Day 1 in Okinawa: two planes, a limestone cave and an epic meal

Yes. I finally made it to Okinawa. It’s been something I’ve talked and talked about doing for ages. Now, I’m here. Has it only been three months since my last trip to Taiwan? Feels more like 20 years ago. Ah well. Bye bye daily grind. Hello spring holidays.


From Haneda to Ishigaki

It has been AGES since I took the Keikyu Line – that too from Kamiooka no less. Don’t worry if you’ve never been to Kamiooka. You’re not missing much. I don’t miss the old neighbourhood.

Unlike Narita, Haneda isn’t super far away from Yokohama so it won’t be a super boring and long train ride when I get back. YAY. It was also my first time flying out from the domestic terminal. I was surprised that no one checked our IDs. Everything was super quick and super efficient so no problem. 

The Flight

The journey from Haneda to Naha takes around two hours. My partner in crime and I finally sat down for an overdue stress free catch up. We chatted and laughed a lot. It’s nice to do that without a time limit, worrying about the schedule for the next day and trying (and perpetually failing) to get enough sleep.

Midway through the flight we started watching an old Japanese classic called Rashomon on my laptop. Five minutes later, I was sleepy. I struggled very hard to pretend that I was watching it. It’s not the movie’s fault. It’s a bad habit of mine. I was relieved when the flight attendant announced that we would be landing soon. By the way – who doesn’t love legroom?


When we arrived at Naha – I was peckish. I did what any good Japanese person does in that situation. I headed to the beloved, ubiquitous and always trustworthy Japanese conbini aka convenience store. The shelves were almost empty. Well, then…

One of my students had mentioned the famous Okinawan ice cream Blue Seal, so I had a scoop of that in cone. It was delicious – but probably not something I would go around recommending to all my friends. It’s good, but not that good. 

While waiting for the connecting flight to Ishigaki Island, my partner in crime and I talked about Okinawa’s history. Despite Okinawa’s popularity as a sightseeing destination, not many Japanese people are aware about Okinawa’s rich and important cultural heritage. As we all know – most people go on holiday to get away from reality – not to find themselves entwined in someone else’s. 

I am not most people. 

Okinawa is also home to a significant American military presence. It’s an issue that I generally find people divided on. Since Japan doesn’t have a military, some of the people I’ve spoken to think it’s important to have the American army stationed there. Others say that being that friendly with America isn’t that great an idea… There are other opinions as well, of course. 

Personally, I’m not sure what I think about the topic. Unlike westerners, Japanese people generally aren’t forthcoming with their opinions because reasons…

Arriving at Ishigaki 

From the plane window, I saw the clear clean sparkling waters of the vast ocean as we landed. Mama, I’m home. I don’t know why those words came to me. They just did. There’s something about staring out into the mysterious blue body of water that just feels like home. Maybe it’s cause I’m an island girl. Who knows. 

The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was COLOUR. And not just that beautiful ocean blue. People are actually wearing colour. Unlike the rest of Japan which is sombre and austere – Okinawa is lively. Laid back. Happy to be alive just because. After months, I feel like I can finally breathe again. 


On the drive to our first stop, we drove past many sugarcane and pineapple plantations. It kind of reminded me of being back in Miyazaki – which to date has been my FAVOURITE place in Japan. Okinawa’s got a much richer and older heritage than Miyazaki, though. I’m curious as to what memories I will make of this place in the days to come.

Ishigaki Island Cave 

Our first stop: a stalactite limestone cave. It’s only a ten minute drive from the airport. DO NOT COME TO ISHIGAKI WITHOUT A CAR. The Ishigaki Island Cave took over 200,000 years to form. It is quite the sight. Splendid. Something to really take in. Admittedly it’s one of those places I would have enjoyed a lot more if I was the only person there and didn’t have to hustle with all those people trying to get Instagram shots. Some people use social media. Others get used by it. Ah well.

Dinner 

We ate dinner at the restaurant in the cave. I didn’t have high expectations, but it was surprisingly good. WELCOME TO JAPAN. The flavours were interesting, too. Not quite what I was expecting, but YUMMY. 

I also ordered an awamori to have with dinner. It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these. Unlike sake, awamori is made of Thai rice. Unlike sake, awamori is distilled, not brewed. Good stuff. It’s strong, though.

I also saw Habushu in the shop on the way out. It’s awamori with vipers. Hmm… about that. I’m adventurous, but even I have my limits, yo.


Goodnight

I know this has been a bit of a ramble, but expect as much the next couple of days. Hey – I’m on holiday. By the way, our hotel has a free flow of awamori in the lobby that you don’t have to pay for. 

Oh yes – the party has just begun. Till next time – sweet dreams my dears. 

Author: Dipa

Tarot Tales from Japan

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