From Guam, we were able to catch a hop to Okinawa, Japan. Although our stay was short, we did our best to cram as much as we could into our stay.
Once we arrived, we hit the ground running – we rented a car and took off to explore Shuri Castle. Being so excited to get out and explore, we didn’t give much thought to anything else. We had the rental car agent program in our destination as well as directions to return to the base and we took off. We arrived at the park without any trouble and pulled into a roadside parking lot. We spent the late afternoon exploring the castle grounds and museum.
We then stopped at a small café for dinner only to find that no one spoke English and the menu was mostly in Japanese. Luckily for us, there were pictures of some items with translations into English! Pointing and nodding went a long way. We opted for noodles, purple yam donuts, fried taro and pork paste, Okinawa rice porridge, and some sort of stir fry tofu dish. Everything was delicious! I’m not sure why we didn’t get any pictures. Ray always mocks me when I take pictures of food – not that it stops me – but I guess I must have been worn out.
After the day of travel and exploration and with full bellies, we got back to the car to find that we needed cash to get out of the lot, of which we had exactly 0. So we set out on a completely new adventure to find an ATM, which was quite easy. The ATM, however, only accepted cards issued by Japanese banks. We were pointed to a bank, but had the same problem with the ATM not accepting a U.S. card. Ray tried a grocery store to see if he could use his debit card and get cash back, but all he ended up with was a small chocolate ice cream and no cash back. The pointing and nodding didn’t work out so well this time.
Finally, we went back to the convenience store near the car park and we used the translation app on my phone (not sure why we didn’t think of that in the first place!!!) to ask the clerks how we might get money for the park. After some back and forth, one clerk accompanied us to our car and paid for us to get out. The cost was 800 Yen or about $6.50 USD. We gave him a $20 bill (USD) for his help. Lesson learned.
After acquiring some Yen, we sent out on day two for another adventure. This time we went to Okinawa World, a touristy park that included a cave walk, reptile show, and huge vendor village. The cave offered some relief from the heat. While much smaller than other caves we have been to (Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana and Cave Junction in Oregon), this cave was still quite active with flowing water, stalactites and stalagmites growing, and several cave creatures – fish, shrimp, and bats.
The reptile show seemed more cruel than educational. The first thing we witnessed was the handler harassing one snake with balloons until it struck out at one and popped it, spraying venom all over the glass enclosure. Next, they demonstrated how a cobra was weakest when its hood was flared and it was in attack stance. They did this be slapping the cobra on the back of the head multiple times. The finale was a race between a mongoose and a water snake through water-filled, glass tubes. The mongoose won the race – the water snake was quite at home in the water while the mongoose, not being a good swimmer, was swimming for its life. They used to have a fight to the death, but animal protection laws have put an end to that show.
Both Shuri Castle and Okinawa World are south of Kadena AFB, so on our third day in Okinawa, we headed north where the island is far less populated. We caught our first views of the East China Sea, which I think is the most beautiful water I have ever seen. Not everyone in the family agreed with that statement, but agreed it was beautiful nonetheless.
We made our way to Hiji Falls and took the 1 mile hike up a winding path of stairs that led up and down and finally to the falls. Ray took the time to provide some video footage of the falls and one of the creatures we encountered (videos here). The forest was alive with cicadas and we did encounter a bug or two, but overall the walk was fairly bug-free.
At the end of the hike we stopped to get a refreshing drink at the vending machine. Vending machines are everywhere in Okinawa. And I do mean everywhere! They are all along the streets and along roads where there is nothing else for miles. There are two, three, four in a row. You can get soda, fruit drinks, and even Tommy Lee Jones’ coffee products. Apparently, Tommy Lee Jones is the “Boss” in Okinawa… who knew.
We spent one additional day in Okinawa, but didn’t leave the base. We had hoped to catch a flight, but it wasn’t in the cards. We did make it to Fussa (western Tokyo), Japan and had planned to spend at least one day in Tokyo, but there was a flight the next day with 40 seats to Singapore that we decided to shoot for. Turns out, there were only about 17 people and our name was at the top of the list, so no Tokyo this time and we set off to explore Singapore…