In the previous article Discover Okinawa: Food and Drinks you had a chance to get familiar with the original foods and drinks of Okinawa.
But there is a lot more that makes Okinawa stand out above all the other Japanese regions, and the lifestyle is one of them!
The adorable monorail that runs in Naha, the major city on the main island of Okinawa（沖縄）, is called the Yui rail. It runs from the airport through the city centre and the famous Kokusai Dori (国際通り), and ends at Shuri Castle（首里城）. There are buses that run from Naha or Itoman to central and northern Okinawa, and are notoriously known on forums to be off-schedule. A car would certainly be the best bet in getting around the main island, but even though, we still had a pretty good experience with the public transportation. The buses were either on time or just 10 minutes late maximum! The laid back mentality of Okinawa is a definite plus when compared to Tokyo :). Just be prepared to walk a little as bus stops are usually not at the doorstep of a destination.
White sand, clear blue waters where the gradient runs from light to deep, a paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers or just anyone who loves the sun, the sand and the sea! Emerald Beach, Manza Beach and Moon Beach are some of the main Okinawa island beaches that are easily accessible. And if you are willing to walk (and climb) a little, you may even find a little private beach of your own ;). In addition, there are cliffs and lookout points such as Cape Maeda and Cape Manzamo, that offer beautiful views of the ocean. The beaches and waters are very clean and perfect for relaxing in the sun and snorkeling! There are also many diving schools along the beaches that offer discovery courses, as well as scuba diving certifications. For those who prefer the outdoors, there are also camping grounds on and near the beaches of the main island!
Sometimes there are even turtle sightings on the beaches! We were on Zamami island, which is one of the Kerama Islands, with 2 main beaches. One of them is perfect for snorkelling as it has clear 3-5m deep water and the most amazingly beautiful corals and fish. The other was known to have turtle sightings daily at 9am, when the tide is high and the turtles come closer to the shore. At 8:30 we took the scooter down to the beach and waited. And waited. And waited. We also bumped into another couple whom we had met in diving school in Onna! Okinawa is so small and friendly! It was 9:30 and we were almost going to give up when finally a turtle appeared!! It was about a foot long and extremely cute, paddling along without a worry in the world.
Right behind the lovely little pension we stayed at in Onna, there was a little path leading up a little hill. Silly as we were, we headed up just as the sun was about to set. Halfway up we realized “Hey, they said there could be snakes here…” and had a laugh, but continued walking cautiously. We reached somewhere near the top, and looked out upon the horizon at the fast diminishing sunlight. The view of the beach was spectacular. The ocean was transforming from the fun, exciting playground it is in the day, into a dark, mystical enigma of the night. Vivid imagery of giant squids, humpback whales and fluorescent plankton in its depths was drifting through my mind…
Okinawa has so many islands, and each of them seem to be equally interesting to explore, both on the land and underwater! The Kerama islands are just an hour’s ferry ride away, and are a cluster of islands close to one another, that contain spots with unique marine life. There is even a manta ray spot! There are many inns and hostels on these islands, as well as bike and scooter rentals. Exploring the island on wheels with the wind in your hair and the sun in your eyes! Nothing can be better than that!
We rented bicycles on Zamami Island at first and it was fine getting around the central part of the island, but getting to the various look-out points on the far ends required some serious uphill work. So we got a scooter instead, and had a blast discovering hidden spots in the more deserted parts! Serene beaches, empty huts, greenery everywhere.
A little further south are the remote hiking havens of the Yaeyama Islands; Iriomote, Miyakojima and Ishigaki, that can unfortunately only be accessed via plane. Iriomote is home to Iriomote cat, a type of leopard that is only found there and nowhere else in the world. Miyakojima is famous for salt, and Ishigaki is the commercial centre. To the west, nearer to Taiwan, lies Yonaguni, Japan’s mystical Atlantis. It is said to be the ancient civilization Mu that got submerged due to plate tectonics that changed sea water levels. There are rock formations that resemble stairs and even carvings and scratchings on them. However, there are differing theories on whether these were caused by natural forces or are man-made. I’ve only seen photos but it’s hard to believe that these weren’t made by people who once lived there! Guess I’d have to go see for myself since I’m a certified diver now! :D