Golden Week in Okinawa pt. 7: All Aboard the Queen Zamami!

The Lost Blogs #31

Travel Dates: Sat, April 28, 2012 – Thu, May 3, 2012

Zamami Island

Our day trip to Miyako Island was probably the highlight of our Okinawa vacation, so it was so hard to board that plane and return to Naha for the night. We knew we had to get out of Naha again for our last full day in the islands, but without any other flights planned, there was only one other option: we needed to island-hop by ferry.

Luckily, a friend of mine had recently taken a trip to Okinawa and had posted pictures from a place called Zamami Island. Even luckier, there is an English teacher on Zamami who put together a very informative website called Zamami English Guide, which made it very easy for us to plan our day trip to the island. Zamami belongs to a group of islands called the Kerama Islands, a group of 22 islands about 20 miles southwest of Okinawa Honto. Only four of the islands are inhabited: Zamami Island, Aka Island, Geruma Island, and Tokashiki Island. The Zamami English Guide website also provides tourist information for Aka and Geruma Islands.

Queen Zamami III Ferry

Zamami Island is located 50-minutes away from Naha by ferry. English ferry information can be found here. From Naha’s Tamari Port, there are two ferries which can take you to Zamami Island: the Queen Zamami III and Ferry Zamami. The Queen Zamami III is a small passenger ferry that runs twice daily regularly, and three times daily during peak seasons like Golden Week. The Ferry Zamami is a larger boat which is cheaper and can take passengers in addition to vehicles. We chose to take the Queen Zamami III and purchased our tickets the same day as our departure.

Queen Zamami III Ferry

And here we are, super excited to get out of rainy Naha and out onto the beach!

I wish we had a picture for what we looked like just a few minutes later. The ride, though short, ended up being extremely rocky. We were making jokes about being on a roller coaster, and then suddenly all of us were holding onto our stomachs, feeling queasy, trying not to vomit. The early rainy season had brought along stormy weather, and with the storm, strong winds, which were causing large waves in the ocean. It didn’t help that there was another passenger boat running alongside us, which also sent waves crashing into our boat.

Zamami Port

50 minutes later, we arrived at Zamami Port. The weather wasn’t anywhere near as nice as we had experienced in Miyako, but at least the rain had stopped. We spent a good half hour inside the lobby waiting for our stomachs to settle and grabbing maps for the area.

Zamami Island

Once everyone was feeling better, we started to make our way on foot to Furuzamami Beach (古座間味ビーチ). It is the most famous beach in the Kerama islands, so many tourists come here. We were expected it to be crowded when we arrived, but we suspect a number of people may have canceled or changed their plans because of the early rainy season, because there weren’t that many people on the island when we arrived.

Zamami Island

Zamami Island

Furuzamami Beach is located about 1 mile east from Zamami Port. English maps are available in the Visitor Information Center in the port. There aren’t many roads on the island either, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Though it’s only a mile away, it took us more than 20 minutes to reach the beach because we were enjoying the rural scenery…

Zamami Island

Zamami Island

Also, it was an uphill walk, but it’s a little embarrassing to mention that we struggled with that. ^^;;;

Zamami Island

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Yay! We made it!

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Upon arriving at the beach, we came across a small building which has two restaurants, rental companies, and shops. The shops carry sunscreen and underwater cameras, and the rental shops provide umbrellas, lounge chairs, and snorkeling equipment. If you rent from them, they’ll provide a free ride back to the port when you’re ready to head back.

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

We were pretty hungry, so we decided to eat first. The only other places to eat were back in the small town north of the port, and we didn’t want to walk back after coming all the way out here.

My husband ordered the loco moco, which is actually a Hawaiian dish consisting of a hamburger patty with gravy and an egg over rice. I went for taco rice and a bottle of sanpin-cha (さんぴん茶). Sanpin-cha is the Okinawan name for Jasmine tea. On mainland Japan, Jasmine tea is just called “jasmine-cha” (ジャスミン茶). In Okinawa, Jasmine tea is actually more popular than traditional Japanese green tea (“o-cha” お茶) or oolong tea (“oolong-cha” ウーロン茶).

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

After lunch, we got set up on the beach. There wasn’t any sun out, but we got the umbrella anyway. Our plan for the day was to simply lounge around and enjoy the cloudy, but dry, day. Eat some snacks, read some books, listen to islandy music on our iPods, snorkel… you know, just chill. :)

I ended up not renting any snorkeling gear because the water was already deep close to shore (at least, deep to me, in comparison to Yoshino Beach). I mentioned before in one of my earlier posts, but I can’t swim. So, when I snorkel, I usually have to wear the full gear with a puffy life jacket, and I need my husband near me so I don’t panic and get an anxiety attack in the water. The boys both went snorkeling though, and they said there were plenty of fish to see! I was a little envious. But even if you don’t go into the water, it’s a pretty cool beach to explore…

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

Furuzamami Beach (Zamami Island)

So that was pretty much our day on Zamami Island. There’s another nearby beach, Ama Beach, located west of Zamami Port. We skipped out on this one because it’s not known for snorkeling, although there is supposedly a strong chance of seeing sea turtles here.

We took the free ride from the rental shop back to the port, then walked a few minutes north and into the cute, tiny little town.

Mango Cafe

In town, we came across Mango Cafe, which sells shaved-ice (“kakigori” かき氷) sweets. In case you don’t make it out to Zamami Island, Mango Cafe also has a small booth at Tomari Port in Naha City.

Mango Cafe

Above, you can see I enjoyed a very delicious Mango Kakigori topped with condensed milk, brown sugar, and mango, and coconut. Yum! Let’s have a closer look…

Mango Cafe

SERIOUSLY. YUM!!!

Mango Cafe also serves Okinawa-zenzai (ぜんざい), which is shaved ice with red bean jam and mochi, and mango-zenzai which has red bean jam and mochi served over a delicious mango kakigori like you see above.

Cafe Kafu-shi (Zamami Island)

Cafe Kafu-shi (Zamami Island)

We also stumbled into Cafe Kafu-shi which walking around. We were drawn in by a cute, lazy cat and decided to try it out since they served various flavors of sata-andagi, another Okinawan specialty which we had yet to try. Sata-andagi is a deep-fried bun, similar to Portugese malasadas which are popular in Hawaii. Made of flour, sugar, and eggs, the batter is formed into a ball and deep-fried.

Cafe Kafu-shi (Zamami Island)

Cafe Kafu-shi (Zamami Island)

They carried the following flavors:

  • sugar (plain)
  • brown sugar
  • banana
  • mango
  • “shio” salt
  • “beni-imo” crimson potato

Cafe Kafu-shi (Zamami Island)

We wanted to try them all, but we settled for salt (above), mango, and crimson potato flavors. Everything was tasty! These would go great with a cup of coffee or milk tea.

I enjoyed sata-andagi so much that I ended up taking home a cute sata-pandagi tote bag home as my souvenir. :)

Zamami Island

lazy cats :)

In the late afternoon, the Queen Zamami III came back to pick us up. We were really dreading this ride back, partially because of how rocky the ride had been coming to Zamami, and partially because it would bring us back to Naha. But luckily, the rain had stopped, and we were able to make reservations at GeN, an Okinawan Yakiniku Restaurant that we hadn’t been able to eat at earlier in the week.

GeN - Okinawan Yakiniku Restaurant

Agu pork and wagyu beef for Okinawan yakiniku! Yum!

Check back in a few days for the final post in the Okinawa series!

Golden Week in Okinawa pt. 7: Miyako Island

The Lost Blogs #30

Travel Dates: Sat, April 28, 2012 – Thu, May 3, 2012

Miyako-jima

For our fourth day in Okinawa, we planned a day-trip to Miyako Island via air. Originally, we had thought about doing our island-hopping by ferry, but we read on several travel sites that most of the ferry services between islands had been discontinued. It all worked out anyway, because had we been able to take a ferry, it would’ve been at least a 3-hour trip from Okinawa Honto to the Miyako Islands.

Miyako is known for having some of Japan’s (and Okinawa’s) best beaches and is a great destination for snorkeling and diving in the coral reefs. The weather stays pleasant year round, and we hoped to escape the “early rainy season” which had come to haunt us the past three days on the main island. It is the fourth largest island in Okinawa Prefecture, and the terrain is mostly flat and covered with sugar cane fields. Compared to Okinawa Honto, which is home to the capital city Naha and other developed towns, Miyako is very rural and maintains that laid-back, chill, island vibe.

Miyako Airport

Shisa statues at Miyako Airport. Shisa are traditional Ryukyuan decoration: half-dog, half-lion wards from Okinawan mythology said to protect from evil.

As mentioned in the first post of the series, we booked our round-trip flights using discount airlines SKYMARK. We departed from Naha Airport at 8:15 am and arrived at Miyako Airport less than an hour later at 9:05 am. Our plan at Miyako Airport was the same as when we had first arrived in Naha: rent a car upon arrival at the airport. Miyako Airport is a very small airport. There were a couple of information kiosks, but I recall only two of them being for rental companies, and one was unattended. We waited in line to speak with the attendant and after a bit of a wait, we were told that there were no rental cars available at the moment. Again. There were a couple of motorbikes available, which was out of the question because (as mentioned in the Naha post) only one of us met the requirements for renting a vehicle. There were only two other options: a very large van which was out of our budget, and a car that would become available for pick-up at the airport around 12:30 pm. Our return flight back to Naha City was scheduled for 8:30 pm, so we decided to go ahead and make arrangements to pick up the car around noon. Perfect for our plans in the afternoon, but it was only 9:30 am and we were still stranded at the airport with no way of getting around for three hours.

We decided to split on a taxi to take us to the nearest beach, Maehama Beach, also known as Yonaha-Maehama Beach. We read online that it is a white sand beach which ranks very high as one of Japan’s best beaches. Having never been to any remote, tropical destinations before, I was extremely delighted and surprised to discover that it was truly a white sand beach, with an ocean of different shades of blue. Even better, the rainy season storms had not come anywhere near the Miyako Islands. There wasn’t a single dark cloud in sight!

Maehama Beach

Since we still had to pick up the rental car at the airport, we made arrangements with the cab driver to come back around noon and bring us back, and also kept one of his business cards with a phone number in case he forgot to come back around. But until noon, we could lounge on the beach and relax!

Maehama Beach

Maehama Beach

At noon, we headed back to the airport to pick up the car. We didn’t want to waste any time heading into the town for food, so we decided just to swing by a COOP supermarket on the way to our next beach destination and pick up musubi, drinks, and snacks.

Miyako-jima

Driving around Miyako was pleasant and easy. The roads were sometimes narrow, but there was nobody else on the road. Sugar canes made up most of the scenery. We headed straight across the island heading south-east to Yoshino Beach, also referred to as Yoshino Kaigan. It is the best beach on Miyako for snorkeling because swarms of colorful fish surround you as soon as you enter the water. Just a few steps into the ocean and you’re surrounded by a large coral reef maze full of marine life. You don’t have to go out very far to see the fish, which is great for people like me who really can’t swim.

Yoshino Beach

Upon arriving at Yoshino Beach, you’ll find that there is only one rental shop which is next to the parking lot. The people who run the shop are very friendly, though they don’t speak much English. For a flat fee, you can rent a full set of snorkeling gear: masks, fins, water shoes, snorkels, and snorkeling vests. A free shuttle van will take you down the winding road from the parking lot to the actual beach. The shuttle drops off next to another small shop that sells food and drinks. One of the dishes they sell is a local specialty, Miyako Soba. In case you forgot to rent snorkeling gear by the parking lot, a limited amount of snorkeling gear is also available for rent down by the beach.

Yoshino Beach Snorkeling

We rented an umbrella and lounge chairs and left our things there so we could all go out into the water. The water is so clear and the area reminded me a little bit of Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, except much less crowded, and with a lot more fish. I wasn’t very good at taking pictures underwater (I was a little nervous about being in the water because I can’t swim!), but my husband was able to snap a few pictures of the tropical fish. :)

Yoshino Beach Snorkeling

Yoshino Beach Snorkeling

Yoshino Beach Snorkeling

After spending some time in the water, we went back to our lounge chairs to relax. Shortly after returning to the beach, we were approached by a friendly old man who I had read about online…

Photograph courtesy of non-profit organization Okinawa O.C.E.A.N.

The man you see above Take-san, also known as Yoshino no Ojisan, or Yoshino’s Uncle. He is a self-proclaimed care-taker of Yoshino Beach and can often be found walking around the beach greeting visitors. He speaks great English and is very pleasant to chat with. He makes necklaces out of coral and string while talking to visitors about the beach and the work he does out there. He told us WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which is a world wide network of organizations linking volunteers with organic farmers. For an annual fee of 5,500 yen, WWOOFers (volunteers) can choose from any number of farmers worldwide through the network, including over 400 hosts in Japan. In return for the volunteer work, the WWOOF hosts provide food, accommodation, and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.

Take-san is one of these WWOOF hosts, though the work volunteers do for him actually has nothing to do with organic farming. Instead, volunteers basically help out with keeping Yoshino Beach clean. You can learn more about Take-san and WWOOF in the Japan Times article “You don’t need to be bbarking to wwoof“, or… you could just fly out to Miyako and listen to Take-san tell you about his life himself. ;)

Take-san also gave us a “small gift” of Miyako sand to take home. Most people may not notice, but a lot of the sand on Miyako Island is star-shaped! I forgot to take a picture, but here’s a good example showing a close-up of the Okinawa’s star-shaped sand which I found on Flickr.

All in all, it was a good day!! We came to Okinawa to swim, snorkel, and soak in the sun, and after three days in Okinawa Honto, we were finally able to get all of that, and meet some of the locals too, who are all really nice! Unfortunately, we had only planned our stay in Miyako as a day-trip, so we had to eventually return the car and get back on a plane to Naha, which we were actually dreading a little bit, knowing that the rainy season would be waiting for us back there…

Soki soba

We had our dinner at one of the restaurants in the airport. My husband ordered the dish above, which is called Sōki Soba. Sōki (ソーキ) are stewed pork spare ribs, usually boneless, with the cartilage still attached. First it is boiled to remove excess fat, then stewed in a mixture of awamori (Okinawan alcoholic beverage), soy sauce, and vinegar for a few hours. This meat is then served on top of Okinawa Soba. Okinawa Soba noodles are different than the traditional buckwheat noodles of mainland Japan. The noodles more closely resemble udon noodles, while the broth is more similar to that of ramen.

Miyako soba

Not wanting to order the same thing, I chose the Miyako Soba instead. It’s actually very similar to standard Okinawa soba, and unlike the sōki soba above, Miyako soba is served using sanmai-niku (pork belly). The broth tasted light and savory, with flavors that reminded me of Chinese noodle soup I used to eat when I was a child. This is in contrast to Japanese udon and soba broths, which usually taste sweet. (Actually, I don’t really know what the difference is between Miyako Soba and Okinawa Soba. I tried to read a little about it in Japanese, and my conclusion is it has something to do with the way the toppings are arranged, though I don’t know if there are any flavor differences as I didn’t try Okinawa Soba during my visit.)

Yuki-shio Omiyage Shop

Lastly, before going to our gate, I made sure to buy some omiyage for my co-workers, since I had taken a few days off during Golden Week to come out here, while the rest of them stayed to teach classes. I bought several pieces of yuki-shio-chinsuko (Okinawan salt cookie) to give as gifts, because it was the best Okinawan snack I had eaten.

I may have also bought several pieces of chinsuko for myself, too… ^-^;;;

Check back next time for Golden Week in Okinawa Part 8! We spent our fifth day in Okinawa doing more island-hopping!

Golden Week in Okinawa pt. 4: Okinawa Honto, the Main Island

The Lost Blogs #27

Travel Dates: Sat, April 28, 2012 – Thu, May 3, 2012

OTS Rent-a-Car

After our string of bad luck the previous day, picking up this neon green rental car was probably one of the most exciting parts about our trip! My friend was thrilled to drive a car again, and we were lucky to have GPS to help us navigate around the main island. The weather was still wet and gloomy, so we knew there wasn’t going to be any sun-bathing or swimming, but we still wanted to get our feet on the beach, and Naha’s Naminoue Beach was NOT gonna cut it.

Sunset Beach Japan-Guide, one of my favorite travel websites covering Japan, wrote a very nice guide to Beaches on Okinawa Main Island. I knew I should’ve trusted it when it said that “Okinawa Honto is not considered to have the prefecture’s very beast beaches,” but, regardless, beaches do exist. We drove out to Sunset Beach, which is just next to Mihama American Village.

Sunset Beach

The beach is open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm and is absolutely free. The weather was cold, and the water even colder, but it was so nice to finally set foot on a beach with clean sand and feel the water running between our toes!

Sunset Beach

We hung out for a bit, but then it looked like the rain was on its way, so we headed over to Mihama American Village to eat lunch.

It’s hard to come from California, where the cuisine is just as diverse as its population. The four of us missed a lot of foods from back home, like Mexican tacos, and real, big, beefy, American burgers (McDonald’s doesn’t count!). Before we came to Okinawa, we had asked some of our friends, students, and co-workers what they thought about the islands, and while everyone had differing opinions, we heard a lot of people say, “Okinawa is great, but the food is terrible!” Some popular local specialties of Okinawa are goya (bitter melon), soba, and Taco rice… Maybe they just sat around eating goya all day. I hate goya. Can’t stand even the sight of the stuff. But taco rice? Yum. So good. Delicious. I could eat it all the time! But what we were really excited for was the other kind of cuisine you can get in Okinawa – American food.

We ate lunch at a burger joint called Captain Kangaroo’s Burgers. It was my husband’s job to do all the foodie-research for our trip, and he did a really good job! Captain Kangaroo’s is famous for making not only big, American-size burgers, but they are made with real beef.

American Village

Captain Kangaroo’s Burger

LOOK AT THAT. Wait. Wait. Let’s compare to a typical, tiny, non-beef, Japanese burger, like Mos Burger…

Mos Burger

Mos Burger

Captain Kangaroo’s served one of the best burgers I have ever eaten in my two years living in Japan. The next best thing would be the more easily-accessible KUA’AINA, which is actually a Hawaiian burger joint with locations in Tokyo and Yokohama. Unfortunately, I discovered today that the Captain Kangaroo’s location at Mihama American Village is now closed as of December 2, 2012. But, there is still a location in Northern Honto which is open, as well as an Osaka location in mainland Japan.

American Village

We were also able to enjoy Chili Fries and Root Beer Floats at A&W. The root beer floats were made with vanilla soft cream rather than ice cream, so not quite what I expected, but still tasty. We actually intended to eat at Ballpark Hot Dogs for American hot dogs and Bacon Ranch Fries, but they had closed!!

Zanpa Beach

After our fattening lunch, we continued driving north up to Zanpa Beach. This place was actually quite scenic and would’ve been a nice beach to hang out at, except that the storm seemed to be following us north, and we ended up having to hide out under shade until the rain stopped.

Zanpa Beach

While we waited for the rain to go away, I snapped a couple of pictures, then went on my phone to tweet about how bummed we were about the weather. That’s when I read some news tweets on Twitter announcing “RAINY SEASON ARRIVES 11 DAYS EARLY IN OKINAWA”

………………………

And we still had had four more days in the Okinawa Islands.

Shuri Castle

We decided to give up on beaches for the day, so we turned the car around back south for Shuri Castle. Shuri is the name of the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdown, and Shuri Castle served as the residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries before the islands became “Okinawa”, a Japanese prefecture, in 1879. Shuri Castle is listed as as UNESCO World Heritage Site and though it was built in the late 1300s, the castle that stands now is a reconstruction dating from 1992. I’ve seen a lot (and I mean a looooooot) of castles in Japan, and after a while, it can feel like “seen one castle, seen them all”, but Shuri Castle is very different, and definitely worth a visit.

Shuri Castle

Our last stop for the evening was a trip out to Ginowan for dinner at Tortilla Factory. We read about Tortilla Factory on a food blog that no longer exists, which described it as a restaurant serving Chipotle-style burritos. I already had my Chipotle fix by eating at the copycat-restaurant Frijoles in Tokyo, but never one to say no to tacos or burritos, I was totally fine with the drive back out of Naha.

Tortilla Factory

Calling it “Chipotle-style” is a bit of a stretch. It’s not like Frijoles, which copied not just the food and serving style, but also the packaging and decor. The burritos and tacos are made fresh-to-order, and they offer tacos, burritos, and bowls, but the similarities pretty much end there. The owner/manager speaks great English and said that Chipotle did serve as the inspiration for his otherwise unique restaurant.

Tortilla Factory

Here’s what they have to offer:

  • Okinawan Taco Rice — these are basically “burrito bowls”, but come in flavors like Asian-Beef Steak, Meat & Beans, Honey Chicken, Carnitas, Original Taco Beef, and Black Beans Vegetarian.
  • Burritos, in the same meat offerings as above.
  • Tacos — crispy beef tacos, shrimp soft tacos, and fish soft tacos!
  • Various toppings like cilantro, cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream, jalapenos, etc.
  • Chips! Corona! Mojitos!
Tortilla Factory

Carnitas burrito at Tortilla Factory

Tortilla Factory

Fish tacos at Tortilla Factory

Check back again for Part 5 in the Okinawa travel series!

Golden Week in Okinawa pt. 3: Exploring Naha

The Lost Blogs #26

Travel Dates: Sat, April 28, 2012 – Thu, May 3, 2012

Walking through Naha

As mentioned in the first post of the series, I spent six days in Okinawa with my husband and two of our friends. Here’s a summary of our itinerary:

Day 1 (4/28): Travel from our hometown to Osaka, then the two-hour flight to Naha. Explore Naha City.
Day 2 (4/29) ~Showa Day~: Explore Okinawa Honto (Main Island)
Day 3 (4/30): Explore Okinawa Honto (Main Island)
Day 4 (5/1): Day-trip to Miyako Island by plane
Day 5 (5/2): Day-trip to Zamami Island by ferry
Day 6 (5/3) ~Constitutional Memorial Day~: Explore Okinawa Honto (Main Island), then travel back to mainland Japan

Note: We decide to cut our trip short in the middle of Golden Week, even though there were still two more holiday dates (Greenery Day on 5/4, and Children’s Day on 5/5) because of the Hamamatsu Matsuri in our hometown. Our friends traveled back with us to Hamamatsu City to tour our town and attend the Hamamatsu Kite-Fighting Festival.

Naha Airport and the city of Naha are located on Okinawa Honto, or the Main Island. The main island is divided into four areas: Naha, Northern Honto, Central Honto, and Southern Honto. Public transportation is limited to buses and the Okinawa Monorail, which only runs through central Naha. Research on various travel sites and blogs basically state that finding the right connections to get to where you want by bus is complicated, and the service is also infrequent on some lines, making the bus very unreliable for travel. It is highly recommended to get a rental car for the days that you will be staying on the main island.

There are a few things I should mention about renting a car in Japan:

  1. The minimum driving age is 18.
  2. You must have a Japanese driver’s license or an International Driving Permit (IDP).
  3. IDPs are not issued in Japan. You obtain them in your home country in advance before traveling to Japan. In the U.S., you can get them from AAA for $15. You will need to bring our valid U.S. driver’s license and two original passport-type photos, plus fill out the application. The permit from AAA is only valid for one year from the effective date printed on the permit.

Out of the group I was traveling with, both my husband, myself, and one of my friends had moved to Japan in August 2010. We all had IDPs issued before we left, effective on the date of our arrival in Japan. So, by the time we traveled to Okinawa, our IDPs were several months expired, and neither of us held a Japanese driver’s license. That left the fourth member of our group, who luckily arrived in Japan one year after us, and was still in possession of a valid IDP! (Yay!)

Getting a rental car actually proved to be quite difficult. What we should have done was make the arrangements in advance, but we figured that we could just pick one up at the airport upon arrival. It may have been because it was Golden Week, so perhaps visiting during non-peak dates may produce different results. Our flight arrived on Saturday at 2:25 p.m. and as soon as we collected our bags, we went straight to the car rental information booth. We were told that they did not make the car rental arrangements at the airport, but they provided brochures for companies on the main island who we could contact about renting a car. Surprisingly, there were no English brochures available, so we just took a few and decided to try our luck once we got to the hotel. We made some calls, but basically each company said, “Sorry. We have no cars available.” We talked to the hotel staff about our dilemma, and they gave us some maps so we could plan an afternoon of exploring Naha without a car. Bummer!

We booked a five-night stay at the Naha Central Hotel (那覇セントラルホテル), which is located next to Kokusai-dori (“International Road”). Since our island-hopping trips were just day-trips, we figured it would best to stay stationed in one convenient place and not have to worry about traveling with our belongings. Kokusai-dori can be accessed on the Okinawa Monorail directly from the airport. It is a 2-km street which stretches through Downtown Naha and is home to several shops and restaurants. So, we decided to check out what Kokusai-dori had to offer, and maybe see if there were any beaches or other local attractions to check out.

Jango Jango

First stop: a late lunch! We were so hungry! We stumbled upon a place called Jango Jango, run by this sweet couple pictured above. We had tacos, soup, and guava juice. Our next stop was the Blue Seal ice cream shop, where we ate double-scoops and did a little Googling about where to go in Naha on our phones.

Jango Jango

Did I mention that the weather was super-gloomy when we arrived? This trip was not going as we had initially planned. The weather was actually quite nice in mainland Japan — warm, sunny, not yet hot or humid. We were expecting to arrive in Okinawa and experience an early summer. We were going to eat ice cream all day and soak in the sun. I had come wearing my only pair of capri pants, and only packed a couple pairs of shorts and short-sleeve shirts.

Regardless, we decided we would see if there were any beaches easily accessible on foot in Naha. There was only one that came up in our searches, and that was Naminoue Beach (波の上ビーチ). I’ll just say right now: Don’t go to Naminoue Beach. I can think of so many words to describe it, and none of which I want to publish on my blog. It was gross. It was disgusting. It was a huge disappointment. Here. I’ll just show you.

Naminoue Beach: The Worst Beach Ever

That, my dear readers, is Naminoue Beach. The Worst Beach Ever. I mean, first of all, there isn’t even really any surface area. Second, it’s right next to an overpass, and there is a highway running through it. Third, we couldn’t even figure out how to get down there.

My friend, always the optimist, suggested we walk closer to it to check it out. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe we were just at a bad angle.

Naminoue Beach: The Worst Beach Ever

We got closer. It was not looking good.

Naminoue Beach: The Worst Beach Ever

In fact, it was filthy. Yuck yuck yuck. There was litter, everywhere! In Japan! I was outraged! Whoever decided to call this place a beach obviously did not know what the word beach meant.

We decided to just turn around and head back. There wasn’t much to see or do, especially without a car to get us around, and we were getting really bummed out by the weather. Back at Kokusai-dori, we stopped in a restaurant that served both Agu Pork, a traditional breed of Ryukyuan pig, and Awamori, an alcoholic beverage indigenous to Okinawa. Awamori is made from rice, but unlike sake, it is a product of distillation, making it similar to shochu.

Agu Pork Tofu

This day was just full of mishaps. I ordered the Agu Pork Tofu dish, which you see in the bottom of the above photo. Do you see pork in that dish? Because I sure didn’t. If there was pork, it was very small, and I ate it without knowing. We assumed that the pork slices on that blue plate in center of the table was part of my dish, because the server brought the two plate together. But my friend waited, and waited, and waited, for his pork dish to come and it never came. Or so we thought. It turns out we accidentally ate his pork dish, and all he ended up eating at the restaurant was two bowls of rice.

Two Cups of Rice

I am so, so sorry for eating your food. To this day. I feel so bad.

So after finishing my tofu, my friend’s pork, and all our drinks, we made our way to another pub for some American fare — beer and onion rings — and then decided to call it a night.

Back at Naha Central Hotel, things took a turn for the better! (Seriously, they really do. I know the trip sounds like a total bummer so far!) It’s really unusual, because it’s not something Okinawa is famous for, but there is a natural onsen and our hotel was connected to the facility! The onsen establishment is called Rikka-Rikka-Yu and we had daily access to use the baths as part of our stay. The facilities were actually very nice, and they switched the two baths between genders each day, so you could experience all that the bath house had to offer. There were various baths available, including a fountain bath, a dry sauna, a wet sauana, a salt sauna, rock baths, whirlpool massage jets, and — the weirdest one — an electric onsen, which has electric currents basically zap you in the bath. The electric bath was weird. But overall, the bath house was pretty nice and relaxing.

To top it off, a very kind hotel staff member chased us to the elevator before we went back up to our rooms to turn in for the night. He had a brochure for a car rental location in the city. It turns out he was so worried about us that he had spent some time calling around and he managed to find a place that had a car available for us! They were expecting our call, and we would be able to pick up a car the next morning.

YAY YAY YAY!

Check back next time for Golden Week in Okinawa Part 4! I’ll tell you about our second day on the main island, where we finally got to GET OUT of boring Naha with our rental car. Woo woo!

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