Hawaii of the East: 72 Hours in Okinawa

 

Okinawa has been referred to as the “Hawaii of the East.” As Japan’s southern most prefecture, the island of Okinawa offers a tropical climate that can be an easy escape from the more northern parts of the country. Memorial Day weekend gave my family a couple of days to take the quick trip and do a little exploring ourselves.

We booked our trip through our base’s IACE Travel department, which made things so easy from the start. The flight and car rental were arranged, and we were given a choice from a variety of hotels. We chose the Rizzan Sea Park Hotel Tancha Bay. Our plan was to arrive on Saturday afternoon, have two full days Sunday and Monday, and then head back Tuesday.

The plane was only about half full, so both Jesse and I had our own row. We split the kids, and we had landed in Okinawa in what felt like just a few minutes. For a relatively small island, Okinawa has a decent sized airport. After we departed, we hopped a shuttle bus that carried us to our baggage claim. Within a few minutes, we had our items (as stated in one of my earlier blogs, Navigating Tokyo , Americans always stand out because of our immense amount of luggage. My family is working on downgrading with each trip) and on board another shuttle headed to get our rental car. Since our three suitcases, two carry ons, two car seats, a camera bag, and a double stroller didn’t fit in the first car, we had to upgrade to the next sized vehicle. But once we were all settled in, we were off to the Rizzan.

The drive from the rental car agency to the Rizzan was about an hour, but was completely worth it. I made Jesse pull over at one point so I could snap a picture of the emerald waters with the mountains in the background. Pictures truly don’t do it justice.

We don’t like to waste too much time in hotel rooms while we travel, so once we were checked in, we turned right around and jumped back into the car. It was already the afternoon, so we knew we couldn’t adventure too long, but being the military family that we are, we wanted to check out the Kadena Air Force Base. We spent some time shopping at the Exchange, which is much larger than the one we are used to, grabbed some dinner, and headed back. We ended our evening splashing around in the hotel’s indoor pool.

On Sunday, I wanted to head to the Mihama American Village. This American themed area is filled with restaurants, shops, and entertainment. The main spot in the village is called the American depot. The maze-like area is massive and filled with shop after shop. We spent several hours shopping and dining, and there was still so much we just couldn’t cover. If you want a touch of American food and clothes, the American Village is definitely a place to visit.

It may sound strange to some, but one of my little bucket list items is to one day get a fish pedicure. I planned on doing this (and still do) in Thailand or Vietnam, but the American Depot gave me a a little glimpse into how it would be. Although not a full pedicure, we did find an area that allowed customers to sit and have doctor fish (a family member of the Carp)  eat away at your feet. I, for one, could not wait to do this. We paid 500 yen for 5 minutes, and I honestly loved every minute.  I had no idea if it would hurt, but I quickly found out it simply tickles in the beginning. After a minute or so, it just feels strange. As for my feet after the 5 minutes? They actually were really smooth.  As soon as I was done, Jesse was throwing down another 500 yen and giving it a go as well.

Part of our travel package was a free dinner at the hotel. With five resort restaurants to choose from, we instantly decided on one of our favorites: Yakiniku. Popular in Japan, Yakiniku restaurants allow guests to cook their own meats and vegetables on top of the flame grill located in the table. We were seated right on the ocean and surrounded by tiki torches. It definitely closed the evening with the tropical feel we were seeking.

After breakfast on Monday morning, we decided we needed some beach time. There was no way we were going to a tropical island and not spend some time on the beach. We rented an umbrella and stretched out for a bit. I was so excited to get Maddox in the ocean that I had purchased a cute life vest, beach ball, a float in the shape of a jet, and a pail and bucket. Unfortunately for me, Maddox may not yet share my love of the beach. Other than the pail and bucket, he wasn’t having any of it. He threw a fit when sand touched his feet, so an hour and 800 yen later, we packed everything up and headed to the pool. He enjoyed that scene a bit more, so at least the float got some use.

Early afternoon, we headed back to the room from the pool to get cleaned up. Fifteen minutes later, we were on the road and headed  to the end of the island to explore the Okinawa Churami Aquarium. The kids were asleep, and it really allowed us to take in the beauty of this island on the hour drive. Jesse even commented just how much Okinawa is similar to Hawaii in both beauty and culture. Aquarium passes were included in our package, and when we arrived, we couldn’t wait to see the heavily advertised whale sharks. Once we parked, we followed a long trail pass intricate hedges and cafes before entering the actual aquarium. Once inside, some of the most beautiful fish were displayed, many native only to Okinawa. Maddox had never been to an aquarium and was completely fascinated with the fish in the smaller tanks. We kept explaining there were big fish and sharks to be seen, but he was perfectly content where he was. After some coercing, we managed to bring him into the aquarium’s main attraction: the whale shark tank. There were small tables set up on the side where a guest could grab a snack or coffee and sit. I mentioned to Jesse that I was grateful none were available, because I would never leave that spot. We just sat with Maddox as he screamed and pointed to each shark, fish, and manta ray that swam by. The size of each of these species was incredible to see in person but we had to move on to the rest of the aquarium.

Before exiting the main building, we went through an exhibit which displayed skeletons and activities geared towards teaching more about underwater creatures. Maddox tended to pound on the glass too much, so we could only stay there for a short time. Once we left, we went across the trail into the next portion where we saw manatees and sea turtles in their underground viewing room. We had just missed the dolphin show, but were able to see several of them playing in the pool at the end of the trail. After exploring what all there was to see, we started to make our way back to the car. We did let Maddox play a bit in the fountain before our drive home, which must have worked because he fell asleep rather quickly on the drive.By the time we arrived back at the hotel, we were completely exhausted.

The next morning, we packed up our things, had some breakfast and headed back to the rental car agency. Okinawa is only about 466 square miles, but there is quite an abundance of activities. A 72 hour trip to this tropical destination was the perfect getaway for Memorial Day Weekend, but Jesse and I are already talking about when we would get to visit this beautiful island again.

View from a coffee shop at the American Depot.
Trying the soda flavored iced candy. Advertised as the “only one in the world.”
Trying some hard iced candy
Toy Kitchen rainbow snow cone
Coffee stop in the American Village
Only a small portion of the American Village
Yakiniku at the Rizzan
Baby Asher
Our personal Yakiniku chef
Very upset with sand getting on his toes
Finally playing in the sand-on a towel
Pool time went over better
Sea turtles
Massive whale shark
Aquarium
Small fish tank
Aquarium
Entrance into the Aquarium
View of the ocean from the aquarium
Intricately designed hedges along path to aquarium
Intricately designed hedges along path to aquarium
Playing in the fountains

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