Okinawa is a resort paradise for beach lovers who love tropical heat, splashing about in the ocean, and burying their feet in sun-kissed sand. I unfortunately, fall in neither of these categories. Almost every Japanese I know abhor the winter cold and strive in hot summer, and are avid beach lovers, including DH. If you ask any Japanese where is the best place to go to in Japan, their answer will be congruent. “Okinawa! It’s simply wonderful!” “You should really go to Okinawa! You will love it there!” I rolled my eyes internally at their enthusiasm, for what do they know? I’m from Singapore, I have had enough of summer. But my DH had already suffered the cold for me when he acceded to my request to travel to Hokkaido in winter, so I figured I had to be a nice wife as well, and fulfill his dream of going to Okinawa together.
Okinawa, with a subtropical climate, has temperatures that don’t vary too much throughout the year, so generally, almost every month is good for traveling, but beach-goers usually head to Okinawa during summer between June to October. We chose to head to Okinawa in August. While it is actually a great period to be in Okinawa as it is cooler than other parts of Japan in summer (Okinawa temperature average around 30 degrees just like Singapore, while the rest of Japan can soar up to over 40 degrees(!), a fact I never knew), it is also a period of great typhoons.
When I reached Okinawa, it felt like a different country altogether. The people there didn’t look like typical Japanese that I knew, in fact, they looked more South-East Asian, but they spoke perfect Japanese, and yes, they really are Japanese, no matter how non-Japanese they looked. But even their behaviour was different. They were much friendlier than Tokyoites, and rocked the relaxed beach vibe. The main island itself though, looked almost like Jurassic Park, with towering trees and majestic rocky mountains capped with greens. Where was the waters? Turns out Okinawa was a lot larger than I thought, it took hours of drive before I could see the glittering blue of the sea. There is actually no other way you can get around Okinawa, it is very much like Hokkaido. If you wish to explore more of Okinawa, you have to enjoy long road trips. Luckily for us, we both love road trips.
Day 1: Resting in the Resort & A Bar Performance
We reached the resort around dusk, when the sun was just starting to set, and I felt a titillating sense of wonder. The Atta Terrace Club Towers was exactly like the resorts I watched back in this popular Japanese variety show, 『世界さまぁ～リゾート』or World’s Summer Resort. The variety show seems to play on the torment of Japanese salaryman with their daily routine of stress by exaggerating the relaxed vibes of beach resorts, and the vibrant colours of the sea and sky and the shades of rainbow fluttering off the summer dresses were particularly inviting even to a non-island lover like me, for if you had ever lived in a dull, concrete city like Tokyo, even you would long for some colour, especially in the grey winter months.
The entrance to the resort looked like one of the those from the famed variety show, clean white pillars accented with wooden roofing, surrounded by languid pools of water that created the illusion of a floating structure. We were given a really lovely passionfruit drink to quench our thirst while the staff registered our booking. The resort reception also opens up to a terrace from where you can see the infinity pool stretching out into the ocean. The setting sun bathed the sky in a warm rosy glow that was reflected from the gentle ripples of the infinity pool.
This resort is ideal for honeymooners, young married couples without kids, or retired couples looking for a luxurious R&R away from crowds and families, for the resort is only open to people above the age of 16. Talk about exclusive. After completing our registration, sneaky DH managed to request a complimentary poolside cocktails and appetizers for us, which is open between 5 to 7 pm daily, but it was just past 7 by the time we’d completed our registration. Besides the cocktail hour from 5 – 7 pm, there is also a teatime period from 2 – 4 pm when you can indulge in sweet desserts and drinks. I wasn’t really looking to lounge in the resort all day, tempting as it may be, so we didn’t get to try the teatime confections, but the cocktail hour beverages and appetizers were absolutely lovely, especially under a night full of twinkling stars, which was what greeted us on our first night in the resort.
After the cocktail hour, we headed for dinner at an Okinawan bar, 島唄(Shimauta), which was recommended by the hotel staff. Brought by one of the staff in a car from the hotel, we realised too late that it was probably a tourist trap, with the staff putting up a performance at 8.30pm that cost an extra ¥1000 yen for each person. We didn’t ask for the performance, it was a timed performance, and we happened to be there just before the performance began. But while we felt rather duped by the extra charges, we did enjoy the night especially halfway into the performance when the bar staff started dancing and singing enthusiastically along with the performers, and getting all the customers to wave and clap our hands to the beat. We even got to snap photos with the instruments after the performance, so it made for good memories. But I was rather underwhelmed by the food, we’d ordered some local Okinawan cuisine, rafute (braised pork belly), taco rice, Okinawan fried soba with spam, which didn’t look or taste that appetizing.
Where: 〒904-0402 沖縄県国頭郡恩納村字安富祖1230-1
Opening Hours: 18:00 ~ 24:00 Daily
Average Price: ￥4,000~￥4,999
After dinner, we retreated to the hotel, and as we walked hand in hand back to our room, I looked up into the sky and my heart stopped. And started beating again, rapidly this time. I was enraptured by the stars in the sky. I have never seen so many stars in my lifetime. They sparkled like millions of diamonds, large and dazzling. We both paused for a long moment, admiring the star-studded sky in shared silence. But our necks started aching from staring up into the night sky, and we decided to continue our star gazing from the veranda of our room. It was a wise decision. Throughout the very comfortable half hour of star gazing, we actually caught two shooting stars falling across the twinkling sky in fiery, glittering bursts.
The Atta Terrace Club Towers
Where: 1079 Afuso, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0402, Japan
Getting There: Approximately 75 minutes by car from Naha Airport via Route 58 or one hour using the Okinawa Expressway. 15 minutes from the Yaka Interchange on northbound Route 58.
Room Rates: From 43,260¥
Day 2: Kouri Island & Churaumi Aquarium
The next day, we woke to a breathtaking view of the vast blue sea. We took advantage of the fine weather to swim a few laps across the inviting pool, or rather, he did, while I merely soaked in the cool waters, for sadly, I can’t swim. But it was still a phenomenal experience, for when we were in the pool, there was nary a soul there, and it looked like an endless stretch of blue where the pool and the sea seemingly met.
The breakfast at the resort is a semi-buffet style where the main breakfast comes in a set menu that varies slightly from day to day, and a buffet of salads and fruits. While they do have a selection, I’m more of a savoury person especially in the morning, so I only tried their egg meals, namely galette and eggs benedict. On the very first day, I had a savoury galette topped with a sunny-side up, smoked ham and cheese. The galette looked more like a crepe, but it was nevertheless delicious.
After a very fulfiling breakfast, we wasted no time in starting our beach and sea itinerary. We first headed to Kouri Island, the famed island of love for its heart-shaped rocks, and the drive was one of the best I had in my life. The 2-km long Kouri Island Bridge leading to the Kouri Island makes one feel as if one is driving over emerald waters.
However, upon reaching the island, we came to a short realization that the island was a lot more touristy that we thought it would be. There were tons of swimmers and boats dotting the coasts, which marred the brilliant turquoise of the ocean. While we could head up to the Kouri Ocean Tower for a panoramic view of the landscape where the people would be just mere dots in the wide expanse of blue, we were in a bit of a rush to head to Churaumi Aquarium to meet his brother and decided against it. Now how about the legendary heart rocks? Not as picturesque as we’d thought they would be.
Kouri Ocean Tower
Where: 538 Kouri, Nakijin, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0406, Japan
Getting There: About 90 minutes to 2 hours by car from Naha Airport via the Naha Airport Expressway and Okinawa Expressway (Tomigusuku-Nakachi IC – Kyoda IC) About 25 minutes from Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium by car.
Opening Hours: 9:00 ~ 18:00 (Last entry 17:30. In summer time it is possible to enter until 18:00) Open all year round (temporary closure in case of typhoon or other bad weather)
Fee: Adults – 800¥ ; high school students – 600¥ ; elementary & junior high school students – 300¥ ; children under 6 – free
After exploring Kouri Island for a bit, we decided to waste no time in heading to Churaumi Aquarium. A small tip here for those who are planning to head to the aquarium; if you purchase the tickets in advance in any of the convenience stores or Michi-no-Eki station in Okinawa, instead of paying the usual adult price of ¥1880, you get a discounted fee of ¥1600! Captivating ocean views are everywhere in Okinawa as long as you are near the sea, and Churaumi is no exception, as it is located in the Ocean Expo Park.
But the main attraction is the whale sharks. Churaumi Aquarium, being one of the largest aquariums in the world, is naturally able to house not one, but two 8-metre long whale sharks, alongside giant oceanic manta rays. I felt incredibly small as I looked up at the cruising sea creatures, underwater giants that glided through the seawater with such grace.
The other highlight of Churaumi would be the dolphin show. A free daily performance made against the backdrop of the deep blue sea, this is one performance not to be missed when you are at Churaumi Aquarium. Shrieks of delight from the audience could be heard when the dolphins splashed water on them, and appreciative gasps of wonder could be heard across the open air theatre when the dolphins performed awe-inspiring acrobatic tricks, leaping and twirling the air, leaving glittering drops of water in their wake.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Where: 424 Ishikawa, Motobu-cho, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 905-0206, Japan
Getting There: 2 hours by car from Naha Airport (via the Okinawa Expressway) and approximately 3 hours by express bus.
Opening Hours: (October – February) 08:30 ~ 18:30 ; (March – September) 08:30 ~ 20:00 ; Closed on first Wednesday and Thursday of December.
Fee: 08:30 ~ 16:00 (General Admissions) Adults – 1880¥ ; high school students – 1250¥ ; elementary & junior high school students – 620¥ ; children under 6 – free
We then had a fabulous dinner at a restaurant his brother introduced, and I realised that pork was so good in Okinawa. Okinawans love their pork. It has been said that “Okinawans eat every part of a pig except for its squeal.” This just shows how much Okinawans love their pork. Agu pork is a premium Okinawan breed of pig that is highly valued for its rarity. Its value is compounded by its delectable taste and its high quality. The highly marbleized meat is so tender that melts in one’s mouth and envelops your tongue with its rich umami flavour. The restaurant おBAR (Obar), situated in Nago, is a place where you can enjoy agu pork shabu-shabu (Japanese hotpot dish with thinly sliced pork and vegetables). Besides shabu-shabu, the shop is also known for its steamed Agu pork. We also ordered fried pork knuckles, fu champuru (wheat gluten stir-fry), mimiga (pig’s ears), and mozuku (Okinawa seaweed) tempura. They were all exceptionally good, and I found pig’s ears texture to be a rather interesting combination of bounce and crunch in my tongue. The texture of the gluten in fu champuru was reminiscent of the chewy batter used in orh luak (oyster omelette), which is a texture I am most fond of.
Where: 184-1, Kise, Nago-shi, Okinawa, 905-0026
Getting There: 2 minutes by car via Okinawa Expressway Kyoda I.C.
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday 17:00 ~ 23:00 (L.O.22:00)
Average Price: ¥3,000