Okinawa – 沖縄県

22/03/16 – 25/03/16

Another weekend trip, this time on one of the famous tropical Japanese Islands!

 

 

Located roughly 600 miles from Honshu (the main island of Japan) this collection of over 150 islands are the tropics of Japan. Famous for their sandy beaches, coral reefs and unique culture, (cue terrible joke) it is quite literally one of the hot spots to visit in Japan!!

 

Not during the rainy season, though we wouldn’t want you to get blown away or washed down the drain!  This starts Late April and ends late June, and of course, we booked our flights for the end of April! Right from the get-go I was very dubious about the trip as the weather forecast was rather daunting…

 

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Looks promising right???…

Alas, our flights were booked and off we went to Narita airport to catch are Peach flight to Naha, Okinawa!

Top tip – if you want to save on flights when flying to, from or inside Japan ‘Peach’ and ‘Vanilla Air’ are always having 3/4 day flash sales. You can find out the details by signing up for their email service or make sure to check out their website. 

We arrived in Naha grabbed some water and headed for our apartment via monorail!

 

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This was in fact, my first experience on a monorail, I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit afraid, yes I don’t like heights….

About twenty minutes down the track and we arrived at ‘Omoromachi station’ our stop for our extremely nice and reasonably priced home for the weekend!

Top tip – we booked our apartment on Airbnb this is a great website to find fun, unique, and exciting places to stay in over 34000 cities around the word! This is a great website/app to find places to stay, also it’s often considerably cheaper for what you get, in better locations and more convenient. This is also great to get the real experience of the local area and to see how people from said location life!

If you want to set up an account and receive a £14 discount that you can use on your fist booking use this link! http://www.airbnb.com/c/stephenk98

 

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With a great view to boot!

 

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We arrived quite late and just grabbed some food in a local restaurant then went for a walk around the area! Outside the monorail station near our house, there is a water/steam/light feature thing. It’s easier if you just see it.

 

 

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Then of course it was off to bed after some local beer and grub!

 

23/03/16

Tokashiki Island

We decided to go on a day trip to one of the many islands that make up Okinawa! Tokashiki island was our port of call for the day. Making our way to the main port in Naha and boarded the ferry to Tokashiki!

 

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After docking at Tokashiki Island we went into the port office for some information about the island. Everyone was being ushered onto a bus that was headed for the famous beach on the other side of the island. We decided to walk as the weather was really nice  (but mostly because I had no money). On the way, we saw some forest or you could say nearly jungle on the way across this tropical island, we also got the opportunity to try planting rice. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time and passed up the opportunity (kind of regret it now).

 

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We made our way over and back down the other side of the mountain coming across another small village (population of about 50 I’d say). We hit the shore and came to the beach, just wow.  This was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen!!

 

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After walking around for a while and of course doing the very British thing of dipping your feet in and not actually swimming in the water we headed along the beach to a viewing point. The place was just breathtaking and the pictures speak for themselves!

 

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We headed back to the little village just beside the beach as I quite rapidly turning into a lobster. We were able to grab some food and people spoke really good English, nice and easy for us getting vegetarian food!

 

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As I had developed a rather glorious sunburn we decided that (or rather I decided) we should get the bus back to the port instead of walking. We were a little early so decided to have a little cocktail beside the beach before the bus!  It was a long day trip as the boat took 2/3 hours to get there and another 2/3 to get back. The evening was once again spent finding a local restaurant to get some grub and drink some more Orion, (a Japanese beer) by the why I think this is by far the best mainstream (if you can use that term for beer) beer in Japan!

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24/03/16

Markets, Shurijo Castle and more Fun Stuff

We started the day bright and early to try and pack in as much as we could! We bought ourselves a day ticket for the monorail as we wanted to pack in as much as possible. (this was great as we went for some food before leaving meaning we bought the ticket after 10am) In case you are wondering the tickets last for 24 hours and they work by the clock not the day so this was perfect for us as we could use it for our ride to the airport in the next morning!

We set off to Shuriojo Castle, making the obligatory stops at vending machines of course.

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The castle was set up on top of a hill and was an enjoyable walk up to it from the station and the view was just spectacular over the city!

 

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When in the castle they had a stay with people performing 3 or 4 times a day a  dance in the traditional style of Kabuki.

 

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After the castle, we thought we would head to a market, but it turned out to be a night one and not very open during the day…

 

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So we headed off further down the line to Fukushūen the traditional gardens in Naha. On the way, we walked through the city a little bit and found ourselves  emits a Japanese film/tv festival. Of course, we didn’t have a clue who any of these people were but everyone else was going CRAZY!After fighting through the crowd of people we made our way to the nearest station to get to Fukushūen. Of course we found ourself going through another market this time it was open and there was a traditional Okinawan performance going on!

 

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This is when the real magic of a trip happens we were going one way and decided to go another and found the market but more importantly the performance. This style of dance is known as Eisa and is a traditional Okinawan dance performed with live musicans

 

 

3 hours later, we made it to Fukushuen.

 

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Even making some buddies along the way. 😉

 

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This for me this was one of the real treasures of the trip, it was free, not busy and really very beautiful! With its winding paths, beautiful architecture, wildlife and the waterfall that you could walk through.

 

 

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After the park we decided that we would head back, it was time for a nap, some food and I needed to get the frozen towel on my sunburn again. I haven’t actually told you about that yet… (but yes I did have two small onsen towels that I was now freezing and then rotating them to cool down my back and neck, along with the gallons of after the sun… of course Philip and Josie give me nothing but moral support {yeah right}.)

 

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(Photo doesn’t really do it justice!)

So this was gonna be our big night out in Naha and after walking through the town we had seen a few spots that looked promising and cheap (mainly cheap). Josie found a local supermarket and we headed up to get a little something for breakfast before the airport, today’s dinners along with some beers.  So off we go on the 5-minute walk to the supermarket, head in and get our stuff then 5-minutes later we head out again (now, baring in mind that when we left if was clear as day). We got about 2 minutes into our journey and just one block from our apartment me the rain started. Oh, and by started I mean the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in my life, (baring in mind once again that I’m from Northern Ireland and yes it rains over 200 days of the year there..) this was some hardcore rain. So, of course, we ran back and in the space of 2 minutes we looked like drowned rats. So that kind of concluded our night, ridiculous rain… Let’s just drink the beer play cards and watch a movie!

 

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Oh yeah we also heard that Okinawa was famous for its fruit and vegetables of course Josie and I being the vegetarians were interested in this (and Philip who would literally eat shit on a stick was of course, interested too…) ‘Goya’ or bitter melon (in English) is a cumber like fruit that is really popular and is said to give the eater a longer life. We wanna stay on the planet for a long as we can so we thought ‘ahh, why not give it a go’. That was a terrible idea.

Just Don’t.

In case you are wondering what the devil of all fruits looks like it is this.

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I mean, of course, try it if someone who knows how to cook it is present. You know when you’re watching the TV and the guys say’s “Don’t try this at home” well, this is a don’t try this one at home kind of thing…

 

25/03/16

Flights

Not really too much to say for today. We got up and headed back for Kofu, Yamanashi!

I really had a lot of fun and was so happy that the not so amazing water forecast was not accurate at all!  I hope you enjoyed our little adventure in Okinawa too and it inspires you to get out and see the world!

 

Thanks for reading/looking

Happy traveling,

Stephen

 

I’ll leave you with this image, it was taken at one of the monorail stations. Make of it what you will.

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The Adventures of Kin Niku Kuruma (Part 1) – 筋肉車

3200km, 20 Prefectures, 10 Castles, 10 Onsen, 7 Islands

Where do I even start with this one… Road trip anyone?

 

How about Kin Niku Kurama, well there he is (above), in all of his silver Nissan glory… This little Nissan Dayz was our home for 12 days, when I say ‘our’ I mean Philip and myself. Philip if you don’t know already is a tolerable friend I have made here at the iCLA. He hails from Germany, in the wine region of Northern Bavaria and is the model that you see there beside KinNiku!  Why 筋肉車 or Kin Niku Kurama, literally translates to Muscle Meat Vehicle , or as we interpreted it as the muscle car.  So why?  I think it had something to do with the fact that this was the smallest cars that I have ever driven we thought that we would play on the irony of it all and call it our muscle car!

 

All the fun began on the 20th of March 2016

 

Day One – 20/3/16

So here we are in our Kin Niku aka home for the next 12 days (or at least we thought).

 

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We started off with a bit of a bumpy ride, trying to figure out the GPS system. Philip is somewhat proficient in Japanese, whereas mine is nonexistent… That took a bit of time but once we had it going we were on the road!!

Our first port of call was Kawaguchiko, which I previously made a post about visiting at a later date! (see link – https://lifesofar.org/kawaguchiko/) We visited the lakes for the iconic views of Fuji-San and the natural beauty! We stopped the car for the first break of many to come to feed the fish and ducks in the lakes.

 

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After the quick stop off we made our way to the port of Numazu, Shizuoka for the first view of the pacific ocean from Japan and of course my first visit to a beach in Japan! In Numazu we visted the port, Numazu Minato Shinsenkan for some sushi! Tamago Kudasai – Egg sushi for me please! This market was right in the centre of the port it was a bit crazy trying to drive down to it, we ended up just parking the car about a 15 minute walk as the que of cars was about 2km from the port! Take my advise don’t go there in the middle of the day, get there earily the traffic is crazy, or else be cheeky like us and park at the Seven 11 near by!!

 

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Then we went a little further along the cost to the Senbonhama Park which turned out to be really nice.

Top tip – throughout the trip we just used trip advisor to find some local attractions like parks, onsen, temples and food. The onsen part never really worked out with the GPS or Trip adviser we just used websites of famous onsen and worked our trip around those!

 

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Senbonhama Park was right beside the ocean and you could enjoy walking through the forested area of the park on your way along the cost. Then, on the way back to your car, you could walk along the beach. The beach was actually very busy with lots of young people out barbecuing and older people out for their evening walk. There was lots of interesting things going on and a lot of hawks flying around!

And of course you can’t help it, skimming stones is a must when you get to the ocean!

 

After our walk in the park and on the beach, we left for Hamamatsu to see the castle in the morning. Before we got to Hamamatsu we discovered quite a famous park in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture so we thought why not check it out! Fuji itself didn’t seem very interesting to Philip or myself, as it was just a big industrial town and not very pretty. But what a back drop and the view of Fuji-San from there was amazing! It is really interesting to see Mount Fuji from the other side, as this is the opposite side to that which we usually see living in Yamanashi Prefecture. There are actually a group of mountains but there are two very obvious ones. Fuji-San, the bigger is of course the most famous and on its southern slope in Shizuoka Prefecture there is Houei zan which can only be seen from Shizuoka!

 

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The park was surrounded by green tea farms and when we got to the park there was amazing views of Fuji-San and the Sakura has just started to blossom!

 

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Day 2 – 21/03/16

We started are first morning of the trip with our breakfast in the Hamamatus castle grounds. This was the first castle of our trip and a very beautiful one at that!

 

The gardens that surrounded the castle were a treat!

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Not a bad place to start are first full day of traveling! After the castle, we had a bit of an idea how far we wanted to get and today was about covering good distance. We were aiming to get to Kobe for the night as we wanted to go to Shukoku, one of the islands on the south coast of Honshu (the main island of Japan), the next day!

Before heading for Hamamatsu, we decided that we would have our first 温泉 (or onsen) of the trip. We stopped off at a place in Hamamatsu called Bentenjima that had a toei gate (shown below) and we went to a hotel that had an onsen called 浜名湖弁天島温泉ファミリーホテル開春楼  (website –  http://www.kaisyunro.com/index.htm). This was quite a small onsen but it was reasonably priced and had gorgeous raised baths outside with a great view of the gate and the ocean! Just don’t forget to bring your bathing suit, the outdoor baths are mixed!

 

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So what is an Onsen?  An onsen is an area that has a natural hot spring that the locals tap into for public bathing, heating of homes or, in some cases, cooking! The natural hot springs are all over Japan due to the “Pacific Ring of Fire” in other words the meeting of tectonic plates and volcanic activity. These pockets of hot water are all affected by the different minerals in the different areas, so every onsen you visit will have different minerals and natural healing properties!

So we were back on the road again and on are way to Kobe when we decided to stop off at Iga, which is famous for its castle and the Ninja house that is beside it!

Iga-Ueno Castle

 

The castle was surrounded by a moat with its enormous walls that have been standing since the 16th century. The castle gardens are a lush green with lots of pine trees and a view of the Iga city as they are raised 184m above sea level.

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Philip looking super cute at the ninja house. This ninja house is in the castle grounds and showcases all of the hidden compartments and different areas in the houses that the ninja would have used to hide weapons, or themselves, if they were under attack!

After the castle we left for Kobe and a place to stay for the night. We stopped at Iga-Ueno castle in the late afternoon to use up some time as driving through Osaka is crazy! If you need to drive through Osaka, don’t do it during the day it is choc-a-block with traffic. We got there around 7/8pm and we still had to sit in traffic.. When we finally got to Kobe, we decided that we would head to Arima-Onsen just North of Kobe for the night, then we were in the perfect place for our morning bath!

Day 3 – 22/03/16

Three days down and it’s time to leave Honshu!

We started the day in Arima-Onsen, with one of the famous onsen in the area. It is one of a few rare places in Japan were multiple onsen meet! We were in fact spoilt for choice when it came to onsen here, but we decided to go for one that we though would be the coolest.

Gin No Yu Onsen – (http://www.feel-kobe.jp/_en/sightseeing/spot/?sid=119)

 

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This onsen has famous for its sliver baths that contain radium among other minerals.

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After the onsen, we made some fried eggs by a nice shrine enjoying it hanami style, then hit the road! We discovered some nice parks in the area and we checked them out!

 

 

Nunobiki Falls was the first place that we thought would be nice to check out, we also went to the Herb Garden, all within walking distance of each other (about 25/30 minutes apart). – (http://www.japan-ryokan.net/kobeherb/en/index1.html)

 

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On the way from the waterfall to the Herb Garden there were some hidden treasures! Like this dam on the pathway up to the gardens!

 

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The gardens were filled with small styled plots from all around the world, there were botanical greenhouses, walled, herb and Roman gardens, even a vegtable patch. It was a gorgous little retreat from the big city of Kobe down below and I can see why it is so popular!

 

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After taking in the sun and all the flowers, we set off for Shikoku! On our way across the islands we crossed over the Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway. On this expressway there is a bridge, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge which just so happens to be the longest suspension bridge in the world.

 

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We made it to Awaji Island (the one connecting Honshu to Shikoku) and drove down the island on the east coast when we arrive at Sumoto. Of course we mananged to get ourselves lost and drove half way across the country side. I was very beautiful though and we even found a beautiful garden on the coast!

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We decided to stop and make dinner on the beach with the setting sun and the rising moon!

 

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After dinner we made are way further down the coast on to the southern part of the island and decided to camp out on the coast overlooking the bridges to Naurto! We found what could only be described as one the best camping spots in the world and my favourite of the whole trip.

 

Day 4 – 23/03/16

The best kind of view to wake up to!

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After breakfast, we were bound for Naruto and its famous whirling tides. On our journey through Shikoku we first stopped there and after seeing the tides moved more central. We were headed towards Zentsuji Temple, the home of Kūkai. For those of you who don’t know, Kūkai is probably one of the most influential Japanese scholar to date!

We (by we, I mean Phil) initially struggled to find the number for the temple (and when I say number I mean telephone number). In Japan the GPS or Sat Nav uses phone numbers to locate your destination and it is extremely useful! While Philip was looking for the number, I decided just to punch in temples nearby (in this case about 50km) and we went just for it. We soon discovered that Shikoku is famous for one of Kūkai’s pilgrimage and we found ourselves among one so we decided to follow it. At the first temple that we visited, we talked to a friendly monk and he gave us a map with the directions to the next stage of the pilgrimage.

 

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We went to several of the temples before getting tired out and hungry. Shikoku is famous for udon noddles, so we stopped in at a place that we had seen being advertised for miles around. Oh, we weren’t lying by the way, the udon is awesome! We went to a place called うどん亭八幡 or Udon Tei Yahata, it was really busy but we got seated quickly and enjoyed are meal! – (http://tabelog.com/en/tokushima/A3603/A360301/36002906/)

 

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After some lunch we made our way to Zentsuji Temple.

 

 

The temple was amazing, with a lot to offer all around it stalls with local food, sweets and crafts! Even made some friends.

 

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After wondering around the temple for a while, we headed back to the car and were on are way to Takamatsu to meet up with someone Will had set up Philip and myself with!

Driving through the mountains on are way towards Matsuyama we discovered

If you are wondering who Will is, or William Reed to be more precise, he is one of our teachers at the iCLA. If you want to know some more, he’s actually a pretty cool guy, check out his site – (http://www.williamreed.jp/about/ or a more recent page http://www.samurai-walk.com/)

So as I was saying, Will set us up with, and I quote, a ‘Buddhist priest that owns a bar’ … I know I didn’t believe it at first but yeah, just about anything goes in Japan apparently!!  Oh, and it turns out the guy is absolutely nuts (see photo for evidence…)

Before arriving at the bar, we managed to get lost and awkwardly had to ask five or six people for directions to the bar and about an hour and a half later when we finally got there and it was closed.. So we contacted Will, and ask him where we could meet Yamanaka Ekan (the buddhist priest) and he told us that he was around at his other business ハニカムカフェ or Honeycomb Cafe – (http://tabelog.com/en/kagawa/A3701/A370101/37006862/).  Which turned out to be absolutely amazing, the coffee (yes that isn’t wine in the glass, don’t worry, no drinking and driving for Steve) was even better and the staff were, well brilliant (crazy).

 

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Can’t really tell who looks the more sane out of me or Yamanaka-san.

After that crazy adventure, it was time to grab some dinner and depart from Takamatus and head south for the night!

Well hopefully this hasn’t bored you.. I’ll get my next post up soon soon soon! Look out for Part 2 of The Adventures of Kin Niku Kuruma!

Thanks for reading/looking

Stephen