If You Can’t Find The Beach, Let it Find You

This article originally featured in the May 2020 issue of Connect.

From the bustle of Tokyo, to the calm of Okinawa

Angus Anderson (Tokyo)

Let me preface this story by telling you, I am from a place filled with gorgeous beaches and nature called Tasmania. Anyway, I currently live in Tokyo, a place not well known for its beaches or multitudes of natural attractions. After travelling to the “beaches” nearest to Tokyo, Zushi and Kamakura, I was still feeling unsatisfied. It was then I realised that there was one particular place in Japan that could not only fulfil my craving for a true beach but could also scratch an itch that I had held for many, many years. This is where the diamond blue waters of Okinawa came into the fray.

To me, Okinawa has always been a place I wanted to visit, the pièce de résistance of Japan. Combining not only amazing nature and beaches, but also the relaxed, friendly vibe of the people who inhabit Okinawa. So, on a whim, I suggested Okinawa to my friends, one of whom had the chance to go in the past but was swiftly crushed after an expired International Driver’s Permit (IDP) stopped her in her tracks. So, with literally no fixed agenda, we booked our flights, booked a car, made a rough plan, booked the hotels and then finally got on the bus to Narita Airport.

Arriving into Naha was like taking a step into an alternate reality. I felt like I had taken a step into a hybrid of Thailand, Northern Australia, America and Japan. The trip began as a bit of a blur, getting in and locating our car. Once we got the car, the trip truly began, with Naha now fully on display. While Okinawa is relatively small, Naha felt like a small metropolis taken from along the Chuo Line. The streets still littered with neon, conbini and izakayas.

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However, once truly in the thick of the Naha neighbourhood, we were blessed with one of the best parts of Okinawa, the cuisine. Okinawa is famous for a variety of food and drinks, especially the replacements for the staples of izakayas. Umibudo or “sea grapes” are a common sight in Okinawa, a salty ball of goodness. Like most other prefectures, Okinawa also has its own soba. My friend and I dove straight into the food and both of our dreams of eating awesome food were met.

Following on from our adventures in Naha, we travelled the entire island trying to get to every bucket list spot. We ticked off as many as we could, including the recently destroyed Shuri Castle. We began by travelling to lookouts along the west coast of the island, before arriving at our stay on Sesoko Island. After a day of driving, the next day was spent at Churaumi Aquarium. The aquarium allows you to get up-close and personal with whale sharks, as well as manta rays. It also features lots of different areas, including a large pool where dolphins perform.

Before heading south, we decided to head to Kouri Island, where the famous Heart Rock resides. The island features an ocean tower, which gives you a 360-degree view of the surrounding islands. On our way to Okinawa City, we had to make a stop in at the famous Okinawan ice creamery chain, Blue Seal, with both of us opting for Okinawan exclusives of shiikuwasha (a type of citrus fruit) and beni imo (Okinawan purple sweet potato).

In Okinawa City, we finally fulfilled a long-time dream of mine and one of the reasons I came—snorkelling. We found a tour that not only included snorkelling but also kayaking—an awesome package for the cheap price. The day began with us kayaking through the mangroves, a first for my travel companion. Following on from this, I finally got what I wanted, swimming in crystal clear water amongst brightly coloured fish. Compared to beaches in my adopted area, Okinawa provided me with a slice of home.

Finally, we headed to Itoman before our final day back in Naha. On our way south, we stopped at a very sobering place, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial. While we arrived too late to see inside, walking past the names of people who were lost in the war showed the true effect of war on this island. The memorial is located on a gorgeous coast, where all 47 prefectures pay homage. After exploring the site, we hopped in the car and headed for our final night/day in Naha.

After we woke in that morning, we had some breakfast and then headed to a beach close to the car rental, giving us one last gorgeous view. Of all the places I have been around the world, Okinawa will always be one of the best, combining Japanese culture with a relaxed, beach-centred lifestyle usually seen elsewhere. A great place for a busy Tokyoite to take a moment for themselves.

To me, Okinawa has always been a place I wanted to visit, the pièce de résistance of Japan. Combining not only amazing nature and beaches, but also the relaxed, friendly vibe of the people who inhabit Okinawa. So, on a whim, I suggested Okinawa to my friends, one of whom had the chance to go in the past but was swiftly crushed after an expired International Driver’s Permit (IDP) stopped her in her tracks. So, with literally no fixed agenda, we booked our flights, booked a car, made a rough plan, booked the hotels and then finally got on the bus to Narita Airport.

Arriving into Naha was like taking a step into an alternate reality. I felt like I had taken a step into a hybrid of Thailand, Northern Australia, America and Japan. The trip began as a bit of a blur, getting in and locating our car. Once we got the car, the trip truly began, with Naha now fully on display. While Okinawa is relatively small, Naha felt like a small metropolis taken from along the Chuo Line. The streets still littered with neon, conbini and izakayas.

However, once truly in the thick of the Naha neighbourhood, we were blessed with one of the best parts of Okinawa, the cuisine. Okinawa is famous for a variety of food and drinks, especially the replacements for the staples of izakayas. Umibudo or “sea grapes” are a common sight in Okinawa, a salty ball of goodness. Like most other prefectures, Okinawa also has its own soba. My friend and I dove straight into the food and both of our dreams of eating awesome food were met.

Following on from our adventures in Naha, we travelled the entire island trying to get to every bucket list spot. We ticked off as many as we could, including the recently destroyed Shuri Castle. We began by travelling to lookouts along the west coast of the island, before arriving at our stay on Sesoko Island. After a day of driving, the next day was spent at Churaumi Aquarium. The aquarium allows you to get up-close and personal with whale sharks, as well as manta rays. It also features lots of different areas, including a large pool where dolphins perform.

Before heading south, we decided to head to Kouri Island, where the famous Heart Rock resides. The island features an ocean tower, which gives you a 360-degree view of the surrounding islands. On our way to Okinawa City, we had to make a stop in at the famous Okinawan ice creamery chain, Blue Seal, with both of us opting for Okinawan exclusives of shiikuwasha (a type of citrus fruit) and beni imo (Okinawan purple sweet potato).

In Okinawa City, we finally fulfilled a long-time dream of mine and one of the reasons I came—snorkelling. We found a tour that not only included snorkelling but also kayaking—an awesome package for the cheap price. The day began with us kayaking through the mangroves, a first for my travel companion. Following on from this, I finally got what I wanted, swimming in crystal clear water amongst brightly coloured fish. Compared to beaches in my adopted area, Okinawa provided me with a slice of home.

Finally, we headed to Itoman before our final day back in Naha. On our way south, we stopped at a very sobering place, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial. While we arrived too late to see inside, walking past the names of people who were lost in the war showed the true effect of war on this island. The memorial is located on a gorgeous coast, where all 47 prefectures pay homage. After exploring the site, we hopped in the car and headed for our final night/day in Naha.

After we woke in that morning, we had some breakfast and then headed to a beach close to the car rental, giving us one last gorgeous view. Of all the places I have been around the world, Okinawa will always be one of the best, combining Japanese culture with a relaxed, beach-centred lifestyle usually seen elsewhere. A great place for a busy Tokyoite to take a moment for themselves.

 

Angus is a first-year JET living in West Tokyo. Arriving in the big smoke from the small Australian state capital of Hobart, he is a food lover who loves to find the best meal in his locale. Follow him on Instagram @gus_ando

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