On Oct 11th Japan reopened to visitors! We spent 3 days in Kyoto, one in Kobe, and 3 days in Kinosaki Onsen town. We loved Kyoto and Kobe as well, but the internet has about one million reviews of those, so we’ve focused here on Kinosaki Onsen.
Kinosaki Onsen is located in Toyooka prefecture, about a 2 hour train ride from Kyoto and Osaka. There are several express trains from each place, but they only run about once per hour or so (in the case of Kyoto, only once ever 3 hours when we were there), so be sure to do a little train line research. There are more frequent trains, but they can take 3-4 hours to get there with a lot of stops, you want the express!
Kinosaki Onsen just celebrated it’s 1,300 year anniversary as a tourist destination, and you thought Disneyland had been around forever! As American’s it’s always amazing to us that places have so much continuous history.
When you arrive by train to Kinosaki onsen you are greeted by this crab instaliation, which is a hint that this is a seafood area, and crab is it’s specialty. Even though it’s not right on the ocean, it’s only a stones throw away (you can see the ocean from the top of the ropeway).
Of course the main reason to visit any onsen town is the hot springs baths! This town has several and almost every lodging will include a pass to visit all of them (or if you are a day tripper, you can pay per onsen, or buy a pass for all of them for about ¥1,200 (in 2022). We stayed at Kinosaki-Onsen Sinonomesou, this was a very nice ryokan just off the main street. The room was Japanese style (meaning tatami mats and futon mattresses) and spacious. The town isn’t very big, and it was less than a 150 meter walk to the canal street that you’ve probably seen in all the reviews and photos.
We didn’t get meals at the ryokan since one of us is vegetarian. Most of the ryokan meals are quite expensive, and quite worth it if you can eat the tasty local seafood and beef. Not to worry as there were many good places to eat in town. A couple of particularly good places were the seafood place (which also had a vegetable only tempura set), and the “beer and pizza” place. (If you are on a 1 week trip in Japan, don’t get pizza, but as we have lived there for years, we’ve found we really enjoy “Japanese style” pizzas. Please click on the photos in this gallery for details:
We spent 3 nights in Kinosaki onsen, including one day renting a car from Toyooka station to visit some soba shops and see some rock formations. A thing to remember in Japan is that it’s perfectly normal to rent a car for 6 or 12 hours, since so many city tourists come out and about. You do need an “International Driver’s Permit” to rent a car, or a SOFA license. The IDP is available from AAA in America for about $20, it’s just a standard document that lists your US (or host country’s) driver’s info. You can pick it up at AAA offices in the US on the spot in about 10 minutes, or by mail. We really enjoyed our trip, and we close with some photos of the outlaying areas.
It’s been over two years since we were in Japan, a long wait for them to reopen after COVID restrictions shut the country down to tourism. We entered after the Oct 11th change to the requirements. We will go over the procedure of how we entered back into the country after so long away. These requirements are current as of late Oct 2022, they may change of course if the Japanese Gov’t decides to change them, please consult official Gov’t pages (links below) for the latest info!
Booking Airlines and Hotels
We initially started our bookings before the change, as we were willing to go thru the hassles of verification to visit. We got luckily that the reduced the requirements before we visited! If you are from the United States, or most of the countries that previously allowed visa free travel (or visa on arrival to be particular), you can now enter Japan with only vaccine proof, no negative test or other items needed. From America you needed two primary shots and a booster (we both had the second booster as well). You can book flights and hotels just as pre-pandemic, although note that expedia sites (like hotels.com) had limited inventory, direct booking seemed to work better for us. The flights all have an obscene fees for fuel, but I guess they are trying to make back lost revenue.
MySOS App, required! or at least strongly recommended (Not as old May 2023, see edit)
The MySOS App is a Japanese gov’t app that they have used for most of the pandemic. Now it is used to verify your passport and Vax cert. Is it required? I’m not entirely sure, but upon landing people without it were herded into another area that looked like it took a while. I’m guessing they can manually verify your documents there.
Registering with the MySOS app was somewhat straightforward, but not instant, you have to take photos of your passport (and wait for it to be verified, took about 1 hour) and the Vax card (took about 15 minutes). All of this you can do at your leisure long before you head to the airport (we did ours about 3 weeks before). After verifying you will have a “Blue” mySOS screen, and that’s what you want! You will walk by that coral of sad people that didn’t have theirs. Edit: As of May 2023, Japan has dropped it’s Corona procedures and you can enter as before the pandemic from the US, and most other elisa countries.
Arrival at Kansai International Airport (KIX) step by step
After landing at KIX, we deplaned in a normal fashion. Then we started walking down a long walkway above the gates (the normal walkway to passport control & customs). Down the line we walked back down stairs to some empty gates. There were several pleasant people with signboards asking to show your MySOS App screen, if you were blue or green, you were pointed towards the next area, if you were red or didn’t have it you went to another holding area where it looked like they were verifying medical details. As we both had blue screens I’m not sure entirely what happens there, I assume with no Vax you are required to quarantine like the old days.
The next step was a health check area. They had about 30 desks set up and someone directed you to the next free desk. They took our temperature, and scanned the QR code from the MySOS App. This step took about 2 minutes, we were then given a “health card” which was just an A4 sheet of paper with instructions on what to do if you feel sick.
We then went back up a different set of stairs and continued on our way towards passport control and customs. Before we got there, there was another set of “health desks” that verified we had a health card. This took 5 seconds, they literally just looked that we had the a4 sheet from before, I guess to catch people trying to sneak around? Maybe it did more before the rules changed? We don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this step goes away.
After this we were in the old style passport control line, just like pre-covid. We got our tourist entry stickers and went thru customs and were out in Japan! On the whole I don’t think this took any more time than pre-COVID, as after the health checks the passport control line was still like 15 minutes from the previous flight.
It’s almost as easy to visit Japan today as precovid, assuming you have your 3 shots. Please come and give some tourist dollars to the hurting tourism economy!
COVID-19 restriction are lifting and Okinawa is starting to get back to normal a bit, although of course there are almost no tourists! As of today, June 27th 2020, there has not been a positive case in Okinawa since April 30th, almost two full months! Congrats to us on mask use, social distancing, and staying home, now we can reap the rewards!
The Aeon Ijas mall was scheduled to open in time for Golden week, but the opening was postponed due to the Coronavirus shutdowns, but it’s open now! This is probably the third largest mall in Okinawa after the San-A Parco Mall and the Aeon Rycom Mall. It’s geared towards tourists with lots of Okinawa merch shops and the kinds of things that foreign and domestic tourists like. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun for locals! The mall has been quite crowded the last few weekends. It has a lot of fresh fish places to eat in the food court, and a similar assortment of shops to the Aeon Rycom mall. Something it has that no other mall has is a full aquarium!
DMM Kariyushi Aquarium
We left the mall and headed across the corridor to the aquarium. We pre-purchased our tickets on their web site (DMM Kariyushi website) and so could skip the short wait at the ticket counter (The line was about 10 people long and looked to be moving fast). We were reminded that masks were required at all times inside and given a squirt of disinfectant on our hands. We went into a waiting queue that was mostly empty, scanned our QR codes and lined up in a hall waiting for some magical black doors to open.
After about two minutes the doors opened and we entered into a theater room with standing bench seats, we sat down excited for what was to come! A movie with no words started with jelly fish and led us thru an adventure under water and into the air of Okinawa! It nicely set the tone for what was to come, and of course help regulate the crowds entering the aquarium proper. It has a little surprise too!
Due to the ongoing Corona virus issues, some things weren’t going, they had a touching experience area where you could touch turtles, owls, and other wildlife, but it was closed off, in addition the tanks with starfish and the like that you would normally be able to touch, you could only look. I would have liked to pet an owl, but I’m happy to miss it to have the island stay safe! No idea when these things might open up. There was a small cafe going that had soft serve ice cream, beer, soft drinks and small snacks that you could eat while enjoying looking at the largest tank. We didn’t try any as we were headed to Arashi’s to try their new vegetarian ramen! (It was better than expected and delicious!)
The Aquarium is a little expensive at ¥2,400 for an adult, ¥1,500 for children under 12 and ¥2,000 for teens. It’s not as big as the main Okinawa Aquarium, but it’s close to Naha and requires a lot less driving for most. They had a nice intro movie and then into the exhibits. They have an app for guidance and it’s nearly a must, as none of the tanks have labels! The app will provide you info in all the major languages and it quite well done. If you have checked it out, please leave us a comment! We (and other readers) love to hear your thoughts!
So you may have noticed that we’ve reviewed three bars in a row, did we suddenly turn into alcoholics? No! We were doing “research” for our bar route map! After doing the hard work of testing beers in downtown Naha and Shuri area, we are ready to recommend a Craft Beer Route for Naha! As with any drinking recommendation, know your limits and don’t be bad guest in Okinawa, and feel free to only do a portion of the route! But do enjoy all the delicious beers that are on tap in the city! At the end of the route there are two great food options that we recommend, the newly opened “Ramen Street” in the basement of the old mitsukoshi department store, or the “food stall street” which has outdoor stalls designed to remind you of old timey food stalls!
Our first stop is a bit outside of town, but a quick 10 minute walk from the Shuri Monorail station. They also open at 2pm, so you can start a little early! It’s the German style brew-pub, Wolfbrau. This brew pub has delicious German beer, in our mind it’s the highest quality beer of the bunch. If you are from Europe, or German style beer doesn’t excite you then maybe skip this one; however, the beer is great and the bar food is tasty. If you look on Google Maps it will show the Gibo station is closer, but it has a steep uphill climb making the Shuri station your easier bet. Once you are done with Wolfbrau you can feel free to head down the hill towards Gibo station and head to the second stop –
Ukishima brewing is a great brewery with a wide range of beers, you can see our Ukishima Brewing article for photos of the menu at the time we went first. Every time we’ve been they’ve had a wide variety of good beers on tap. They are almost all in the 5% range and middle of the road in terms of flavor, color, and taste. Like many things in Japan, Ukishima brewing has more subtle flavors, I wouldn’t expect anything to smack you in the face, but everything we’ve tried has matched up with their description and been tasty. For food we’ve only had the fried potatoes here as this has been our second or third stop (Taste of Okinawa is like 2 blocks away).
Third Stop – Taste of Okinawa
Taste of Okinawa is a nice place that has done a lot for the back end of the shopping streets in Naha. Five years ago these streets were nearly abandoned. Taste of Okinawa, along with other proprietors , has brought this area up, and made it enjoy a real renaissance! They are a key player in the Sunrise Market, which sees the area full of people and vendors one Sunday a month. They also offer cooking classes in Okinawa Soba. None of that matters to you, our pub crawling friend! They don’t brew their own beer, but they do have many local and Japanese mainland beers on tap.
Helios pub is perhaps the oldest pub on Kokasai that serves their own beer. A few years back they moved from the 1st floor to the 3rd floor, but the beer is still good and cold. At this point you are probably ready for some serious snacking, we enjoyed the sausages and 1/4 baguette of garlic bread in addition to some beer. They have about 8 beers on tap; as you can see in our detailed review on Helios , they brew their beer near Nago and are a small regional brewery, a bit bigger than a microbrew. The flavors are good, and they have some Okinawa special taste beers like Goya.
After 3-4 stops of beer you’re probably hungry, so our last stop is food! (and more beer if you’re still inclined!) It’s a choose your own path, as there are two very close and very good options to end your night.
You’ve had a long evening drinking, it’s time for some salty Ramen to re-hydrate and fill you up. Our number one choice is the Ramen Floor on the basement level of the old Mitsukoshi department store (There are no markings left indicating this is what it was, but locals will know it!) On this floor there are six(!) different ramen shops as of Feb 2020, including two with vegan ramen options. Everyone in your group can try their favorite! Our favorite is the Michelin guide recommended Soranoiro (ソラノイロ). This ramen shop has a famous location in Tokyo Station, but now has opened in Okinawa! They have a great vegan tan-tan men, and Ramen. There is also Hokkaido style ramen, and many others on this floor. You order at the individual restaurants, but they don’t mind if you sit at their tables and bring over ramen from a neighboring shop, it’s sort of a food-court style. If you haven’t had enough to drink there is also a nice bar in the ramen area that serves many local brews, including Wolfbrau and Ukishima (on tap when we visited in Feb 2020), as well as some other Japan microbrews, so if you need a bit more you’re in luck!
The food stall street area has a bunch of small stalls serving traditional Japanese street stall food. You can find tempuras, seafood, sushi, and others here. Most of the stalls are open air, although some have covered or indoor areas. Everyone in your group pretty much has to pick one stall, as they aren’t set up for someone to order at one and sit at another. Most of the vendors have drinks, although it’s mostly limited to Orion, Asahi, and highballs.
Daisekirinzan park is at the very north of Okinawa main island, in Yanbaru. It is a pretty long drive from the southern part of the island… but worth checking out. One of the best parts is that this park is dog-friendly (even the shuttle bus and the cafe).
Right now the park is set to open up a new museum and facilities at the end of April (before Golden Week), and unfortunately increase the entrance fees to 1200yen per adult from my understanding. As it was we paid 820yen per adult, which is definitely not cheap, considering the best way to get here is also to take the expressway (toll road). Our dog was free though.
There are 4 different courses you can walk along (labeled with colors and easy to follow) during your time there. None of it is particularly difficult hiking, more of a leisurely nature walk. Overall each course is fairly short, none took us more than hour to complete (I think total may have been about 2.5 hours at most including both our rest breaks at the cafe, once for shiqwasa juice, and the second time for the pizza).
As you walk along the courses, there are several signs for what the rocks are shaped like (dragons, pigs, cats, etc). See if you can spot them all! It was a little bit of a game for us. Daisekirinzan is also a major power spot in Okinawa; it is located in Ashimui 安須杜, Okinawa’s oldest sacred place, supposedly be created by one of the gods. I can see why, the rocks are rather impressive in their way, and being so far out in the middle of nature, you cannot help but feel a little energized.
At any rate, our miniature dachshund had a blast trotting through the forested courses. Bigger dogs may find the walk a bit more boring, but our guy has short little legs, so pretty much anywhere is an adventure for him.
The main reason we went, actually, was for the Irukanda イルカンダ– some type of subtropical flower that is blooming this time of year. Usually these are only found fairly deep in the wilds of Yanbaru but at Daisekirinzan you can see them easily. Mostly they are found along the green trail labeled on the map (from the parking area to the park itself), so only take the shuttle bus up and walk back if you want to see these.
茶会 chakai: a tea “gathering,” a more informal tea ceremony.
クリスマス kurisumasu: Christmas
Recently I had the good fortune to attend a chaikai 茶会 here in Okinawa. The location was at Shoufuuen 松風苑 in Haebaru 南風原 (southern part of the island), the birthplace of Ultraman ウルトラマン (hometown of Tetsuo Kinjo, scriptwriter)! The theme of the chakai was Christmas, and of course, with a little Ultraman thrown in the mix.
Anyway, I dressed myself in kimono and met up with some fellow foreigners at the event venue. Of course, as a foreigner who dressed themselves in kimono and speaks some Japanese, many people found their way to talking to me. I don’t think it is so impressive for me to do these things, but Japanese people are often overly kind and complimentary regarding these things. It was a little embarrassing for me as I did not actually have time to do my hair and make-up properly due to oversleeping, so I had rushed to get ready.
The venue consists of some beautiful buildings and gardens set away from the main road; it is one of the few places here in Okinawa where I felt more of the Japanese atmosphere (rather than Ryukyu or Chanpuru cultures).
In general, a chakai is a little less formal than a proper tea gathering ceremony, called a chaji 茶事. This particular event was a 3-part event (lasting a little less than 3 hours total): tea ceremony outside, light meal, and an indoor tea ceremony. For the first tea we were seated at a table outside and served tea with 2 types of wagashi. Afterwards met with a famous potter here in Okinawa; he made the giant shisa that sit on either side of Kokusai-dori area in Naha. He also made the small pottery cups that were used (and we got to take home) during our light meal.
The light meal was held inside the banquet area. It was tatami seating, so properly one should sit seiza 正座, but as a foreigner that is a bit difficult for long periods of time so… I did not, despite the awkwardness of sitting in kimono. The little pottery cup we received as a souvenir has a design for the New Year… the year of the dog! This made me very happy as coming new year, the year of the dog 戌年 (inudoshi) is my zodiac year. The meal was beautifully and carefully prepared, as well as quite filling. I cannot remember everything in it, but the only meat was the chicken (which I did not eat); there was of course fish/seafood, which I ate on this occasion (though admittedly I am not a huge fan of fish in general).
Anyway, next was the last tea ceremony held in one of the more formal tea ceremony rooms. It was beautifully decorated. Again, this time we sat seiza for the whole time and admittedly I need practice as my feet became a bit painful. But overall I enjoyed the entire thing.
After the last ceremony, we found ourselves going up to the small “museum” dedicated to Ultraman. It is only 2 small rooms, but very cute and interesting. When not used as an event space, Shoufuuen is also a restaurant… I definitely recommend trying it sometime for a nice kaiseki (traditional multi-course Japanese/Okinawan meal) experience!
Posted below are a few pictures from the event; I could add so many more, but tried to choose some of the better and more relevant ones. Hopefully everyone who spends time in Okinawa or Japan will take the opportunity to attend a chakai!
This blog post is long overdue… it has been sitting in my drafts folder for many months, so here it goes. It seems foreigners are interested in trying out onsen while in Okinawa, so here is a continuation of my Okinawa onsen posts.
Yuinchi Hotel and Spa ユインチホテル in Nanjo is home to Enjin-no-yu 猿人の湯, a.k.a. “Bathing Ape” spa (or “Ape-man” hotspring). The adult entrance fee to the onsen is 1,650yen (elementary age is 750yen, 6 and under is free). Overall, it is a fairly nice facility, with sauna, jacuzzi bath, ocean onsen bath, waterfall bath, etc (but no outdoor bath!). Since the hotel and spa is perched atop a hill, you also have some nice views as you bathe. While it may not be my personal favorite onsen or sento in Okinawa, it is certainly a worthwhile experience and a very nice facility.
This onsen does not allow tattoo in the public area, however, you can reserve private baths (you may enter these as a couple or a family!) for guests with tattoo. I have never reserved a private bath here since I do not have any tattoo, but I have heard others do so with good experiences. **Private bath prices PER PERSON (depends on size of group): alone 5,000円, 2 people 4,000円 each, 3 people 3,000円 each, 4 people 2,500円 each.
After your bath, be sure to make you way over to Restaurant Sunpeer サンピア, undoubtedly one of the top hotel buffets on island– with plenty of healthy EM options and top-notch cheese from the island’s only real cheesemaker. Everything is superb, and I was totally impressed as it exceeded my expectations. It is a little bit more cost than other buffet restaurants, but well worth it.
Recently, I was able to attend the Futenmanzan Jinguuji 普天間神宮寺 matsuri (festival) at the Futenma temple (next to Futenma shrine).
The fire-walking ritual 火渡り神事 (hiwatari shinji) is the main draw. Unfortunately some heavy rain showers led to the event ending early, so perhaps next year I can see it in the entirety and get some interesting pictures of the monks walking through the fire.
So, to explain the process: you buy a wood board and write your wish/prayer on it. The monks will start to chant and light a large sacred fire. When it is time, you throw your wooden prayer board into the fire!
First the monks will have some more ceremonial rituals, and walk through the fire; it is supposed to be a powerful cleansing and purifying experience. This portion was cut extremely short due to the heavy rain, and so the fire couldn’t exactly keep on.
Now it is time to walk through the fire…! Well, it isn’t too scary I think, since it at this point they stamp out the flames and it is mostly just hot ashes. Many people lined up and removed their shoes/socks in order to process through the “fire.” At the end of fire area was and altar and when you reach the altar, they gave you an orange.
Really it was quite interesting and not at all what I expected to see in Okinawa, as this is more of a mainland Japan ritual.
In a small neighborhood of Wauke 和宇慶, located in Nakagusuku town here in Okinawa, there is a Juugoya (15th night) celebration 十五夜祭 held the Saturday after Juugoya/Tsukimi (15th day of the 8th lunar month).
We rode our bicycles down to the Wauke community center where the festivities were just getting started at about 7pm. Like many small community events, we were welcomed kindly by the local Okinawans and given drinks (cans of beers and green tea), as well as a plate of local foods. We settled onto our mat and watched shishimai (lion dance), fan dance, karate demonstrations, Ryukyu dance, and more throughout the evening. All the performances were very fun and interesting.
At the end, there is what is known as “community dance” called カチャーシー Kachaashii… where basically everyone gathers by the stage of the celebration and dances. As you may guess, beers had been drunk and being the only foreigners (besides 1 guy who was of Okinawan descent from Hawaii on a local government exchange), we were of course shuffled to the stage to participate, as well as our new-found Hawaiian uchinanchu friend. And, well, I guess our elderly community friends here seem to really enjoy these 外国人 who come to and participate in local events, so we indulged them. Some were surprised that I knew “open the door, shut the door,” an integral part of local dance here (this probably sounds a bit strange, so I will need to explain perhaps in a post later about local dancing).
Anyway, a good time was had by all… if you happen to be in Okinawa, I recommend you seek out these small Juugoya festivities in your neighborhood and spend some time getting to know your neighbors. I find making memories such as these much more rewarding than the bigger, well-known events. I forged bonds with my neighbors, and got to understand little deeper about Ryukyu and Okinawan culture/traditions.
One of the most popular natsu matsuri (summer festival) 夏祭り is the All-island Okinawa Eisa and Orion beer festival held the weekend following obon— at least with Americans that is. Held at the Koza Sports Park, I have seen more Americans at this festival than any other. It is actually 2 festivals, coinciding with each other: the eisa festival itself and the Orion Beer Festival.
*In 2018, this will August 31-September 2.
To reach the festival, there are free shuttle buses, as there is no parking at the venue. You can park at Aeon Rycom Mall, as well as some other areas to catch the free shuttle buses. Otherwise, there are some paid parking areas near Koza.
On Friday evening, in the Koza area, there is the Eisa parade. The parade is actually pretty nice; bring a leisure sheet to sit on and some dinner to relax and watch. Next to us, there was a family with a kid (who could not have been more than 3 or so) and he played his pint size drum, dancing around in his eisa outfit as the groups played on the street. He was quite entertaining.
On Saturday and Sunday, is the actual eisa festival and beer festival; the festivals, though both are at the Koza Sports Park, is divided into 2 sections. On one side is the Orion Beer festival, with outdoor tables and chairs, music stage entertainment, Orion Beer girls, tents selling nothing but Orion draft beer, and of course, loud drunk Americans (well, and locals too, if we are being honest). When you enter, they give you a wristband if you are of drinking age and you MUST have it to buy alcohol. I usually don’t spend more than about 5 minutes there, as it really isn’t my scene. But I think the beer is usually cheaper on this side than the eisa festival side, so…
The other side where the eisa festival is, however, more family friendly. There are pay seats in the bleachers, but for free you can just bring a sheet and sit in the field to watch. It is all eisa performances, so it can get a bit repetitive, but can be a fun evening out, especially if you have never been to a natsu matsuri before. You will likely see many girls (both local and foreign) wearing summer yukata or jinbei.
Of course, lining the entire area is typical summer festival food tents. A lot of these are what I refer to as generic “yellow tent” food (due to a majority of them using a basic yellow tent), a company that comes in and sells mediocre food in large volume.. often times it is not really hot when you get it. I try to find the more local vendors, who are usually hawking piping-hot fresh food. Over here, you can still buy beer and are away from the drunk scene.
At the end of the night, there are fireworks to finish off the evening. While it is not my favorite festival on island it can still be fun, especially for new-comers, and you can experience a lot of eisa all in one place. Plus, I have to admit, all the lanterns strung up with happy festival goers in yukata, drums and fireworks gives a nice ambience on a hot summer evening.
Located in the middle of Naha, at the Naha Central Hotel, is a charming sento (“onsen“) called “Rikka Rikka Yu” りっかりっか湯. It does not have quite the same atmosphere as a natural outdoor Japanese onsen, but it does have a quaint feel of a community bathhouse. It is not quite as “retro” as some of the public bathhouses I have seen on the mainland, and some people may think the features are a bit out-dated (or perhaps some people may think slightly run-down), but I didn’t mind it.
The full name of this place is “Yuntaku ashibi onsen Rikka Rikka Yu” ゆんたくあしび温泉りっかりっか湯; “yuntaku ashibi” means “fun while talking” and “rikka-rikka” means “let’s go together” (these come from Okinawan language).
*Signs indicate very clearly no tattoo of any kind are allowed– they are plastered all over, with English, so there is no misunderstandings.
Anyway, first things first: the parking… well, it is in the middle of Naha, but there are several pay parking lots right next to the building. It is also nearby to a monorail stop (Miebashi station).
Approaching the building, it has a cute little whale graphic on the wall. At the entrance are shoe lockers, so go ahead and stow your shoes (by the way, the desk attendant will not take your shoe locker key, so just hold on to it). Through the next door, there is a cafeteria, a vending machine, and the front desk. Go to the vending machine and purchase your ticket; it is all in Japanese so be prepared in advance. For the type of facility, perhaps the fees seemed a bit high (at least compared to the mainland), but as Okinawa does not have many of these type of sento or onsen, I was willing to give it try anyway.
Just entrance fee to bath and sauna, no towels (adults/elementary/ages 3-6)
weekdays: ￥1,000 /￥500 /￥300
weekends and holidays: ￥1,250 /￥650 /￥400
Entrance fee to bath and sauna + 1 small towel, 1 large towel
weekdays: ￥1,400 /￥800 /￥600
weekends and holidays: ￥1,550 /￥950 /￥700
Once you purchase your ticket from the vending machine, hand it to the attendant at the desk. If you chose to borrow towels, they will hand them to you, otherwise they will just point you up the stairs to the bathes. I chose just the bath and sauna entrance, no bedrock bath but maybe I will try it next time. You could also purchase other small bath amenities at the front desk as needed.
There are 2 baths, one side for women and one side for men; they rotate on a daily basis so you may have the opportunity to try both at some point. Today the men’s side was “shiunsen” 紫雲泉 and the women’s side was “tougensen” 桃源泉. I think for the most part they are fairly similar, with various jetted baths, an onsen-like bath, and 3 types of saunas (dry, salt, and steam).
Inside, there was a small vanity area with mirrors, hairdryers, and hairbrushes (UV box), but no amenities. Next were rows of lockers; these require a 100yen coin in the slot to release the key, but it is refunded in full when you put the key in and unlock it, so it doesn’t actually cost anything. I changed out of my clothes, and headed to the baths. All over they had these types of signs showing “proper bath use,” I suppose to assist foreigners…
The cleaning stations were abundant, so there was no waiting around to find a free station. There was only shampoo and body wash, so if you have long hair like me, be sure to bring conditioner or treatment. As promised, there were many different types of baths to dip into, and the 3 different saunas to sweat in. I rotated through until I felt thoroughly cleansed, massaged, sweated, etc. Overall the cleanliness was okay, though as I mentioned, maybe a tad out-dated. It was clearly a popular place despite this, with many locals and even a few tourists.
Once I finished up and changed back into my clothes, I went back down the stairs and purchased a cold milk from the vending machine to refresh myself (when you finish the bottle, be sure to open the drawer at the bottom of the machine and deposit the bottle inside). I settled into one of the massage chairs, 10 minutes for only 100yen. After this I was finally ready to call it a day and head home.
Overall? My impression was decent: though the facilities were a bit old and there was not much in the way of amenities, there was a decent selection of baths and saunas, with lots of room for many people. The price tag seemed a bit high considering I think the Aroma onsen in Ginowan is much nicer for basically the same price (and has free parking). I probably won’t be in much hurry to return, but if you happen to be staying in Naha, it might be a nice diversion to check out after a long day touristing.
There is also a second type called 太陽の砂 taiyou no suna: sun sand
These 2 types of sands are similar but are actually two different microorganism skeletons. Many people just call both of them star sand, not realizing there is a difference. Some people show photos that say, “I found star sand!” but in actuality it is sun sand.
Where can you find star and sun sand? While you may be able to find it various locations, it is not very common to find it on the Okinawa main island (not impossible… just not so common). Below are some places where star and sun sand is easily found! I will add a few more when I have time.
**Special Note: Some of the more famous beaches request that people do not take star sand from the beach! So please be respectful of this.
You can usually buy star sand at various tourist shops all over Okinawa (for instance, try Kokusai-dori if you are looking to purchase some). I have a necklace and earrings with star sand. It is a little cheesy, but I thought it was cute.
Hateruma-jima 波照間島, Peh beach ペー浜: You can reach this island by flying to Ishigaki-jima, then taking a ferry ride. It is not convenient for a day trip, so you will need to stay overnight. https://goo.gl/maps/dLzF1Lydkg22
Taketomi-jima 竹富島, all over: You can reach this island by flying to Ishigaki-jima, then taking a ferry ride. This is an easy day trip from Ishigaki. This is the location of the famous “Star Sand Beach” 星砂の浜. https://goo.gl/maps/G3X7N75Rvx32
Iriomote-jima 西表島, all over: You can reach this island by flying to Ishigaki-jima, then taking a ferry ride. This is an easy day trip from Ishigaki.
Hatoma-jima 鳩間島, all over: Ferries run here infrequently from Ishigaki-jima, so you will need to plan this one well if you want to visit. This place is rather remote and quiet.
Yoron 与論島, Yurigahama 百合ヶ浜: Actually, this is technically part of Kagoshima, however, you can reach Yoron fairly easily from Okinawa. It is about a 4 hour ferry, or you can fly there from the Naha airport (much shorter). Yurigahama is a sand bar, located off of Ooganeku Beach 大金久海岸. https://goo.gl/maps/rqQzLDijQ9M2
Star Sand Folktale:
There is a folk tale from Taketomi-jima about the “sandy beach of stars.” It is a story of when the Yaeyama islands were still being created.
The sky star goddess (the Southern Cross) conceived children with Polaris (North Star). When birthing the star children, she asked the heavenly god where she should give birth. He responded that there was an island with beautiful coral and white sand and so she should give birth just off the shore of this island, the current location of Taketomi-jima. The star goddess bore her star babies into the sea. However, the god of the sea was angry that she birthed them into his ocean without asking permission. The furious sea god called upon a sea serpent to swallow up all the star children and not leave any remains. The sea snake swallowed all the star children of the star as commanded by the sea god. Later, only the small white star-shaped bones of the star children were left, washed ashore on the island and mixed in with the sand. The god of the heavens collected the bones, put them in a censer, and burned them with incense to send the souls of the stars children to heaven to be with their mother (in some stories, it is instead a sacred priestess not the god of heavens that performs this ritual). So, it is said that the souls of the star children became stars themselves, brilliantly surrounding the star goddess up in the heavens.
In a continuation of a series of posts about onsen in Okinawa, this describes my experience at the onsen on the premises of the Loisir Hotel in Naha, Miegusuku onsen 三重城温泉.
Since today was a public holiday, I decided to relax a bit by visiting one of the few onsen you can find in Okinawa. Now, I had been putting off visiting the Loisir hotel onsen due to its very high entrance fee, and being in Naha near the Tomari port, it is not exactly close to me either. So, since I had time to spare today, why not check it out?
Okay, well first, remember this is in Naha. So parking is not free. I parked at one of the fee parking lots just a few meters from the hotel (don’t park at the hotel, I think it is 1500yen). I walked through the front doors; on the first floor is the regular hotel reception, walk by this and go up the escalator to the second floor.
From here, you have a decision to make: the cheaper priced onsen (2500yen for visitors) or the more expensive onsen (3500yen for visitors). The cheaper onsen is straight ahead when you arrive on the second floor, easy to find. The more expensive one, you need to turn and head towards the Spa Tower hotel check-in (but do not go to these counters), looking for the corridor that leads to the Spa Tower where the onsen is located.
The cheaper onsen is called the Shimanchu-no-yu 島人の湯 (Islander’s bath); it appeared to have more baths, like jacuzzi and waterfall, in addition to the outdoor and indoor bath. I did not visit this one, so I can’t really speak for the details. It appeared to be “less fancy.” In retrospect, I probably should have just gone to this one.
However, I went to the more “luxury” of the two, the Uminchu-no-yu 海人の湯 (Fisherman’s bath). I followed the narrow corridor down to where there was a split; I was now on the 3rd floor of the Spa Tower. To get to the onsen, descend the stairs to the 2nd level of the Spa Tower and there is the spa treatment area and the onsen. I paid the fee, which is 3x what I would normally pay here in Okinawa (normal onsen entrance fees in Okinawa are between 1000-1600 yen).
Anyway, I was given a locker key and towels, then entered the ladies onsen. I left my shoes in the shoe locker at the entrance of the ladies onsen. Inside was the standard set-up with rows of clothing lockers, a water jug, and counter area for getting ready afterwards.
While the onsen was nicely decorated, I did not feel like it was much better than any of the others I have visited in Okinawa. Since the fee was higher than the other bath, it was much quieter, only 2 other people while I was there. There were 3 baths: indoor, cold water, and outdoor. The outdoor bath did not have a great view since it was covered with privacy shades (probably because we were in the city). There was also a steam/mist sauna.
After bathing, they had the usual amenities (lotion, etc), but nothing particularly special. Some places have really nice products (that they also sell at the front desks), but here was just standard Kose brand. I didn’t book any of the spa treatments since I went to a different one recently for my birthday. So I cannot really comment on these, but they looked more expensive than the other places I have gone to in Okinawa.
Overall, it was nice… but not worth the pricey entrance fee. So unless you are staying at this hotel (which gives you a discounted entrance fee), I probably would not recommend to come here over the other places I have been. And even then, I would recommend trying out the cheaper one since it looked like it had a few more baths anyway. As far as I could tell, the only bonus to the Uminchu-no-yu over the Shimanchu-no-yu was 1) more privacy/quieter and 2) fancier decor/atmosphere. Otherwise the Shimanchu-no-yu was 1) cheaper (but still expensive at 2500yen for visitors) and 2) more variety in baths.
If you want to try an onsen in Naha, Okinawa, I would say try the Ryukyu Onsen on Senaga-jima (just south of the airport); it is luxurious, has beautiful ocean views you can enjoy from the outdoor baths, and the entrance fee is a half the cost. Plus you are by the trendy Umikaji Terrace where you can enjoy a variety of good cafes.
In Kin town 金武町 (Northern part of Okinawa), there is a temple and limestone cave where a shrine is located as well as bottles of awamori 泡盛 are stored for aging.
The first thing you need to know is that there are 2 entrances to the cave: the one at the temple is FREE, but is blocked off from the awamori storage. You will still be able to see pretty stalactite and stalagmite formations and descend into a portion of the cave BUT you will not see the area where the awamori and tofuyo 豆腐よう are aged. The temple itself is not very grand, but it is one of the typical old temples in Okinawa (of which there are very few).
If you want to see where the awamori is stored, you will need to pay the fee for the tour (adults are 400yen, the tour is only offered 3x per day). To do this, head to Tatsu no kura 龍の蔵, awamori and tofuyo store (you can also try yummy samples here) which is located just across the street from the temple. Tatsu 龍 means “dragon,” another reference to the importance of the dragon god in the Ryukyu kingdom. The shop is named this since the cave is known as the auspicious birthplace of the dragon god faith. We bought tickets for the tour, which started at 1:30 that day. I would post a schedule for the tours, but honestly it seems to change randomly and the tour times available when we arrived were completely different from what it said on their website, so I would call ahead unless you randomly are lucky like we were.
The cave is a chilly 18 degrees Celsius and the tour is offered in Japanese. But you can still join and enjoy the scenery if you do not understand Japanese. Bottle storage services are offered for 5, 12 and 20 years; many customers store bottles here to commemorate a wedding or birth of a child. A lot of the bottles are decorated with messages.
Normally aged for just 3 months, the tofuyo here is aged for a year or more! It is pricy here, but really delicious… I recommend sampling it all. We bought some to take home. I have previously visited their branch store in Naha and ate their tofuyo, but it was the first time for my husband. It was interesting being able to see the cave where everything is aged and stored.
狩り kari means “hunting” which in this context means more like “picking fruit.”
Believe it or not, there are 2 farms located in Nakijin (North part of Okinawa, not far from Nakijin castle 今帰仁城) that have grape picking for a short time in July. One is Komesu vineyard 米須ぶどう園 and the other is Ishikawa vineyard 石川ぶどう園. In the past I believe there were more, but these are the 2 that I know of. Both farms grow the kyoho grape variety 巨峰, which are a large and sweet.
Now, this is not really cheap here in Okinawa, so you won’t be getting a “deal” or anything… though there is no entrance fee, it is 1500yen per kilogram. That being said, they are fresh and very delicious.
Anyway, after missing the season last year, at last we made our way up there. If you visit, look for the flags with ぶどう狩り or 巨峰 and pictures of grapes. We got to Komesu at 10am, were explained the rules, given scissors and a basket, and let loose. We were told the grapes in the bags with a red mark were ripe and ready for being cut down. Since it is not terribly cheap, we only cut a few down.
Afterwards they weighed the fruits of our labor and we paid the fee. We also tried a grape smoothie made with local kyoho grapes being sold by a vendor at the vineyard… I don’t normally like grape flavored things, but made with fresh local grapes the ice-cold smoothie was sooo good.
We decided to drive to Ishikawa vineyard next since it was nearby. This vineyard was a little more difficult to find, located off a road not even in GoogleMaps… so you may end up circling a bit. We stopped by and took pictures. It was a bit more crowded (with all locals), so we decided we probably had enough grapes anyway and moved along. Overall we had quite a bit of fun and the fresh grapes really are much better than what you normally buy in the stores. To be honest, I don’t typically love grapes, but I really like these kyoho grapes.
Both places recommend calling ahead to make sure they have enough grapes for picking, or even reservations if it is particularly busy (otherwise you may drive up there and leave empty-handed). We took our chances and did not call ahead, but since we were there early in the morning, as well as one of the first weekends they were open for picking, we had no problems at all. So I recommend showing up close to opening time (9am) and NOT waiting until the end of the day, otherwise you may be out of luck. I also recommend trying to get there early in the picking season, otherwise they close up shop when they run out of grapes; this is what happened to us last year. Typically the season is during the whole month of July; usually the event sites or newspaper publish an article when the time is near.
South of the airport is the small island of Senaga-jima which is connected the main island by bridge. A very luxurious hotel with an onsen, Ryujin no Yu 龍神の湯 (translation: dragon-king bath; Ryujin is the dragon god believed to lived under the sea near Okinawa), is situated there. The rooms to stay overnight are very expensive (so I have never stayed there), but luckily the onsen and spa is open to the public. The entrance fee for the onsen is also reasonable (middle school and older, weekdays: 1,330円, weekends and holidays: 1,540円, elementary school: 720円, preschool and under free). There is even a foot hot spring for free next to the resort hotel, if you just want to relax your feet for a bit.
Like other onsen in Okinawa, you go to the spa desk to check-in and receive your towels and spa clothes. The onsen has indoor baths as well as some very lovely outdoor baths. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the indoor baths or sauna; mostly I cleaned myself at the shower stations and went almost directly to outside. Outside you have some different choices; there are a few individual rotenburo 露天風呂 and then some large baths (1 is a standing bath, so you stand up in it but it is quite comfortable) that overlook the ocean. I enjoyed all of these and the view was really quite nice, it made it all the more relaxing. The water is a bit salty– it is a unique seaside hot spring for sure! If you stay overnight, half of the hotel rooms even have private outdoor baths…!
The spa treatments offered here are quite nice for some pampering. When I went for my birthday, I got a body scrub, a seaweed-mud wrap, some sort of facial, and a massage… it was not cheap, but it was a birthday present from my husband. I felt amazing afterwards… maybe one day I can return.
As far as food, I have only eaten at the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant inside the resort, which was so-so. Some people really like it, and it was okay, but I probably recommend just going over to Umikaji Terrace うみかじテラス (the small shopping/cafe area on the island) and checking out the food there. There are several options from happy pancakes to food you can eat while sitting in hammocks, each of them with just as nice a view as the resort.
Since onsen in Okinawa is a popular topic, I have decided to make some individual posts for each onsen. Check this post for some general information on Okinawa onsen: Okinawa Onsen (Hot Springs): 温泉
In Okinawa city, there is a wellness resort with an onsen: the Costa Vista resort and Spa Corazon. I have visited her a few times before, but this time I went for special spa treatments for my birthday. My husband made reservations in advance for me; this is important since they fill up fast, especially on weekends and holidays. If you are only going for the onsen, then you do not need reservations.
As for the onsen, no tattoo are allowed. However, recently, they have a sign stating that if you cover your tattoo with a skin “patch” (or called seal, sticker, tape), then you may now enter the onsen. They sell these patches at the reception desk for 200yen, but if you go over to DonQ you can find them for a better value. This is perfect if you only have some small tattoo and would like to try an onsen in Okinawa.
I was signed up for the anti-aging package (yeah, I am not that old, really, but gotta take care of yourself). I showed up early to use the onsen prior to my spa pampering. When I arrived, I stowed my shoes in the little locker, handed the clerk at the counter the key, and let them know I had a spa reservation for later. They handed me towels (1 big, 1 small), spa clothes (pajamas, really, called samue 作務衣), and a locker key for inside the onsen. They also had some free amenities at the counter if you needed any.
There are different areas to this wellness resort– reflexology area, spa treatment area, relaxation area, bedrock bath, a.k.a. ganbanyoku 岩盤浴 (separate entrance ticket required!), and the onsen itself. I went inside the ladies’ onsen area and followed the standard procedure described in my previous post. I enjoyed the onsen for a bit, dipping in both hot and cold pools, as well as the jetted tubs. This onsen does not have an outdoor bath, but it does have a mist sauna and a dry sauna, as well as some sort of “silky” bath. There are views out to the ocean and towards the Aeon Rycom Mall. Once it was time, I got out and changed into my spa clothes.
There are 2 treatment areas; one is inside the onsen (a little less fancy) and one is in a separate area (much more fancy). I was booked for the fancy package. When I went to the desk, I was immediately given tea and told to choose from a basket of oils (I went with lemongrass). From here I was shuffled into a private room and given 紙パンツ kami-pantsu (paper “shorts”) to change into. I had an EM salt scrub, then a fancy smelling private bath, a full body massage, and a facial. It was all very relaxing, and my skin felt fantastic. Plus all the stress melted away and I felt completely refreshed.
The big draw to the onsen resort is the EM products. I guess it is kinda like organic. Anyway, when my spa treatments were over, I was given more tea and some snacks, as well as a little bag with some of the products used (lemongrass oil, bath salts, face pack, and some face cream).
Another bonus to this onsen resort is the EM healthy lunch viking (buffet). It is fantastic and reasonably priced. I highly recommend trying it out, the food is quite delicious. There are also some EM products shops scattered within the wellness resort, in case you want to pick up some beauty products or produce, eggs, or other EM goods. Overall, this is a great place for trying an onsen, spa treatments, and a healthy lunch.
entrance fees to onsen: 13 years and older: 1,500円, 4-12 years: 1,000円, 3 and under free.
the bedrock bath is an additional fee of 500円.
(as photos are prohibited inside the onsen and treatment areas, this is all have to show)
Every year in Okinawa in late June is Uta no hi “Songs Day” concert, featuring the famous local band BEGIN, as well as other popular local bands. And every year, my halau (hula group) performs with them!
Tickets are purchased online or at convenience stores. It is easy enough I think. But I am lucky, I do not need to buy tickets since I perform with the halau.
I cannot comment as to the full experience, since for a major portion of the day I am getting ready, prepping, etc. But it is a really nice event, and I got to enjoy it once the sun was setting and our part of the performance was over. Everyone around me was having such a good time, it was easy to get into the party spirit of things. People were dancing, drinking, and just really enjoying the evening. There were some new songs, some old songs, a little of everything; though most were Japanese or Okinawan songs, so I only recognized some of them. I really like the band BEGIN and I feel that most of their songs embody the Okinawan spirit (kinda like aloha spirit). Overall, it was a really great experience, and as always I felt a little more bonded to the Okinawan people afterwards.
I also bought a souvenir tenugui (towel)– it is so cute, though I am sure I didn’t need another one. There is no photography in the event (you can have your phones but you are not supposed to take pictures of the performances since they air them on TV at a later date). It didn’t seem very strictly enforced, probably only if you were close up to the main stage.
It was very hot and humid today in Okinawa; summer has begun. The sounds of cicadas are everywhere. I feel like eating shave ice and watermelon.
Kurashiki dam in Uruma has a park next to it– it is perfect for cooling off in summer time. I went to the dam today, and it was busy with families and kids. Luckily there is a lot of parking. Some kids were cooling off in the water, while others were gathering bugs, tadpoles, or other small creatures. Many adults set up camping tents to hideout in while the kids played. Just looking at the dam made you feel like summer was here. It seemed so nostalgic, seeing all these kids play in the water and catching wildlife, not on phones or other electronic devices.
I also cooled off my feet wading in the water, it was so refreshing. I definitely recommend visiting here on a hot summer day.
金沢 Kanazawa is located in Ishikawa prefecture 石川県.
百万石祭 Hyakumangoku Matsuri: The Hyakumangoku Festival is held in commemoration of Lord Maeda Toshiie’s entry into Kanazawa castle on 14th June, 1583 (Tensho 11) which laid the foundations of the present day Kanazawa.
Summer is approaching, and we decided to take a trip up to Kanazawa for the matsuri since my mother-in-law came to Okinawa to visit us.
We flew into Komatsu Airport on Friday and from there took the bus (~45 min) to Kanazawa Station. Since there were 3 of us, we booked an AirBnb near the castle park.
Once we were settled in, we decided to check out the town. We walked towards the castle area and Kenrokuen 兼六園 (one of Japan’s top 3 beautiful gardens) where there were many museums. We looked through some ceramics shops and also ended up at the 21st Century Modern Art museum. It was fairly interesting, though no pictures inside except in the “pool” area. Overall, it was quite a nice area. Kanazawa has many beautiful traditional Japanese crafts, such as ceramics, lacquerware, cloths, as well as items adorned in gold leaf. We enjoyed seeing all of these in shops and museums.
Since the festival was starting up, there were food stalls everywhere, all with mostly typical matsuri food (yakisoba, grilled squid, takoyaki, bananas on sticks, yakitori, etc).
On Friday evening, there was the Kaga Yuzen Toro-Nagashi 加賀友禅燈ろう流し (Lantern floating ceremony). It was definitely packed with people, and I am not sure we were in the best spot by the Ashinogawa bridge, but we still got to see plenty. Since it was dark at this point it was actually very chilly considering it was the first week in June, and I did not pack appropriately. I don’t know if this was unseasonably chilly, but I would recommend pants/long sleeves/jacket/light sweater type of clothes if you go. While the lanterns were floating down the river, children’s parades were going on throughout the town. It was quite cute with them dressed up, carrying lanterns, and playing drums.
The next morning (Saturday), we wandered about the old samurai districts and went through the Nomura Family Samurai House. I stopped at every opportunity I could to look at and taste Japanese sweets (unfortunately husband and MIL are a lot less interested in these as I am).
We wound our way down to Kenrokuen (garden) which was free that day. We spent some time enjoying the beautiful grounds and buildings within the park itself. Next, we went to a tea ceremony held inside the park. I was a bit expensive (1500yen), but interesting (and delicious) for me (again, less so for husband and MIL). So perhaps I would not recommend it unless you are interested in these things.
After the park, we went over to the castle and walked all the way through. Various performances were being held in the open field for the matsuri… some traditional, some less so. There was traditional shishimai 獅子舞 (lion dance), which was different than Okinawan-style– it was so interesting! The castle was nice, though maybe not as nice as some of the other castles in Japan.
Higashi chaya-gai ひがし茶屋街, the old entertainment (geisha) district, was my next stop. I stopped at several traditional Japanese confectionaries (wagashi-ya 和菓子屋), for samples and shopping. They were are marvelous and varied. Many sweets included gold-leaf topping which Kanazawa is known for– over 98% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced here. I saw many people consuming gold leaf ice cream. Some shop keepers may speak English, but it is much easier to communicate in Japanese. There was a shop with local nihonshu 日本酒 where you could order a glass (average price 500yen) and drink; this place was filled more with young’uns who were mostly interested in getting a little tipsy, and there was not a lot of room (some people even just ordered regular beer). I simply ordered the recommended-of-the-day 本日のおすすめ, which ended up to be so-so. Next time I might skip this place unless it was less crowded. I could have stayed in this area for hours admiring all the sweet goodies, but my fellow travelers were not as enthusiastic about this. While this place was a bit touristy in some regards, it was interesting and fun for wagashi-lover like myself. During certain times of year, I hear it is possible to go to geisha shows/dinner.
In the afternoon was the main parade. We were recommended to watch closer to the park grounds than the main station where it started. It seemed to work out nicely. The first part of the parade was mostly just some local groups, but towards the middle and end was the traditional dancing, costumes, music, princesses, etc. So next time I would probably skip the first hour and just watch the last half to be honest!
We had reservations for dinner to Kotobukiya for shojin ryori 精進料理 (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) at a ryotei 料亭 (a type of traditional Japanese restaurant). It was really quite nice, though also quite expensive. Course after course came in, and my husband and I drank nihonshu 日本酒 with it. Afterwards we were quite exhausted and all went back to the Airbnb to crash. I would have liked to go watch some of the Noh theater, but it was chilly and everyone, including myself, was tired from a long day. Maybe next time.
Sunday morning, we walked through Nishi chaya-gai にし茶屋街 old entertainment district, looping through the Temple district. The Nishi chaya-gai was much smaller than its counterpart, yet still very beautiful. Since we went early in the morning, nothing was open yet, though the children’s matsuri was getting ready for their activities in the Temple district (where we actually headed next). There are so many old temples clustered together, including the “ninja temple” (which I did not get reservations for). It makes for an interesting walk. The ninja temple requires reservations, and the tour is in Japanese. However, you can walk about the outside part, even if you cannot go in and see all the ninja traps.
Finally, after omiyage and eki-bento shopping at Kanazawa Station, we boarded the train to Tokyo for a 2.5 hour journey. Of course, I purchased some local Kanazawa beers for the train ride…
Overall, we had a wonderful and interesting time in Kanazawa known as “little Kyoto”!
Naminoue has sort of a romantic name– shrine above the waves. In Okinawan language, it is actually “Nanmin” なんみん (hence the Nanmin festival that is held here once a year).
It is a sacred area to offer prayers to Nirai Kanai ニライカナイ, which is sort of like “heaven” or “land of the gods.” The shrine was the primary shrine of the Ryukyu kingdom, the head of the 8 shrines of Ryukyu. Of course, like many things in Okinawa, it was destroyed in WWII, but fortunately reconstructed afterwards.
You will often see websites with beautiful shrine on the beach pictures, and while it is a nice shrine, it is not really like the pictures. You can walk down to the beach and the it is pretty to look up and see the shrine there, but it is no Shangri-la or anything. I think to get your best shot, you need to wade into the water… just be careful with your camera. If you google pictures of the shrine, you can definitely see some of these (slightly altered) photos and compare them with my “real life” version of the shrine. Well, also keep in mine these are also using a iphone camera, not a nice camera. Next time maybe I will remember to pictures of some of the other features as well.
As a note, this shrine is very popular during New Years for hatsumode.
A new onsen opened at Aj Resort on Ikei-jima in Uruma (connected to main island by bridge) this past spring! The bath facility is called 黒潮の湯 Kuroshio-no-yu. It is not huge, but it is nice, with an indoor and outdoor bath, as well as a family bath! So while those with tattoo cannot use the public onsen (unless their policies have changed), there are really nice looking private family/couple baths that can be booked for 90 minutes for only 3000yen (they request booking in advance for the private baths since they only have 2 available private baths!). Green tea is added to the Okinawa deep-sea water, and the outdoor bath has jets.
The entrance fee is 1,200円 for adult non-overnight guests.
The only downside is it does not look like they offer any extra spa services. It is also quite a ways to get there as you have to cross the bridges from Uruma to Henza, Miyagi, and then finally all the way to the tip of Ikei-jima! So the journey is quite long to get out there… but it is quiet and remote, so you can have a peaceful, relaxing experience.
Since I was completely by myself when I went, I was able to snap some photos (a rare occasion for onsen!).
There are many islands make up Okinawa Prefecture (the Ryukyu archipelago). Some are connected to the main island by bridge, others require a ferry or plane. From Okinawa main island (where Naha airport) is located, I list how to get to each. Ferry port addresses are linked at the bottom of the post.
These islands are beautiful, and allows you to escape the urban jungle that is the city of Naha and Okinawa main island! I have not made separate posts for all the islands I have visited (I have been to most of these), but I will slowly work on it and update as I go.
Note: uninhabited islands that you could possibly swim or kayak to will not be included in this list.
First I will start with the drive-able islands, connected by bridge. These are “organized” by area.
Very short ferry rides, half hour or less. Again, I have indicated if the port access is North, Central, or South. I have also provided a link (in English if possible) with ferry times and fares. Since they are subject to change, it is easier to post the link than try to write out all the info.
Kume 久米島: I recommend flying a short 35 minutes instead of a 4 hour ferry! It is well worth the small extra cost. From Tomari Port (Naha) for ferry, from Naha Airport for plane. Ferry info: http://www.kumeline.com
Long ferry ride (2 hours or more), or alternatively a short plane ride. Ferry information provided when possible.
Aguni 粟国島. From Tomari Port (Naha), but there is only 1 round trip per day as weather conditions permit. You can also fly here, which is probably much more convenient.
**Yoron 与論島, technically Kagoshima prefecture, but you can get there easily from Okinawa main island. 3 hours from Motobu Port (North) via ferry. Alternatively you can fly into the airport there much quicker, via Naha Airport.
**Some notes about the ferries: most ferries will accept reservations in advance– during the peak season (Golden week and summer) I highly recommend you reserve ahead of time! Some ferries can also take cars… for a very expensive fee, and you must reserve in advance since spaces are filled quickly. It is always cheaper to rent a car/moped/bicycle where you are going rather than take your own, unless you are going for a week or more.
You can reach the Yaeyama islands 八重山諸島 and Miyako islands 宮古列島 by a short airplane ride (an hour or less) from Okinawa main island. There are no passenger ferries from Okinawa main islands down to these islands (and even if there were it would take over 20 hours to reach). It is easy to rent a car or scooter on these islands to get around.
To reach the Miyako islands, first you fly into Miyako-jima 宮古島. Most are easily accessible via bridge.
Kurima 来間島 (bridge)
Shimoji 下地島 (bridge)
Irabu 伊良部島 (bridge)
Tarama 多良間島 (ferry)
Ogami 大神島 (ferry)
To reach the Yaeyama islands, first fly into Ishigaki 石垣島. From here you can also reach the other islands, all via ferry:
Hateruma 波照間島, southern most island in Okinawa prefecture.
Bingata 紅型 is a traditional Ryukyuan technique to dye fabric. It is usually colorful and beautiful with many traditional designs showcasing the beauty and pride of Ryukuan (Okinawan) heritage. Here in Okinawa, there are many places where you can make your own!
Additionally, there are many places that sell kimono, bags, and other items made with this beautifully dyed fabric. Some of these handmade items are quite expensive, though.
I made this pictured example at Shuri Ryusen 首里琉染 (it is now in a nice frame and hanging on my wall), but there are other places to make similar items. Some people like making the whale shark or other Okinawa motif designs rather than the traditional design pictured. It makes a really nice souvenir of Okinawa!
神輿 mikoshi: palanquin used to transport Shinto deities, a portable shrine.
なんみん祭: Nanmin Matsuri (Naminoue Shrine festival, Nanmin is the shrine’s name in Okinawan language)
Possibly the closest to a Japanese mainland-style mikoshi you will see in Okinawa is during the Nanmin Festival at the Naminoue shrine!
Every year the mikoshi procession is on the Sunday of the festival. It starts at 10am from Naminoue Shrine and winds it way to the open space in front of the Palette Kumoji (Ryubo) at the end of Kokusai-dori. There is also eisa, traditional Ryukyu dance, shishimai (lion dance), karate demonstrations, a beach tsunahiki (tug-of-war), bukubuku-cha/tea ceremony, and more during this weekend festival (Saturday & Sunday).
This is a must-see for anyone living in Okinawa who has not experienced this on the mainland of Japan. Obviously on mainland, this is a much more common site to see, and they are very exciting and exuberant events. This one is much smaller, and less crowded, which in some ways makes for a better experience!
**Bukubuku-cha event: started from 2pm on Saturday of the festival, Naminoue shrine. We watched as some skilled ladies made the foam for the tea. At 2pm, they had benches to sit down while they came around with individual trays containing a cup of tea topped with foam and 2 chinsukou (cookies). This event was free! Yum! On Saturday, there was also children’s sumo from 1pm, and some taiko performances from 6pm (we did not stay for taiko so I cannot comment on that experience).
**Mikoshi event: started at 10am on Sunday at the shrine, however we met up with them by the Ryubo Palette Kumoji around 11am. There was the parade into the square, then some ceremonies/rituals. Next came various performances, of which the shishimai was probably my favorite. As always they came thru the crowd to try to bite small children. While this was going on, the pole-dancing went on by Kokusai-dori. No, not like that… by pole-dancing I mean “Gaaee” ガーエー, which means something like “winner’s triumphant shout.” Basically it entails guys carrying a large, heavy bamboo pole decorated with flags and flowers and other decorations, called hatagashira 旗頭. Hatagashira are an example of the traditional Okinawan culture. They are symbols created to represent a the success of a village. After the various performances wrapped up, the parade returned to the shrine and beach for some more events. At this point my hubby was pretty done, so we headed home.
三鷹の森ジブリ美術館: “Mitaka no mori Jiburi Bijustsukan” is the name of the Ghibli museum, located in Inokashira Park 井の頭公園 in Kichijoji 吉祥寺. We took an overnight trip to Tokyo, staying by Kichijoji station in order to visit the Ghibli museum (and to eat some totoro themed cream puffs!).
On the day they released tickets (10 am on the 10th of the month before you want to visit), despite the webpage crashing due to high traffic I was (barely) able to secure tickets online using the Lawson’s ticket site. Tickets are only 1000yen per person, and I was not about to try to go through some 3rd party “tour” that included a high transportation fee. Of course, the weekend tickets all sold-out in seconds, so by the time my browser got through, I was at least able to secure last entry (4pm) Friday tickets.
In May, it was the last opportunity to try out the adult-sized cat-bus, so of course I had to fulfill my life dream. This past Friday, I finally got to go to the Ghibli museum and sit in the cat-bus. And the everything about the experience was amazing!
We flew into Haneda airport in Tokyo on Friday early afternoon, arriving about 1pm. From there we jumped onto the trains towards Kichijoji station (2 transfers). The train system in Tokyo can look overwhelming, but with GoogleMaps, it has gotten so easy to navigate. We were at Kichijoji station by about 2pm; since we skipped lunch, we got a snack at the station before heading to the hotel a mere few meters away. We dropped off the suitcase in the room, and headed out to Inokashira park.
At the park entrance, we decided on some crepes from a mama-san crepe stand (husband got savory while I got a sweet blueberry cream cheese), as well as some coffee from the Honolulu Coffee Company (just like home!). We sat by the lake eating and watched the swan boats go by on the pond. After we finished, we strolled through the park, taking the long way to the museum since at this point we had over an hour to kill. The park was really nice, with lots of little surprises everywhere. At about 3:20 we arrived at the museum and there were already a few people milling near the entrance. My husband went up to the ticket taker, and he told us to be lined up at 3:30. Then he laughed when he saw my husband’s uchinaaguchi shirt from Okinawa, apparently he is a fan of Okinawa. So for a few minutes I took some pictures outside the museum, and some people started lining up. At 3:30, they started checking tickets; we received a receipt for 3:40 entrance. So, just as a tip, show up half an hour early to your ticket time and line up! I did not realize this, so I was glad we were so lucky to get in a little earlier than expected, giving us some extra time in the museum.
We entered, received our film ticket and guidance map. There are no pictures inside, only outside. I actually like this policy, otherwise it would be nuts with people taking selfies and insane numbers of photos. I won’t spoil the surprises, but all the exhibits are pretty magical, from the architecture of the house to all the small details, the drawings and sketches, the film pieces, and of course, the life-size cat-bus. It was quite beautiful, and sort of dream-like.
Originally I was unhappy with the 4-6pm entry ticket– I was hoping for an earlier entry. BUT as it turns out, I think it was actually one of the best times to enter! Why? Well, it actually started to be less busy at this time… most people with earlier entrances were finished already and were either waiting for food in the cafe or went home, so when we walked around the museum, it did not feel all that crowded. Plus, the weather was nice, so mid-way through our wanderings we ended up drinking a Ghibli exclusive beer on the patio under the trees (though be warned it is not cheap at 650yen).
Most (English-speaking) people in the online reviews said to skip the short movie showing in the Saturn Theater of the museum… I am glad we did not listen to this, because the movie showing on our trip was “Mei and the Kitten-bus” (めいとこねこバス Mei to koneko-basu). It was so cute! I feel like even with limited Japanese skills, the words were not difficult at all, and the story was easy to follow. 100% recommend. I kind of wish I bought the book in the gift shop, actually– Totoro is one of my favorites.
The last thing we did, was of course, visit the gift shop. By this point, the line was a bit long since the museum was closing at 6pm, though they had several cashiers working to make it go smoothly. We each got a museum folder, I also got a fluffy museum tenugui (Japanese towel) and a mini plushie cat-bus.
We finally had to say goodbye to the museum, leaving at about 5:50. We went through everything the museum had to offer, and obviously could have used a little more time but it ended up to be a fabulous time.
After the wandering back through the park towards the station, we looked through some of the little shops. We stopped at an Okinawan restaurant that had a lot of craft beers on tap (we did not order food there…). Afterwards I took my husband to a rather popular chain ramen joint called Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto 蒙古タンメン中本 since he had been putting up with my Ghibli and crepes. It was your typical set up, narrow restaurant with only counter seats, with a ticket machine at the entrance and a line of locals waiting to catch a seat. The menu was only in Japanese, but it is not difficult, just look for the amount of spicy you want. We were the only foreigners in there that evening (though it looked like at least one other tourist, the rest were mostly office workers). Luckily they slung ramen pretty fast, and the wait was not all that long. While we waited, we noticed people SWEATING, some even crying a little, and one poor girl had an enormous pile of tissues in front of her! This shop is known for spicy ramen. My husband got the #8 spicy ramen (the levels go to 11), and he said that was plenty spicy for him. We noticed several people bought the side of mapo tofu and added it into the ramen! I hadn’t realized this was the popular item (topping??) or I would have told my husband to buy it for himself. They had bibs for protecting your clothes, and since they were many office workers still in suits most people used one.
After finishing ramen, it was time to head back to the hotel and relax. The next morning we walked around Kichijoji and did some shopping. I also ended up trying 2 different taiyaki in the morning. Amane Taiyaki 天音たい焼き was amazing! I usually feel that most taiyaki sellers are the same, but this one was a step above probably any other I have ever had! We also ended up getting a coconut milk boba tea at the Moomin stand. Too cute!
And for one of the highlights of our trip: Totoro cream puff! On the way to Haneda airport, we stopped at Setagaya-Daita station and walked a very short distance to Shirohige Choux Cream Factory 白髭のシュークリーム工房 (the Tolo-pan Coffee and Bakery cafe is on the 2nd floor). They have some seasonal flavors, as well as custard and chocolate year-round. You can get these adorable cream puffs to go, or eat at the cafe upstairs. Since we were tight on time, we ended up getting them to go so we could eat them in the airport lounge. We chose matcha cream, chocolate cream, and custard! Not only were they super cute but also delicious.
**I am working on updating this “Bucket List” to include more must-see sites/events, as well as making links for everything! For now, this is the short version… have patience while I continue to update it with more info.
Many people post “bucket lists” for living in Okinawa. But I find that many of them are not unique to living in Okinawa at all (or even unique to living in Japan for that matter). So I will break some of the must-do/see down. Some are unique to Okinawa, while some are more inclusive of Japan in general.
First, there are some of the obvious tourist attractions/activities that pretty much everybody knows about:
Go fukubukuro (lucky bag) shopping on New Years Day
Learn to cook Okinawa-style foods
go to Round1 Stadium and be a kid again
Most people seem to neglect the truly local festivals and events, and stick to the bigger ones advertised only in English. But there are so many more experiences to be had on Okinawa, and this is only the beginning of a list. Plus, there is so much more that I do not even know about!
ニャンコ nyanko, or even ニャンちゃん nyan-chan: a somewhat childish or cute way to say cat, like kitty
カフェ kafe: cafe
Have you ever wanted to experience a Japanese cat cafe (neko cafe)?
Today I visited a neko cafe in Naha, not far from Kokusai-dori. The name of the cafe is にゃんそーれ “Nyan-so-re”, a playful version of “menso-re” めんそーれ which is Okinawan for “welcome.” An English cat version would be more sort of like “meow-so-re,” I guess if that makes sense.
Anyway when you enter, like many Japanese establishments, you remove you shoes and put them in the cubby, donning a pair of cute cat-themed slippers. There are also small lockers for your purse (back by the cashier, she will give you a key). The cafe is divided into 2 rooms: the first is the dining area, where you can watch the kitties through the glass while eating. The second is the area where you can play with the kitties.
They have different plans you can choose from, and not to fret… they have English translations, so even if the workers don’t really understand/speak English, you will not be lost here if you do not speak Japanese. The time rates for play-time start from 30 minutes (500 yen). They also have drinks, light meals, and desserts. You may have drinks in the kitty area, but eating is only outside the kitty room. When you are ready and have ordered what you would like, let the staff know when you are ready to play with some cats and they will give you a pass with the time your entered written on it. There will be a connecting area with a sink to wash up before and after playing with the cats.
Inside is the fun part… kitties everywhere! There are handouts with their names and pictures, tons of cat toys, manga and books (some cat-themed), air-conditioning, couches. Some of the cats will sleep and some will be social, and some may even be playful. It was a nice way to spend some time, since my husband is allergic to cats, and the price was pretty reasonable. I payed about 1200yen for my time and drinks/food there (30 minutes play time/iced tea with the kitties, then affogato while I watched and relaxed on the other side for almost another half hour).
They also have many, many cat-themed goods available for purchase. It was hard to resist…
Note: You may take picture of the cats, but no flash.
狩り kari: literal translation is “hunting,” but it used for picking fruit
so ichigo-gari イチゴ狩り is strawberry picking.
Strawberry picking is really popular in Japan.
Today we went to Chura Ichigo 美らイチゴ, a strawberry farm in Itoman. Here, you pick your own strawberries in their covered greenhouse. They just opened this year and they grow 5 different varieties of strawberries.
When you enter, you take off your shoes and put them in the cubby, then wear the rubber slippers provided for you. Next you will be handed a basket with a tray in it. You are instructed in the method of how to pluck the strawberries, by turning the tops downwards and pulling gently (look at the picture signs they have for you to understand what I mean).
What I like about this place is that there is no entrance fee (!) and you simply pay for as many as you pick (2yen per 1 gram). We enjoyed some time choosing from the different varieties of berries and ended up with about 950yen worth of strawberries. These berries were so sweet and delicious, it was such a good value. If you want, they also have some benches you can sit at and enjoy eating your berries after you have paid for them, or you can get a bag to carry them home in if you prefer. I highly recommend trying Chura Ichigo!
Some other places, such as some farms in Ginoza (up north) and Tomoyu Farm in Nakagusuku, have only a tabehoudai 食べ放題 (all-you-can-eat) plan where you pay a certain amount (usually 1300yen for adults) and you can eat as many strawberries as you want in 20 minutes. For me, I prefer to savor my berries since they are a rare treat; I don’t want to scarf them down in a certain amount of time. So while I appreciate the novelty of the tabehoudai idea, it is not how I wish to enjoy my strawberries.
Chura Ichigo Itoman branch is only open on Saturdays and Wednesdays, from about January until May, starting from 10am until they are out of berries for the day. Most strawberry picking places in Okinawa begin their season around January/February and close by May.
**UPDATE: Chura Ichigo has opened a second location in NANJO. This location is open on Sundays and Thursdays, starting at 10 am until they are out of berries. These 2 locations have become so popular it is important to check the website for the day to see if they have sold out or go at opening! The website is even in English now since many foreign people enjoy visiting! The fees have changed; there is now an entrance fee and berries are 3yen per gram. They have also added a tabehoudai plan 食べ放題 for those interested.
We participated in the One Piece run in Chatan 北谷町; it is a 5.5 km “running” course set up through the American Village area with a One Piece (anime, manga) theme. The tickets were purchased through Lawson conbini and came with a T-shirt and wristband, as well as various other small things. We chose to do the first wave, but there are 4 times you could choose from.
Of course, on this day it decided to be rainy… but we did not let that deter us. We even got all the stamps for the stamp rally. Now admittedly, I have not read or seen much of One Piece… my husband wanted to participate in a beginner’s run, and since marathons are honestly a bit extreme for us, when this came up we decided to go for it. After all… it is Japan, and participating in an anime-themed run seems like something we should experience at least once.
There were some people dressed up as various characters or with One Piece gear, though you do not need to be so extreme to participate. The tent was selling some One Piece merchandise and souvenirs for the more serious fans. We were happy with our shirt and wristband.
As we jogged our way through the course, there were various fun station stops and picture opportunities. There was a sweets station (yes, I know… during a run, really? sweets? doesn’t that sort of feel contradictory?), the pirate ship, foam party, water gun battle, speakers playing OnePiece songs, character photos, and more. Despite being a little cold and soaked from the rain we had a pretty good time and my husband met his goal challenge. At the end they gave you a cute little certificate to say you completed and a pin. Maybe we will try again next year and have better weather.
For those who are more true fans, there was an “after-party” concert with some of the voice actors and one of the singing groups. We were chilly and wet, so we ended up to go home.