The sort of thing that comes to my mind, when one mentions Okinawa is definitely that of super blue ocean, gorgeous beaches, ultra expensive luxury resorts, basically like Maldives with a Japanese flavour to it. However, unlike Maldives, it does have four seasons, and being in December, it is cold enough to rule out hanging by the beaches in our budgie smugglers or bikinis sun tanning away. Okinawa was also a late addition to our itinerary, and was meant to be a discovery trip to get a feel of what Okinawa had to offer. We will have to come back here again for what I assume most come here for.. i.e. summer beaches in fancier resorts in one of the outer islands. We settled with Naha (the capital of Okinawa) and will just be on the main island to see/feel what it’s all about for our first trip! Besides, it was only a short 2 hours flight from Taiwan and there were plenty of cheap flights to get us here, so we went for it!
One thing that did catch us by surprise was the so called “LCC terminal” of Okinawa. As we flew Peach (the other one being Vanilla Air), we were practically dumped in a shed once we landed! There were no taxis or trains outside, nor were we allowed to walk out. Our only option was to rent a car (all except one was closed due to us landing outside business hours), or take the shuttle bus to the domestic terminal. We ended up lining up to join the rest of the crowd to get on to the shuttle bus to get to the domestic terminal. This probably added a good 1.5 hours to get out of the airport! So, if you intend to fly into Naha airport with one of the low cost carriers (i.e. Peach or Vanilla Air).. keep this in mind!! If you want to avoid this extra waste of time.. either rent a car from OTS car rental (the only one that seems to be operating after 5pm), or don’t fly LCC airlines.
Anyway.. as mentioned earlier, Okinawa part of this holiday is meant to be the ‘low key’, ‘low spending’ portion of the trip. We even went with a guest house booked on AirBnB, which ended up being a rather affordable and ‘local’ experience. It was a humble little unit, very new, with a school just across the road, a groceries a few minutes walk away and a Family Mart just a stones throw away. It probably helped that we had a kick-ass host (that I never met) who was SUPER responsive before/during and even AFTER the trip. Anyway, it was the type of place that I imagine I would live in, if I lived in Japan! We arrived pretty late on New Year’s eve as well, and fortunately it wasn’t too far from the airport and the taxi driver that got us there was pretty helpful. It was too late for proper dinner though, so it was the one night where everyone had junk food for dinner with the closest ‘healthy’ food being the sushi rice ball. That’s the way to celebrate New Year’s Eve! 🙂
Everything in apartment looked miniaturised to me, including bath tub, TV, kitchen, sofa etc etc. It does feature rather typical Japanese automated toilet though.. frankly I don’t understand why the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to this given it’s been available in Japan for YEARS!
We got our rental car through Grace Okinawa. Part of the reason why I went with them were the good reviews, and also the unique choice of car models. I went with a Suzuki Hustler, which I don’t recall seeing any other car rental companies offer before! And another nice “feature” of Grace Okinawa was that they can come and pick you up to their office, in order to pick up your rental car. Thought that was unique. This is partly because they do not actually have an office at Naha airport.
Anyway, we didn’t actually have a fixed itinerary for the Okinawa part of the trip at all. It was pretty much.. wake up.. hit “Google”.. search for what are the “must sees”.. and then head out. It did mean we wasted half the morning working out where we were going to go. Probably not the best use of time. Having said that we did manage to explore quite a bit including:
Multi-cultural street – This is probably the least interesting part of Okinawa for me. It has the tourist trap vibe. So we didn’t spend a lot of time here at all and left in about 2 hours.
Hamabe No Chaya (浜辺の茶屋)
This is arguably one of the best find for the whole Okinawa trip. We only spent one short afternoon there, and wished we booked ahead as it seems to be packed all the time! As we didn’t want to wait forever for a seat, we ended up with the outdoor seats directly on the beach itself, which turned out ok. The views were great.. the coffee/tea were ok.. and the atmosphere was superb!
This one was a bit of a drive (took 1.5 hours), but was worth the effort to see massive whale sharks and dolphin show. It was good enough to keep all of us entertained almost for an entire day.
AEON Shopping Malls
Most of our late afternoons/evenings were spent at suburban AEON shopping malls as ‘fillers’ to end the day. The bigger ones like “イオン南風原” (Haebaru) and AEON Rycom were actually pretty big and we ended up staying there until the closing time (around 10pm).
Umikaji Terrace at Senagajima island
I called this “fake Santorini”, simply because it has the feel of Santorini (or more specifically Oia town) but not quite. All the shops are on a cliff, which is similar to Oia. It has the direct views of the ocean, except the waters aren’t as blue as that nor as grand. In Oia, you get the view of a volcano, while in at Umikaji, you get the view of the Okinawa airport! Aside from that, we did enjoy a pleasant breakfast experience at the “Happy Pancake” house. Pancake looks really presentable, though not quite as nice as the souffle pancake we had in Tainan. We spent the rest of the time there wandering around the boutique shops, where Ethan bumped into a bunch of tourists dressed in Mario suits on a go-Kart tour around town as well.
Or more correctly, “Mihama American Village” probably has all the ingredient to be a tourist trap, but surprisingly, we enjoyed our time there. It does feel American as it resembles a typical outdoor shopping centre with shops spread out, rather than a typical multi-level mall. It turned out to be a rather nice diversion from the usual Japanese. For example, we found a rather unique shop for custom thongs, which I promptly had one made with my name in Japanese / Chinese etched in, all for about SGD$25 (which I thought was pretty cheap). And also went to Seaside Cafe Hanon with a very nice view of the beach (the seats outside are limited, and you do tend to wait for it a bit). People seem to be here for the pancakes. It was nice, but again.. it wasn’t like the souffle pancakes we had in Tainan. Another surprising find was probably what they call spam sushi”, which is literally a massive piece of spam stuffed in a sushi like a sandwich! Tasted a bit weird first, but I ended up quite liking it.
Outdoor Kid’s Playground
Japan must be a heaven for kids, because I simply have not seen such grand/awesome playgrounds absolutely FREE. Looking through all of my photos, I don’t think you will find a single photo of Ethan NOT smiling at all. Ethan can easily spend hours here! The two that we went to were:
- Nakagusuku Park Playground South (中城公園 南遊具広場).. pictured below
- Hewakinenkoen Playground (平和祈念公園 遊具広場)
Anyway, Okinawa has been surprisingly fun. With the city more and more reachable, I can only see this part of Japan getting more and more popular with the foreigners in the future. I would certainly come back here if there were more direct flight options from Singapore! Anyway.. to our NEXT and final destination.. Hokkaido!