The Lost Blogs #26
Travel Dates: Sat, April 28, 2012 – Thu, May 3, 2012
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:
- The minimum driving age is 18.
- You must have a Japanese driver’s license or an International Driving Permit (IDP).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
We got closer. It was not looking good.
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.
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.
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!