For those seeking to explore the allure of Japan, the islands that surround the country’s mainland are rarely what first comes to mind. Okinawa is the largest of Japan’s Ryukyu and Okinawa Islands and sits at the southwest of Japan. During our five-day stay, we stay in the Island’s capital Naha, uncover Okinawa’s rich history, meet it’s unbelievably hospitable locals, and do some island hopping by visiting some of the smaller (and stunning) surrounding Ryukyu destinations. We did quite a lot during our stay there so I split my retelling of this journey into two posts. This is the second part of this trip, to read about the first part click here and for a breakdown of the entire trip, click scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Late Night Sushi
After spending the rest of the day wondering around Okinawa’s streets, we make the decision to do have our first taste of sushi on Japanese soil at a local restaurant near our AirBnB.
Upon entry, we’re happy to see that the seats at the chef’s counter are occupied by a row of satisfied looking local customers. As we were yet to experience traditional Japanese shoes-off dining, we slide into one of the private wooden dining booths behind the other diners and respectfully remove our footwear. When comfortable, we’re presented with a menu written entirely in Japanese, luckily for us, it has pictures too, so we trust our gut and pick our dishes by image. Opting for matching dishes (the best way to avoid food envy) we each order a plate of various classic nigiri. The flavor of each piece is unparamounted in comparison to any sushi I have tasted previously, the closest runner up being in Hong Kong.
When we finish eating, we approach the chef’s counter for a drink and are quickly invited into conversation with the locals seated there. With genuine curiosity, they ask us where we’re from, what we’re doing in Naha and begin treating us to a bounty of sake, oysters and other traditional and flavorsome dishes. One of the generous locals takes a particular liking to us (though her continuous shots of sake probably have a lot to do with this) and when she invites us to head to a bar in town we take up the opportunity with little hesitation.
A short cab ride later and we end up in a pretty desolate but seriously loud rock-and-roll bar, decked out with a full acoustic kit, rows of Japanese and Western liqueurs and a television flashing scenes from classic 80’s American music videos. As the endless tap of water-and-sake mixers start to combine with the surreality of the situation, we say one final ‘kanpai!’ before announcing our decision to go home, but before we leave, our incredibly hospitable host for the night buys us a bottle of sake on which the bartender writes our name and stores away for us to enjoy on our next visit.
After taking some time to recover from the previous night, we decide to have a relaxed day and explore one of Okinawa’s surrounding Kerama Islands.
The first on our list is Aka, where we hope to see some of the incredibly rare Kerama Deer, known for sticking exclusively to the Keramas and swimming from island to island. To get to Aka we take a direct ferry and, upon boarding, are amazed to see that there are no seats onboard, just a carpeted floor area for passengers to sit or lie on. Imitating the other people on their way to the island, we remove our shoes and find a spot to rest on.
Despite our ferry being relatively busy, as the other passengers make their way away from the port upon arrival at Aka, the island quickly reveals itself as being frighteningly quiet. We don’t have tons of time to spend here so are pleased when we find a local shop owner who provides bikes to rent. It’s worth noting that the Island is mostly residential, and when we visit we find it very hard to find somewhere to eat and our only option is to buy snacks from a supermarket, so I would recommend eating before or bringing a prepared lunch.
On our bike ride around the island’s paths, we discover a viewing point revealing a fantastic scene of the island and its beaches, even despite the overcast weather. After a couple of hours on the island, we begin to feel somewhat defeated in our mission of catching site of a Kerama deer and make our way back to the ferry port. On our journey we’re startled by some rustling, slow down and stay silent for a few moments. As we wait patiently, a pair of cautious deer slowly emerge from the bushes, and delicately trot around the path ahead of us before giving us a view of their heart patterned bottoms as they gallop away.
The following day we set out with the plan to visit the aquarium, however, after waiting for a considerable amount of time, when the bus to take us there finally arrives its packed. Not wanting to wait any longer for the next service in fear that it too will be full, we go into the nearby ferry port to have a look at the destinations on offer. Eventually, we settle on Tokashiki, another Kerama Island that sits at the most southern tip of Japan.
Much like Aka, upon our arrival we find Tokashki’s atmosphere to be breathtakingly still. Again, we decide to make our exploration of the island easier by renting a bike from a local vendor who we discover also loans fishing equipment, so we take advantage of this too. Our aim is to go to Aharen Beach, a paradise like place with sapphire blue water and sun-bleached white sand. While Aharen is certain to be a relaxing retreat, the journey there isn’t straight forward. It is possible to get the beach by bus or car however we didn’t discover this until our departure, so we ride, push and pull our bikes up and down steep, winding roads until we finally reach our destination which, to our relief, proves to be totally worth the pain, sweat and (almost) tears it took to get there.
The beach is surreally beautiful, but before we explore it we stop to eat at one of the few local restaurants for some fresh seafood. After eating we discover the beach offers a variety of activities including surfing, kayaking, and scuba diving. We spend the rest of our time on the island trying our luck beside a pair of local fishermen, and to our pleasure catch a bright pink fish which we photograph before releasing it back into the ocean.
How we traveled: We flew from Hong Kong International Airport to Naha Airport with Peach Airlines.
What we did: In the first half of our trip we went whale watching with Sea Sir Marine House, visited Kokusai street and Makishi Market. The next day we explored Shuri Castle. In the second half or our trip, we visited two of the Kerama Islands: Aka and Tokashiki.
Where we ate: We dined at whatever restaurant was nearby when we were feeling hungry. This included ramen, sushi, and other traditional Japanese cuisines. It’s never hard to find somewhere to eat and the locals will be more than happy to direct you somewhere.
Where we stayed: We stayed in an AirBnB apartment in Naha with a traditional Japanese interior.
Tips & Tricks: Change your currency before you arrive in Okinawa as it is difficult to find ATMs that accept international cards. If you are ever in need of help, feel confident to ask a local. From our experience, even those who can’t speak English will go out of their way to help you!