Every end of April and early May, there are a consecutive number of holidays which the Japanese refer to as “Golden Week”. For some at NAIST, it is a chance to take a break from the busyness of daily business. It is the time to take a rest from research and have a remarkable relaxing respite.
In my case, I was fortunate enough to visit the Okinawa islands for the holidays. Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, is known for its beautiful beaches, tropical vibes, and accommodating people. Though part of Japan, their unique culture and history distinguish this place from the mainland of Honshu.
From Okinawa-ben of saying haisai and mensore instead of konnichiwa and irrashaimase, to their special cuisine and distinct architecture – this tropical paradise would be enjoyable for any tourist, (especially stressed-out students) to visit, relax, and take a break from mind-bending research.
From NAIST, it takes around 2 hours to the Kansai International Airport (KIX) where one can take a domestic flight to Okinawa for another 2 hours. Surprisingly, the flight is cheaper than a one-way shinkansen (bullet train) ride to Tokyo! Then, upon arriving at the Naha airport, you can take a bus or monorail into the city center.
Within Naha, you can visit several places such as the Kokusai Dori shopping street and the Shuri Castle. You can start to enjoy Okinawan cuisine such as varying Okinawa soba places and steak houses. I frequently visited Yappari Steakhouse for their affordable and tasty steak, in tandem with their tabehoudai or unlimited serving of rice and salad.
Unlike most of Japan, the other parts of Okinawa are not as accessible via trains, and buses may be a bit sparse at times. So if possible, travel via rental car is the most convenient option — just make sure to have a license and a couple of friends to split the bill.
Then after a 30-40 mins drive from Naha, you can reach Chatan which has the famous American Village of Okinawa. Neon lights, lively music, and a cheerful atmosphere — you may forget that you’re still in Japan. This place offers multiple foreign eating establishments and shopping boutiques that are unique to the area. It is located by the seaside with a nice blend of Japanese and Western culture that gives such a memorable experience. Personally, my favorite area in the American Village is the Christmas Land where it feels like Christmas every day because of the decorations and beautiful lights.
Of course, it would be foolish to go to Okinawa without visiting the beaches. With numerous coasts to choose from, it would be difficult to choose the best beach to go to. Nearest to the American Village would be the Araha beach which may get crowded at times but offers a lively coast with nice white sand and clear waters. Other places that I visited were the more secluded Azama Sun Sun beach, Manza beach, and Cape Maeda which is famous for divers who want to visit the Blue Cave.
In addition to swimming on the beaches, one can enjoy a kayaking experience along a mangrove forest in the Yambaru National Park. The Yambaru kayak club offers a guided tour along the forest while kayaking, and it was quite fascinating to row through the undergrowth. Then, if you’re feeling adventurous (as I did), you can flip your own boat and just enjoy the cool waters.
Another popular destination is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It contains hundreds of aquatic species, among the most famous of which is the jinbeizame or whale shark. It also features different rays, sharks, and dolhpins, in addition to beautiful coral reefs and deep-sea creatures.
Truly, Okinawa has so many sites and experiences to offer that spending more than a week here and its neighboring islands is definitely worth it. But personally, what made traveling here most memorable were the people I went with and those whom I met along the way. Without them, traveling in Okinawa would have been much different. Friends from NAIST made it such a fun and remarkable experience, and even the locals were so kind and friendly. So make sure to go with good company – or if solo travel is your thing – to greet the locals pleasantly. By doing so, you may enjoy a respite from research.