“Sir, why are you here?” said the customs lady in broken English.

I told her I was here for Jiu Jitsu. She gives me a confused look, so I decide to mime out a choke and judo throw. That usually gets my point across. This time it gets my bags searched.

“You do Jiu Jitsu?” asks another customs agent.

“I do,” I say.

“I’m a blue belt,” he replies with a big smile.

Next thing I know another agent walks up and wants to hear more. This is the perfect time to give out some business cards and stickers to my new friends.

I read a book a while back called Tokyo Vice. There’s a chapter about handing out your business card in Japan, how one must show respect by using two hands and bowing. I pass my test with flying colors, even though I have nothing to smuggle in.

I say goodbye to the customs agents and see them peeling off their new stickers. Everyone loves stickers.

Okay, where’s the Monorail sign that will point me to get into the city?

Bingo. Found it.

Before I jump on the monorail into the city, I need to exchange my Taiwanese currency to Yen. All the exchange offices are closed. Unbelievable.

You may be wondering, why don’t I just use my ATM card? Well, I’m as poor as Smokey from Friday. But hey, my Jiu Jitsu isn’t that bad.

Then I notice a small machine that exchanges money. I examine my newfound toy. It reminds me of one of those token machines at Chuck E. Cheese. The process is simple. You pop in your currency, the machine recognizes it and gives you Yen. Easy.

With a wad of Yen in my pocket, I purchase a monorail ticket for 300 Yen to Naha, the capital of Okinawa. I get off at Miebashi Station and make my way to the hostel, Okinawa Guest House Kerama. The hostel reminds me of a surf/dive lodge in the city.

I see people walking in with snorkeling gear while the front desk guy jams out to some tunes with a surf video playing in the background. He gives me the low down on the hostel and shows me to my new home for the next few days. 4,192 Yen for three nights in a wooden capsule bedroom.

I notice a guy throwing kicks during my tour and ask him if he trains. He says he trains MMA, so I tell him my background. I try my best to communicate with him. A kickboxing traveler named Ariel from Argentina helps me out. Soon, all three of us are wrapped up in conversation about training.

Both men tell me I must go to The Paraestra Okinawa if I am looking to train Jiu Jitsu. Turns out that's the gym I came here for. I’m stoked. I drop my things and search for something to eat.

When you’re ballin’ on a budget, you use the excuse to break into a ‘fast’ so you don’t feel bad about starving yourself for 12 hours.

My plan is to only eat light fruit and vegetables during the day and gorge at night before bed. The Warrior Diet. Another good thing about Japan is you can drink the tap water. This saves me a lot. So for a bag of fruit and veggies and three sugar-free cans of black coffee, the price comes out around 500 Yen for four days. The rest of my food funds will go to eating one big budget dinner in the evening.

I stumble upon a hole-in-the-wall ramen shop not far from my hostel. I put 800 Yen into a machine for a bowl of ramen and meat. The machine prints a receipt to hand to the cooks, and they whip up your meal. Quick and easy. Japan with yet another win.

I return to the hostel and ask for walking directions to the gym.

“It’s far,” the jammin surfer desk clerk tells me.

“…How far?” I ask.

“About an hour or so.”

The gym hadn’t responded to my message prior to leaving Taiwan, so I wasn’t sure of my proximity bedforehand. I decided to go anyway and say Kon’nichiwa. Time to stretch out the ole Daddy Long Legs.

The gym is not easy to find. I feel like I’m in Naha for days during my walk. My phone loses Wi-Fi. Once I find a new hot spot, I’m miles away from the gym. I feel like a mouse in a maze in this unique Japanese neighborhood.

After a few turns and glares from local cats, I find the gym. I’m like a little kid who finally finds his parents after being lost in Wal-Mart for several hours.

The gym is on the corner of a busy road, and the class is full for students training striking. Luckily the class hasn’t started, so I have a minute to speak with head instructor Matsune Ryota. He’s thrilled GrapplerMag came to his gym.

We exchange business cards and stickers, and he introduces me to Nakasone Musashi, who would teach tomorrow’s Nogi class. Matsune-san wouldn’t be there tomorrow, as he teaches at another gym on Wednesdays, but he would be there Thursday to teach the gi class.

We bow, say goodbye to each other, and I make my way back to my hostel. Of course, I make it back in half the time.