It was my birthday the day I departed for Okinawa and things couldn’t get worse from the moment I woke up. My iPhone 6S which had been faithfully serving me for years decided to crash after I install IOS12 and refused to reboot. After trying for a while, I rushed out to buy a new XS, just hours before my flight, making a small dent in my pocket.
I then received news that Typhoon Trami had made landfall last night at Japan’s Ryukyu islands including Okinawa and power were cut off on the island and more than 1000 flights were cancelled. Thankfully, our flight was not cancelled and Typhoon Trami has gone to the main island of Japan when we arrived in Okinawa.
Our one week in Okinawa was highlighted with erratic weather conditions, strong winds and rain, and I met Typhoon Kong Rey as well 3 days later which disrupted our 1-day tour with Klook as the Japanese government issued a warning to stay indoors and cancelled all public transport except taxis. Shops and restaurants were closed once the warning was issued and the streets were practically empty by 3 pm.
Although the trip did not start off too well but to look on the brighter side of things, I am happy to own a new iPhone and experienced a typhoon once in my life.
Okinawa History & Food
Here is a short history of Okinawa so that you can appreciate its culture, food and diversity better as compared to the main island of Japan. The islands were once a small independent nation called the Ryukyu Kingdom and Okinawa has drawn influences from China, Southeast Asia, Japan and America, cultivating an abundant culture of its own. Okinawa was only officially established as a prefecture of Japan in 1879, bringing the Ryukyu Kingdom to an end after 450 years.
In my opinion, Okinawa food is rather unique and feels more Chinese rather than Japanese. Goya or bitter gourd is a popular vegetable in Okinawa and you cannot possibly claim to have experienced Okinawan food culture without trying Goya Champuru (stir-fried bitter gourd with eggs).
I highly recommend that you visit Okashi Goten at Kokusai Dori street where you can try all the snacks you like before buying. The shop also has a café selling Blue Seal Beni-imo ice cream and a small section selling Okinawa T-shirts and souvenirs. I regretted not buying more beni-imo and salt cookies back home!
Hotel Rocore Naha
We stayed in Hotel Rocore for 6 nights and couldn’t be happier with its strategic location (at the main shopping street of Naha on Kokusai street) and comfortable modern room which was not too small compared to the ones in Tokyo. The WIFI connection in Hotel Rocore was also excellent.
It is just a 2-min walk away from Prefectural Office (Kencho-mae) Monorail station, offering convenient access by Monorail to the Naha Airport in around 15 minutes.
I would highly recommend their breakfast which was voted the best in Naha and offers a wide array of fresh local ingredients for both Okinawan and international cuisines.
The Shurijo Castle was originally the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879) before it become neglected and was almost completely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The castle was then restored and reconstructed on the original site based on historical records and was designated as a world heritage site in December 2000. It was a long 20-min walk from the monorail station to reach the castle and since we were already there, we paid 800 yen per person to enter the castle where we need to remove our shoes to tour the place.
Okinawa Outlet Mall Ashibinaa
We took a shuttle bus to Ashibinaa from the Naha domestic airport at 250 yen person (one way) and spent a good half-day shopping there. We bought clothes from Adidas and Polo Ralph Lauren and were greeted by a super long queue of tourists trying to claim their tax returns for the items bought at the outlet mall. We queued for more than an hour so thankfully we didn’t join any guided tour otherwise it would be too rushed.
I highly recommend going to Yappari Steak just near the tax return counters as this was one of the best steak we had, came served on a hot lava stone and it’s really affordable! I ordered a 200g tenderloin and wished I had ordered the 300g instead!
We rented a car from Times Car Rental (Kokusai Dori store) for 3D2N to drive around Nago City (around 2 hrs drive from Naha) which is known for its beach resorts along Nago Bay.
We stayed at Kanehide Kise Beach Palace at Nago city which was not as good as Hotel Rocore and their WIFI was totally non-existent. It was easy to navigate around Nago city with the GPS system in the car (in English) simply by entering the map code or phone number of the place although there were a few times we realized the GPS brought us along a longer roundabout route.
Here are some of the places we visited in Nago city:
Cape Manzamo features an impressive rock formation (shaped like an elephant trunk) and beautiful tropical coastline and is a must-visit when traveling up or down Route 58. The only downside is that Cape Manzamo is a very popular tourist destination which could get pretty crowded in the afternoons. The car park is free of charge and there are some small souvenir shops and restrooms there.
Arashiyama Observation Deck
The Arashiyama Observation Deck provides a panoramic view of the Haneji inland sea and the scenery from the deck is really breath-taking. The best part is that this is a free attraction.
The facilities were newly built and you can reach the waterfall by walking a few minutes from the carpark without breaking a sweat. The waterfall is small but we still enjoy the walk around the park and the short walk to the waterfall. I love the thundering sound of waterfalls as it was always therapeutic to watch the falls from a close distance. This was a free attraction when we visited.
Okinawa World is a touristy theme park about Okinawan culture and features a massive natural limestone cave grown on coral reef (the 300,000 year old Gyokusendo cave), a traditional craft Village and a snake museum (Habu Park).
In my opinion, only the limestone cave is worth visiting in this place, which features spectacular stalactites and stalagmite structures.
One of the largest aquarium in the world, the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is located within the Ocean Expo Park in Okinawa. We came here by booking a 1-day tour with Klook but our tour was disrupted by Typhoon Kong-Rey as they had to send us back to the hotel immediately at 2 pm once the typhoon warning was issued. We managed to catch the highly anticipated dolphin show at the Okichan Theatre which was also cut short due to the typhoon.
I emailed Klook for a partial refund as we only visited one attraction that day but they did not even reply my email. Overall, I felt that Okinawa is a lot more laid back than Tokyo and great for people who loved water sports and beach activities. A one-week stay in Okinawa would be sufficient to visit the major sights and attractions.
By the way, all photos in the post were taken with my new IPhone XS as I decided to leave my camera at home for this trip. Do share with me some of your recommendations too if you had visited Okinawa before as I planned to return for water sports and self-drive again next year. 🙂