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HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Okinawa for Rich's birthday, May 2015

Although a month has passed since our trip to Japan (can someone stop the Earth from rotating so darn quickly?), impressions of Okinawa are still fresh in my mind. Here they are, along with the photos of our weekend jaunt in May across the East China Sea.

We arrived in the Naha airport in the early afternoon on Saturday and found out everything we wanted to know from a super helpful woman at the airport visitor center. Most importantly, she narrowed down for us all those coastline options to one beach in the south that’s mostly enjoyed by locals. She had the bus schedules and a map of where to catch our bus, since the main terminal was under construction. She also helpfully dissuaded us from going to the Okinawa aquarium – famous as it is, it would take 3 hours of bumping along on a bus, one way. Yuck. And we really only had 1.5 days to take it all in!

the many lion-dog guardians of entryways of Okinawa
I think Rich’s description of Okinawa as “old-school futuristic” hits the nail on the head. Naha, the capital, feels like a place that was once ahead of its time, but froze at that point in its development. 

Monorail tracks stretching into the distance
Exhibit A: the monorail (monorail, MONORAIL! hehe) that runs – at most – 4 times an hour and moves at a quaintly slow pace. It was entirely way too packed for any more people to squeeze in on Sunday afternoon. Imagine the groans of a whole platform full of hopeful passengers, some with suitcases and obviously heading to the airport, as our train pulled up, crammed with people like sardines in a can. Everyone seemed to take it in stride, though. We had bought 48-hour monorail passes and certainly got our money’s worth, even with the conservative amount of traveling that we did in our time there.

This is not our hotel... haha... but a UNESCO-protected
ancient gate outside of the castle
But backing up to Saturday afternoon. We checked into the conveniently named Okinawa Hotel, which turned out to be a great choice. We’d booked it for its bargain price and a few good reviews, mostly recommending its quiet location that’s still close to the main artery – Kokusai Dori, or International Street. The hotel was – just like most of the city – kind of homey and old-fashioned, but the service was impeccable, everything was clean, they had a small onsen (hot soaking pools) section and didn’t charge us extra for using the AC (I’d read in several other reviews, mostly of small B&Bs, that the AC was hooked up to a coin box you had to feed at expensive rates).

another (restored) gate at the castle
We dropped off our stuff and struck out for Shuri Castle – “a must-see” seat of the local government in days gone by. We loosely followed this helpful walking tour, although at some point realized we didn’t have it in us to do the entire lengthy stroll. We poked around the afore-mentioned International Street in the evening and it seemed primarily gaudy and touristy, but Rich did manage to lead us to the second floor of Makishi Public Market where seafood restaurants were still going strong.

Although Sunday had originally called for rain earlier that week, by the time we landed the skies promised to stay blue and sunny, so Sunday morning we got up early, enjoyed a fab breakfast buffet at the hotel and got on a bus heading to Mibaru Beach. 

Clockwise from left: salmon, veg and pickles, natto, rice and Japanese curry sauce,
miso soup, seaweed, congee and yogurt with fruit.

Just like the rest of the city, it was calm and semi-deserted. The tide was waaaay out when we arrived, so we had to walk and walk and walk to any swimmable depth, but that also meant that as the water came back in, it was warm as a bathtub. We stayed out there for ages. There were also an army of hermit crabs keeping us company in the little cove we chose as base camp. My main impression of the seaside there was the super clear water! It was so clean and pristine. I never thought of Japan as a tropical paradise, but I’d have to describe Mibaru Beach as something akin to that.

We spent ages looking for a place to eat when we got back to town. After much on-foot effort, we gave up finding the port where the tourism lady recommended we get fresh sushi. But, we did eventually find a traditional restaurant where we had Okinawan specialties like fried noodles, “sea grapes” seaweed (yum!), braised pork belly and some random deep-fried stuff.

That’s about the highlights of the trip. I hope we can return one day with more time and an international driving permit so we can rent a car (they seem to be very strict about that). Another possibility is that we’ll go to one of the outlying islands, which are even more tropically luscious. Ishigaki is a possibility; it’s even closer to Taiwan and barely developed. A friend of a friend said it was amazingly natural, and they just rode around on bikes. 

Sayōnara for now, Land of the Rising Sun! 

See all of the photos here: 

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