Before I moved to Japan, I didn’t travel outside of the contiguous United States. A lot of people I meet in Japan are surprised by this, like it’s totally normal to have enough money to make international trips all the time and going on vacations to Hawaii.
True, I lived practically next to the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s gone out of style to spend Spring Break in Tijuana these days.
(Haha, no it’s not, but it’s more dangerous now than it once was, and I don’t know anyone who did go there for any break.)
So it was a huge treat for me to be able to visit the lovely tropical island of Okinawa!
As it was the most convenient time for us, my friends and I went to Okinawa in late July, immediately after the spring semester of school ended. I’ve read elsewhere that mid-May or earlier in Spring is the ideal time of year to visit Okinawa, though some sources just recommend summer anyway, probably because it’s tourist season and that’s when everything is open.
But late-July was fine for us! We just missed typhoon season (which starts in August, I think), and it was sunny every day. It was unbearably hot and humid. At one point, we spent an entire day outside and it was a torturous day. When we got back to the car, the car’s temperature system said it was 42°C (107°F)! Luckily that was a mistake—the car was just hot as hell because the shade had moved.
The general temperature was around 30° to 32°C (typical) and the humidity was almost constantly 100%. But you’re gonna get that no matter where you go in Japan during the summer.
I highly recommend sunscreen, no matter what season you visit during. I put on sunscreen constantly and got some color, but my friend forgot hers and never put any on—and she paid for it.
Before you go to Okinawa, you’re gonna need a few things.
One of the most important things you’ll need is a car. I cannot stress enough the importance of renting some form of transportation.
Public transportation is practically nonexistent in Okinawa. There are a few buses, but they’re inconvenient at best. My friend took a trip to Okinawa a year before I did, and none of her travel companions could drive, so they had to hoof it or take confusing and slow buses.
With her warning, my two friends and I rented a car and split the cost between us. It was convenient and inexpensive, and there are tons of rental places near the airport to rent from. They even have free shuttles from the airport to the various rental places, so there’s no reason not to rent a car (unless, of course, you can’t drive in Japan).
We booked our flight, car, and hotel through Rakuten and used ABC Rent A Car, and it was nice enough. We stayed at Rakuchin, a small hotel in Naha, and that was nice, too, and close to the airport and within walking distance of this International Boulevard that had some neat shops and restaurants.
Quick tip: Don’t drive down that street. Just don’t. It’s not worth it.
There is so much to see in Okinawa, but we only had 5 days to see it all. We sat down together a few days before the trip to map out our days, and here is what we finally decided on.
Friday, July 25: Shuri Castle & the Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum
We flew in the afternoon before and spent the evening mostly in our hotel, though we did walk around the area a little.
The next morning, we got up and drove over to Shuri Castle. Parking was a bit of a hassle (it was pretty crowded, even early in the day), but we eventually found a spot in front of a restaurant, which apparently accepted parking for the castle park. We may or may not have had to pay 500 yen; I don’t remember.
Shuri Castle was really cool. The castles in Okinawa are from the Ryukyu kingdom and have architectural influences from China and Japan.
Next was the Prefectural Art Museum, because I can’t resist a good art museum.
In the afternoon, we walked from our hotel to a nearby beach, and I got to experience the clear blue waters of Okinawa for the first time.
There aren’t many natural beaches on the main island, but we had plans for that later.
Saturday, July 26: Nakagusuku Castle Ruins & the Southeast Botanical Gardens & the Tomigusuku Festival
I love visiting ruins, so this was a must-see for me. And totally worth it, if only because of the enormous grass lawn, which I spent a good half hour just running around and doing cartwheels and admiring it.
Once we got inside the ruins to explore, it was gorgeous. I think this is my favorite place that we visited, actually.
After that, we continued our day outside at the Southeast Botanical Gardens. They were gorgeous, but it was hot as hell outside and omg why did we spend a whole day outside?
Oh yeah… Because of this.
And more importantly, because of this.
That night, there was a music festival going on near the airport, so we parked in a very crowded parking lot (and thus had to spend a good hour afterwards trying to leave), and wandered around the festival grounds and listened to Japanese pop. It was actually really fun, and the groups were interesting. One of the girl groups just had a shtick—hella gymnastics. Daichi Miura was there, and he is apparently really famous and from Okinawa, so it was fun to see him perform in his home prefecture.
Sunday, July 27: Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium & Nago Pineapple Park
The Aquarium was amazing, but then I also love aquariums. This one is one of the largest in the world, and it has whale sharks.
Nago Pineapple Park was actually really hokey and probably more of a young-kids family thing. It was 600 yen to get in, and then we took a tour on this automatic cart that rolled around on this track and explained what pineapples were. It was… weird. And the park’s theme song was an incredibly irritating earworm. I don’t actually know that I would recommend this place, if it weren’t for all the pineapple merch you could get at the gift store afterwards. And the impromptu pineapple wine tasting.
Monday, July 28: Zamami Island
Since the main island does not have any nice beaches for snorkeling, my friend recommended Zamami Island. You can take a ferry out to the island and then walk a short distance to a beach.
It was awesome!
As I was too busy having fun snorkeling in the beautiful, clear water, I did not take many pictures. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself.
Snorkeling at Zamami Island is pretty simple. There are a bunch of food and rental stands at the top of the beach, and you can rent your snorkeling gear (face mask and flippers) for 500 yen and go off by yourself and swim around the nearby reef.
OR you could just save the 5 bucks and bring your own swim goggles. (I forgot mine. Oops.)
As a strong swimmer, I didn’t rent the flippers, and the face mask by itself was a lot cheaper. The reef was pretty close to the beach, but there were no waves anyway, so you can swim out really far! There were a lot of fish, and you can just swim along them… It was an ocean-enthusiast’s dream. I loved it.
At one point, I started to swim up to this big anemone (about the size of my hand), but as I got close, a whole group of fish got all up in my face. Like, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEAR OUR ANEMONE GET OUT HUMAN!” It was really sweet.
Unfortunately, since it’s such a popular tourist spot, a lot of the coral was dead and white, because PEOPLE KEPT TOUCHING IT. It took all of the self-control I had not to swim up to some people and kick them in the face, the way they were touching and stepping on all the coral.
Regardless, it was beautiful and fun and I wish, I wish, I was a fish.
While we were on the island, we got a SURPRISE STORM. While I was snorkeling, it very suddenly began to rain heavily. It only lasted for 10 minutes, but that was enough to soak everything. Luckily, we rented a beach umbrella, and thus managed to keep our stuff dry. It was pretty hilarious, though.
Tuesday, July 29: Omiyage shopping & the flight home
And thus ended my adventure in Okinawa. We went shopping for souvenirs on Monday night, actually, because we were afraid we wouldn’t have time on our last day, with having to check out of our hotel, return the rental car, and catch our early afternoon flight. We did have time to stop for lunch, though! We had pineapple curry near the rental car place. It was a nice, relaxing ending to the trip.
The food in Okinawa was delicious. We tried umibudo (sea grapes) as an appetizer, which was a pleasant surprise, and I wish I could get it in my area.
My first dinner was soki soba, which is soba noodles with boneless pork ribs.
We went to a restaurant across the street from our hotel, and we ended up going there twice in our trip because it was so convenient and good. The second time we went, I got goya champuru. Champuru is an Okinawan dish. Champuru means “to mix,” and goya is a bitter melon. I wanted to try it, but it turned out to be one of those dishes that I can only eat so much of before I got sick of it. Better to share, I think, with others.
Up north, near the U.S. military base, there is a lot of international food. We found REAL California-Mexican food, and the Indian food was actually spicy. The waitress warned us… but we didn’t listen…
Heed the waitress’s warning, you guys.
And of course I had taco rice, which is an Okinawan invention. I can get it in Tokyo, though, so I didn’t take pictures, but rest assured, it was awesome.
The best place to go for souvenirs is, of course, Kokusai-dori (International Boulevard).
There are tons of souvenirs shops and restaurants to check out, so spend a few hours walking the street! It reminded me a bit of some special areas in Los Angeles. (Actually, much of Okinawa reminded me of California, especially during the drives. It was obviously more tropical, though.)
Here are some must-get souvenirs, because they are delicious:
Chinsukou cookies. They are salty and sweet and so delicious.
These sweet potato tarts. They are purple and I love sweet potato, so it was almost impossible to resist.
My coworker requested that I bring these back for him, so I did, but… Like. What.
They’re dried pig’s ears. I don’t understand.
Then there are these sweet Okinawan donuts that I highly recommend called andagi.
And then, of course, you can’t forget the snake juice!
And all the pineapple stuff you can get.
Why the hell NOT? Were you even paying attention?
|Rakuten flight, hotel, and rental car||64300|
|bus ticket to Haneda airport||2250|
|rental car insurance fee||1080|
|ferry tickets (round trip)||4030|
|Okinawa Art Museum||1050|
|Nakagusuku Castle Ruins||400|
|Southeast Botanical Garden entrance ticket||1500|
|Nago Pineapple Park entrance ticket||600|
|Nago Pineapple Park souvenirs||1728|
|souvenirs (furikake and donuts)||2430|
|Pineapple House lunch||1540|
|gas for rental car||1027|
In other news: Where Have You Been?
You, er, might have noticed that this is a rather late blog post. I was going to start video blogging for my third year, starting with this Okinawa trip, but I couldn’t get my shit together, so I have a lot of videos just sitting around, waiting to be edited with a program that I don’t have.
So that’s why it took me so long to write about Okinawa. Sorry!