I spent the last 8 days in wonderful Okinawa. These are a group of islands formerly known as the Ryukyu kingdom and they were under Chinese control until the late 1800s when Japan was successfully encroaching upon Beijing.
Because of their far off location & short inclusion in Japanese history they have a very special culture (which I didn’t witness too much I’m ashamed to say) and many even speak Japanese that sounds very old-fashioned. Some bus drivers up north on the main island even said they spoke English but only a little bit of Japanese! The English influence is probably the result of the American bases that are spread out all over the island like the plague.
The capital, Naha, is a sprawling city – with around 400,000 inhabitants. When I arrived it was raining (Okinawa being between the equator and the tropic of cancer average temperatures range between 15 and 30 C) but I was extremely lucky with the weather after, and didn’t really experience any daytime rain thereafter.
I first took a ferry to Zamamijima (jima, or shima, is the Japanese word for island) which took about 2 hours (slow ferry aka cheaper). This island is usually crowded from January till March as people flock there to see the humpback whales. It also has good diving, which was my reason to stop by.
It’s a tiny island, with a population of only 1000. I camped out for the 2 nights, and was very happy with the lack of rain, as my tent was cheap and therefore NOT waterproof. I was there for 3 days – the first day I rented a bike with a Japanese girl I’d just met and we biked one of the two circuits around the island – about 10K long. The next day I went diving which was so-so: I was not convinced about their interest in my certification level, and the follow up on the diving was pretty much non-existent. I found a BSAC place there though, so anyone interested in diving on zamami there IS a BSAC shop there. Don’t know how much it is though. The quality of the underwater life WAS good – we swam through narrow coral walls (lots of fire coral too) and saw a ton of garden eels and some other cool fish we didn’t really identify by name.
The last day there was my beach time – and I chose a good day to do it too, it was so hot!
I got back to my hostel in Naha and ended up going to karaoke with some of the other people. I never thought I’d like karaoke so much when coming to Japan. Though it’s better if you’ve had a few, obviously.
I didn’t go to any other islands as I wanted to take it easy – a decision I regretted as soon as I saw the swarms of people further up north.
I went to Okinawa during what’s known as “golden week” in Japan. This is a week where there are 4 holidays very close to each other and some people get a whole week off. But I didn’t feel the full force in the beginning as the first holiday was on Thursday the 29th (the former emperor Hirohito’s birthday), some people had to work on the Friday so only once the weekend started did all the other Japanese flock to Okinawa.
The other days in golden week are may 3rd – constitution memorial day, may 4th – greenery day, a day that used to be on the 29th but they changed it around in 2007 and it’s a day to honor nature and be thankful for it’s blessings, and may 5th – children’s day, or also known as boy’s day to celebrate their happiness and longevity.
I went up north and stayed at a random campground. Again, I was very lucky it didn’t rain but there were very strong, typhoon-esque winds circulating which meant that I was very worried all night that my cheap tent might tear!!
The next morning I went to the world expo park, where every person visiting japan was also going to I realized, because they have the best aquarium in japan – one of its main attractions is the world’s second-largest acrylic glass tank measuring 8.2m by 22.5m and contains huge manta rays as well as 3 whale sharks.
They’d predicted rain for the afternoon so I decided to chill on emerald beach, named for the beautiful color of the water!!, in the morning and then maybe go to the aquarium in the afternoon, but this was a mistake, as not only did it generally get busier, but it also got busier because after 4pm it’s 600 yen cheaper per person. And the Japanese L.O.V.E. to queue – it must’ve been a wait of more than 2 hours…
At this point the rain forecast was changed to just cloud, so I decided to come back in the morning as early as possible and I went to find a random beach to camp on. Many other families had had this idea so I was surrounded by kids screaming and running around. But the parents proved more of a problem being loud and drunk and 1am!!
The aquarium was very impressive. I still wasn’t too convinced by the allocation of space per animal, but it was very educative and the whalesharks were stunning. I’ve always wanted to see one… now to see it in the water!
That evening I met up with a lady who lives one of the many American bases. I knew her through a friend who’d met her a week before, and it was good timing as a cold that had started coming on got really bad as well as that there was rain so I was happy to be in a bed! With a mattress!
But other than that the base tour and everything really showed how much those ladies live in a sheltered environment. Okinawa is more chilled out than mainland japan as it is, but then to live somewhere where you get US dollars from bank machines! It’s quite ridiculous.
Luckily we didn’t spend too long there. We went to a slightly tacky village to get an idea of Okinawan culture (that dealt with a guilty feeling in my mind) and then went to see some more views of the stunning water. I also got a very Japanese manicure… see the photos!
My last day in Okinawa I headed back to Naha to do some last minute shopping but I was feeling so out of it as a result of my cold as well as that it was crazy humid that I was happy to get back to Nagoya…
But I will say this – I know I’ll be heading back to Okinawa at some point in the future.