In the summer holidays I had the chance to visit Okinawa, a favourite holiday destination for many Japanese people. It is a great escape from Tokyo without having to actually leave Japan, and has a distinct South East Asian vibe. Apart from the main island of Okinawa, there are many islands to explore from the jungle and mangrove swamps of Iriomote-jima to the picturesque turquoise waters of Kabira bay in Ishigaki.
Of course there are beautiful beaches and scenery, but what I loved most about Okinawa were that the local people were all so warm and friendly.
So if you are looking for a quick escape from the bustle of Tokyo, here are my top five Okinawa experiences
1. Exploring Ishigaki Island by scooter
Okinawa’s buses are notoriously slow and not so cheap, so renting a scooter is by far the best way to get around. Just don’t lock your keys inside the helmet compartment on the first day like I did!
2. Kayaking and river trekking at Iriomote Island
We did a guided tour starting at a sea port and then kayaked/trekked up an adjoining river and spent the afternoon jumping off waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you might spot a famous Iriomote cat, of which it is thought that there are only 100 left in the wild.
3. Scuba diving at the Manta Scramble, Ishigaki
Famous for being a hotspot for manta rays, and you can scuba here even without a licence!
4. Trying all the Okinawan cuisine!
Soki soba (Okinawan ramen, where the noodles are similar to spaghetti and served with braised pork belly or pork ribs), umi-budo (literally ‘sea grapes’, a type of seaweed), beni-imo (purple sweet potato), famous Ishigaki beef, and my personal favourite, taco rice. Taco rice is essentially the ingredients of a beef taco, but instead of being wrapped in a tortilla, it is served on top of white rice.
5. Visiting the Okinawan Prefectural Peace Memorial and Museum
The sombre mood of the park contrasts sharply with the beautiful setting of the park, which is on a cliff overlooking the ocean. I found the museum to be really informative if you don’t already know much about the Battle of Okinawa. Afterwards, take a dip at the nearby Mibaru beach, and wander through the quiet beachfront streets.