Whenever I come home from a trip, I am in awe of how much the act of traveling transforms us. Our recent Okinawa trip was no exception. When we picked Okinawa as a destination, we picked it for mostly curiosity. Even though Okinawa is a part of Japan and I could speak the language, there was so much we didn't know about. Layers and layers of complex history before, during and after the war. The island's unique and complicated relationship with America and American cultures as well as the secret to Okinawa people's long life were all very mysterious to us.
When we arrived at Okinawa, it took us for a few days to shake off the everyday routine of our LA life. Not having constant wifi at our first Airbnb home definitely threw things off a bit but we quickly came to realize how amazing it felt "not" to be able to check our inboxes every night after girls went to bed (which had become our daily routine for so many years since we became parents). Surprisingly (to me) that I still got what I needed to get done for Baum-kuchen as effectively as I could at a nearby beach cafe while Frido and girls collected beach treasures... and I realized that perhaps I wouldn't need to be working in the evenings??
Japan was in the middle of their Golden Week (one of the most traveled days in the country) so we quickly learned that our best bet for an authentic uncrowded adventure would come from following our instincts instead of following a guide book religiously. We used d design travel OKINAWA guidebook as a base of information, rented a car and figured out our days as we went without over planning our itinerary. Through the process, we found the most beautiful and open beaches to discover sea creatures, randomly walked in an indoor playground operated by the city amongst local kids (and were so impressed by how respectful local kids were), learned how fun it was to have the first Drive-In experience with hamburgers and french fries in a midst of pouring rain, tasted different bottles of "Awamori" sake with our makeshift appetizers at home (this is just for grown-ups:) and got to "live" in different kinds of accommodations from refurbished old Japanese house in a village to the most updated brand new condominium.
Most importantly, we were together as a family of four... breathing and exploring.
After we came home, we often got asked: "how was your trip??" I kept having difficulties answering the question. It was so hard to summarize the time we had in Okinawa for some reason. Maybe when we travel outside of the guidebook, the experience doesn't come neatly packaged? Maybe we are supposed to continue experiencing our travel through post journey reflection until we figure out how the adventure has altered our reality at home?
One thing I have committed to change at home is not to work in the evenings. Instead of staying up until midnight every day, I am now trying to wake up early and work in the mornings before girls get up. When I wear so many hats, time is hard to negotiate... but this trip gave me a chance to see the time and routines through the new lens.
I want to remind myself every day that there is time for everything (and it's just the matter of figuring out what "everything" means to me).
I am sure there will be more lingering thoughts, ideas and different ways to see the world after our time in Okinawa... and I am excited to find them, recognize them and learn from them one by one when time is right.
For now... in case you are interested in traveling through Okinawa, here is a list which I hope will be helpful as a starting point of your Okinawa experience. I truly recommend this island to venture out. We can't wait to go back there again:)
Where we stayed:
Airbnb by Churaumi aquarium
This was our first house we moved in. Whenever we travel internationally, we look for a place with lots of space to adjust our jet lag... and avoid accommodations that are too close to neighboring rooms (and houses). We like the idea that any of us could wake up at 3am and make some noises without constantly worrying about waking up the entire neighborhood! So this place was perfect. It had a good size communal area with a low table where we ate our meals, played and hang out and had 2 extra rooms with bunk beds. Girls slept in a bunk bed and we laid futon mattress in the living room area. This house had a lovely outdoor space with a 2 story deck, a climbing wall and picnic tables to spread our notebooks and postcards out! It rained 2 of the 6 days we stayed there and was so nice to have some elbow room to watch rain without feeling like we were all jammed in a small room!
We spent a day at Churaumi aquarium, explored the Nago peninsula and the town nearby, played at local beaches in Nakijin and ate Okinawa style noodle every day.
Airbnb in Onna City
Our last accommodation in Okinawa. We loved that this was almost a brand new condominium and 5 minutes walking distance from perfectly kids-friendly beaches. 15 minutes drive to a little town Yomitan where we could grab lunch, grocery and stop by a bookstore to feel like we were a part of the local. The weather turned out to be more favorable during the week when we were staying in this condo so we spent every morning at the beach... snorkeling and exploring tide pools. The Airbnb host had EVERYTHING we needed for snorkeling including everyone's wetsuits and life jackets. We were so thankful!!!
Another thing we got to do was to walk to a local market from our home and get groceries. The concept is so far from our everyday routine at home in Los Angeles and it was such a lovely ritual we had. We talked so much about how this place reminded me of a neighborhood where my grandma's house was. The smell, color, feeling and everything in between. I feel that these small moments bridge our distance between my childhood in Japan and Satchi and Coco's... and it's priceless.
(better pic in their Japanese website)
Chanya was a lovely bed and breakfast with a refurbished old village homes by the sea. It's set in the picturesque Bise village which is protected by Fukugi trees. These trees were planted few hundred years ago by their ancestors in order to protect the village from the harsh ocean breeze. We loved their Kashikaki House where we stayed and also adored the walk to the Chanya restaurant for dinner and breakfast through the Fukugi tree lined pathways. We felt like we traveled time when we were staying there.
Where we ate: We cooked a lot of meals at home but here are some dining out we got to enjoy;)
This was our first of many Okinawa noodle bowls we had and Frido's favorite! We were still truly jet lagged so I enjoyed my Okinawa beer with lunch (you know... because lunch time in Japan is like dinner time in LA) and it was perfect!
Nakijin Soba (another noodle!!)
We enjoyed the ambiance of the lived-in home restaurant. We loved their noodle but probably our favorite was their dessert. One of the most delicious sweets we had in Okinawa! They told us that they were really busy during lunch but dinner time was perfect for us who prefered to avoid the crowd.
Yamahara Soba (yet another noodle place)
We knew we had to wait in line but we were so glad we did! It was "my" favorite noodle place. The flavor of the soup and the freshness of the pork topping. Also enjoyed the feeling of old Japan so much.
On The Beach Cafe
The food was not to be mentioned here... but the fact they had a wifi connection at the remote beach was incredible for our family. I needed to get some work done uninterrupted so I worked in their outdoor seating area while kids and Frido played at the beautiful beach and we finished up our visit with some lunch and ice cream!
Cactus Eatrip (freshly made bagels)
After all the noodles we had, we needed something different for our appetite. I am so glad we stumbled upon this small cafe in the city. With the great interior vibe and incredibly delicious (and reasonable) bagels... we felt right at home.
Yomitan Fish Market (their Japanese website)
This fish market opened a brand new facility just a few weeks ago!!! There was a seafood deli downstairs and cafeteria style market restaurant upstairs. We went there twice while we were staying in Onna. I was so surprised to see how Coco ate the salmon egg, seaweed, white fish... and pretty much everything that was on the plate. And so fun to see so many fish which we saw while snorkeling at the fish market.
Where we had fun:
Since we happened to be staying 5 minutes away from this aquarium, we decided to make a day trip there! The aquarium gets really crowded during the weekend and Japanese holidays like their Golden Week... Their large tank with whale sharks and manta rays was truly mesmerizing.
Nakijin Castle Remains
This castle remains, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites was a perfect spot to start discussing how the past affects today's world with the girls... and imagining how it might have been like to live in the exact spot so many years ago. (remains are from 13th century). Discussing how they might have protected themselves using the design of the walls and trained their horses. Because we homeschool, getting to know these history is such an important part of our travel!
This felt like a beach without a name... no sign. Just a raw beach and lots and lots of space for the sky. Frido loves to comb through the beach looking for drift treasure so girls tagged behind him for hours just doing that. They had a collection of hermit crabs to observe every time when we were at the beach.
Bisezaki (cape Bise)
During the daytime, the little cape with coral and tropical fish gets crowded with snorkelers. We enjoyed visiting there first thing in the morning while we were staying at Chanya bed and breakfast. The water was crystal clear on the day when we were there and the feeling of calmness in the air. It felt like the world away from the very busy (and touristy) Churaumi Aquarium which was only a mile or two in distance.
Maeda Flats (nearby Blue Cave)
We saw that Blue Cave was a huge tourist attraction and only 5 minutes away but beaches in front of our Airbnb was as quiet as we could have asked for. Since we were at the same beach for 4 days, we got to know the tide and how beaches worked really well. By the very last day of our stay, we all felt comfortable putting our snorkeling gears and wetsuits on to try family snorkeling. (Yep!!! Both girls snorkeled!!!) We had fun tide pooling in the morning, watching mermaid photo shoots (supposedly it's the thing to do for tourists to put a mermaid costume and take photographs...) and taking an evening walk to watch the sunset.