As an American, it is assumed we have been to all 50 states, or at least the most important ones.  And to our Japanese friends, the most important ones are Hawaii, California, New York (City only) and D.C. Angela and I had never been to Hawaii, a fact that confused our host nation friends, as Hawaii is almost a Japanese province.  A perk of my job is travel, so when I had to go to a conference on Oahu, Angela decided to tag along.  Flying a flight full of Japanese people, and seeing signs in the Honolulu Airport all in Japanese, it took a while to feel like we had actually left Japan.  Our hotel for the weekend before Angela left was on the strip in Waikiki, with an awesome view of Diamond Head Crater and the Pacific.  We spent a great weekend relaxing in the sun, eating American food, and touring a beautiful island.

Our first day involved napping and catching a picturesque sunset over the Pacific from the beach.  We have missed our daily beach sunsets from San Diego and relished this one.  The highlight of the day was dinner, enjoying fresh seafood under tiki torches on the Waikiki beach.  We also discovered the Honolulu Cookie Company outlet stores, with free samples until 10pm.  Delicious!

Our second day we were adventuresome and climbed another volcano. This time, Diamond Head was much kinder to us than Mount Fuji.  A fairly simple hike from the beach gave us beautiful views of Honolulu and the windward side of the island.  Much of the view reminded us of Point Loma in San Diego, with sail boats on the horizon and a tiny lighthouse far below.  We hiked to a coffee house on the way back to use wifi (we were lost without our iPhones!) and set up dinner plans with Japanese friends who had joined thousands from the home islands to visit during Spring Break. We had a great dinner and enjoyed the American waiter working for a tip (in Japan waiters leave diners alone and NO tipping is the norm; there is usually a button on the table to push when you need something so having someone come by just to check on us was different).  We walked the beach on a moonlit Waikiki night and went to bed early.

Our final day together in Paradise was a busy one.  Waking up before 5am, we had booked an Island tour with stops at multiple locations. We were picked up at the hotel by a local guide and together with a small group of 6 we had a fantastic day.  Our first stop was the Pearl Harbor Memorial.  A new visitor center has recently opened and had good displays to look at and read while we waited for a ferry over to the Arizona Memorial.  Going through the memorial was somber and beautiful, and interesting from a viewpoint of living in Japan and getting to know the other side of the Pacific War.

Oil is still leaking slowly from the Arizona, and surviving crew members are still laid to rest there today.  After the memorial we drove north on the H3 (there are three interstates on the tiny island) and learned all sorts of facts on the way to the DOLE Plantation.  While driving by the middle lock of Pearl Harbor I saw my first command, the USS TARAWA sitting in moth ball state waiting to be recalled to serve or sold for scrap.

A brief stop at the DOLE Plantation allowed us to indulge in delicious pineapple ice-cream, and see acres of pineapples being grown.  Our next stop was the birthplace of surfing, the famous North Shore.  We stopped for a while and watched surfers try to catch waves on the famous Pipeline.  We stopped for lunch to eat some delicious farm raised shrimp.  After sugar plantations shut down, the state tried many indigenous industries for native Hawaiians to work on, and one was raising shrimp in flooded fields.  Part of the industry stuck, and we experienced the best shrimp we have had since visiting the Gulf States.

Another local favorite, the Macadamia Nut and Kona Coffee, were exhibited to us by the friend of our tour guide (whose grandfather had immigrated to Hawaii from Portugal to work in the sugar fields) at a roadside hut, and were delicious.  Driving around the island, we came to the windward side, which is less populated and more beautiful.  The water and beaches were breathtaking and mountains green and cliff like.  We passed a famous ranch where movies like Jurassic Park were filmed and part of LOST was set as well.  Before ending the tour back at Waikiki we drove up to a tall mountain pass and viewed Kaneohe Bay to view the spot King Kamehaha had pushed his enemies off a cliff to unite the islands (just before Europeans stopped by…).  A great tour that left us exhausted.

The next day we checked out, got Angela to the airport and I headed to a military base.  The short stay was what we needed to escape the last gasps of a Tokyo winter and enjoyed the warm weather.  Though it was nice to be in America again, the island feels very foreign, and we heard more Japanese spoken than anything else!