First impressions of Okinawa were not the best. Flying into Naha, we saw mostly concrete, dirty buildings and a vast, sprawling cityscape. Most of the southern part of the island is dominated by the city of Naha (pop. 300,000). Much of the island is also dominated by US military bases (much of which lay nearby Naha). Driving out of Naha took awhile, because traffic was bad. We drove by the military bases, which didn’t look too attractive and the areas nearby were dominated by tattoo parlors and shopping malls. We also saw protesters sitting outside one of the base’s gates.
July 15-19, 2016
As we fly back to Seattle from the island of Okinawa, Monica and I recapped our trip. We both agreed we could have done Kyoto for another night or two. The city was definitely on top of our list and we only got to see a fraction of the city. But we had to say “siyounara,” so we could make our way to Okinawa. We chose to go to Okinawa so that we could relax and get some beach time for our honeymoon.
Impressions of Okinawa
We made our way to the island of Okinawa via the Osaka Kansai Airport. Okinawa is the largest island in the Ryukyu Islands, a chain of islands that sits a couple hundred miles off the Japanese island of Kyushu and stretches all the way to Taiwan. The islands are subtropical and are known to have the best beaches in Japan.
Most of my knowledge of Okinawa before our visit came from The Karate Kid Part II. However, the island has historically only been part of Japan for a short time. Before the islands were conquered by a Japanese samurai clan in the 1600s, they had been part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a tributary state of China. Although most Okinawans now speak Japanese as their primary language, they see themselves as Okinawans and not Japanese. The Okinawans took a huge toll in WWII, where the islands were thoroughly destroyed and a third of the island’s population perished in the Battle of Okinawa. Today there’s a huge US military presence on the main island. (The US didn’t give the islands back to Japan until the 1970s.)
Eventually, we made our way to the more rural and rugged north, where we would be staying at the JAL Private Resort Okuma. Once we left the urban south, the island began to look a lot like Hawaii. There are long, white sand beaches, palm trees and rugged, forested mountains. Volcanic islands dot the coast.
As we drove north, we decided we needed to pull some cash out from the ATM. While on Honshu, we used 7-11s to pull out cash. 7-11s were really numerous and convenient and we weren’t charged exchange or ATM fees. When we arrived to Okinawa, we were shocked to find that there wasn’t a single 7-11 on the island.
Somewhere near the town of Nago we stopped at a Family Mart (Japan is a nation of 7-11-type convenient stores). Our ATM card was rejected here. Luckily, convenient stores in Japan take credit cards–something that most stores and restaurants are very reluctant to take, if at all use. We were able to stock up on some snacks and drinks here. We next stopped at a Lawsons (another minimart), where our ATM card was rejected also.
We began to get a little worried, because, unless we wanted to just eat convenient store food for the next few days, we had a limited supply of cash. When we arrived to the resort, we were relieved to learn that they took credit card and we could charge food to our room at their restaurants.
We decided to give the ATM one more try and read online that the post offices in Japan would take American ATMs. We gave the local post office a try, but with no avail… We later read that most ATM machines and banks will not accept cards or accounts from outside of Japan.
Luckily, we realized that Okinawa could be done on the cheap. Most of the things on our itinerary were free (i.e. beach time and hiking). Since our travel book had a limited section on Okinawa, I found a great website to search out adventures: www.mapitokinawa.com. We set out to find some free fun.
Ta Taki Falls: We found a nice hike to Ta Taki waterfalls. The 2 or 3 mile hike leads up a jungle creek filled with pools of water and small waterfalls, so get ready to get your feet wet. We went on a weekend day, so there were a lot of American servicemen and their families on the trail.
Cape Hedo: One morning we woke up early and drove to the very far northern tip of the island to watch the sunrise at the cape. It was beautiful to see and the lava landscape was very unique looking. We also found an ancient tomb, supposedly built for a long ago, disgraced king. We also discovered this weird ocean viewing tower built to look like a bird.
Biking: Our resort had beach cruisers to rent, so we got two and cruised around the villages and farmland near the resort. We stopped at this strange highway-side souvenirs shop and had a delicious stir fry meal there. We ended up getting caught in a thunderstorm, but it was fun exploring around on the bikes instead of the car.
Motobu Peninsula: One day we drove out to the Motobu Peninsula. The peninsula is famous for the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. The peninsula has a few small towns to explore. (We stopped to eat at cafe-CAHAYA BULAN in the hedged-lined village of Bise.) We also found an old castle (Nakijin Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site). As well, we found a bridge that led to the small island of Kouri Ji.
A Final Reflection on our Honeymoon to Japan
Leaving our beach resort on Okinawa at 7 am, we were setting out for the long trip home. We drove 2 hours to get to the Naha Airport, then we flew another 2-3 hours to Tokyo. We had a few hours for a layover and debated taking the 10 minute train to Narita to get one last stop in for our Japan Honeymoon. We nixed the idea, because it would have been too rushed. Instead we ended up doing one last sushi lunch and a small souvenirs spending spree in the shops of the airport.
Eventually, we boarded our flight to Seattle, leaving at at 5 pm on July 19th and arriving in LA at 11 am on the 19th. How could this be for a trans-Pacific flight?! We traveled back in time! We left Tokyo at exactly the same time on the 19th that we landed in Seattle!
Monica and I decided we should have done our trip in reverse… Okinawa was a nice place to rest and relax, which would’ve been nice to have done when we arrived to Japan, especially after all the rush of the wedding. The rest of the places we visited in Japan were definitely highlights! Japan was a perfect place for a honeymoon. It wasn’t Monica’s first choice, but I think after visiting, she grew to appreciate it. It was a cultural an epicurean adventure. We saw so many beautiful places and sites. The setting was very romantic. Japan was a great way to kickstart our marriage, and we look forward to returning someday in the future (perhaps a 10 or 20 year anniversary?).
Where We Stayed: We stayed at the JAL Private Resort Okuma on the north end of the island. The resort included a lot of amenities: several restaurants (our favorite was the Okinawan Izakaya place), a great white sand beach, a rental shop for bikes, a sauna/spa/health center, a chapel for getting married. The room was comfortable. Overall, we liked the resort, although it was a little more, for lack-of-a-better-word, “run down” than we expected. The staff didn’t speak the best English, and it seemed like the resort mostly catered to Japanese tourists. The only other foreigners we saw at the resort were 2 or 3 European couples.