The Lost Blogs #30
Travel Dates: Sat, April 28, 2012 – Thu, May 3, 2012
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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…
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…
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.
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.)
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!