Category Archives: trip guide

Escape to a deserted island, Sarushima

We are always on the lookout for new and interesting places to visit from Tokyo, and were excited to learn about Sarushima from this article from rocketnews24.com. WOW, what a pleasant surprise!

1) A deserted, all-natural island and…
2) An atmosphere that just like the one from the famous Miyazaki animation, “Castle in the Sky – Laputa”

That’s like all things good wrapped in one bundle. Well, we just had to make a trip there! And off we did!

The island is located in Tokyo Bay, but is part of Yokosuka city. Yokosuka is known as the town of little U.S. due to the large number of US Navy bases in town. The atmosphere in this town is quite different from the typical Japanese town anywhere else!

"Navy burger" at TGI FRIDAYS...American-sized big burger!!!
“Navy burger” at TGI FRIDAYS…American-sized big burger!!!
Near by the port, there's an old battle ship, called Mishima. Now this ship is used as an exhibition.
Near by the port, there’s an old battleship, called Mishima. Now this ship is used as an exhibition.

From Mikasa port in Yokosuka, it is a short 10 minutes boat ride to Sarushima. That’s much closer than I had expected!

Escape to the deserted island.. only 10 minutes away! :P
Escape to the deserted island.. only 10 minutes away! 😛
As read on the Internet, the atmosphere on the island is exactly what I imagined Laputa to be like!
As read on the Internet, the atmosphere on the island is exactly what I imagined Laputa to be like!

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It took us about 1-2 hours to walk around the island. Pretty good for some easy hiking!
It took us about 1-2 hours to walk around the island. Pretty good for some easy hiking!

Even though it is just another Sunday, discovering a new place and meeting and laughing with friends from all over the world made a perfect holiday for me. It was relaxing to get out of the city and enjoy the timelessness of the forests of Sarushima.

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And apparently, I heard that it is possible for us to have a barbecue in summer… Isn’t that a great reason for us to go back again? 😛


by Tammy Fukaya

 

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Kimono Rental in Tokyo

There are several places for Kimono or Yukata rental around Asakusa (浅草), a district in Tokyo, famous for the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon.

Kimono (着物), which literally means a “thing to wear” (ki “wear” and mono “thing”), is a Japanese traditional garment. People tend to associate kimono with the formal robe typically made from silk and worn to formal occasions. Yukata (浴衣), with the same basic construction as kimono, are made from cotton, unlined, and usually worn to summer festivals.

I and my friends got to experience wearing Kimono at Asakusa. We rented Kimono from a shop called Asakusa-Shichihenge. (http://www.asakusa-7henge.com/) English is available on the website. The staffs at the shop also speak English. Therefore, it is easier to communicate and choose the rental packages. In summer, you can rent Yukata. But in winter, you can rent Kimono. I and my friends went to the shop in November so we could experience wearing Kimono.

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There are several rental packages from basic Kimono to Furisode Kimono. We chose the basic package. It is only 3,500 Yen (tax included) per person but if you go with a group of 2 or more members, the price is down to 2,500 Yen (tax included). If you do not have Japanese socks to wear with Kimono, you will have to buy the socks for 300 Yen. The package includes Kimono and Japanese shoes for all day (from 10:00-16:00). It takes around 15 minutes to dress 1 person. The shop also provides hairdo services but you have to pay 100 Yen for hairpin rental. (Please make a reservation in advance.)

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Do not worry about the size. There are many sizes of Kimono. And you can choose the pattern of the Kimono by yourself. If you cannot decide, the staffs will help you choose and match the color for you. Because we went in Winter, we could also rent the outerwear for Kimono.

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We went to the shop on the rainy day but it was really fun. We wore Kimono and walked around Asakusa area. We even went to the Japanese restaurant. It was pretty cool, wearing Kimono and eating Japanese traditional clothes. After having lunch, we went to the temple, took Omiguji, and took some pictures around Asakusa.

Untitled3If you come to Japan, I recommend you to experience wearing Kimono. It was really interesting and fun!


Written by Nanpun
Beautiful pictures by Rein Van

Kamakura – “Small Kyoto” near from Tokyo

On 11 Feb, the day of Japan’s Country Foundation Day, we went to Kamakura to walk around, and more importantly, to witness a strange religion ceremony. This ceremony is a disciplinary ceremony / training for monks in training.

As some of you may know, there are many shrines and temples in Kamakura, so, it is sometimes called “Small Kyoto”. The town is a famous and popular sightseeing spot among Japanese as well.

From Shinagawa to Kamakura, it takes around 1 hour by local train.

At first, we visited Chosho-ji (長勝寺) to watch the religious ceremony.

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Monks in training came….

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Cold water was poured over their heads with chanting reading sutras!!! Note, this is February, deep in winter!

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IT LOOKS SOOOOO COLD! o(>_<)o

To warm ourselves out from that “cold” experience, we went for lunch near Kamakura Station and walked around the area..

Komachi Street, there are many souvenir shops and food stands belong there.
Komachi Street, where there are many souvenir shops and food stands.

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Lunch at one of the restaurants at Komachi Street
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Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, within 10 mins’ walk from Kamakura Station. You can read more at  here.

After walking around Kamakura and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, we took tram and visited this famous site.

Koutokuin, to visit the Big Buddha! Nearest Station is Hase Station, Enoden Line.
Koutokuin, to visit the Big Buddha! Nearest Station is Hase Station, Enoden Line.
View of the ocean from Hasedera temple, near Hase Station, Enoden Line.
View of the ocean from Hasedera temple, near Hase Station, Enoden Line.

At last we visited the beach and said “See you again!”

Yuigahama Beach
Yuigahama Beach

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Of course winter is off season, so it was really quiet and tranquil…

After all Kamakura is good place to visit any number of times!!!


by Tammy Fukaya

4 days in Hakuba for the non-skiier!

Winter time, and some of us are thinking of ways to spend the short and cold days. If you are into winter sports, there are plenty of ski-grounds you can visit on a day or weekend trip!

Hakuba, in Nagano prefecture, is a ski village in the Japanese Alps, famous for its powder snow! It served as the site for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Today, it is a popular ski village, offering many options in the numerous ski resorts! It is easily accessible from Tokyo via a direct bus. It may not be the most comfortable option, but it is economical and saves you the hassle of having to change trains. If you are on the JR Pass, you may consider taking the train to Nagano or Matsumoto before changing to a bus or local train respectively.

Be greeted by the beautiful snow mountains of Hakuba the moment you step out of the station.
Be greeted by the beautiful snow mountains of Hakuba the moment you step out of the station.

So, now you may be thinking, if you don’t snowboard or ski, there is probably not much in store for you. Well, if you are looking for a short getaway from the city, here’s our suggestion of what you can do in Hakuba!

Day 1: Tokyo – Hakuba 

Set off early in the morning and catch the highway bus bound for Hakuba. Notice the change in scenery as you leave behind the city and its skyscrapers onto the highway, and finally into winter wonderland.

The ride is about 5 hours and depending on when you leave, you may be able to squeeze in a night ski session if you are interested. If not, have a wander about town. There are several night shuttle buses that take you to different parts of town.

The night lights at Echoland
The night lights at Echoland

Happo Town: One of the most popular accommodation option, this area is situated at the foot of Happo One Ski Resort. There are many accommodation, restaurants, shops and a Lawson convenient store within walking distance. The visitor’s center is also in the area. Probably the most happening part of town.

Wadano: Right next to Happo Town, this area also has a fair share of restaurants and accommodation, especially for skiiers heading to Happo One. There are a few onsens in the area.

Echoland: Located a little further, in a quieter area of town. It is about 10 mins ride away from both the station and Happo Town. There are a handful of restaurants in the area, as well as an onsen.

Day 2: Hit the slopes! 

Let's go skiing!
Let’s go skiing!
It doesn't take a pro to be able to appreciate this beautiful surroundings! (And it's on the beginner's course, I swear!)
It doesn’t take a pro to be able to appreciate this beautiful surroundings! (And it’s on the beginner’s course, I swear!)

Well, the truth is you can’t say you’ve been to Hakuba if you ain’t gonna try skiing or snowboarding! Most accommodations can help you with rental gears and wear, and there are free shuttle buses to the ski grounds. Alternatively, you can also do the rental from the ski grounds. There are also plenty of ski schools offering lessons (both group and private) in English, so fret not!

We recommend Hakuba Goryu + Hakuba 47 for beginners! You can get a day-pass for both ski resorts and they are connected by bus and by the chair-lifts. Don’t forget to take the gondola up to the restaurant at the top for lunch with a magnificent view!

Day 3: Snow Monkey + Zenkoji, Nagano 

This seems to be a popular side-trip for visitors staying in Hakuba. There are many tour operators running bus tours from Hakuba to the snow monkey park and Zenkoji temple in Nagano. Alternatively, you can also hire a taxi for the day. Generally it should be about 10,000yen per person.

Even the monkeys are cuddling for some warmth!
Even the monkeys are cuddling for some warmth!
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The monkeys enjoying their soak in the hot spring.
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Mama Monkey enjoying her time with the kids.

As touted in the advertisements, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is the only place in the world where you can see wild monkeys bathing in pure hot spring water. Indeed, I have to agree that the monkeys are irresistibly adorable and human-like in their behavior and watching them having a good time in the hot spring makes me want to jump into one too (not to mention the cold weather)! There are about 200 monkeys living in the mountain and the souvenir shop at the entrance has lots of interesting trivial about them. Most of the bus tours from Hakuba will arrive at around 10:00~11:00, so if you want to avoid the hoard of tourist, it’s best to go around lunch time!

Zenkoji Temple, looking very grand from outside.
Zenkoji Temple, looking very grand from outside.
A series of Daruma for the New Year at Zenkoji Temple.
A series of Daruma for the New Year at Zenkoji Temple.

Another sightseeing spot that is often paired with the monkey park is the Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City, one of the most important and popular temples in Japan. Unlike other temples, you will notice that Zenkoji has very luxurious ornaments. But the most interesting thing about this temple is that there is an underground chamber  in which you have to walk in darkness in search for the “key to paradise” along the passage.

Outside, there is a shopping street leading up to the temple where you can find many souvenir shops and restaurants selling local cuisine like soba noodles and oyaki dumplings.

Day 4: Snowshoeing and other snow activities! 

Back in Hakuba, it’s time to try out other snow / winter activities. Even if you are not inclined to going down the slopes at fast speed, you may develop a liking for hanging out in the soft powder snow of Hakuba.

Snowshoe equipment. Checked.
Snowshoe equipment. Checked.
Snowshoeing through the forest on soft virgin snow.
Snowshoeing through the forest on soft virgin snow.

Guesthouses and ski schools or operators can arrange for activities such as snowshoeing or snow-mobile rides, with equipment provided. Snowshoeing usually involves taking the gondola up to the mountain top and walking through the forest and pristine snow to a look-out point with a panoramic view of the surroundings. The guide may also explain to you about the animal tracks or activities, and offer you a mug of nice warm hot chocolate.

A breathtaking view awaits you at the end of the snowshoeing hike
A breathtaking view awaits you at the end of the snowshoeing hike.

For the more adventurous, you may want to go on the snow mobiles or snowrafting for some speed and thrill.  There will be a safety brief and a quick introduction to the basics of driving a snow mobile. Riders can then choose from a variety of courses, whether through the trees, or on wide open snow fields.

End the day with a nice soak in one of the many open-air hot springs in Hakuba town, enjoying your last night in winter wonderland Hakuba.

Be amazed by the beauty of snow-white Hakuba
Be amazed by the beauty of snow-white Hakuba

Five reasons why Okinawa should be the next place you visit in Japan

I’m chewing on some Okinawan sugar cane and enjoying the warm afternoon breeze as I am writing this, reminiscence of my short-lived holiday in sunny Okinawa.

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Just kicking it back and watching the waves come rolling in on Minami Daito Island.
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The sugarcane fields of Okinawa.

Having lived in Japan for a couple of years, I’ve travelled and visited most parts of Japan. However, it has never crossed my mind to visit Okinawa. Perhaps it is because my idea of Okinawa consists mainly of beaches, sunny weather and a culture and cuisine largely similar to back home. I also heard that it is dominated by the Americans and the Filipinos, which made me think; “If I were to go to a sunny beach destination with an international culture, there’s plenty of cheaper options in Southeast Asia.” Perhaps, that explains why I have never visited Okinawa in my years of travelling Japan.

Thanks to Follow Me Japan and the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau, I had the opportunity to visit Okinawa and experience a different side of Japan. There are no tall buildings or departmental stores; no sickeningly cute maid cafes or noisy pachinko parlours; no overcrowded sushi restaurants or trains filled with drunk salarymen.

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Mensoure! Welcome to Okinawa!

What there is, is the warm hospitality of the Okinawan people, their sunny disposition matching that of the climate, the rustic charm of the island villages, a slower pace of life in the islands of longevity, and a strong Ryukyu culture that reflects its key position in maritime trade with Southeast and east Asia, especially China.

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Say cheese and immerse in some Ryukyu culture!

My 5-day trip to Okinawa was barely the tip of the iceberg, and now I can’t wait to get back and explore more of the Okinawa islands. And here are five reasons why Okinawa should also be your next place to visit in Japan.

 1. Sun. Sand. Sea.

Does it need more explaining? The image of a picture-perfect beach destination is almost synonymous with the word vacation. Even though Japan has never really been known as a beach destination, you just need to google images of Okinawa and you will realize what you’ve been missing out. Apart from the beautiful clear blue sea and soft white sand, the Okinawa islands also have some of the world’s most abundant coral reefs. There is a wide array of water activities to choose from, snorkeling, sea-kayaking, fishing, diving or even just being fascinated by the whale sharks and manta rays in Churaumi Aquarium.

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Contemplating a dive into the rock pool…
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Whale-watching in Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

2. Think you know Japan? Think again. Okinawa has a culture and history so rich and unique from the rest of Japan.

Never been a history buff myself, I was surprised to find myself intrigued by the history of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Kingdom. Unlike the rest of Japan, which prides itself on the homogeneity of the people, Okinawan culture resembles a mix of its early maritime trading partners, from China, Japan and Southeast Asia.

Even the modern-day Okinawa has its influences from the presence of the U.S. military bases. Walking down the streets, it is pretty common to see Japanese-Western couples, as well as military-related shops and western shops like A&W, something I have never seen elsewhere in Japan.

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Enjoying a traditional Eisa dance at the Ryukyu Mura
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Seems like army fatigue is the fashion in Okinawa!

3. Learn the secret to longevity!

Also known as the islands of longevity, Okinawa people have one of the highest life expectancy in the world. In addition, Okinawa also boasts a population with the highest proportion of people living beyond 100 years old. The secret to this? The Okinawan diet. It consists of a large amount of vegetables, tofu, konbu seaweed and local produce like the Okinawan purple sweet potatoes and bitter melon, Goya.

Of course, being an archipelago, Okinawa also has abundant seafood. In fact, the Okinawan people eat only the freshest sashimi. Don’t be surprised if your sashimi does not come served on ice because ice is not even needed! And unlike the rest of Japan where sushi is only made by a sushi chef, sushi in Okinawa is made by housewives and eaten at home.

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Goya Champuru – rich in vitamins and minerals and eaten to battle the summer heat
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No trip to Japan is complete without some sashimi.

4. Go island-hopping and enjoy island life!

ALOHA! Don’t be surprised to see this word commonly used in the shops, for Okinawa does give off the same laid-back vibe as Hawaii. The archipelago consists of more than 160 tropical islands, so have your pick! Whether it is diving in Ishigaki island, hiking in the tropical forests of Iriomote island, visiting the traditional Ryukyu villages on Taketomi island, relaxing on the beautiiful beaches of Miyako Island, or even shopping on Kokusai Street in the main island, I’m sure you’d be able to find out to suit your preference. Time to escape the big city, kick back and relax with a glass of awamori, the local distilled liquor made from Thai rice.

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Exploring the underground limestone caves in Minami Daito Island.
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Embracing the rustic charm of the island villages.

5.    If you think the Japanese are polite and kind, then the Okinawan people are super friendly.

Perhaps it is because of Okinawa’s history and interaction with its trading partners, or perhaps it is just the island lifestyle… The people of Okinawa seem to be more open and friendly to visitors. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by the warm and bright smiles of the locals, with their cheerful greetings.

I had the opportunity to visit Minami Daito island, a small island village known for its sugar cane plantations and I was simply blown away by the locals’ hospitality and warmth toward this group of foreigners. They shared their food and culture with us, and even went out of the way to catch some bonito fish to make fresh sashimi for us!

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During our trip, we’ve been asked several times to join in the local dance! Who cares about my two left feet, I had fun!
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Goodbye Okinawa! I hope to be back soon!

I hope I have whet your appetite about visiting the beautiful Okinawa islands. To find out more about where to go and what to do in Okianwa, keep a lookout for our upcoming blog posts!

This trip has been made possible by Follow Me Japan and Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau.

5 Things to do on Okinawa main island

We left behind the bustling streets of Naha City and travelled northward towards Motobu Peninsula, where the world-renowned Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is located. With so many activities to choose from, here are some of our recommendations!

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Driving up to Motobu Peninsula
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Travelling on the wide roads of Motobu Peninsula, you’ll only see the beautiful coast and the greenery.

1.    Marvel at the marine life at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

Did you know that “Chura” means “beautiful” in the Okinawan dialect, and “Umi” means “sea, or ocean” in Japanese? Hence, Churaumi, beautiful sea, is a name that aptly sums up what you are about to see in the aquarium. Don’t miss out on the Kuroshio Tank, a huge world-class tank where you can marvel at the majesty of the whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, and other beautiful marine creatures. You should also know that the aquarium have started a world-first initiative to breed corals for eventual release into the sea!

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Admire the beautiful marine creatures at the world-class Kuroshio Tank.

2.    Get your hands dirty at the local crafts studios or bakery!

Ryukyu glass is one of the famous crafts of Okinawa. In Motobu, you can experience glass-blowing and make your own original Ryukyu glass at one of the local studios! Did you know that the Ryukyu glassware industry has a pretty interesting background? It all started after the war, when locals collected coke bottles from the military bases. At the same time, American soldiers returning home requested the local craftsmen to create original crafts representative of the islands. As such, Ryukyu glassware with beautiful gradient colors resembling the ocean is born.

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Try your hands at glass-blowing and make your own Ryukyu glass under the instructions of the master glassblowers!
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The vibrant colours that is characteristic of Ryukyu glassware.

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Or learn how to bake some bread using wild yeast and home-grown ingredients 

3.    Appreciate the culture of ancient Okinawa at the Ryukyu Mura

Set in the olden days of Ryukyu Kingdom, this cultural village/theme park is a great way to experience the Ryukyu traditions and the former ways of lives. You will also get a chance to watch, and even join in some of the traditional performances, such as Shishimai (Lion dance, very similar to the one in Chinese culture), Yotsudake (a kind of elegant court dance), Karate (as we all know it), and Eisa (the folk dance with Okinawan drums).

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Experience the old way of life at Ryukyu Mura – a demonstration of how water buffaloes were used at the sugarcane mill to get sugar juice, which is then boiled to make brown sugar.
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Traditional Eisa dance
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The Yotsudake court dance

4.    Admire the natural beauty of the East China Sea

Travelling along the coast, you will see plenty of attractive beaches, with the clear blue waters beckoning to you. Spend a day at the beach and enjoy sea sports with your friends and family, or kick back and relax at one of the ocean-view cafes. Also, don’t miss out the iconic scenic spot at Cape Manzamo, Onna village. The lush green grass atop the cliff is set against a beautiful backdrop of the glistening blue sea. It makes a great place to sit on the cliffs to enjoy the spectacular coastline.

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Manzamo can be said to be one of the most magnificent view of the East China Sea in Okinawa.
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It is also often referred to as The Elephant’s Nose due to the formation of the cliff!
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Take time to enjoy the sunset over the East China Sea at the end of a day of sight-seeing.

5.    Eat eat eat!

Not forgetting one of the most important aspects of travel, you may want to stop by Kyoda Road Station (apparently rated #1 in the nation by travelers) to try some of the local snacks like soft-served ice cream (with local flavours like black sugar, Okinawan calamansi, and even sea-salt & sesame!), Okinawan kamaboko (minced fish cake), and sata andagi (Okinawan doughnut)! You can also buy fresh local produce (fruits and vegetables) and other souvenirs!

And one of the highlights of Motobu Peninsula, is the Motobu Beef, Japanese black beef! Try it at the local yakiniku BBQ restaurant and I assure you you will not forget the taste of the meaty goodness melting in your mouth.

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Kyoda Road Station, rated number 1 out of 1030 stations in the nation!
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Famous andagi, Okinawa doughnut!

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Treat yourself to some top-class Motobu Beef.

This trip has been made possible by Follow Me Japan and Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau.

One day in Naha City

We flew into the swanky new international terminal at Naha Airport and were greeted by the clear blue skies and beautiful ladies clad in the traditional Okinawa kimono.

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Mensoure! Welcome to Naha City! 
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Me and a beauitful Okinawan lady in the traditional Okinawa kimono!

Located on the Okinawa main island, Naha city is the capital as well as political and economic hub. If you are looking for departmental stores, fancy restaurants, or anything slightly resembling the cities of mainland Japan, this is the most likely place to find it.

If you’re like us with only have a few hours to spare in Naha City, here are some of the places you should hit up!

1. Buy your souvenirs at Kokusai Street

Looking for a restaurant with traditional Okinawan music? Or a souvenir shop selling the shisa ornament or some local sea-salt? How about some Hawaiian-style accessories? You’ll definitely find it all on the vibrant Kokusai Street, probably the busiest street in Naha City. This main street stretches for 1.6km, with plenty of brightly lit shops and restaurants on both sides of the street. To my surprise, the shops were opened and bustling with activities even at 10pm, so no worries for late night shopping!

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The vibrant shops and busy shoppers on Kokusai Street.
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You’ll find plenty of shops selling Shisa, the mystical lion-dog creature which the locals believe will help to protect them from evil spirits.
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Sampling of sea-salt from all over Japan and the world.

2.    Savour local delicacies at Makishi Public Market

This is the place to go to for the local fare. On the first floor, you’ll find butchers, fishmongers, and green grocers selling local delicacies, from smoked pork’s face (yes, you read it right, pork’s face) to turquoise parrotfish, and safer options such as pickles and local produce like bittermelon and sugar cane. After you’re done picking your fresh ingredients, bring them upstairs and have the food stall cook it for you.

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No, these are not face masks. Smoked pork face, a local delicacy.
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How about the catch of the day?
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Or try other local cuisine in one of the restaurants on the second floor.

3. Enjoy the artistic charm of Tsuboya Yachimun Street

After a filling meal at the Makishi Public Market, take a stroll along Tsuboya Yachimun Street, a small street known for local ceramics craft and pottery. If you like, try your hands at pottery at one of the studios. Or perhaps, just sip on a cup of coffee at one of the small cafes, enjoying the quiet charm of this back street, which is a stark contrast to the busy Kokusai Street.

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One of the traditional pottery studios on Tsuboya Yachimun Street.
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Came across this odd vintage shop selling some very classic pots and toys from my childhood days.

4.    Take in the prowess of Ryukyu Kingdom at Shurijo Castle

For something more cultural, visit Shurijo Castle located in Naha. This is the castle where the kings of Ryukyu kingdom lived. If you have been to other castles in mainland Japan, you may notice a difference in the architecture. Indeed, the architecture of Shurijo is a combination of Chinese, Japanese and indigenous Ryukyu construction techniques. This technique is unique to Okinawa, and is a result of influences from Ryukyu’s maritime trading partners. Step into the castle grounds and relive the glorious days of the Ryukyu kings.

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Step inside and admire the grandeur of Shurijo Castle. (Photo from JNTO)
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The night illumination of Shurijo Castle makes it seem like a forbidden castle.

This trip has been made possible by Follow Me Japan and Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau.