Before I begin on today’s blog post, I just want to add that the news of Shuri Castle being razed to the ground deeply saddened me, and I pray that Okinawa will soon be able to rebuild the beautiful castle that symbollises their rich and unique heritage which is so unlike the other parts of Japan.
Day 3: Cape Manzamo & American Village
The next day, we woke to a decidedly greyer weather, and realised that the typhoon was truly coming. In fact, it was announced that it was not safe to fly the day, and our flight was scheduled to be the very next day, so we had to extend our stay. But despite the terrible weather, I was still determined to explore Okinawa, I really wanted to see the UNESCO heritage castle ruins of Okinawa, and the Zakimi Castle Ruins was the closest to us.
After a hearty breakfast of eggs benedict at the resort, we first went to Cape Manzamo, as it was only a 10-minute drive away from the hotel.
Parts of Cape Manzamo was under construction when we arrived, it appears that there are plans to build a sight-seeing centre just above the rock formation, so the natural scenic place is unfortunately going to be encroached by a man-made building in the future. As we walked towards the top of Cape Manzamo, the wind started blowing stronger. It was not a good sign. But it was still a great feeling to be out in nature, walking in the spacious grassy plains. The walk up reminded me of my stay in Melbourne, when I visited The 12 Apostles. However, the weather did no justice to Cape Manzamo.
I can see why Cape Manzamo is a popular photo spot for tourists and avid photographers. It is said that the water is clear enough to be seen through on a sunny day, and the intriguing formation of the rock did indeed closely resemble an elephant’s trunk.
Where: Onna, Onna-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 904-0411
After visiting Cape Manzamo, we charged towards Zakimi Castle Ruins, but started to despair at the intermittent rains that poured from the overcast skies. By the time we’d reached the ruins, the rain and wind was so strong that we sat for several minutes in the car, wondering if we should just give up. The rain seemed to come to a halt, and the people opposite us in the carpark left their car, so we thought, “Why not? We’ve come all the way here anyway.” And so we stepped out and promptly made our way towards the ruins, side-stepping puddles along the path, and bracing ourselves whenever a gust of wind blew into our faces. We reached the ticketing counter and bought our tickets for the ruins, but I had to make a visit to the toilet before we continued, it was a 30-minute trip from Cape Manzamo to Zakimi Castle Ruins.
I was pretty sure I took less than a minute in the cubicle, but by the time I left the cubicle, the gale was tearing through the trees and I could barely see what was outside. I couldn’t leave the tiny washroom, I was stuck. I had left my bag with DH, and couldn’t even contact him. I had no idea how long I was trapped in the restroom, but it was possibly around 15 minutes. When the rains finally eased, I hurriedly exited the toilet and found DH waiting by the counter. He had taken shelter in the ticketing booth and decided to return the tickets to the staff for it was truly impossible to head to the ruins in the torrential weather. To be honest, with that kind of weather, I’m not sure why they were still selling the tickets.
Zakimi Castle Ruins
Where: 708-6 Zakimi, Yomitan Village, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa 904-0301
Getting There: Take Route 332, 331, 329, 82 and Okinawa Expressway (Naha I.C. – Ishikawa I.C.) from Naha Airport. Next, take Route 73, 58 and 12 and drive toward Yomitan Village and proceed 12 km.
I was rather down as we drove along in the car, and the pelting rain accompanied by blasting wind that decreased the visibility of the roads only worsened my feelings. But as we drove down, away from the mountains, the winds and rains lessened. Being an ignorant city girl from a tiny island state, I had no idea why. But DH explained that mountains are more perceptible to strong winds and rain because of their high elevation.
We drove into the city, and from the side of my eye I caught sight of a vibrant Ferris wheel, cheery amidst the gloomy sky. The buildings around us were significantly different from the slate grey of modern Japanese houses. Brick streets and warm yellow buildings greeted us, and I was instantly cheered by the lively ambience all around me. We were at the Mihama American Village, an outdoor U.S.-themed leisure complex located in Chatan.
The village is built to reflect the nostalgic era of 20th century America, which possibly still had quite a bit of European influence back then. The staggering variety of American products and kitschy souvenirs in the village almost made it seem like it was an entertainment complex in America rather than in Japan. There is even a building dedicated to Christmas, Christmasland, which makes this complex simply festive all year round.
But there were still some interesting local products to be found in the village, or rather, Americanized local products. Spam is also a local favourite in Okinawa, just like taco rice. All these are westernized influences that can be found throughout Okinawa, particularly in touristy spots like the American Village. One of the westernized food we found was pork and egg onigiri (rice ball). Wait, that sounds kind of Japanese, doesn’t it? Well, don’t let the name fool you. The name of the shop is exactly as the same as the food it sells, Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten, which is translated as Pork Egg Rice Ball Main Shop. But instead of the usual rice ball, the onigiri is shaped like a sandwich wrapped with a layer of crispy seaweed, and the pork is actually spam meat. It was a perfect fusion of American and Japanese food, and made for a great snack.
Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten
Where: Mihama 9-21 Chatan Town Nakagami-Gun, Okinawa 904-0115
Opening Hours: 07:00 ~ 20:00 Daily
Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten is located at the far end of Depot Island in American Village, which faces the sea. The weather cleared a little while we were there, and I could see the lovely blue of the sea. While American Village is quite possibly the epitome of a tourist trap, and it definitely was not included in our itinerary, it was a great pit stop in times of bad weather.
Mihama American Village
Where: Chatan-cho, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa 904-0115
Getting there: About 30 minutes by car driving north on Route 58.
At night, before we returned to the hotel, we were up for more authentic Okinawan food, and spent a good half an hour in Onna-son searching for a nondescript shop selling Okinawa soba. When we finally found the shop, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. We had probably driven past the shop several times, but from afar, it seemed more like a tiny derelict shack than an actual restaurant.
Nakama Shokudo may look a little suspicious on the outside, and maybe even a little austere on the inside, but its food was simply delightful. Its signature dish is sōki soba, which is a noodle soup served with spare ribs. While soba in Japan is usually made from buckwheat noodles, Okinawa soba is made from wheat flour, eggs and baking soda, and look and taste a lot closer to udon, which is also made from wheat flour. “Sōki” means “rib” in Okinawan dialect, and we were served with the biggest sōki I’ve ever seen. The stewed ribs were sweet and savory at the same time, and incredibly tender, the meat broke off from the rib easily. In my opinion, this humble Okinawa dish wins over any bak kut teh (pork rib broth) from Singapore.
Where: 2576-1 Nakama Yashihara, Onna-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 904-0401
Average Price: 850¥ for one bowl (Including free flow water and tea that you can help yourself with)