Okinawa Prefecture in Japan has long been one of our dream destinations. We decided ages ago that once our jobs as English teachers ended, we’d go; in fact, I booked our plane tickets back in February. You’d think that with almost half a year of preparation, and how much I love to plan travel, the first week of our sayonara sojourn would have been scheduled out down to the last detail–but actually we left almost everything till the last minute. That was mostly on purpose, though it was also a little bit due to procrastination and a little bit due to the craziness of wrapping up our lives in Yamagata.
One Week on the Main Island of Okinawa
What We Did
First things first, you’re going to want to rent a car. Public transportation in Okinawa is minimal, confusing, and inconvenient. We got a great deal for a week-long rental through ToCoo, and even though we drove the entire island, we only used one tank of gas. TIP: Rent from a branch near Naha airport. They have free shuttle buses, so they can pick you up from the airport and then drop you back off when you bring the car back at the end of your trip.
Naha is just another big city, so to get out of the concrete jungle and into some real greenery, head north. We took the west coast up; there are a ton of beaches along the coast that you can stop at to break up the drive, so be sure to remember your beach gear.
Near the peninsula the aquarium is on are several smaller islands linked up by bridges. We went to Kourijima on the advice of the owner of the hostel we stayed at and hit the beach there for an afternoon.
Cape Hedo is the northernmost point on the main island and really beautiful, though there’s not much to do there besides look at the ocean and snap a few pictures of the pretty scenery. Oh, and maybe scale some volcanic rock cliffs, if you’re feeling adventurous.
Right across the street from Cape Hedo is the entrance to Dai Sekirinzan, a cool forest-and-rock reserve that costs ¥800 to access. There are three different paths you can follow depending on what you want to see–like banyan trees, rocks (vaguely) shaped like various creatures, and a panaoramic view of Cape Hedo. We combined all three for a good hour and a half stroll, and even made a friend on the way.
Once we were done with the north, we headed back south along the mountainous eastern coast. It was a long drive, but it went fast because there were hardly any lights or traffic. Down south, we visited Seifa Utaki, the most sacred of the Ryukyu Kingdom heritage sites; Peace Memorial Park, where we learned about the horrors of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa; and Shuri Castle in Naha, the royal court of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
We also wandered around Kokusaidori for a night, where we escaped the rain by trying all the samples of the various souvenir snacks (and even some alcohol) in the shops.
What We Ate
Where We Stayed
- Hotel King (Naha, 1 night, ¥2,500 each): Run by a sweet Mom-and-Pop duo, though there was a kid (maybe 16 or 17) who wasn’t so helpful. We had problems with the hot water tap in the bathroom sink (the hot water came out black), and when I went to tell him (in Japanese even), he just stared at me and rubbed his face like I’d just woken him up (it was close to noon at this point).
- Yoshika (Motobu, 2 nights, ¥2,500/night each plus ¥500/night for AC): Hama-san, the owner, was super chill and gave us a lot of advice about the area. We were desperate for a place to stay after driving north from Naha on our first full day on the island, and when we called, he set us up in a spare room he normally doesn’t rent out.
- Hotel Texas (Okinawa city, 1 night, ¥3,000 total): Totally random, awesome last-minute find that felt a little sketchy but was nevertheless clean. I don’t think they take reservations, but it’s open 24 hours a day. When we arrived to see if they had open rooms (close to midnight), the tiniest little grandma checked us in.
- GRG Naha Hotel (Naha, 2 nights, ¥2,250/night each plus ¥500/day for parking): This was our favorite, not only because of the nice room and location, but because they offer free all-you-can-eat breakfast, and the food was amazing. We filled up at breakfast, skipped lunch, and saved some money that way.
- Manekineko Karaoke (Ginowan, 1 night, ¥2,203 each including ¥200 for a new member card) I think for a little more we should have gone back to GRG, but it was late and we had driven up to Ginowan to see some friends.
Shoulda Coulda Woulda
If we had to do it all over again, our trip would probably end up looking pretty much the same. We really had a great time in Okinawa despite scrambling for places to sleep just about every night. That said, there are definitely lessons we’re taking away from this trip.
- Book accommodation further in advance: Couchsurfing during summer vacation is basically impossible. We planned on sleeping in the car if we had to, but it was too humid and we couldn’t find safe enough places to park when it came down to it
- Splurge for the flight to Ishigaki: The main island was awesome, but we had a ton of time on our hands that we totally could have used to go to Ishikgai, an island very highly rated among friends of ours who had visited Okinawa before us.
- Go to the beach more: We were unprepared and so only ended up going three (short) times; once to swim, twice to dip our feet in.
- Snorkle: Again, our unpreparedness worked against us.
If you had a week in Okinawa, what would you do?