Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Okinawa Honto

My brother and I spent 23 days in Japan last month. We backpacked and we started off with Okinawa--my favourite destination on our whole trip. I will make a separate post about what I packed for the trip and our complete itinerary. 

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When we were planning our trip, Okinawa was one of my prime destinations. I always had a fascination of this place, fuelled by anime and television. I recently watched one of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown episode on Okinawa and I was pretty hooked. I gotta go there!

Okinawa is the largest out of the Ryukyu island chain. Okinawa has not always been part of Japan. It became an official Japanese prefecture in 1879 (Source: Wikipedia). After WWII, the island was invaded by 185,000 US Army and Marine Corps troops. For 5 years, until 1950, the Ryukyu Islands were governed by the U.S Military Government (a military occupation, in short). This would explain the numerous amount of large American military bases in Okinawa. As per recent polls, their presence and involvement in Okinawa is not appreciated by most Okinawans. 
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The plan for this leg: 
Day 1
 Check into hotel for the night in Naha, close to Tomari Port (Hotel Livemax Naha Tomariko)

From Tomari Port, take the Queen Zamami to Zamami Island. 
Stay a night there at Beach Comber Zamami. 
Explore the island by rental car (from Zamami Rental Car). 
Return to Naha on the morning of Day 3. 

Days 3 and 4
Explore as much of Northern Okinawa Honto as possible by rental car 
(Toyota Aqua from OTS rent-a-car). 
Go to Churaumi Aquarium. 
Explore Bise. Stay at Guest House Isa. 

Days 4 and 5
Head back down south towards Naha. Visit Kadena Air Base. Visit Busena Marine Park. Find somewhere to eat taco rice. Visit Shuri Castle and Kokusai-dori. Find our hotel near the airport (Mr. Kinjo Violette Kukomae). 

Day 5
Return to Tokyo to explore the mainland. 

After our flight to Tokyo, we took a connecting flight a few hours later to Naha. 
View from the hotel balcony (Hotel Livemax Naha Tomariko).
Weather: humid. 
The cars in Japan are noticeably smaller. 
These road pylons were pretty cute. 
Near Tomari Port, there was this cemetery. I think most of the bodies laid to rest here were from the army.
Views of Tomari Port from a nearby parking lot
Naha by the ocean. 
It does remind me of my home country quite a bit. 
Stopped by this place by the road. 
Imagine the colour of the water on a sunny day. 
Such a cool drive. 
Driving on the Okinawa Expressway. 
Looking for a different destination, we somehow ended up in Bise Tree Road. 
The owner of the guest house we stayed at told us about a place where not many people knew about.  We thought it was in here somewhere. 
Though we didn't know where we were at that time, we loved getting lost in this place. 
Such a magical place. People live here too! How lucky!
This cat darted right towards me when I waved my hand. Started petting it and it started rolling on the road. I saw a car coming and the cat just lay there on the road like it didn't care. The two cars had to go around the cat.
We kept walking and...whoa
We had no idea where we are but we were extremely happy finding this place. 
A lot of critters in the water. 
Some Korean tourists exploring the water too. 
To my surprise, you can see blue fish from the shore. Whoa. After seeing this, I considered going snorkelling right then and there. But we had another destination in mind and we didn't have any goggles. 
My favourite place in Japan. 
Soaking up the view.
There was a huge pile of these shells around. 
Going back to find the parking lot was harder than we thought. 
This was actually the place we were originally looking for. Finally found it after getting lost in the Tree Road. 
Very peaceful place. I suspect it does have religious ties. 
The pathway down to this place. 
After a quick shopping trip, we managed to find goggles at Family Mart and snorkelled. There were a lot of cool species down there! We then enjoyed this lovely sunset. 
The venerable Toyota Aqua's. In North America, it's a Prius-C.

Edit 08/04/2016: 
I just learned that the green and yellow chevron at the back is called the Beginner Drivers' Mark or the "shoshinsha mark." It basically tells other drivers that you're a beginner driver. 
The farms around our guest house. 
Cabbages on sale for 100 yen. 
The small cafe beside our guest house. Such a cute place. 
We arrive at Churaumi Aquarium. 
The main attraction here is the whale shark tank. There are 3 of them in there. 
View of the whale shark tank from the top!
Trying to take pictures under the bridge but it started to rain. 
We started heading south back to Naha. Here is the massive U.S Air Force Kadena airbase and it is more active than you might think. 
Is this a C-130 Hercules? Airplanes land here every 15 minutes or so.
We watched the planes land from the observatory on Kadena Town Michi-no Eki. 
Aviation photographers hang out here with massive, enviable lenses while listening to aviation band scanners to track down when a plane will land. 
The infamous taco rice from King Tacos (it was delicious).  Anthony Bourdain ate at this exact location--so did Adam Liauw. 
Check out their FB page for the address: https://www.facebook.com/kingtacos/
Kin Town is home to Camp Hansen, a U.S.M.C base in Okinawa (one of many American bases)
Hence, it was not surprising to see some more "Western" style installations here. The whole taco-rice dish was basically created to satisfy the palettes of Americans serving here. 
Just had to take a picture. 
Finally arrived at Naha to see Shuri Castle. 
The view was extremely cool though we parked at the wrong place and had to walk quite far. Also it was really humid. 
Found out that we couldn't get in the castle because it closed by the time we got there. 
We were pretty exhausted by this time. 
And... it started to rain.
    
Walking back to our car. 
Kokusai-dori is the main shopping/touristy street in Naha. Best time to come here is the morning. Many of the vendors that sell famous products were closed or closing for the night.
Wagyu?
We ate at a touristy restaurant and bought the set. This was umibudo, also knows as sea grapes. They are served with vinegar and they taste pretty close to salmon roe. 
The pink stuff is tofu fermented in awomori. The tofu on the right is made with peanuts. 
Sashimi of the day. 
Fried sweet potato cakes. 
Octopus and something...
Edit: The one on the right is pig's ear!
Tofu salad.
Habushu, Okinawan habu snake liquor. 
We actually bought a small bottle as a souvenir. 

TL;DR - Story about getting lost: 
After we left Kokusai-dori, we attempted to find our hotel. Unfortunately, our pocket wifi (basically a device that gave us a hotspot everywhere, using an LTE signal) had died and we had no directions there (whoopsie). We were so exhausted. First, I thought that I could get wi-fi from the Family Mart. Once I got there, they do have free wi-fi, BUT, I had to read a QR code to get in and I didn't know how to read it on my phone. Plan failed. Alright, now what? Fortunately, I was saved by Google as it had saved the location of the hotel in the map and I could navigate the map offline. Bless you, Google, for being creepy and knowing all my business. Lessons learned. Keep pocket wi-fi charged at all times. 

Then, we got to the hotel. Now what, how do I get in? There was a keypad by the parking lot and a door and instructions in Japanese. What the hell were we supposed to dial? What room number were we? We were pretty confused and beyond tired. So we waited at the door, hoping someone would come out/come in. Eventually, a group of Japanese came in. We get into the hotel. Now what? There was no reception desk. How do we get our keys?? My brother quickly asked the Japanese folks about how to get our keys. They told us "room 201." So we got to room 201 and got our keys. Thank God. It wasn't over though. 

We went back to the parking lot to get our bags. I wasn't sure whether I should prop the door open in case we couldn't get back in. Ah, whatever, I thought. We have keys now. We should be good. Low and behold, we didn't have a flippin clue about how to get back in. We tried dialling our room number in the keypad. We heard dialtones, then silence. We tried this probably ten times. Then it finally hit me. Yes, you idiot, how can someone open the door from your room if there's nobody inside? So after half an hour of being idiots, I dialled 201 on the keypad and a voice from the heavens answered. Door open. Thank God. We were probably ready to sleep in our cars at this point. We were at the end of our ropes. 

Our Okinawa Honto destination at-a-glance.

Anyways, Okinawa Honto is an amazing place. Too bad the weather wasn't on our side. Nevertheless, I would gladly come back here again. Next up, Zamami Island! 
-e.m.

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