For the past week, Mrs Romance and I have been exploring the southernmost reaches of Japan – the island prefecture of Okinawa.
Here are a few of the things we’ve been getting up to over the past week in the Land of the Rising Sun. We don’t want to give too much away – we’ll be writing about this fascinating destination quite a bit over the next little while. But we’re just too excited about this trip to not let you in on a few of the cool things we found here.
We’ve been to a few places around Japan, but Okinawa really is one of the oddest places. Part of this could because Okinawa wasn’t even part of Japan until the Edo Period, which went from the early 1600s to the mid 19th Century, which is why this region feels so different. It even has its own recognised Japanese dialect – not bad considering it’s only got a population of about 800,000!
Anyway, we really hope you enjoy this IG Edition and we’ll speak again soon.
Jim & Christina x
Before we reach Okinawa, we first stop off in Tokyo. There are no direct flights there from Sydney – you have to go either via places like Taiwan, Singapore or Seoul, or take a domestic connection.
We’re actually pretty happy to be back in Tokyo and to have an evening to hit a couple of bars and shops. This place is just alive. We love it here – though it’s been 7 years since we were here last!
This morning – bright and early – we’re up in the air flying south to Okinawa’s capital city Naha. But on the way, we’re blessed with this sight: Mount Fuji peeping through the clouds! Isn’t that the most amazing sight? We can’t quite believe it.
We’ve now seen Fuji twice – the first time was in a little onsen at the mountain’s foot. Here’s a bit more on our experiences of Japanese onsen and what you should do in these very cultural hot spring baths.
We arrive in Okinawa, pick up our rental car (an absolute must if you’re spending any time here) and head north from Naha to our hotel in the far northwest of the 120km-long island.
The weather is pretty terrible to be honest, but somehow, the water still looks like this. We’re just flabbergasted. Usually a blue sea will be just the reflection from the blue sky above, but as you can see, it’s cloudy here.
It’s also quite cold even though this is essentially a tropical island. Spring has only just begun and the end of winter rains and wind are still having their fun.
Even so, we just can’t get over that water.
Thanks to our little rental car, we’ve been able to explore a lot of the top part of Okinawa Island. At the very top is Cape Hedo, the most northerly tip of the prefecture. The water in this area is notoriously dangerous. You can see how rough it is today.
Still, in spite of it all, that hint of blue in the crest of each wave lures you in, doesn’t it?
At last some blue sky. Mrs Romance has been really struggling this trip. It’s such a relief for it not to be raining and cold, and it’s a surprise how warm the sun is when it finally decides to pay a visit.
This is our beach – the private beach of our resort the Okuma. I can imagine in the middle of summer this place would be a paradise. As it is, there aren’t many people around even though the sky’s clearing.
Up the road is a US military recreation compound. The American armed forces have had a presence here ever since WWII. The result is an interesting blend of American and Okinawan/Japanese culture, though this far north it’s very much diluted. Further south and especially in Naha, the American influence is much more obvious.
Our resort a really popular spot for weddings and honeymoons as you can imagine from this pretty pier and its bell. This resort is also really good for families. We’re also intrigued to discover we’re very much in the minority here as most of the guests are Japanese. We love that – it makes our experience feel that much more immersive and complete.
I’ll definitely be writing a guide to driving in Japan and Okinawa soon, but we were so surprised to find how bloody good this island is for driving. Check out this road that skirts one of Okinawa’s many dams and winds its way over the mountains.
And if you’re not climbing up an alpine pass, you’re twisting along a coastal road that follows the shoreline so closely you feel like you’re driving on the beach.
It’s not all driving though. When the sky dries up, there are some amazing hikes and nature reserves across the island. The Okinawa jungle and its national park Yanbaru stretches over 160km². It’s home to many endangered species and is home to Hiji Falls in Kunigami – Okinawa’s highest waterfall.
The hike to the falls is stunning – this is what I was expecting from the Okinawan countryside.
The hiking trail is so well-maintained. But don’t let that fool you – this is a tough climb with plenty of steps that take you up to the falls.
We made it without having a rest, but there were a few people passing us as we came back down who were huffing and puffing. Is it bad that it cheered me up?
And here we are! Hiji Waterfall is very pretty and well worth the hike. It’s about 25m (85′) high and the river that flows from it is beautiful as well. Definitely worth coming here and paying the ¥500 entrance fee.
Further north of the waterfall is Dai Sekirinzan. This geological wonder is a limestone karst plateau… I had to look this up by the way… which is said to be the first part of the island that emerged from the sea as Okinawa was formed. The rocks the you see here are so strange and the trees are so beautiful, it’s easy to see why this place has a mystical charm.
The Okinawan government has turned this area into a kind of hiking nature reserve with four different walks that explore the different points of interest through the karst. Our favourite is definitely the banyan tree part. Look at this beauty!
Here’s something you might not know about us: Mrs Romance and I love taking photos in these things! I’m not sure what this is about, but the bird is supposed to be an Okinawa Rail – a flightless bird endemic to the area and only discovered in the 1980s.
It looks like Mrs R is enjoying herself scaring the poor little fella!
My face, on the other hand, suggests I have no time for flightless birds. Or perhaps it’s just confusion – the words at the top say “Okinawa – land of the northernmost”. But Okinawa is the southernmost part of Japan. What’s going on?!
Today we’ve driven a bit further south and discovered this amazing rock formation right by the water. This is right by the bridge to Yagaji Island off Okinawa Island’s west coast.
Here’s some scale on the potholes we’ve found. Whether it’s from erosion or from volcanic activity… or maybe an art student’s project we’re getting way too excited about, we’re really impressed with what we’ve stumbled upon.
The clouds are back but we’re still enjoying our time here in Okinawa. I don’t know if you remember, but Mr Miyagi from the original Karate Kid movies is from Okinawa. That’s because karate is from here.
So we were very excited when we discovered there’s an island called Miyagi here right near our hotel!
It’s very small and a bit creepy – nothing like the scenes from the film (what?!) – but the beaches round the island are still very pretty. If the tide wasn’t so high, we’d be able to walk all the way round in about 30 minutes.
At last! A sunset. We were very excited to be staying on the west side of the island with the hope of seeing a few sunsets over the water. Clouds have – until now – put a kibosh on our plans. But the light streaming through the broken clouds this evening is just perfect!
A brief moment of sun just after breakfast cheers us up before we head back out on the road to explore more of this fascinating island.
Isn’t it always the way that on the very last evening of your trip, you find the best place to have dinner in the whole area. This little izakaya/sashimi restaurant is absolutely perfect. Full of locals, the chef is having a sneaky beer while he knocks up covers and the waiter is so incredibly polite he almost headbutts our table when he bows!
The food is excellent, the bill is insanely cheap and the location couldn’t be more convenient. It’s only a quick drive back to our hotel and it’s so close to the tourist information office you can pick up the wifi at your table!
This whole lot – 2 beers, sashimi platter, tuna sushi and edame beans (plus complimentary amuse bouche and miso soup) is about $30. And you watch the chef make it… in between chugs of course!
This week’s Travel Recap
Each week we go back in time over some of our favourite travel destinations using never-before-seen photos of our travels. Here’s where we’ve been looking back on this week.
One thing I love about Mrs Romance is that she constantly surprises me. And this is a perfect example of that. She actually likes getting up early enough to see the sunrise!
Sure, this is a beautiful view over Sydney, but is it really worth leaving comfy bed? Hmm.
Although this goes against everything I just said in the previous picture, this was the start of one of the best breakfasts we’ve had in a long long time. We were up at the Cape Byron Lighthouse to see the sunrise of all things. But sunrise in Byron Bay is always special; because it’s the most easterly point, it’s the first place on the Australian mainland to see the start of a new day.
After the sun had come up, Wild Goat Events treated us to this delicious brekkie. They set up an incredible spread of Moroccan delicacies in the cafe behind the lighthouse (specially opened just for us) at our own private table. We munched on delicious North African treats as the sun rode up the sky and migrating humpback whales played in the bay below us.
Such an incredible experience. Check out Wild Goat Events – they run this amazing sunrise breakfast experience all year round!
Mrs Romance and her sister Mary visited Newcastle north of Sydney recently. Mrs R was blown away by all the beautiful shoreline and beaches around there.
It sparked a series of Instagram images that we’ve really been enjoying. What’s also quite fun is that all of these have people in them. It’s like a real life Where’s Wally game! Can you seem them all?
Did you find all the people in this Newcastle, NSW series? If you didn’t, you’ll have to go to the back of the class I’m afraid.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s IG Edition. And now it’s your turn: how was your weekend? Tell us in the comments below!