Just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a travel destination by its pictures. I’ve been to places where the photos are prettier than the location, but Okinawa is the opposite – just when you think the island is just about the beaches and the sea (like Kenting), Okinawa provides a lot more than water activities and tanning.
Even though American military (navy) is based on this island, don’t think that you can speak English anywhere. In fact, treat it as if you were at anywhere else in Japan – they couldn’t speak English most of the time! Body and hand signals are vital if you don’t know how to speak Japanese!
Okinawa itself has many other islands that you have to take a plane to get there, and the island itself is big enough that there are so many things to do. We went for a four day trip (technically 2 days since 2 other days were departing and arriving) so we were crammed in schedule. I think about 5-7 days in Okinawa would be enough.
Anyway, so when I mean Okinawa is the opposite at the beginning, what I meant is that I had little expectations about this place, all I had were assumptions. But guess what! Okinawa is actually very city-ish, much like all the other Japanese cities (ex. Tokyo that’s a metropolis).
Oh, and the one bad thing is that its food doesn’t compare to that of other Japanese cities… there is basically a restaurant advertising about eating all you can eat pork every minute of your drive, it’s insane. I expected to eat sashimi and sushi but actually none of these restaurants are known for that, they are all known for their agu non-fat pork.
We bought Peach airline tickets; it’s a Japan budget airline. I’m used to budget airlines by now (thanks to HK Express), but I heard many good things about Peach airline. Just like any other budget airlines, you have to pay for any luggage that needs to be checked in and meals (ok and ok, don’t worry you don’t have to pay for bathroom use) and I’m easy to satisfy as long as the airplane isn’t too bad and I make it there alive. And Peach airlines’ seats are OK as well, not too squishy. No complaints. Although they don’t provide the best times and it’s a bit more expensive than usual (although we went during one of Hong Kong’s public holidays, but the hour we arrived was 6pm and the departure flight was 1:15pm).
It is highly, highly recommended that you rent a car there for all your days there. Yes that means have someone in your group that knows how to drive and make sure the driver remembers the international driver’s license! My airbnb host told me of a story of a person who was here for a week that had a difficult time getting around because he forgot his international’s driver license… don’t be that guy!
Also, make sure that you double check in your e-mail that you are absolutely confirmed that your car is booked. I used rentalcars.com and it even gave me a booking complete page and a booking reference number saying I was good to go, only to realize that my credit card had problems when I arrived at the Times Rental and they ran out of cars to book on the spot! Panic.
Good thing we booked airbnb, because our host was absolutely fantastic! Times told us to go to Toyota, who they called and said they had one huge car left. I’m not the best driver… (secret) so I preferred not having a huge car (one of those 8 seater cars). Luckily, my host was amazing and managed to find another car with HIS that was a Toyota Vitz.
Roads are very easy to drive, but you absolutely need to remember to write down the telephone numbers of all the places you want to go to, including the accommodation you are staying at! If it’s residential, look for a business number closest to the area. Because the GPS will be in Japanese, the only way you can use the GPS is if you know Japanese or if you input the phone number. Remember you can ignore the +81 and use 0, like you are dialing locally.
So the host, Tats, owns a couple of places in Okinawa and we managed to book this one. He personally went to pick us up from the airport to drive us to the car rental place (and even helped us when we had car rental problems as mentioned earlier). Every review mentioned the host was exceptionally friendly and nice, and I concur with that. It’s located near Naha, so quite close by the airport. Stayed there for the 3 nights that we were here. There were ice popsicles and other foods provided. Towels were provided. Very good price. Very responsive and always there to help you. Great!
So arrived, waited a bit before going through the immigration department, and then got picked up by the host. By the way since we were on budget airline, we were at the LCC terminal, and we had to take a bus to transfer to the main airport (domestic) at bus stop no. 4.
Like said, because of car rental issues, we really didn’t have much time like we finished getting everything set up and ready to go by 8ish pm.
So the only thing that was possibly open and close by was the Kokusai Street, which is dubbed the souvenir street. Actually, the stores there sold really interesting stuff, like there were spices and flavors that you would only find in Okinawa that wouldn’t find in other parts of Japan either. They also had glassware, lots of Okinawan snacks, t-shirts, just basically interesting stuff in general.
The goal is always to wake up early. But that’s not how 94.8% (statistic made up) of us work… so what happened to waking up at 8am turned out to be much later, about 9:30am. So since we didn’t eat breakfast, and our mission today was exploring around the area around Nago, we wanted to stop by the famous Ufuya, 100 year old restaurant. I was panicking when I was going there… the restaurant opens at 11am, and I was told that you had to reserve in order to have a seat there. I was hoping it wasn’t true since only in Hong Kong do you have to book (or major restaurants in major cities), other than that I thought you could probably walk in. And according to Google Maps, it will take us 1.5 hours to reach there. We were already late, leaving at about 9:45am.
And of course, since I’m not the best at looking at GPS (although I blame the GPS, they are always slow to respond and it’s not most clear as to when I turn right when there are two right turns next to each other etc. and I sometimes doubt whether I should be taking an unpaved route) so by the time we got there, it was 11:30am. Parked my car, pray, pray, pray… cheah.
Turns out, I was right… no reservations were required. Walked in, immediately got a table at the top of the restaurant. Beautiful scenery! However, the expectations of the food was very high, and actually the food turned out to be ordinary, so the restaurant turned out to be more of a let down than the hype we gave it.
Entrance to Ufuya
After finished, I then typed in the number I wrote down on my itinerary to direct us to a shop in Sesoko Island, to the west of Nago. To my unamused frustration, the GPS could only take us “nearby”, which sure was heading in the right direction, but it was still 10-15 minutes away from the location. And of course, being all the directional signs were in Japanese, I had to make some stops to ask people. Stops because once again, no one spoke English, and being lost in translation made everything frustrating. Luckily, one of the Family Mart people had a map to guide us the directions in how to get there, and it was easy enough for me to not get lost.
We crossed this beautiful bridge to get to Sesoko Island (only way to get there), like it was one of a kind view. You get panoramic views since nothing was blocking the views around the bridge, you’re just suspended above water, so it’s perfect. On the island, we drove around and happened to chance upon a beach. Expensive, not sure if we got ripped off, but we wanted to be on the beach for 1.5 hours only, but we had to pay for a day of parking regardless. Once again, unable to debate due to communication barriers and since we were on vacation, we accepted defeat and parked to enjoy a short time at the beach. It was worth it though, since the water is super clean.
We then had to go because since we were at Nago, we were already at the north of Okinawa and it didn’t make sense for us to drive back here the next day to go to the Aquarium.
So another 15-20 minutes or so and we arrived at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. OK, so it claims to be the world’s largest aquarium by area… but this “claim” is very dubious because the actual aquarium itself isn’t very big… it’s like as big as the one we have in Ocean Park. But they do have lots of land, lots of greenery and grass, that encompasses other sectors besides the aquarium like you can see flora and fauna and butterflies, but yeah the point is that the Aquarium isn’t gigantic.
Some information from their brochure – “Nurtured by the ‘Kuroshio’ (Black Current), the Okinawan seas are home to a countless of marine creatures whose ecology is beyond your wildest imagination. The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is a world-class facility where you can experience the splendor and mystery of the sea as if you yourself were diving down into its cobalt-blue depths”
Also from brochure – approx. 10,000 metre square floor space of area, 77 tanks, 4 floors
I’ll give credit to the aquarium in that the sea animals there are exotic and different from the ones we usually see at other aquariums.
It’s like EDC colors.
We were in a rush prior to the aquarium because we thought that the aquarium would close at 5pm, and it was already 3ish pm. But actually turns out 5pm was last entry, not closing time. Regardless, it took only 1 hour to walk the aquarium, maybe even less.
What’s interesting about the aquarium was also that it taught you some water species that can prove dangerous to you and what the best course of action would be if you happen to be attacked by them.
Again, since we were at the top of Okinawa, we decided to drive east to see the Nakijin Castle Remains. We actually managed to make it in time to buy the tickets to go inside, but we opted not to since probably there wouldn’t be much to see but just like the ruins outside. Has anyone been inside before, and did we miss out on something?
On the way back to Naha, we wanted to try something local and stopped by this random restaurant along the way back. We didn’t eat much, since we were saving quota for other meals.
Just before we got on the freeway back to Naha, we actually stumbled upon a local fair / festival that was happening. Being piggies we are, we immediately turned and parked our car and decided to find out what was happening.
So it turns out they were celebrating the Yanbaru Industry Fair
So you would think that we would have called this a day by now right? We just had two meals, you can see from the pictures that the sky has turned dark, and what else could be open right?
Because of our compressed schedule, we went to visit the Mihama American Village since it was “kind of” along the way back.
So like said, there are some Americans in Okinawa since they work for the military (navy). Even the radio we were listening to that was in English, they had American pop music, talks about Hillary vs. Trump, and a lot of talk about marine life, like how to settle into a normal life after being a marine and stuff like that.
Before we go too off topic, so yeah there were young, muscular Americans around the American Village. It reminded me of some areas when I was in Los Angeles as well, complexes with shops in English with American stuff. OK so we shopped a bit and walked around a bit and explored a bit.
And finally, we decided to go home…
We ate again.
We parked our car back at our accommodation before we walked to the takoyaki place. Actually, we weren’t here for takoyaki. We wanted to eat late night snack and DRINK, like drink alcohol. So we found an izakaya.
And we drank some sake actually. YES, and that is all we had for this day. Result? +10 pounds.
You would think the next day we would have a major food coma from all the food we ate yesterday… and we would have… until we got a call at like 7:30am in the morning that natural blue had an opening at 9am for us to go scuba diving. And apparently they were one of the only ones that provided English and / or Chinese lessons.
So we drove to the Blue Cave (close to Cape Maeda) by leaving at 7:45am (we were super groggy) and we managed to get there even before 9am.
Blue Cave is supposed to be a touristy place where everyone goes here to snorkel or scuba dive. Luckily for us, since we were here in Okinawa in October, which I guess wasn’t peak season, it wasn’t as crowded as people said it would be.
This was our first time scuba diving, and putting on the scuba diving uniform was a bit tricky since it covered you from bottom to top and to zip the back requires an assistance of someone else, unless you’re really flexible. And it didn’t feel very comfortable too. By the way, October was still a good time to go, the weather wasn’t cool at all, in fact it was still a bit warm/hot.
So we learned three exercises to scuba dive, like breathing with only our mouth slowly, how to clear the goggles by squeezing nose and looking up, and getting the pressure out of ears by squeezing nose, pinch nose, and blowing it out through nose.
Anyway, I was a bit nervous as I heard of many bad stories of scuba diving that have gone wrong, although I kept reminding myself everyone has done this so this scuba diving probably wouldn’t be too deep and it would be very beginner’s level.
And actually scuba diving was really, really fun. You get to be really up close with all the sea marine animals.
Up close and personal. We didn’t take the pictures, our instructor took a lot of photos of us. By the way, the instructor was very professional. And if you didn’t feel safe, you would just hold onto her arm while she guided you and also made you elevate or help lower you.
By the way, the photos are included with the price you paid, the instructor will share a dropbox link with you through your e-mail and there will be like 60ish photos for you, depending on your instructor. Also before you embark on your journey, you would have to sign this waiver and liability form so that if anything happens to you, you can’t claim damage to them (this is normal for all extreme sports).
After this incredible experience, we were hungry! However since we were in such a rush in the morning, I forgot to bring the sheet that had the telephone numbers with the places I wanted to go to. Luckily, I happened to stumble upon the Renaissance Okinawa Resort by chance, so beautiful, and so I went in, got the wifi, and got all the phone numbers I needed. Before actually stumbling upon this resort however, I was trying to talk with this taxi driver for the longest time, for like 10 mins, asking him about the telephone number for the Makishi Public Fish Market, and asking if I could use his internet really fast to no avail.
Anyway no problem, we managed to get to Makishi Public Market, but once again I thought it would be as big as Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, but it was actually like a 1000 sq ft area with one restaurant serving lunch sets then they were selling packaged sashimi and marketplace stuff.
Finally we get to do some exercise after all this eating. We visited the Aeon Rycom shopping mall, that was opened in Spring 2015, right after eating.
One of the most famous attractions in Okinawa is the Shujiro Castle. Once again, we managed to barely make it in time for last entrance, but since we believed that the castle probably is just like other castles and probably isn’t worth the money, we just looked from the outside and took some “secret” routes and got some really nice pictures.
We wanted to check out one more beach in Okinawa. Yes I know it’s night, but whatever right? So we drove to Mibaru Beach. Going there, everything was dark, since who goes to the beach at night right, like it was super sketchy going there when it’s like pitch blackness. It was super fun (not gonna say why) while at the beach. There was also a Nepalese restaurant there, and we ordered some desserts.
We wanted our last meal to be special, so we searched for a restaurant that was supposed to be high in ratings. Guess where it took us? Back to Kokusai Street. We didn’t end up eating at the restaurant we wanted to eat, we explored the neighbor alleyways to see what else was there. We ended up at an authentic Japanese skewer Izakaya where the menu only had Japanese so I had to do a lot of body languages. I pointed at my intestines, and crossed my arms to say I didn’t want it. I pointed at my heart and crossed my arms for that. I pointed at my brain and crossed my arms for that. I was trying to tell the waitresses I didn’t eat organs and stuff like that. Guess what the order came out to be…
Finally, returned car, got bus to LLC terminal, checked in, went to international terminal for our actual last last meal.
And that’s it! What excites you most about Okinawa? Where else should I have gone in Okinawa? What makes you most curious about Okinawa?
Last Updated: 15 March, 2017