“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”
I actually finished writing this post a week after returning from my time in Okinawa, however, due to some technical difficulties, I lost my entire post and am now just getting back to re-writing the entry, today. So, despite it already being the middle of summer, here’s a recap of how I spent my spring break:
It was raining on the day we flew out of Osaka. My friend, Stefan, had a meeting that morning where he met the new teachers he’d be working with this following year, but as soon as that was finished he rushed straight from work (in Shizuoka) to make it in time for our flight out of Osaka. Despite the weather being terrible, we had a hint of excitement and optimism in our step, as we had recently checked the weather report in Okinawa which said that Okinawa’s highest temperature for the day would be around mid 20°C. With the current temperatures ranging around 10°C, this was definitely something I was looking forward to.
As the plane began to take off, I looked next to me to notice that the seats were empty! I was so shocked, but also a bit relieved since I had a window seat. As our plane took off, it was pretty awesome to look outside and watch the downpour of rain eventually fade into a sea of marshmallow-like clouds. It was an amazing sight to behold. I think the only down-side to the plane ride, however, was the fact that there were multiple crying babies on-board. I don’t think I had it nearly as bad as Stefan, though, who had to squeeze into the small seats made for small Japanese legs; which made it quite an uncomfortable ride for him.
Thankfully, it didn’t take us too long to get to Okinawa from Osaka.
Despite the fact that it was already dusk by the time we arrived, the warm, crisp air was enough to put smiles on our faces. At this time, our mutual friend Fara was on his way to Okinawa to meet us, as well, which gave us a bit of time to head over and check into our capsule hotel. This was my first time ever staying at one, and I have to say that we were quite stoked about the experience. For anyone that is considering a trip to Okinawa, and is looking for a cheap place to stay that’s comfortable and in walking distance to the monorail and/or Kokusai Street, I would definitely recommend Star Capsule Hotel. At any rate, shortly after checking out our sleep capsules and putting stuff away, Stefan and I decided to head outside and do a bit of exploring of the neighborhood we were in.
Our stomachs were already grumbling a bit, so we decided to get a quick bite to eat before our friend Fara arrived. We walked past a few restaurants when we saw one that served souki soba (an Okinawan soba) and we had to go in and have some. Of course, my eyes were bigger than my stomach at that time, so I ordered a large portion which was a bit too large. We also ordered some Orion beer to make it feel all the more like an Okinawan experience. Shortly thereafter, our friend Fara’s plane had landed and we decided to meet him at the closest monorail stop and walk him back to our hotel. After dropping off our stuff, despite it being dark, and late out, we made our way to the closest convenience store to grab some snacks and some beers and searched for the closest beach we could walk to. After a bit of walking, we passed through a… “gentlemen’s district” where solicitors stood outside of establishments (bathhouses), asking us if we were interested in a massage and/or what-not. We quickly beat-feet through that shady area which was undoubtedly rampant with STIs and made you feel as though you could contract something by simply walking through.
At any rate, we eventually made it to a beach with a sea wall and perched our pretty little bums as close to the water as we could comfortably get. We ‘kanpai’ed each others beers and began to drink the night away. I can’t exactly remember what it was that we talked about, but time flew by like you couldn’t imagine. The sound of small waves gently rubbing against the sea wall we were sitting on, coupled with the view of a dark blue ocean meeting the horizon of a sea of dark blue sky, was all our senses had to rely on for most of the night. It was an extremely relaxing experience, as the three of us kept each others’ company, talked about anything and everything, and just enjoyed a nice quiet night of drinking and bonding. Before-long we looked at our clocks and it was already nearing 3am when we decided to make it back to our hotel. We even had a short and sweet conversation with some kids skateboarding on the street, while we headed back to our hotel. We had to continue walking back, but after a short walk, they drove by in their car, while honking and waving at us. It was a good way to end the evening.
The following morning, we didn’t get up particularly early, but we had plans to do some exploring so as soon as we were coherent enough, we showered and got ready to go rent our car. We hopped onto the monorail and headed to Kokusai Street where we meandered around for a short time before finding a rental car agency and rented a car. By the time we were handed the keys to our rental car, we were ready to make the journey up north to a beach that is somewhat inaccessible without a car.
“No road is long with good company.”
– Turkish Proverb
The drive took a little over an hour, but it was well worth it. From Naha, we headed up north on the toll-expressway then headed east across a bridge that connected the main island of Okinawa to four smaller islands, Hamahiga, Henza, Miyagi and Ikei. Our destination was on the western side of Ikei island. I had only been there once before, but I knew that Stefan and Sofara were going to love it. The only thing I didn’t mention to them (intentionally) was that there was a fee to use the beach. For one, I knew Stefan probably wouldn’t have wanted to go had he heard there was a fee associated with the use of the beach, but once we got onto the beach, I (would like to) think they were glad I had suggested the place.
There weren’t too many people there at the time, which made it a bit more relaxing and intimate, so after a quick glance at the beach, we changed over and got into the water. The swimming area is quite large and deep which was great, and the soft, white sand beach made everything seem picture perfect. The facility also had live music playing, with banana boats, jet skis, and a variety of other water-sport devices for rent, but we were just glad to be there. The water was a tad bit on the cold side, but still substantially warmer than most beaches I’ve been to back in the Pacific Northwest. As the sun continued to beam down on me, however, the better it felt to be in the water.
Before long, all of our swimming (and spectating) got us hungry, so we took a break and headed to the restaurant they had on the facility. We all ordered the other Okinawan delicacy: taco rice, and even some blue seal ice cream for dessert before returning to the beach and going for another swim. We were at the beach for hours, and it felt almost too soon when we decided to leave and head back to the hotel. It was evident that we had all caught the sun, at that time, but we didn’t care so much because we had a great time bonding.
Once we got back to our hotel we hit the showers, got cleaned up, dried our clothes, and then made our way to Kokusai Street to do a bit of exploring. There were far more people walking around Kokusai at night since it was way cooler than it was during the day, but we made our way through. I recall splurging on some necklaces while we were there and even now, I’m kind of contemplating the purchase of some more. Hahaha. (For those of you who might be interested, Kaisou, has some amazing and unique accessories for sale made from a variety of materials including shark and whale teeth. They can be a bit pricey, however, the quality of their products is quite superb.)
After walking the majority of Kokusai Street, we quickly whipped out our smart phones and searched for the location of a few gay bars in the area. We knew of one, however, as we walked by it – it looked to be closed, so we went to the next one we could find, which was a gay bar called Gents. We received the typical “いらっしゃいませ” welcome as we entered, and then we were met with some strange glances as the three of us walked in. It was a rather small bar with seating for probably 8-10 people total, with a couple guys in there already. We were asked about whether we knew we stepped into a gay bar and how we found out about the place, in which we told them that they were the first club we found on a local search. Shortly after that, they surprised us by telling us that the area we were in had a large number of gay bars and that Naha City, alone, had approximately 30+ gay bars and restaurants. I was definitely surprised to hear that, but the guys gave us a pamphlet with a map that highlighted all of the local gay venues in the Naha area. They even recommended a gay beach that we should check out, so we made plans to go see it the following day. Shortly thereafter, we wanted to check out what other bars were in the area, so we left that bar and headed to another bar they recommended, in which they told us that bar was bigger and more spacious than the one we were in. The bartenders were a little flirtatious, but I played a bit of the ‘gaijin card’ and pretended not to know what they were really saying. The next bar we went to wasn’t as busy as we were expecting it to be, but nothing was going to be, as we were there on a Thursday night, and a week before payday. The bartender was even more boistrous than the ones at the previous bar we were at, but before long we were ready to call it a night.
The following morning we made plans to check out Shuri Castle, and then spend the better part of the afternoon at the gay beach the men the night before had mentioned to us. It was a bit more overcast that morning, and we could begin to feel the heat resonating from our sunburnt skin and faces, but we made the best of it and made our way to Shuri Castle. Once we got there we had lunch at one of their restaurants, and couldn’t resist some dessert afterwards, since it was turning into a hot and muggy one. It didn’t help that we passed by another Blue Seal ice cream shop, either. (Beni-imo flavor rocks my taste buds!!)
The tour of Shuri Castle was short and sweet, so shortly thereafter we made our way to 百名ビーチ for our afternoon swim. We had asked the guys if the beach was nice enough to swim in and they said that we could swim there, but when we arrived the tide was low and the water was around our ankles. Not to mention, the water was also lukewarm, which was a nice change from Ikei beach the day before. The only downside was that there wasn’t a deep area for swimming. While we were there, however, we saw a lot of Japanese men walk by us and almost seem shocked and surprised to see foreigners there. We didn’t pay them much mind until two guys came up and started a conversation with us. His English was pretty impressive, and he told us that at first he didn’t think we were gay, (which was probably why some of the Japanese men seemed to awkwardly try to avoid us) but after a while he came to think otherwise. I can’t recall his name or the name of his friend, but they offered to take us to a gay izakaya for dinner on Kokusai Street and even to a couple of popular bars in that area, too.
We were so sunburnt, and it was practically impossible to swim in the water we were in, as it felt like we were grown adults splashing around in a puddle at times. Hahaha. Then came my fear of going further out and deeper as I wasn’t wearing any sandals or water socks to protect me from the dreaded sea urchins, stonefish and/or lionfish, so I didn’t really dare to venture any further out. As the minutes turned into hours, and our sunburns got worse, we decided to make our way back to our car and agreed to meet the two guys for dinner around Kokusai Street. The tide had come back in, and the areas that were easy to get past on the way to the beach had almost risen from no water on the ground, to above my knees. Regardless, we were able to make it back to our hotel and meet up with the two dudes.
It was Friday night so the gay izakaya had been full, so we decided to go to a different izakaya and order nomihodai. It was actually quite a fun time, as we drank for a couple hours before heading to a couple of bars until about 3 or 4am. To be honest, my memory is a little hazy of the rest of the night, but I do recall being able to make it back to the hotel later that night and being dreadfully tired the following morning.
The next day was a short one, as we only really had time for a group breakfast before Sofara drove us to the hotel. He was going to stay one more night and fly back on Sunday, we had to part ways earlier than we would have liked. I think that the next time I choose to head to Okinawa for a vacation, I’ll definitely try to stay at least an entire weekend there. However, I think the next time I head that way, I’m going to try to either head to Ishigaki island, or stay in Naha, but utilize the ferry to check out the Kerama islands.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
– Gustave Flaubert
It’s so crazy to think about how much this world has to offer, but how limited our free time and money tends to be, that only a few of us are able to go out, venture and explore this huge world we live in. I hope I can continue to explore… long after I leave Japan, too.