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Tuesday Travel Diaries: Okinawa, Japan

31 January 2012

I'm so excited for Week 2 of Tuesday Travel Diaries, featuring my real-life best friend, Sara {or Swaff, as I like to call her.}  Swaff is an amazing friend...and an even better blogger & photographer.  She's smart, witty, sarcastic, and not afraid to tell it like it is.  Seriously, I don't think she knows how to sugar's awesome.

Check out her blog, here.
{Like me, she's just starting out...go follow won't regret it!}
The basics: where, when, & how long?
 We traveled to the island of Okinawa, Japan at the end of last August. We arrived on the island September 1st and are still here! This was a military PCS (permanent change of station) for us.  

What route did you take?  And how much was the flight?
Our route was a little different than what you would take if you were traveling here for a visit because we were on military orders. We traveled from San Diego to Seattle on a commercial flight and then boarded an AMC (Air Mobility Command) Flight operated by the military and flew Seattle---> Misawa Air Base---> Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni---> Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa. It was a long route for us and lasted around 48 hours from the time we departed San Diego to the time we arrived in Okinawa.
If you are looking to travel here it would be shorter with fewer stops. Most likely you would depart the U.S. and fly into Tokyo, Japan then grab another flight down to Okinawa. Our flight was free, but all the flights I have searched recently show about a $1,300 price tag (give or take depending on when you're coming). 

Tell us where you stayed.
We stayed on Camp Courtney (the base my husband would be working at) in military lodging and to be completely honest I am unsure if regular U.S. travelers could stay there without a military member sponsoring them. I'm also not sure if a regular traveler would want to stay there. It was by far not the worst and had all the amenities we needed, but the bed left a lot to be desired and there's no in-room WiFi (which is really inconvenient when you're trying to get in touch with family back in the states).   All that aside, there are several nice hotel/resorts located across the island and most have English speaking assistance.

Who did you travel with? 
I traveled with my husband and our two kids who were 3 and 9 at the time. I give my kids a lot of credit, they managed the trip with very few complaints.

Did you encounter anything unexpected?
 When you're traveling anywhere there's always the unexpected. No matter how much research and planning you do, something out of the ordinary usually arises. For us it was our layover in Seattle. Originally we were slated to arrive around noon and had planned on grabbing a cab to the hotel for the night. The universe had different plans for us and we spent the day waiting in the San Diego USO thanks to a severe flight delay. By the time we arrived in Seattle, it was far too late to grab a cab to the hotel considering we had to check into our flight at 2 am and we were left sleeping in chairs at the Seattle USO. Not the most ideal, but it worked and we will be forever thankful for the USO and their generous volunteers.

How accurate are the stereotypes?
 This is a hard question because I think there are a lot of varying stereotypes about Japan, the Japanese and Asian cultures. Also, even though Okinawa is part of Japan, it is an island several hundred miles south of mainland. The Okinawan people have many of their own traditions and cultures. They are very kind and considerate people and I have often been told that they are so respectful you'll never really know what they think about you. Even if they dislike a person, they are too respectful to show it. 

Tell us about the food.
The food here is wonderful and the respectful service you receive makes it even better. Dining out here is a real treat and although I'm vegetarian (and the Okinawan people love their meat!), I have not had difficulty finding delicious meals.
{Dragon Fruit is a common staple in Okinawa. It can be eaten plain and often used in baked goods.}

Are there any must see’s?
There are too many to list and some I haven't experienced myself! It really depends on when you come as well. There is always a festival of some sort going on and they are truly worth checking out. 

During the month of October they have the Naha Tug of War (, which is something we participated in. It starts with a parade of flags and ends with a battle of East versus West with thousands of people tugging on the world's largest rope. This year it was announced that 250,000 people attended and 15,000+ participated in the Tug of War! Afterwards we were able to cut part of the rope and bring it home to bring prosperity and good luck for the next year.If you decide to visit Okinawa, this is something I highly recommend coming to participate in!

Nago is on the north end of the island and is truly beautiful. In the early spring, cherry blossoms bloom and they are very vibrant and worth the drive to see.

There are also a few tiny islands bordering Okinawa and going across the bridge to Ikei Island is a must. There's no traffic and no convenience stores. The views are spectacular and the water is so clear you can see the coral beneath.

Naritasan Temple and Shrine deserves some love, too. Traditionally Japanese visit the temples during the New Year holiday to give their wishes to Buddah and purchase their written oracles that contain a fortune for the coming year. I could go on and on about this awesome tradition, but instead I will shamelessly plug the blog post I wrote about it (

Although the new year is a fun time to go, you can visit the temple year round. 
Additionally, two places of interest that I have yet to find the time to visit (but I hear they cannot be missed while on the island) are Shuri Castle and the aquarium. I have yet to hear a bad thing about either.

Do you have any regrets?
 None! We had talked for several years about wanting to be stationed in Okinawa and were excited when my husband received orders here. How many people have the luxury of living abroad and exposing their children to a new culture while getting paid to do so? I can honestly say that I love living in Okinawa and the few minor complaints I have (congested roads!) are heavily overshadowed by all the amazing opportunities that exist here.

Would you go back?
 I think I could better answer this question after orders here are up in three years. Although if I had to leave now, I would come back in a heartbeat. I really feel at peace here and enjoy their culture and way of living. 

Anything else you'd like to share?
I think for a lot of people, Okinawa isn't a place they normally put on the list to visit, but it should be. If you have ever considered visiting Japan, don't forget to pencil in a trip down to Okinawa. You won't regret the decision and you'll quickly grow to love their food, culture and way of living. 

Thanks, Swaff for sharing your awesome photos & insights into Okinawa with us!

I need more volunteers for Tuesday Travel Diaries.  If you'd like to share your travels, please E-mail me at emmyjuneborninmay{at} !  Don't make me beg.

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