Final Reflections on Okinawa

Standard

We wanted to do one last vacation this year but had a smaller budget to do it. I started researching and found some great deals for Okinawa. We thought about an October trip but found that if we messed with dates a bit, we could save about $250 on airfare and $100 on hotels. The first week of November is technically off season.

We flew Jeju Air because it was the cheapest flight with a checked bag. It is a budget airline so the weight limit for checked bags is 15kg and your carry on weight limit is 10 kg. The customer service was great. They let us gate check the stroller. The leg room is not great. Clarissa and I were fine, but Tim was most comfortable by the window. His knees only had an inch or two from the seat in front of him. I think a tall person would have a problem. Also, you can ask for water but all other food and drinks on the flight, you need to pay for. You can bring your own food and drink though.

We originally booked a hotel in the middle of the island with an airport shuttle. When I went to confirm pick up I realized that if customs took a while we would miss said shuttle and have to wait 4 hours for the next one. Customs in Naha was super easy (less than 30 minutes from landing until we were ready to leave the airport) and we would have had time to spare to make our shuttle. But I wasn’t going to take that chance so we switched hotels to one in Central Naha that was $30 a night cheaper than the first.

Villa Izumizaki was a great place to stay. We were within 5 minutes walk of Asahibashi Station, Naha Bus Terminal, and Kokusai Street. It had a kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator, and microwave. There was a bathtub for Clarissa. The washer and dryer was wonderful! The beds were a little hard, but there was air conditioning, a balcony with a clothes line, and a couch in addition to the full size and twin bed.

I had read that public transportation wasn’t great on the island. But we didn’t want to mess with an international driver’s license or driving on the left side of the road when we didn’t know where anything was. Our hotel made it easy to access busses and monorail. The frustrating part about busses was the lack of updates. In Korea, many bus stops have a digital display where you can see what busses are coming soon and how far away they are. In Okinawa, there is a schedule that tells you what time each bus should arrive at the stop, but in our experience, busses can be 12 minutes late or 6 minutes early and you really have no way of knowing when the bus is coming exactly.

We tried a bus tour to get to a few locations on the same day. We knew we wanted to see Churumi Aquarium and Busena Underwater Observatory. It is hard to do both in the same day because they are both far from Naha and the same bus does not go to both so you have to go all the way to Naha to change busses. But we didn’t have enough time at either location to do everything we wanted to do. If I could do it over again, I would have gone on two separate days so that we could do everything we wanted to do.

Also, bring your bathing suit, even in the off season. Everything that I read said that November would require a wet suit to swim. The water was chilly, but would have been fine for swimming.

We brought yen for our trip because we wanted to stick to our budget. But most places took credit card. A few things only took yen though so you will want at least part of your budget in yen.

We were not impressed with the shopping at American Village, but the beach there was great.

Okinawa World was very commercial. Clarissa loved the Habu Museum (reptiles) and live show. I was finally able to wear a kimono. Clarissa and I both experienced our first cave. The Eisa Dance Show is more drums and folk lore than dancing. The traditional crafts village is really small and has a lot for sale.

Basically, we had some great family time so I am glad we went to Okinawa. But we don’t plan to live there or return on vacation.

If you would like to read about specific adventures on your trip, the links are included below:

Okinawa Shopping and Food

Shuri Castle

Sunset Beach and Okinawa World

Hip hop bus tour

Hip hop bus tour

Standard

The weekend before our Okinawa trip we booked the hip hop bus tour. It allows us to get to several places on our list on the same day and with easy transportation. It was also reasonably priced. It was about $125 for the three of us and that includes transportation as well as admissions to all of our sites today.

In the beginning of the tour, our guide handed out a headset to each member of the tour. This way, we can listen to the important information in our own language.

Our first stop was Busena Underwater Observatory. We had an hour at this location, which was enough time to use the restroom, walk to the observatory, view the fish, feed some fish, and walk back to the bus. They also had a glass bottom boat to see the coral reef from above, but we didn’t have time for both.

There was a small wait to get into the observatory and about 50 steps down. The bottom was great though. There were 16 port holes. Eight of them were adult height and eight of them were Clarissa height. The water was really clear and we could see several fish.

The bridge leading to the observatory had beautiful views of the ocean and coastline.

There was also a spot to pay 200 yen (about $2) for fish food. Clarissa enjoyed throwing the food to the fish.

The next stop on our tour was Ocean Expo Park. We had a little less than three hours there including lunch. They only took yen (not card) at the restaurant we went to. There was a dolphin show that got really crowded at the same time as the dolphin feeding experience. We waited in line to pay 500 yen ($5) to feed the dolphins. When it was our turn, the lady said, “Sorry. Sold out.” Clarissa handled it better than I did. But then one of the adults in line gave us her bucket so we gave her our 500 yen. Clarissa had a great time feeding the dolphins.

Then we headed to the big outdoor tanks for the sea turtles and manatees.

There were also a pretty place to see the beach.

Finally, we went to the Churumi Aquarium. It does have one of the largest tanks in the world. It was so crowded that it was a little overwhelming. But Clarissa loved it!

The whole time we felt rushed because we had to get back to the bus on time. There was so much more that we wanted to see at Ocean Expo Park. We thought about leaving the tour but because we didn’t take the city bus there, we had no idea how to get back without the tour bus.

The next stop was Kouri Island, which was pretty and Clarissa had a few minutes to get her feet wet. But the stop was only 30 minutes long. I think I would have preferred another hour at Ocean Expo Park instead of the time it took to get to the island.

The last stop was Mihama American Village. We were running ahead of schedule, so we thought we would have extra time there. The tour leader posted a time even shorter than what was scheduled. We decided to leave the tour since we knew how to get back to the hotel. This gave Clarissa some time to play at the beach and allow us some time for dinner before we headed back for the night.

We even got to see the sunset at the beach.

We had sushi for dinner. I was adventurous and tried some new things. I didn’t like the squid though.

Sunset Beach and Okinawa World

Standard

The busses from Naha Bus Terminal to Okinawa World only happen once per hour and we missed the the first one Wednesday. We decided to head to Mihama American Village instead. You can take either bus 20, 28, 29, or 120 to Kuwame stop (directly after US Naval Hospital).

Honestly, we were not very impressed. There were little shops for American things and a 100 yen shop (dollar store). There was also a bowling alley, a giant ferris wheel, and several restaurants. Our favorite part was the beach. I had read that we were out of season and the water would be too cold for swimming so I didn’t pack bathing suits for this trip. But I thought we could just put our feet in since it was so pretty.

I always carry a change of clothes for Clarissa anyway so I wasn’t upset that she got very wet. It took a while for her to realize that I didn’t have extra clothes for myself though. The water wasn’t that cold so we should have brought our suits anyway. Lesson learned.

We had lunch at Jai Thai. The food was really good. But the prices were high for the portion sizes. The kids meal was great though. Clarissa actually ate the fried rice (rice with scrambled egg and no sauce), French fries, and jello. I got the pineapple fried rice and Tim ordered red Curry.

We headed back to the hotel to change clothes and recharge the transportation card before catching the bus to Okinawa World (you can take 54 or 83).

Our first stop was the Habu Museum. Habu is a species of snake indigenous to Okinawa. There was a lizard that you could pet on the way in, several exhibits of snakes, and some crabs and other amphibians in small tanks.

We saw the indoor part of the museum in about 15 minutes and then headed to the live show. They offered headsets for translation but we declined thinking we would just be able to watch. It was a lot of talking so if I went again, I would take the headset.

There was a race between the mongoose and the snake. Spoiler alert. Mongoose won. Then we headed outside to see turtles, big snakes, and some bats.

Then we went to the Eisa Plaza to see the show there. I read about a dance show but it was really a drama that ended with drums. The drum part was really cool but it was loud so it scared Clarissa a little. They had big signs for no pictures so I didn’t take any.

Then, Clarissa and I headed to the cave. I have never been inside a cave before so I thought it was cool. Clarissa had a ton of questions. Looks like we need to find library books about caves next week!

The path was not at all strenuous and was about a half mile. The funniest part was Clarissa. There were some parts with a low ceiling. I never had a problem but some of my taller friends would. When we got to those parts Clarissa would say, “Mommy, you’re getting tall!”

It wasn’t really stroller friendly, but they tell you about the 130 total steps before you start. Tim grabbed some food and the stroller and met us at the cave exit. During his meal, they actually gave him some of the Habu sake that they brew there. He thought it tasted fine.

After the cave, we headed to the traditional village area. There was a small garden for growing tropical fruit. The village itself was very small and commercial, full of shopping and traditional crafts you could make.

My favorite part was dressing up in a kimono. I have wanted to do this each trip to Japan and have never gotten around to it. This time, I had to do it when I saw it. It cost 500 yen ($5) to dress up and have your pictures taken. They took 3 pictures on their camera and 3 with my phone.

After this experience, Okinawa World was closing. We ended up taking a taxi home because the next bus wasn’t scheduled to arrive for 45 minutes and it started raining. Plus it was now 6pm and we needed dinner. Our taxi driver was very kind.

We headed back to Kokusai Street for dinner and ate at Hokkaido. The food was wonderful. There was a seat fee of 300 yen per person, but it was so worth it. They kept bringing out appetizers. Our main dishes were also delicious.

Shuri Castle

Standard

When we plan a vacation, Tim usually researches the shopping (electronics) and I research the historical sites. With the shopping out of the way, we are free to explore other things.

On Tuesday, we headed to Shuri Castle. We took the monorail to the end which is the Shuri stop. Then, there are signs to walk there. It only took about 15 minutes.

The first entrance has steps, but we took it anyway because we didn’t see the handicapped entrance until we were leaving. There were a few gates to walk through to get to the visitor center to buy tickets for entry. Clarissa and I walked up the steps and Tim carried the stroller.

It was fun trying to explain to Clarissa why they might need so many steps or gates to protect the castle. I think she was also expecting to meet a princess as she was disappointed when I told her that no one lived there anymore.

The complex reminded me a bit of some of the palace complexes in Seoul. The big courtyard in the middle surrounded by buildings on all sides. The palaces in Seoul don’t usually have a stone wall around them though.

This building was really the start of the tour. You had to take your shoes off to walk through. The first building was the old residence and mostly wooden walls and a few small gardens.

The next building had some really cool artifacts that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of. The outside of the main building was being repainted but the inside was interesting. They let us take pictures in a few of the rooms.

The first room was the throne room. This is where a lot of the private ceremonies took place. Clarissa didn’t like the crown because it didn’t look anything like Elsa’s…

The next room showed where a lot of the meetings with other rulers took place. Also, Clarissa was fascinated by the floor. They showed the stones for the old castle that was burnt to the ground during World War 2. They decided to build it higher when they rebuilt it.

The last building had models to show things like coronations by the emperor of China.

It was interesting to see the history of having a relationship with the emperor of China and then being taken over by the Japanese.

Okinawa Shopping and Food

Standard

Our hotel sits right off of Kokusai Street. I didn’t realize how great of a location it was when I booked it. Plenty of shopping and food, plus the Naha Bus Terminal and Asahibashi monorail stop are a five minutes walk. I think we will end up here for dinner every night. Our first night we were tired and hungry but found plenty of cool things to see. I got some Christmas shopping done and Tim and Clarissa found some really fun things as well.

We read that Blue Seal was really good ice cream specific to Okinawa. There are shops everywhere so I think we will try a few flavors over the course of the week. I tried pineapple sorbet and Tim had a royal milk tea ice cream with vanilla soft serve on top. We both really enjoyed it.

We also went to our favorite Japanese grocery store, Don Quiote to buy some drinks and water for the week. So we splurged on fun things I would never buy at home like a cardboard sword full of m&ms and carmel apple cups (think reeses with carmel inside).

One night, headed back to Kokusai Street for dinner and ate at Hokkaido. The food was wonderful. There was a seat fee of 300 yen per person, but it was so worth it. They kept bringing out appetizers. Our main dishes were also delicious.

On Monday, we headed to Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom. We took express bus 152 from Naha Bus Terminal until it ends at the mall. Our Okica subway card works on busses too. Clarissa’s favorite part was the large aquarium in the lobby.

I forget that the rest of the world doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving so they start decorating for Christmas after Halloween. Well, Japan and Korea do anyway.

It was a nice mall. As usual, Tim had a specific list of stores to visit and things he wanted to find but he didn’t find anything he wanted and Clarissa and I found plenty of fun things. They had a toys r us as well as a Pok√©mon store, Studio Ghibli store, and Sanrio store. Plus several stores that I had never heard of but I found some cute silicone cups to make muffins in a different shape and some stationary type things. I bought the rest of our stocking suffers today.

They have a nice food court and several sit down restaurants. We had lunch in the food court. Tim always likes to try Subway in Japan because they have different sandwiches then on post. I had been reading that taco rice was a thing here so I ordered that. It was pretty good. I actually used to make something similar often for dinner.

They had some stores next to the mall as well so we checked out a bookstore (no English books though) and a Daiso (think five below). There was also a sign claiming an ocean view. Technically, you could see the ocean. But it was a couple of miles away and there was a construction site and random other things in front of it. Needless to say, I didn’t take any pictures.

We headed to the outlets in Ashibinaa on Tuesday evening. We discovered a Yamada across the street (electronics store) and Tim was thrilled to find something on his list. He said the store was great, reminded him of Sofmap in Tokyo. Clarissa and I headed to Daiso. Then we crossed the street and ate dinner at Bikkuri Donkey. The food was wonderful! They had the hot plate where you cook the rest of your steak that is fairly common in Japan. Also, the fresh squeezed juices are lovely. It is reasonably priced as well. (Please note that they only accept yen, not credit card)

Then we headed to the actual outlet. I really liked the Christmas lights outside.

We only had about 45 minutes before the outlets closed (8pm), but I was impressed. It reminded me of the outlet mall in Williamsburg, VA. There were several fancy stores like Gucci and Prada, but they also had an Adidas outlet, gap, and Columbia. We found a few things at great prices.

Wednesday morning, we decided to head to Mihama American Village. You can take either bus 20, 28, 29, or 120 to Kuwame stop (directly after US Naval Hospital). Honestly, we were not very impressed. There were little shops for American things and a 100 yen shop (dollar store). There was also a bowling alley, a giant ferris wheel, and several restaurants.

Our favorite part was the beach. I had read that we were out of season and the water would be too cold for swimming so I didn’t pack bathing suits for this trip. But I thought we could just put our feet in since it was so pretty. Clarissa had other plans but I always pack an extra pair of clothes for her so it was fine that she went swimming.

We had lunch at Jai Thai. The food was really good. But the prices were high for the portion sizes. The kids meal was great though. Clarissa actually ate the fried rice (rice with scrambled egg and no sauce), French fries, and jello. I got the pineapple fried rice and Tim ordered red Curry.