Ok, so what did we pack for 16 days in Japan? The 16 days were spread across Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Okinawa in October. The first 3 cities: average 56-73 degrees during the month of October. Okinawa? The stats say 72-81 during October but … it’s a HOT 81 degrees. High humidity and unrelenting sun make it unbearably warm during the day, if you are out and about trying to see as much as you possibly can. Which is kind of our thing.
So we had to pack for pleasant tourist weather and also a few days of seriously hot and humid weather.
First up: the husband packed every single item of clothing he owns into a bag.
But for me, I spent a long time putting together the perfect trip wardrobe. This list is based off of memory, photographs, and my packing list. I wish I had taken pictures of myself every day, but, alas, I didn’t. So this is close-ish:
Bottoms: 2 pairs of jeans 1 pair of Eddie Bauer travel pants 1 skirt/swimsuit coverup
Shoes: Flip-flops (Clarks: so super comfy) Casual ballet flats + Gekks inside (Clarks again: super comfy) Ankle boots (Earth: again, super comfy, great support)
Outer: Hat Eddie Bauer windbreaker Multi-way cardigan (Love, love, love this thing) Travel scarf/dress (Have not yet gone on a trip where I’ve made serious use of it; but I love the multi-use idea of it – I do LOVE this for wearing on the plane, it makes a great wearable blanket, that you can quickly turn into an infinity scarf or cardigan)
Other: Bathing Suit Yoga pants (for lounging around the hotels) Jewelry Purse (Love, love, love this bag! I love Baggallini bags for their practicality, but this one might be my favorite. This isn’t my favorite color, but I like it well enough: I jump on their site every couple of months to see if they’ve added something more my speed. But still: 8 months later, this is STILL the bag I am using.)
First up, we walked through some caves: cooler than the outside. But also: they were damp. Lots of places submerged in water. Beautiful to walk through, but not exactly the kind of place I’d want to grow up in.
There was an impressive gift shop that the husband and I raced through: we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the, ah, important stuff. We thought we’d have a chance to circle back if there was time, but, alas, Okinawa World is set up in a sort of linear fashion.
There were a few shows that we just happened to miss, but the craft village was fun. The mother-in-law and I wove our own bookmarks! The father-in-law tried his hand at some leatherwork.
We had a very late lunch: the husband had a wagyu pizza and I had some wagyu skewers. Very possibly the best beef I have ever put into my face. The in-laws were there, too … I … think I stole one of the mother-in-law’s beef skewers. Because, again: the best beef I have ever put into my face.
The husband and I watched a snake show … there was a race between a snake and a mongoose? But the animals didn’t cooperate, I think they were kind of over the whole performing for an audience thing. As we were leaving the show, we saw that they had headsets that would have explained the show to us in English. I guess we’ll know for next time!
I wish we had been able to spend more time in Okinawa World, it’s another one I’d add to the list! It’s a fun tourist trap that’s got a little bit of everything: natural wonders, cultural shows, hands-on craft workshops, museums, food, souvenir shopping and even a zoo. (Snakes. Mongooses. Giant Okinawan bats!) Japan, man. Something for everyone!
From there, we caught a taxi back to the hotel. I think that may have been the night we got “room service”: which was very cheap, but also turned out to be microwave dinners. I’d recommend running down to the corner for some conbini food, if you’ve got any energy left.
The thing on my Okinawa must-see list was the WWII Peace Memorial Museum. WWII, very specifically in Okinawa, is central to my very existence, and so I wanted to pay proper respects.
I was not prepared.
In the US, we learn about WWII from the European perspective. The Asian front is just a footnote.
Growing up, I had learned that my Okinawan grandmother was raised by an older step-brother in a cave. I had assumed that they were just really poor, and that it was happenstance that they were orphaned.
In the time leading up to WWII, and during the war, every Okinawan lived in a cave. All of them. Before the war, the Japanese military ruthlessly stripped all the resources from their Okinawan territory in order to support their own expansion efforts into Korea and China. There was no food. There was no peace. There was no safety.
If you were an Okinawan in that time period, you sought refuge in the caves.
And then WWII arrived. Japanese soldiers learned that if they also sought refuge in the caves, the Allied forces were less likely to attack if they knew there were civilians there.
If the Japanese soldiers felt that there was no way they could win, they committed ritual suicide. After first ensuring that all of the Okinawans first committed ritual suicide. Women. Children.
So this was my grandmother’s reality: she grew up in a cave. And she survived.
I had always been amazed that my grandmother would marry an American soldier and move across the world, not knowing English. But now, I get it. If you’ve lived through hell on earth? That’s not scary. Not even a tiny bit.
It was a heavy morning, for sure. Incredibly hot (sensing a theme, here?) so we didn’t see all the various memorials on the grounds. We did walk through the walls of names (like the Vietnam memorial, but so. many. more. names). There’s a computer, to look up names to find on the walls. I wanted to see if there were Tokumotos represented, but … you have to pick a language to search for names in, and once you pick English, you can only search for English names. Aaaand I don’t read Japanese. So that was a bust.
I would highly, highly recommend a stop at the WWII Peace Memorial sites. It is a sobering experience: it showcases the horrors that humans are able to inflict on each other. But it’s also a reminder that we can come back from that. We can heal. And, hopefully, we can learn from our past so that we aren’t doomed to repeat it.
One of the husband’s MUST-SEE items in Okinawa was the aquarium, which was nowhere near our hotel in Naha. Before we left, I tried my darndest to figure out the best way to get there, but didn’t have much luck. So the husband, in completely non-husband style said: We’ll figure it out when we get there!
So I … decided to just go with it. It was his must-see item, he was ok waiting till we got there, so I let go of the planning.
And, lo and behold, we figured it out when we got there.
When we landed at the Okinawa airport, we picked up all of the English fliers from the tourist flier stand. When we checked into the hotel, we again picked up all of the English fliers from the tourist flier stand. In our hotel room, the husband studied all of the fliers, and decided upon the Hip Hop bus.
I do not know why that is their name. But I do know that I quite enjoyed it!
We bought our tickets online the day before our Hip Hop adventure. The bus picked us up right outside our hotel in Naha (it stops at about 5 Naha hotels; so if you aren’t staying exactly at one of their stops, you can probably walk to a nearby hotel pretty easily), and took us to the Churaumi Aquarium and American Village! Both items on our list, and both things not anywhere near Naha. There were a few other stops in there, but I think they probably just made for nice bathroom stops?
Our guide spoke several languages, including English. They are all set up with headsets that support a multitude of languages (I think there were like 20 different options?) so everyone got to enjoy the ride learning about Okinawa in whatever language they so desired. Er, well, among the 20 choices.
On the way to the Aquarium, we stopped for a bathroom/photo stop at the Kouri bridge, where I took the opportunity to get my toes in the sand. They had a paid-foot shower station to get cleaned up … took me a minute to figure it out, but I managed to get all cleaned up and back on the bus.
And then the aquarium! This is the aquarium to beat all aquariums. Whale sharks! This is the only place you’ll see whale sharks in a ginormous whale shark tank.
The Hip Hop bus gave us 3 hours there, which is enough time to get through the aquarium itself, but there is soooo much more there to see. There is the emerald beach that the in-laws made sure to see, and they assured us it was gorgeous. We opted for more aquarium time – and I really wanted to see the Okinawan village they had in the Ocean Park Expo area, but we took a wrong turn, and it was so hot, and uphill and then we gave up and hung out in the very air conditioned gift shop at the top of the hill. 3 hours is enough time to feel like you got your money’s worth, but, honestly we coulda spent all day there.
But, back on the bus!
We had a brief stop where we all ran to an underwater observatory thing, climbed down a bunch of stairs, looked at some fish through tiny windows, climbed up a bunch of stairs, and then ran back to the bus.
It was … I think just a good time to get off the bus for a bit? It sounded way cooler in the description than in actuality … especially after having just been at very possibly the world’s best aquarium.
Next stop was the American Village for dinner. Which is a very American feeling place, imagine that! We stopped at a spam-burger place, where I got a spam and egg sandwich and some melon fanta.
We had some time to kill in the shops, so we wandered around and did some window shopping. If you can make it, I’d recommend a visit to the American Village.
Then it was back on the bus for the ride back to the hotel. It made for a very long day, but it was a day we didn’t have to drive for hours in a foreign country or worry about our itinerary, and we got to see some very cool places.
So Hip Hop Bus? A resounding yes! There was no Hip Hop to speak of, but it was still a very good time.
On this glorious morning: we slept in. I scheduled us a sleep-in day, half-way through the trip because that is what you need half-way through a trip like ours. Okinawa is a tropical kind of place, so it would have been more practical to go out in the cooler morning and siesta away the afternoon, but … that is not what we did.
The in-laws had also arrived in Okinawa! They had flown in from Kuala Lumpur, so no real jet lag: maybe an hour or two time difference? We got together to make arrangements for the Hip Hop Bus the following day, and then headed out for our afternoon adventures.
Shuri Castle is listed as being on the monorail, so we bought monorail tickets and headed on our way. Got off at the Shuri Castle stop … consulted the google maps … wandered a bit … and oh. my. gosh. Okinawa is so humid and so hot, and the castle wasn’t particularly close to the monorail stop. We eventually found the castle walls, but then there was so. much. walking. to find the actual entrance.
And I am so glad we did! A month after we got home, the whole castle complex burned down.
Which happens all the time in Japan: the castle we saw was a rebuilt version from 1992, I think? But, still. It burnt down?? How crazy is that?
We toured the castle, it was nice and cool inside, and they had some nice museum-y displays. In one of the buildings on the grounds, we caught a show of traditional Okinawan dancing! Also, it was nice and air conditioned.
And I found some more Fanta!
We headed back to the hotel, and chilled for a bit before heading out for the evening (so much cooler once the sun goes down!!) on Kokusai Dori street.
We introduced the in-laws to Don Quijote, which is where we left them for the evening. It was their first exposure and so they needed some time to take it all in.
For Okinawa, the best way to get around is to rent a car. Which … we did not do. Driving on the wrong side of the road in a place where I wouldn’t be able to read the road signs sounded all kinds of stressful, so we opted to make do with public transportation, tour buses, and taxis.
The airport is in Naha, so I found us a hotel in Naha. There is a monorail, but it’s pretty underwhelming compared to the trains we rode in Tokyo and Osaka. The monorail would have taken us from the airport to our hotel (I planned it that way!) but we opted for a taxi because managing our bags on public transportation didn’t sound like a fun time. It was just a 10 or 15 minute ride away, so the taxi fare wasn’t bad.
We took the monorail to Shuri Castle. Or … to close to Shuri Castle, anyway.
We mostly walked to Kokusai Dori street, but we tried out the monorail once. I think it was just one monorail hop from the hotel to Kokusai Dori, so it wasn’t a huge savings in steps for the youngish and healthyish.
We took the Hip Hop Bus to the Churaumi Aquarium and American Village.
And it was a day of taxis for the WWII sites and Okinawa World. There are city buses that will take you there (and our hotel was right across from the bus station!) and the Hip Hop Bus has a tour that goes to Okinawa World, but we wanted a specialized day of touring, so taxis it was! Split across 4 adults, the fares weren’t terrible (though I can’t quite remember what they were?)
Taxis in Okinawa: the drivers will tell you they speak no English. But then half way through the ride will start whipping out grammatically correct English sentences! So they are overly modest. If you stick to simple sentences (like even just the location name of where you want to go) then you should have no problem. (Now that I think about it, one of our taxi drivers really didn’t speak English. It was a lot of him typing stuff into his phone to translate into English, and us typing stuff into our phones to translate into Japanese. Technology is awesome!)
There is a taxi app I downloaded to call taxis, and we did use it to call our first taxi on our taxi day. But then we were able to pick up taxis at the taxi drop off area at the other stops. So it wasn’t necessary to have (the hotel could have called us a cab if we hadn’t been able to hail one on our own), but it gave me comfort that I could call a cab if I needed to and we wouldn’t get stranded 15 miles from our hotel.
So: Okinawa without a car is totally doable. If you are scared of foreign-driving: buses, taxis and monorails will get you on your way!
We took a bus with part of our group to the Osaka airport, where they all promptly went to the international wing, but the husband and I were flying domestically to Okinawa.
The flight was fine, the husband fit on the plane (always dicey on non-Amurrican flights, we were especially worried for an Asian domestic flight), and we started our adventures in Okinawa!
If you are an American looking for a place to stay in Naha, I recommend the Double Tree Hilton in Naha. American mattresses! (Japanese futon mattresses are fine by me, but hard on the husband.) Also the best hair dryer I had all trip. It was right across the street from the monorail. Walking distance to Kokusai Dori street. Quick taxi ride from the airport.
We got all checked in, and walked down to Kokusai Dori street for some dinner. A&W burgers. I kid you not. They are everywhere in Okinawa!
Kokusai Dori is full of (much better) restaurants and shopping. Even has a Don Quijote!
I had been working on a hat for the sister, and finished it up that night!