During Spring break, I decided to make the most of the week-off by heading to a different country and chose Okinawa purely on the whim that it’s somewhere I’d never been before, and that I didn’t have to travel too far. With not much plans other than scuba diving, I boarded a Peach Aviation flight and made the 1.5 hour journey from Taipei to Okinawa’s centre of Naha.
When in Japan…Visit a Cat Cafe
Funnily enough this was pretty much the first thing I did when I arrived into Naha. Only because I came across 猫カフェにゃんそ〜れ (literally translated to Cat Cafe) while walking to my hostel and decided ‘oh what the hell’. At 800 yen per hour, you will have more than enough time to let the kitties entertain you. More of a dog person myself, I found it a little overwhelming at first as it wasn’t just a few cats…there were fifteen or more in one room, most of them frantically running after each other. Still it was fun to play with the ones that were calm enough, and by the end of it all I was a little smitten with the kittens. Since I don’t know their Japanese names, I named my favourite Shachihata Ink (shortened to Shachi).
Kokasai Dori & the Public Markets (国際通り)
Kokasai Dori or International Street is probably Naha’s biggest tourist hub. Shops, bars and restaurants line the 2km street and this is the destination if you’re after typical Okinawan and Japanese gift fare. You can expect shop owners and restaurant staff to try and welcome you into their premises by handing out flyers or calling out to you (though rather politely because this is still Japan afterall!). I’m not a big fan of tourist-central but still think it’s worth a stroll or two as there are still remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom which Okinawa was under from the 15th century before being annexed to Japan in 1879. Many restaurants offer live traditional sanshin (a 3-stringed instrument) performances and once you hit the smaller streets and public markets that run off the main road of Kokasai, the area becomes pleasantly modest.
Heiwa Dori, Mutsumi Dori and Ichiba Hon Dori are all arcade streets which branch off midway Kokasai Dori that house markets or smaller stores. My favourite is the Makishi Public Market (牧志公設市場) that shows an impressive array of fresh seafood, and though packed with tourists, houses some decent eats!
Tsuboya Yachimun Pottery Street (壷屋やちむん通り)
As the name gives it away, this little street holds a sweet collection of handmade pottery and other craft pieces that any art appreciator, seasoned or not, would enjoy. I spent a good hour and a half gallivanting through each pottery shop that starts from the end of Heiwa Dori, which as mentioned above, is a street easily accessible from Kokasai Dori. As you exit Heiwa’s covered arcade, you will be met with open streets laid with pottery tiles and mythical lion statues, to show that you’re going towards the right direction. From there it is one straight road down to the pottery ‘village’, and the cute little shop fronts themselves are already a treat to the eye. I wanted to buy everything while I was in some of these boutiques, and I don’t think I am even that much of a pottery enthusiast!
And finally, I saved the best for last…
Diving the Kerama Islands (慶良間諸島)
What is it about the ocean that always draws us close? I was born and raised on an island, moved to another island only to go holidaying on yet another island to do some diving at some more islands. The fact that I happen to choose destinations with an abundance of sea life is not purely a coincidence. And maybe it is because there are few scenes in the world that could make me feel completely relaxed yet exhilarated at the same time. The Kerama Islands were definitely one of those places where I got to do the things I love, be with my own thoughts without distraction, and all at once feel excited enough that I squeal bubbles.
Kerama is a group of islands located approximately an hour away from Naha by boat, and oh where to start with the beauty of them! I’m not sure about other beaches in Okinawa, but Kerama was picture-perfect on the two days I was blessed with sunny weather for the dives. The green islands seem to be untouched, and turquoise water practically crystal clear that when you look down to the water from the boat, you could easily see 20 metres beyond the surface…arriving at our first dive point, I was more than ready to jump in!
Eh? Not too shabby on the surface! But it’s underwater where the dazzle lies, and I have never seen so many marine life I did not recognise in one place before. The number of turtles spotted in one dive was also ridiculous! Water temperature is a balmy 24 degrees (centigrade of course) and you don’t have to go too deep to enjoy what these waters have to offer. Other sites visited worth mentioning is Komoshima Twin Rocks where we found white tip sharks, maguro (genus of tuna) and Okinawa’s favourite fish, gurukun. Chiibishi is good for drift diving, currents were rather strong when we were there and I only found out later that this is where sea turtles lay their eggs, hence why we saw so many turtles in this area!
Special mention has to be given to Natsuki Komai of ダイビング Ant for Diving Life for taking these photos for me! The interesting name itself was enough for me to contact the company in first place, but this dive service well exceeded my expectations. You could read my review of them on their Facebook Page (look for the only review in English at this stage, written on 30 May 2015) and if you would like to know further details of my personal account of the dives using this service, feel free to contact me.
That’s all for now, phew! Stay tuned for Part II where I venture outside Naha, feast on the island’s offerings and get acquainted with unexpected experiences!