Two stops on Naha's monorail from the tourist trinket shops of Kokusai-dori lies Sakaemachi, a tightly packed warren of tiny stalls and drinking dens. For outsiders like 40-year-old Byron Fija, it takes a measure of confidence to venture to this part of Okinawa, but as he passes the open-air tables of hard men sharing bottles of awamori spirits, they raise their glasses and greet him like a long lost friend.

When he enters a small restaurant, the owner's welcome is just as warm, while the young waitress blushes and scuttles behind the counter from where she steals star-struck glances for the rest of the evening.

It's not the kind of reaction you would expect for a language teacher. It's more befitting a rock singer — which, if life had gone according to plan, is exactly what Fija would have become.