The Okinawan Islands are known for being a beautiful island paradise and where a lot of American military bases are stationed. However, there's quite a bit more to it than that.
Having originally decided to only spend a maximum of one month in Japan that changed quickly as every new city I went to seemed to just get better and better.
The islands of Okinawa seemed to only top off an already amazing country.
I'll start off with a brief overview of Okinawa. Many Okinawan people feel that they are different from the rest of Japan, and rightfully so. It is a very different culture and originally a different kingdom as well. The Ryukyu Kingdom are the ones who ruled over the Okinawan islands for many years till the islands finally joined the rest of Japan.
Upon arriving in Okinawa I linked up with a local bboy whom I had met in Osaka during his stay there. I've said this before but it is worth mentioning again that the Japanese bboys in general are amazing and extremely welcoming and kind. They welcomed me into their community in Okinawa with open arms and treated me like I was an old friend. The general kindness of these people is so positive that you cannot help but feel happy when you're around them. They are funny, wild, crazy, intelligent, generous, and flat out awesome.
However, I have to give special acknowledgement to three very important bboys who showed me around Okinawa.
So going back to the Ryukyu Kingdom, I visited the Shurijo Castle which is one of the many castles on the main island of Okinawa. Having visited other castles in Japan I was curious to see as how the castles were constructed in Okinawa. They do differ quite a bit from the ones in mainland Japan. If you look back at my Kansai article you'll see the Osaka castle which is quite representative of the others castles in mainland Japan.
Now the Shurijo Castle is quite different in build, color, and design. How you may ask...well first off it's not surrounded by a giant moat and not built up on a huge stone base. It does have large outer walls surrounding it, but in general the overall size is smaller compared to the one in Osaka or others in the mainland for that matter.
With my two friends Ruki and Tell, I went to see Sefa Utaki and Nanjo.
Sefa-utaki, meaning "purified place of Utaki," is an historical sacred space, overlooking Kudaka Island, that served as one of the key locations of worship in the native religion of the Ryukyuan people for millennia. Originally only women were allowed to enter the sacred space, but now both genders are allowed in. You can still see people that come to there to pray and many of the old relics are still intact despite the bombing raids over the island during WWII.
Sefa-utaki is located in Nanjo which has a beautiful view of the coast line with some of the most amazing waters. There's a bridge that you can drive down that loops around the side of a hill that gives an exciting passing view.
As with any island there are beaches everywhere. Okinawa is obviously no exception to that. I saw a beautiful sunset on a beach called Tropical Beach. Simply amazing are the words to easily sum it up. Seeing very few clouds and that red, orange ball of fire in the sky dip into the sea was enchanting.
During my stay in Okinawa I rented a scooter. It was the first time riding a scooter in months since having one back in Bali, but it still felt natural to me. Once I got to riding I was hit with a wave of nostalgia reminding me of weaving through the streets in Bali. For me riding a scooter is the best way to explore any island. However, renting a scooter in Okinawa wasn't nearly as cheap as it was in Bali. A three days rental it cost me ¥12,500円, which roughly converts to $104. For that amount in Bali I could've rented one in for 2 months. Just goes to show the price differences around the world. All these changing currencies all the time almost makes a traveler an expert on FOREX...almost.
On one of the days I took my scooter to Maeda Point, which is a popular snorkel spot. When I got there I saw so many tour groups, and all these people paid a minimum of about ¥7000円, ridiculous. Going there was easily something you could do by yourself. The snorkel spot has plenty of tropical fish and some warm water too. It was like 82F or 27C. So you didn't need a wetsuit at all, but still all these naive tourists who bought their dumb little travel packages were wearing 5mm wetsuits. They were probably boiling inside those things.
The actual spot itself is on the tip of an outcrop that is surrounded by a reef which breaks up the waves. So you get a gentle snorkel experience without a current throwing you around like a rag doll.
So the signature food of Okinawa is called Okinawa Soba. Oh my lord is that the truth! It's cheaper than ramen, and uses a beef broth base. The noodles are thicker than ramen and oh sooooo gooood. The best is the cuts of beef which are ridiculous. It's best with a side of the classic Okinawan rice. I had it everyday.
After spending a few days in Okinawa I decided to go to Ishigaki which is the largest of the Yaeyama islands and a stones through away from Taiwan. My main reason for going was wanting to get in some freediving. So while I was there I looked up some local freedivers and met with Aquabless. She's a local freediving instructor who has a wonderful appreciation for the ocean. It was truly a pleasure to go on a outing with her. We went to a spot called Yarabu, parked on the side of the road, hopped the barrier, and climbed down the side of a cliff to reach a beach. From the beach we walked out and swam about 100m offshore to a drop off that went down to about 30m at the deepest. Sadly many parts of the reef was dead due to some type of bacteria that killed off much of the reef a couple years ago, however since then many efforts have been made to restore the reef to its once beautiful status.
So after a great time spent exploring around underwater, it was time to explore the surface and the natural beauty that Ishigaki offered on top as well.
I had met two English blokes from London, Aidan and Francis who were funny duo, as well as a Korean girl Summer who were all staying at the guesthouse Iriwa. We all decided to rent a car from the guesthouse for a day which ended up only being about ¥1,100円 each. We basically explored the whole northern part of the island and stopped off at a beach that we saw from the side of the road.
Driving around we went to Nosoko and climbed Mt. Nosoko Maapee, which gives an absolutely breathtaking 360 view of the island. The climb is very easy too as there is a parking lot about 200m or 300m from the peak.
Finishing off the day we stopped by a lighthouse to see the sunset from the cliffside. The cool evening wind blowing mixed with that seabreeze is refreshing after spending a hot day out in the sun. Not to say it was difficult driving, but it was nice to end it off like that. To even top it off more we got some Yaeyama Soba from a restaurant called 明石食堂, and to top that off we saw the most amazing night sky. Ishigaki doesn't have streetlights outside the downtown area so basically the whole island is perfect for star gazing at night.
Lastly I have to mention mazenmen. Roughly translated it means mixed noodles. A place in Naha city that is the bomb digity! Close to Kokusai-dori and amazing! I got the spicy noodles with extra melted cheese on top. It was soooooooo delicious and they didn't skimp on portions. Bless Japan and their noodles.
That's it from Japan. It's been a great 2 months spent there, and now it'll be Taiwan for the next couple weeks to see my friend Ken!
Till next time! Peace OUT!