Words like ‘spacious’, ‘beachside’ and ‘resort’ aren’t what you usually associate with hotels in Japan, but then Okinawa isn’t your typical Japanese destination. And neither is the Private Resort Okuma – Okinawa’s most northerly hotel.
When we think of hotels in Japan, images of very small, sparse accommodation come to mind. Businessmen pulling themselves into those morgue-like drawers for the night or backpackers staying for cheap in one of the many urban ‘love hotels‘.
For us, memories of tiny Tokyo rooms with hard narrow beds spring readily into our thoughts. And although Mrs Romance and I hold those memories of Japan dear, it’s not what you want when you’re somewhere like Okinawa.
Okinawa is the tropical side to Japan you never thought existed. White sandy beaches, dramatic coastlines and an easy-going chilled vibe exist here. It’s all very… un-Japanese.
But at the same time, it’s the most Japanese place you’ve ever been.
Private Resort Okuma is just like that too – both very Japanese and very Okinawan at the same time. Here’s more detail of the hotel itself:
JAL Private Resort Okuma, Okinawa
The resort is at the northwestern end of Okinawa Island, so it takes a while to get there from the airport. You’re best off hiring a car while you’re here because not only is Okinawa an amazing driving holiday, it’s also cheaper than the return journey to Naha Airport in a taxi.
The north of Okinawa is much more regional than the south. You get a much clearer view of what the prefecture is about up here. Being less urban, the area gives you more nature activities to do. Here are our top unusual things to do in Okinawa.
Reception here has a conventional layout in that there’s a large front desk and a concierge counter. However, the enormous pitched-roof ceiling looms over the front desk in dramatic fashion.
The rest of main office is warm and inviting with plenty of space.
Okuma is a huge resort. Not that there are millions of rooms and hoards of people everywhere. More that it’s on a lot of land. All rooms are on the land side of the coast road and the pool, beach bar and spa are on the ocean side of the road.
The rooms are on a broad parkland with paths leading through the different sectors of the resort. The gardens are perfectly tended and there’s even a dog-walking paddock in the middle too.
There are a number of different types of room available at the Okuma. There are even rooms that are made for people who want to bring their dogs and mobility rooms.
Our initial room was a Palm Cottage, part of the complex that links to the main building of the resort and overlooks one of the resort’s ponds. This is the entry-level room and is ideal for groups of people as you can book out sections of the complex.
However, at check-in, it turned out our room was still occupied and we were upgraded to a Main Cottage room.
The difference in size, layout and privacy is surprising and certainly worth the extra cost if you’re staying for more than a few days. The Main Cottage rooms have a lounge area, large bathroom with excellent showers (Mrs Romance was sad to leave this feature behind!) and plenty of space to spread out.
These rooms also come with a little garden and table, which adds that extra bit of space to an already large hotel room.
The resort continues across the road to the beach. The sand here is beautifully white, soft and clean, and during the summer it’s patrolled by lifeguards.
The beach faces due west, so sunsets over the water are almost guaranteed. Such a perfect spot to relax on the lounges and enjoy the view.
There is also a platform and pier over the water here that is a popular spot for a romantic photo or two. There’s a chapel on site too, so weddings are a common feature at Okuma.
Apart from the beach and dog paddock, there are a number of great facilities at the Okuma Resort. There are a couple of beautiful pools on the beach side of the road as well as full spa facilities – they even have a little golf course (similar to crazy golf minus the miniature windmills), jet skis for hire and a range of other fun marine activities.
One of the cutest features of the resort is these photo points. These little posts are dotted around the most photogenic or popular places for group shots so people can balance their cameras and set the timers without hassling other guests and staff.
Where to eat
As you’d expect from a resort there are 5 restaurants all serving different style food. Most notably there is an izakaya (Japanese bar) here that serves Okinawan delicacies.
We ate here the first night and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can try such things as these delicious Okinawan pancakes called hirayachi, which are doughy and a little oniony – perfect with a drop of awamori an Okinawan spirit, or a local beer.
Other things we tried are rafute, which is pork belly using local wild boar. It’s stewed in soy sauce and local brown sugar so the skin is slightly glazed and the meat is incredibly tender. It’s amazing.
Also on this plate you can see in the background mimiga – or boiled and fried pig’s ear (kind of weird but tasty) and goya the bitter melon the locals love. It’s a bit like a slaw but very bitter. We really enjoyed this one.
Breakfast is included in your room rate at Okuma and what an event that is! In most hotels I doubt if 100% of the guests get up or bother with the hotel breakfast. Here, everyone comes down to feast.
The food is well-prepared and the range is remarkable. There are lots of local dishes here and plenty of Japanese staples like natto. If you’re looking for a western style breakfast though, you’re out of luck. They have sausages here, but they’re weird. There is an omelette station though, and there’s always room for a bit of ‘Morning Bread’.
Our recommendations are:
1. Have the miso soup and the hirayachi pancakes. The ladies making them for you are adorable. With the soup, they give you a couple of different options of miso paste and toppings then ladle boiling water from a huge bowl over it all.
These ladies are local Okinawans and show how longevity in this prefecture is a real thing. This is Yoshiko Oona, and she’s 83 years young. Isn’t she superb?
We all chatted every day though our Japanese is limited to ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ and their English was only a bit better. It didn’t seem to matter.
2. The bread and sweets section is not only fascinatingly colourful but (mostly) delicious. These dragonfruit buns looked amazing but didn’t really taste of much.
3. Just try everything! You’ll find stuff you love and stuff that freaks you out – especially for breakfast – but that’s what it’s all about.
Drawbacks to the resort
We really enjoyed staying at the Okuma. It’s a great resort. We also enjoyed being so far north – not that many people come this far north when they visit Okinawa.
- Having said that, it is a long way from Naha, and if you don’t want to drive, you probably won’t make it here.
- Because it’s so far from the beaten track with very few westerners around, there’s not much information in English and most of the people here don’t have any English either. But that’s all part of the experience.
- To our amusement the hotel (and the tourist information office actually) has almost no information in English and very few of the staff can speak much English either. I suppose my advice would be to make sure you do your research before you get too far north!
- Wifi is a problem in the resort. It’s free everywhere here, but it’s incredibly slow or non-existent. They do warn you about it on their website, even so we were surprised at how bad it was. If you’re not up for a digital retreat while you’re here, there could be tears.
The tourist information office round the corner does have good internet though – but don’t expect them to help you. They all hid when we went in! As a side note, there is an excellent sushi place right across the road from the tourist office and the wifi reaches!
Have you ever been to Okinawa? Where did you stay? How do you deal with cultural or linguistic difference? Talk to us in the comments!