Golden Week in Okinawa pt. 8: Naha Hari Matsuri

The Lost Blogs #32

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

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

It was our final day in Okinawa, and we didn’t have much time left, since our flights back to Osaka were scheduled for 3:30 in the afternoon. We said goodbye to our rental car, the onsen, and our hotel, and knew that we wouldn’t be able to get out of Naha. We hoped that this last day in Naha would treat us kindly.

Luckily for us, the weather forecast was promising dry, sunny days. Yes, we were thrilled that finally, we could enjoy a sunny day on the main island, but we were also a little angry that the storm had come during our vacation and we would be leaving just as the weather started to warm up!! Oh well… しょうがない、ね。

We spent some time in Kokusai-dori to do our omiyage shopping for ourselves, students, and co-workers. Then we took the Okinawa Monorail into town, following directions on posters we had seen advertising the Naha Hari Matsuri (那覇ハーリー祭り).

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

Hari are dragon boat races, which originate from Chinese culture. The races are held to pray for a bountiful year and for the safety of fisherman. The main event is held at the Naha New Port Wharf in Naha City during the Naha Hari Festival, which spans the last three days of Golden Week, usually from May 3 to May 5.

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

As with all festivals in Japan, and Okinawa is no different, there are other events scheduled during the day in addition to the boat races, and plenty of festival foods.

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

We were able to find a lot of the usual menu items, like French fries, chicken karaage, takoyaki, yakitori, etc. but we also found plenty of international festival foods as well! Churros, corn dogs, tacos, just to name a few…

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

I got really excited when we found a stall selling Special Jumbo Pies, which were really deep-fried empanadas.

They even had BBQ ribs with pineapple! These looked so tasty, but I was so full already, I wasn’t able to try them!

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

But not to full to fulfill the desires of my betsu-bara — my second stomach, devoted to dessert! It was starting to feel hot, like the early days of summer, so I enjoyed a Puffy Snow with Okiniwan salt cookie (chinsuko) topping! Yum, yum, yum… I love chinsuko.

Naha Hari (Dragon Boat) Festival

All in all, a good day in Naha! The festival is definitely worth checking out if you’re on the islands for Golden Week. :)

Flying Skymark

Goodbye Okinawa…! And hello, Kansai. We had a long afternoon of travel, with the flight, then the shinkansen to Hamamatsu, and then the bus back to our home. But it was nice to be back for Golden Week. We had been looking forward to the Hamamatsu Kite Fighting Festival for over a year, since the 2011 event had been canceled after the earthquake.

If you’re curious to read about the Hamamatsu Matsuri, click here to read my blog post!

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. 6: Churaumi Aquarium

The Lost Blogs #29

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

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

On our third day in Okinawa, we decided to drive out all the way to Northern Honto. Naha City, where were were staying, was all the way near the southern tip of the island, and it was 1) really boring there, and 2) was getting hit with the worst of the rainy season. We thought if we drive out really far, we might be able to escape it for a bit. And as you can see, while the weather still wasn’t ideal, we did get a break of blue sky!

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

The main attraction in Northern Honto is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is located within the Ocean Expo Commemorative National Government Park. In addition to the aquarium, which costs 1,800 yen to access, there is also a dolphin lagoon, a sea turtle pool, and a manatee pool, all of which are free to access. Three beaches, Emerald Beach, Sunset Square, and Seashore Alameda, are also part of the park grounds. There is also the Oceanic Culture Museum and Native Okinawan Village, both of which we did not visit, but you can find more information at Japan-Guide. The park grounds are quite large, but there are multiple parking lots, and a small shuttle which you can ride for 200-yen.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is said to be the best aquarium in Japan. In the Okinawan dialect, churaumi means “beautiful sea”, and in this aquarium, you can see all that Okinawa’s beautiful sea has to offer. There are several species of tropical fish, many of which you can see inside the Kuroshio Tank, which is one of the largest tanks in the world.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

The aquarium is designed with the building entrance on the third floor, but actually begins on the fourth floor, where you can find statues of whales and manta rays. Visitors make their way down to the entrance in the Coral Lobby on the third floor. Immediately after the entrance, visitors are greeted by the “Life in Inoh” exhibit, which is a large touch pool full of starfish, seashells, and small fish.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Why, hello there Dory!

The aquarium route is easy to follow and guides you through a number of other exhibits, such as The Coral Sea, tank, which is open to the sky and is lit by natural sunlight. There are a number of other tanks housing tropical fish, coral reefs, and freshwater life.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

This cutie stayed by the glass and posed for our cameras!

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

I know that’s not it’s face, but it looks like it’s smiling at me! :)

Tropical fish are so colorful! I love it! You’ll also find other ocean life like sea turtles, manta rays, and seahorses in the exhibits.

But, the most exciting thing was seeing Jinta, the aquarium’s biggest whale shark. There are three whale sharks in the Kuroshio Tank, and Jinta is the largest measuring 8.5 meters in length and weighing an estimated 5.5 tons.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

We actually spent several hours at Churaumi Aquarium, which is funny because it was our first day on the island where we didn’t experience heavy rain. After eating lunch (taco rice and naan dogs), we ventured out to watch the manatees, turtles, and dolphins for a bit. We happened to catch the dolphins performing as part of a show, but we were most entertained by the manatees.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

There were two manatees hanging out in the tank. One was kind of lazy, and he did nothing but lay on the ground for a bit before eventually attempting to scratch his armpit for ten minutes. The other was a total showoff! He swam in circles, using one of his forelimbs to push against the walls to gain speed, then when he reached the window, he would perform a very graceful spin in the water, right before our eyes.

Finally, we made it out to Emerald Beach, a sand beach which is divided into three areas: a beach for playing and swimming, a beach for resting, and a beach for viewing. Of course with our luck, the rain found us, so we did some “viewing” and that’s about it.

Emerald Beach

We took a trip to the gift shop before leaving, so on the drive home we were nibbling on shio-chinsuko (Okinawan Salt Cookie). This stuff is so good; I almost bought the big omiyage boxes not to give out as souvenirs but to devour all by myself. But I stopped myself and settled for this tiny bag instead.

Shio Chinsukou!! (Okinawan Salt Cookie)

Back in Naha, we ate at Sam’s By The Sea. Sam’s Restaurant is a somewhat-expensive chain, which had locations just walking distance from our hotel in Kokusai-dori, but we did a little blog-research and decided to take a taxi out to the Sam’s By The Sea location in Awase.

Sam's By The Sea Restaurant

Good to know. Sam’s By The Sea is 1,684 miles away from Tokyo, and 12,570 miles away from San Francisco!

Chain or not, this restaurant is really fun. Typical tiki statues and torches for decor. They have a number of tropical cocktails, some of which come with souvenir cups which you can take home. We all decided to get one, and so now my husband and I are the lucky owners of a JAWS cup and this really awesome SKULL cup. The portions are large and heavy; very American-sized, if you ask me; and come with bread, pineapple butter, soup, and salad. Soup of the day was curry-flavored, and I was surprised to find blue cheese dressing as one of the options.

I chose the crab-stuffed red snapper and stuffed jumbo shrimp. I had absolutely no room for dessert after eating this!

Sam's By The Sea Restaurant

And the boys at our table both ordered the surf and turf: lobster and bacon-wrapped steak. Yum!

Sam's By The Sea Restaurant

There are a lot of good places to eat in Okinawa, as long as you know where to go, and while I normally prefer to eat at local favorites and mom-and-pop’s, a visit to Sam’s By The Sea is A-OK in my book.

Next time in the Golden Week in Okinawa series: Getting Out of Okinawa Honto!! After three days on the main island with mediocre beaches and a downpour of rain, we finally escape!!

Missed the previous posts? Find them here!

Golden Week in Okinawa pt. 5: Spam Musubi!

The Lost Blogs #28

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

Conbini Breakfast

Our hotel plan came with free breakfast daily, which to be honest, was okay but it’s not like we wanted to eat the same eggs, ham, and toast everyday. (Or, in my husband’s case, the same grilled fish, rice, miso soup, and natto. He really enjoyed Japanese breakfast buffets.)

Since we wanted to get an early start, we usually just picked up food at the nearby conbini (convenience store) and picked up pastries, like the above fluffy cheese bread and cranberry scone. The convenience stores are pretty much the same as on mainland Japan and carry the usual fare, but we were excited to see this addition in their fresh foods section:

Spam Musubi for breakfast!

Spam Musubi! Spam musubi is a popular snack/lunch food in Hawaii, and is very similar to the Japanese onigiri (rice ball). It’s made by topping rice with a slice of grilled spam marinated in oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar, and wrapping it in nori (dried seaweed). It’s actually one of my favorite snack foods!

Hawaiians refer to the dish as “musubi”, which comes from the Japanese word musubu (結び) meaning “to tie; to bind; to link”, because it “ties” the spam and rice together with the seaweed. But in Japan, they actually just refer to it as a “Pork Egg Series” (ポーク玉子シリーズ) of onigiri. So because it’s made with egg, the taste of Japanese musubi differs a little bit from the musubi of the Hawaiian islands.

Spam Musubi in Okinawan Conbini

Like Hawaiian musubi, “pork tamago onigiri” comes in a variety of flavors. In Hawaii, some popular variations include chicken katsu and Portugese sausage. Here are just a few types of Pork Tamago Onigiri which we found available in Okinawa:

  • Abura Miso (ポーク玉子油みそ), or “Fatty Miso” flavor. This is the “standard” or basic flavor that most shops carry, and is the most similar to the Hawaiian spam musubi. The Hawaiians use a marinade of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Instead, Okinawans make “abura miso”, which is basically miso paste flavored with pork fat. It’s made by mixing miso paste, sugar, and sanmai niku (pork belly).
  • Sea Chicken Mayonnaise (ポーク玉子シーチキンマヨネーズ), or “Tuna Mayo” flavor. This one comes with spam, egg, and a layer of tuna salad wrapped in rice and seaweed.
  • Juicy Cheese Croquette (ジューシーチーズコロッケ). I don’t know why it’s still part of the “pork egg series” because there is neither pork nor egg in this one. Instead, a piece of “juicy croquette”, tartar sauce, and a slice of cheese are wrapped in rice and seaweed.
  • Hot Chili Chicken (ホットチリチキン). Similar to the croquette one, this onigiri comes with a spicy chicken, cheddar cheese, and tartar sauce.
  • Cheese Hamburg (チーズハンバーグ). Instead of spam with abura miso sauce, you get a Hamburg patty marinated in teriyaki sauce and topped with cheese.

COOP in Miyako

Musubi makes for a quick and easy breakfast or snack, and is usually available for around 200-yen at conbini and supermarkets. I found the supermarket ones to be much heftier in size, and more tasty, since they were freshly made on-site. The one above, I picked up at COOP and enjoyed with a tiny can of MIKI rice drink and mugi-cha. Yum, yum, yum…

Next time in the “Golden Week in Okinawa” series: a visit to Churaumi Aquarium!

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!

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