Our last morning in Okinawa was just packing everything up before the check out time at 11am. The sun was shining and it was about 28°C. We checked the forecast for Sapporo and it was a high of 11°C and a low of 3°C. We basically picked the two most extremely opposite parts of Japan (climate wise) to visit back to back.
Before checking out we went downstairs to the Family Mart and grabbed a few things for lunch – an egg salad sandwich, a fried chicken drumstick, and inari. We checked out and made our way to Asahibashi Monorail Station to take the train to Naha Airport. The train ride to get to the airport was 260 JPY = $3 CAD each. We arrived at the airport dripping in sweat, it was not a pretty sight.
When we arrived, we checked in and noticed that Tim’s boarding pass said Star Alliance Gold. He didn’t think he still had status this year but apparently he still does? Or maybe this is because he had gold status when we booked these flights. Anyway, we went to the ANA lounge and they scanned his boarding pass and we were allowed in. The lounge was very business oriented and quite small. They had some fresh juice, fountain drinks, Suntory Whiskey, Orion Beer, and some Japanese cracker snacks. Their Orion Beer pouring machine was really cool. Tim took a good video of it.
While sitting in the lounge, there were a bunch of fighter jets taking off from the airport. Except this time, these fighter jets were part of the Japanese Self-Defense Force. (Tim: We saw two jets take off in tandem and banked left together immediately after taking off… which was pretty cool). We had some drinks in the lounge before heading to our gate.
Our flight was delayed by 10 minutes, but still ended up getting to Sapporo on time. The flight was about 2 hours and 45 minutes. ANA domestic flights don’t offer much in terms of food or drinks (they only have coffee, apple juice, green tea, or consomme), which is a bit disappointing for an Asian airline. The best airline we’ve flown has been Bangkok Airways. For a domestic flight in Thailand (that was only an hour long), they served us drinks and a meal.
When we arrived in Sapporo and stepped out of the plane, we could immediately feel the cold crisp air, a stark difference from the warm humid air we were in a few hours ago. After we got our bags we headed for the JR New Chitose Airport Station where we caught a train to Sapporo Station. The train ride was about 35 minutes and cost us 1,070 JPY = $12.45 CAD each.
Our hotel, Nest Hotel, is about a 6 minute walk straight up the street from Sapporo Station. On our walk there, my sweatshirt was not cutting it. It was so cold! I don’t think we’ve been this cold since some time in February when we left Vancouver. Tim’s going to say it wasn’t that cold, but it was (Tim: it wasn’t that cold). We got to the hotel and checked into our room. The room was similar to other typical Japanese hotel rooms – small, double bed, with minimal space to put your luggage. But as always, everything is very clean so there’s not much more you can ask for. We got a pretty good deal on this hotel room, we’re paying $245 CAD for 4 nights here. We booked on Expedia and had a promo code for $100 off from TD Rewards.
We settled in and layered up. I wore my Heattech shirt from Uniqlo, brought out my scarf and my toque (I basically brought my toque just for Sapporo). We did a bit of research on what restaurants were close by since our plan for tonight was just to grab dinner and plan our next few days here. Since it was so cold out, I was actually craving ramen (which rarely happens). Sapporo is known for having good ramen, Hokkaido ramen, which is more of a miso based broth (vs. tonkotsu broth from Fukuoka/Hakata). My favourite ramen in Vancouver is Santouka on Robson, which is originally from Hokkaido. There’s actually a ramen area in Sapporo but it was too far of a walk for tonight, so we continued looking. Tim found a yakitori place one street over that sounded really good so we headed there.
When we got to the yakitori place, it did look really good but the wait for dinner was 45 minutes so we passed. We’ll try to go back again another day. We walked down the street and found an izakaya whose menu looked good so we went there. The izakaya was filled with smoking businessmen and women. We were seated at the counter since all the tables were full. Unfortunately, everyone to my left was smoking and blowing it my direction (I used my scarf to cover my nose when it got bad). We ordered a salad, yakitori, chicken karaage, fried squid, pork belly fried rice and edamame (which we thought was free but I think it’s free if you order drinks). Our bill came out to be 4,049 JPY = $47 CAD. Everything was tasty (we have yet to have a bad meal in Japan. *knock on wood*), but towards the end we wanted to leave as soon as possible since even more smoke was blowing our way.
The Sapporo Clock Tower was close to the hotel so we decided to take a quick look. We took a picture and then walked back quickly. It was too cold!
Looking forward to exploring another part of Japan in the next few days. It’s our last Japanese city we’ll visit before heading back to Taipei on Tuesday. April went by so quickly, I can’t believe it’s almost May. We’ll be more prepared with layering up even more tomorrow.
It was our first day in Okinawa and we didn’t have firm plans on what we were going to do. Last night, we narrowed down what we wanted to see and what we could see, given that we didn’t rent a car. Transportation outside of Naha (which is the main city in Okinawa and where we’re staying) is not very convenient or cheap so if you’re planning on coming to Okinawa and have a lot of plans to do activities outside of the Naha area, renting a car is recommended. We also looked into car rentals but they start at about $90 CAD a day, a bit too much considering our plans here.
Number one on both our lists for Okinawa was to just relax and visit the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is now the second largest in the world (was first before Atlanta’s aquarium opened). After looking at ways to get to the aquarium, we discovered that a round trip bus fare from Naha to the aquarium (which is on the north end of the island and 90km away) would cost more than paying for a tour to take us there. So that’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow.
For today, we decided to head north up the coast of Okinawa to a town called, Chatan. It is about 15km north of Naha and is the most Americanized part of Okinawa (and likely Japan) due to the American military base in the area. There is even an area called “American Village” or Maihama which is an area full of restaurants and shops that are supposed to resemble an American outdoor mall. After reading about this area, it seemed interesting and not like any other place in Japan. In addition to sounding intriguing, it is also my old coworker’s hometown, so that was an added bonus.
We walked to Naha bus terminal and caught bus #28 that headed north on highway 58. Although it’s only about 15 km away, the bus ride felt really long. There is quite a bit of congestion getting out of Naha since it seems like the majority of its residents drive. For about 95% of our ride to Chatan, Tim and I were the only ones on the bus. When we weren’t alone, there was only one other person.
Along the way to Chatan, we passed by many Japanese fast food chain restaurants: Sukiya, Yoshinoya, Mos Burger, CoCo Ichibanya, etc. This time, all these were stand alone restaurants and the majority of them had drive throughs. After being in denser cities for a while, it was interesting to see all these places as restaurants that you would drive to. We also noticed that there were a ton of pachinko parlours and quite large ones at that (they look like casinos). Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan, but they have these pachinko parlours where people play for balls which can be exchanged for tokens at the parlour. The tokens then can be exchanged for cash at a locations outside or around the parlour (sounds complicated). Historically, these pachinko parlours were run by the yakuza and I think the majority still are.
Finally, we knew we had arrived in the Chatan area as we could see the military base along the other side of the road. After about 45 minutes on the bus, our fare was 680 JPY = $7.75 CAD each. Bus fare is determined by where you got on the bus. You take a ticket with a number when you get on, and a screen up front shows the fare corresponding to the number on the tickets so you know how much to pay (the bus driver doesn’t keep track so it’s all honour system). The prices go up as you continue further on the bus route.
We walked towards the American Village area and saw signs for A&W and decided to go there for lunch. A&W has a strong presence in Okinawa and has been here since 1963. Unlike the A&W in Canada, the A&Ws in Okinawa advertise free refills on their drinks. Refills on fountain drinks at fast food restaurants outside of North America is rare, so this was a nice surprise (especially for Tim, who guzzles drinks).
Everything tasted really good and familiar, except the fries were a bit different. After drinking the root beer, it occurred to us that we haven’t had root beer at all since being in Asia. The closest we got was drinking Sarsaparilla in Taiwan. Also, A&W root beer is only available in Okinawa and no other part of Japan. We went to a store that had an “only in Okinawa” souvenir section and cans of A&W were there. I have taken root beer, my favourite soda, for granted.
It was about 27 degrees today and humid. It was overcast for most of the day but when the sun came through the clouds every so often, it was really hot! It was the first time since Kenting that we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. We continued to walk through the American Village towards the coast to see the water and check out Sunset Beach.
We decided to keep walking north on the seawall to see what other beaches we would find. We ended up having to take a slight detour to a strip mall since the seawall didn’t connect the whole way. We spent a fair amount of time in the supermarket since it was the first actual supermarket we have been to in Japan. It felt like we were in a Japanese Safeway. Fruit is still not that cheap here, but avocados are cheap (~$1 CAD each).
Tim spent a lot of time in the instant noodle section and I spent most of my time in the deli (gawking at the cheap and delicious looking sushi) and the snack aisle. And of course, the majority of items are cheaper there than it is at convenience stores. The grocery store was filled with American Moms grocery shopping with their children. It was only until we got to this store that we saw a lot of Americans. (You mean they don’t just hang out in the American Village all the time?)
As we continued on the seawall north, we noticed a lot of Americans running along the seawall and Moms with a lot of children. It felt like we weren’t in Japan any more. Suddenly, while we were walking, a military fighter jet took off and passed by. It was so quick and very loud. We were too slow to take out our phones to get a picture but then three more jets followed suit. It was pretty cool to see how incredibly fast they go. We saw about eight jets in total during our walk, it was pretty awesome. I guess this is a common occurrence in Okinawa, especially in the Chatan area. It was really cool to see and hear. We have pretty good videos if anyone wants to see.
We walked for about two hours before going back to the American Village. We decided to have taco rice for dinner since it’s an Okinawan thing. I love making tacos at home, Tex-Mex/Old el Paso type of tacos. Usually when I make them we have a lot of leftovers so I started to make taco rice as our meal for the next day. So having taco rice in Okinawa felt like “home cooking” to me.
We both really enjoyed the taco rice. It “hit the spot” as Tim would say. It’s easy enough to make at home, but now we could modify ours and make omutaco rice too. My regular taco rice also had Dorito crumbs sprinkled on top. It was a nice touch and good for texture, I would definitely copy it if I had Doritos lying around. Most of the clientele at Taco Rice Cafe were Japanese tourists and Americans who probably lived on the base.
We planned on watching the sunset at Sunset Beach before we headed back to Naha. The sun sets in Okinawa at around 7pm, so we had a bit of time to spare. We walked to a mall close by called, Aeon. It was a store full of everything – groceries, cosmetics, clothes and toys. We spent a bunch of time perusing the merchandise.
Considering today was a very overcast day, the sun was shining really brightly through the clouds as it was setting. When we walked back to Sunset Beach, it seemed like a totally different place than the beach we visited earlier in the day. The tide was in and the sun was shining. It was an amazing sight to see (I love watching sunsets).
Finally, the sun went behind the clouds so we couldn’t see it go below the horizon. Before leaving for Naha, we wanted to try ice cream from “Blue Seal”. We saw a location when we first got off the bus and another one inside the American Village. Blue Seal is an American Okinawan ice cream company that was established in 1948, by an American based company. They built a factory inside a military base in order to supply the military with dairy products. In 1963, it moved out of the base and made its products available to Okinawans.
Tim and I shared a cone and picked the number one pick – “Okinawan salt cookies” (which was like vanilla with salted shortbread) and ube (taro). We sat outside on the balcony and ate our ice cream while staring at the lit up ferris wheel. It was a perfect way to end our day in Chatan.
We caught the back bus into town (this time from a stop further up) and it was 730 JPY = $8.30 CAD. The bus ride was about an hour long this time and we both fell asleep. It was a long day and the heat probably got to us a bit. Lucky we had a lot of water and drank Pocari Sweat.
I’m glad we visited Chatan. It was definitely an area that was very unique to Okinawa. We’re not American, but as Canadians, a lot of things that they get nostalgic over, we do too. For a bit, I did feel like I was in Hawaii with all the American stores, Americans, and Japanese tourists (basically the same thing, right?).
Tomorrow, we have to wake up earlier to get picked up for our tour to the aquarium. Looking forward to seeing the northern part of the island and finally getting to see a whale shark (we didn’t have any luck while we were the Maldives).
After a relatively late night of packing and getting things sorted, we woke up and were on our way out of the apartment by 11am (which was also our check out time). We were happy with our Airbnb experience in Tokyo and would be happy to stay in that apartment again.
We made our way to Shinjuku Station to take the train to Haneda Airport. It’s nice that we’re flying out of Haneda since it’s a lot closer to the city centre than Narita is. Our flight to Naha, Okinawa was at 2:45pm. We arrived at the domestic terminal at 12pm and took our time getting to the gate. While on the train, we were happy that our flight was on a Sunday, since maneuvering around the station and being on the train with our backpacks would be horrific during a weekday.
There are a quite a few stores in the public areas of the airport but once you cross security there isn’t much in the domestic terminal. We had lunch at Tenya (the same tempura don place we ate at in Osaka). Tim and I both agreed that we can eat cheaply in Japan and would be happy with it as we don’t seem to appreciate (Tim: the value proposition of) super expensive tempura. The jumbo prawn tempura I had in Roppongi Hills was the most expensive tempura I’ve eaten – at $12 for one piece (Tim: more than our entire meals combined at Tenya)!
Haneda is a nice airport, though the domestic terminal is kind of lacking in stores, I’m sure the international terminal is much better. Since we are flying ANA back home in July, we will be connecting through Haneda again for two hours before our final flight back to Vancouver. I was trying to scout out what stores are available on the international side (past security) so I know what I don’t need to buy until July.
While planning out Japan, one of the first two flights we booked was our flights to Okinawa and Sapporo. We knew we wanted to go to these two places but since they’re either not on the mainland or pretty far north, it wasn’t as easily accessible with the JR train pass. Luckily, I remembered my former manager talking about cheap domestic flights within Japan that are only available for foreigners. We did some research online and booked our two flights as soon as the flights for the spring and summer were available.
All domestic flights within Japan (regardless of how far) can be booked for 10,800 JPY = $120 CAD. This is a really good price and you also get the full amount of miles (Aeroplan points) for the discounted fare (Tim: I can’t remember the last time I got full miles on an Air Canada flight… you have to purchase Flex Fares which are close to double the price of their typically advertised Tango Fares.). All you have to do is provide your passport info as well as your booking number for your arrival and departure flights to Japan. You can book these discounted fares through the ANA’s Experience Japan Fare or through JAL’s Japan Explorer Pass (JAL seems to also have something called the Yokoso/Visit Japan Fare and Welcome to Japan Fare which seem to be similar promotions). We picked ANA mainly because it’s part of Star Alliance, so if you collect Aeroplan points, it’s best to fly ANA as JAL is part of One World (Cathay, British Airways, etc). When we looked to book the exact same flights as we wanted without the foreigner’s promotion, the price of the tickets were over $800 per person. A lot of people know about the JR pass but if you need to go between cities quickly or ones that aren’t as accessible, taking advantage of these cheap tickets is the way to go.
Our plane took about 20 minutes on the tarmac before taking off. They had to double check something on the plane. The flight to Okinawa was about 2.5 hours, and there was quite a bit of turbulence as we were getting closer to landing. The plane was a lot bigger than I thought it would be for a domestic flight (Tim: 777), but I guess Okinawa is a popular destination for a lot of Japanese people.
It was my first time flying ANA and I was actually surprised they only served us drinks for this flight, but I guess it was only a domestic flight. Drinks choices were green tea, apple juice, coffee and chicken consommé (?!).
As soon as we landed, you could tell it was super humid as the windows on the plane on the outside fogged up immediately. We were now closer to Taiwan than were to mainland Japan. When we got out of the plane, you could feel the warm tropical air and it was 27 degrees Celsius. Walking through the terminal, it felt like Hawaii in a sense. Everyone waiting for their flight out of Okinawa were in shorts and t-shirts and were slightly tanned or burned. And it seemed like the staff uniform for a lot of stores were floral printed shirts – very tropical looking.
We caught the monorail (which was only 2 cars long) to Asahibashi Station and walked about 8 minutes to our guest house. This was our first test walking with our backpacks in tropical weather and we both were sweating quite a bit. Are we going to die in Vietnam in June? (Tim: I’m pretty sure we won’t die since humans are pretty good at heat acclimatization).
When we we finally got to Villa Coast Nishimachi Guest House, we followed the instructions for the self-check in (the reception is only open until 6pm) which is pretty easy since they also sent me an email after we booked with instructions on how to get there and check in. We booked a double bed studio off Expedia after reading really good reviews about this place. When we got into the room, I was both very pleasantly surprised with the space and cleanliness for $62.44 CAD a night.
I realize that when posting these pictures for people back home, this doesn’t look very impressive but anything that’s extremely clean (Tim: not too hard to find in Japan), we’re happy with. And if it has a washer, even better! I see why this place has high ratings on TripAdvisor, there’s a guide for the room and even a list of suggested restaurants around the area that are favourites of the guest house managers. Although reception isn’t around 24 hours and it feels like we’re staying in an apartment rather than a hotel, you feel very supported.
We decided to pick a place from the suggested restaurants for dinner tonight and plan out our next three days in Okinawa. We went to an Izakaya restaurant called, Himitsu-Kichi, about a 3 minute walk away. The building looked a bit tiki-hut-ish and we were seated upstairs in our own private little booth. All the food was really good, and the drinks were very cheap (alcoholic cocktails were only like $3 CAD, too bad I don’t really drink). We ordered a salad, chicken skewers, grilled squid, an omurice with gravy, chicken karaage, an Orion Beer (an Okinawan Beer), and coke for 3,988 JPY = $45 CAD.
After a delicious first meal in Okinawa, we headed back to the guest house and bought some water along the way at Family Mart. It was now pouring rain (but still very warm) on our walk back. It’s rainy season right now, so hopefully it won’t be crazy rain all the time.
I first heard about Okinawa while working at my Aunt’s store in Stanley Park (Tim: and I first hear about Okinawa while watching The Karate Kid Part II… looking forward to witnessing some ice breaking, since that’s a thing right?). I used to work there each summer when I was younger and got to meet a lot of people from around the world. One of my coworkers was from Okinawa and I heard it was like the “Hawaii of Japan”. The way she described home sounded awesome. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so when I think of Okinawans, I think of her. Since then, I’ve always wanted to visit.
The city of Naha is a very slow and quiet town from what we’ve seen so far. A totally different scene from Tokyo. It feels nice to take it down a notch after being in two large cities back to back.
Looking forward to exploring more of the island and seeing a very different part of Japan.