Thursday, March 26, 2015

[OKINAWA] Naha Beach + Kokusaidori

I have been talking about going to Okinawa forever, although not for anything in particular. I mean, one of my Japanese friends in Xiamen is from Okinawa but he rarely stays put there. I think what became my main motivation was news from Cebu Pacific that they'll start plying the route, and you know how I find it hard to say no to cheap fares! Until now, though, there has been no update. Why wait for Cebu Pacific when Peach can bring you there? And so after visiting some friends in Taipei, I decided to make Okinawa my entry point back to Japan.

Both Japan and Japanese suffered when I decided to concentrate on Mandarin and Korean. My travel plans were also affected, having spent considerable time in both Xiamen and Seoul and forgetting that Japan was just there waiting for me across the sea. It’s been how many years! Now, the yen has depreciated so much that my initial dislike of everything pricy in Japan has considerably taken a turn for the better. Everything is relatively cheaper now!

Another reason for flying to Okinawa is beach hopping, but it seems as though I always end up in Japan during the colder months of the year. While winter is officially over and spring has finally arrived, the cool breeze is still too much for me to handle. It’s a good thing that the sun has consistently made an appearance every day while I am here. There was some rain, yes, but nothing that I couldn’t really handle. And so, what the heck did I end up doing in Okinawa? Well, I did go to the beach on my last day!

You know those kinds of itineraries where the last day means checking out early and having to wait for your flight which does not leave until late evening? This was one of those days. One of the perks when it comes to traveling in Japan is the abundance of lockers everywhere! And so I shoved my luggage in one before riding the monorail. I suggest getting a 2-day pass if you think you’ll be using the monorail that much. It only costs 1,200 yen!

Let’s talk about the beach first. Naha has its own beach, which I think is clean and attractive enough for a lazy afternoon of sunbathing. The thing is, you really have to fly to the neighboring islands such as Ishigaki if you really want the best that the Pacific has to offer. Because I come from an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, I couldn’t care less anymore. I just needed a nice place where I can kill a couple of hours. This beach sufficed. Follow the road signs telling you where it is. It’s not that hard to find!

Okinawa also has its fair share of shrines and monuments. You see, this group of islands has had a rather unique history because of its role before and after the war. This used to be the Kingdom of Ryukyu. They even have their own language referred to as Ainu, but of course nowadays only the elders could speak it as the younger generation becomes more and more monolingual in standard Japanese. Anyway, the Naminoue Shrine is just close to the beach, so better drop by to say Hi!

Flashback to my first night in Naha, I opted to stay buried under a thick blanket because of the cold weather but hunger would always lead you outdoors, which is what eventually happened. Taking a stroll at night with an umbrella to shield myself from the light drizzle was sort of cool. Okinawa seems so different from the rest of Japan. Population density is not so high; American influence is. I’ve been searching for Yoshinoya forever but all I ever find is Subway and KFC. What? They love Colonel Sanders!

I eventually ended up at Kokusaidori, the tourism hotspot, a road lined up with souvenir shops and a maze of food establishments featuring all the seafood you could eat in one night. The neon lights were hypnotizing and I never really figured out what the dogs wearing t-shirts in front of the shops meant. A one-way stroll would take you almost an hour. If you do not have the luxury of time, then you could always cheat and take the monorail, although I think it stops operating quite early in the evening.

Once you have seen Kokusaidori, the only other attraction left for you to discover would be Shuri Castle. After that, you are done with Naha. It’s not as if there is nothing to see here but most people just make a quick stopover before heading to the other islands for beach hopping, or maybe going north to Okinawa City to visit the giant aquarium and America Town. You should do the same to make the most out of your stay. Or just chill in Naha and go malling, but how boring would that be?

[OKINAWA] Naha Beach + Kokusaidori

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