Travel: Arriving on Okinawa

Okinawa travel guide

So Pokemon Go has taken over my life and I have found zero time to blog between catching Pokemon and my job. Time management is hard, yo. I really want to write a couple of posts on Okinawa, though, so here is my first one, where I talk about arriving and our first impressions of this stunning island.

Okinawa has some public transportation, but nowhere near as much as the big cities on mainland Japan. It is advisable to rent a car when you come to the island because there is a lot to explore! HUGE disclaimer though: be sure to check the requirements to driving in Japan with a foreign license. Approximately 99% of all countries worldwide get by with an international driver's license, but Belgium has apparently refused to sign some international treaty or other and that means that Belgian drivers need an official translation of their license to drive in Japan. You can order one of those yourself online, but it takes quite some time to get back to Belgium, and I only found out about this 1 week before leaving. Yes, FML. 

However, after some frantic googling I figured out that Japan-Experience offers an official license translation service for €60 if you rent a car via them, and they can get  everything in order within 2 weeks which was JUST enough time to have the translation delivered to our Fukuoka hotel before flying to Okinawa. Yes, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life when I tried to figure everything out, but I did and it all worked out in the end. We rented a small car with an English GPS system from them for about €250 for five days, which is a pretty good deal, and we loved their customer's service. Oh, another great tip: you don't have to pay by credit card if you rent your car here (cash is OK), nor do you need to have a credit card registered to the driver. Most places do demand that, but not everyone has a credit card so I figured it would be a good tip to share.

Turns out, Naha airport only has one landing/takeoff strip, so we were caught in limbo circling Naha for about an hour before we could land. And there was some hellacious turbulence. And I had to pee. Safe to say, we were feeling less than stellar when we finally got off the plane, it was raining, and then we still had to find our shuttle service, rent our car, and finish that 40 minute drive over to Chatan (left side driving stress!) where I had booked our Airbnb. The adorable sticker on our little Nissan rental did cheer us up a bit!

nissan car rental okinawa

We didn't fall in love with Okinawa straight away. After modern, thriving Fukuoka, Naha felt a bit... disorganised and urbanised in the wrong kind of way? Like a place that has grown very rapidly without someone making sure that everything goes together? You definitely feel that this is a poorer region of Japan, and it has that fishing village vibe.

Chatan, Okinawa

However, our mood made a dramatic change for the better when we arrived at our adorable, surprisingly spacious appartment (basically a bedroom + kitchen/hallway + bathroom + balcony). it doesn't look like much and it was hard to photograph, but it felt very clean yet cozy and homy straight away. While my boyfriend went out to Lawson across the street for some snacks and drinks, I was drawn to the seaside balcony. Even though it was raining a bit, that sea view immediately set my mind at ease and made me forget about the struggle to get there.


Thankfully, we'd had most of the rain for that day and the evening was cloudy but dry, allowing us to take a little walk around the neighborhood before buying dinner at the nearby San A in Hamby Town.

Araha beach
Araha beach
Araha beach

Getting from the appartment to Araha beach took us about three minutes, through a little park, and that's the moment I fell in love with Okinawa. This was the place I'd been dreaming of visiting, that Hawaiian paradise type vibe, the warm, tropical breeze, the palm trees, surprisingly quiet despite being near a well traveled road, and that fresh sea scent. I'll never forget this place.

Araha beach
starfish hairpin, off shoulder dress, beach
white dress
my dress is from Warehouse, and my starfish hairpin was a Fukuoka buy

Along the beach, there were some appartment buildings, but also restaurants and shops: Chatan is a GREAT place to stay on holiday because of its central location on Okinawa, making day trips to both the south and the north very convenient. At night during the weekends, little thrift shops set up stall along the road, and behind the appartment buildings on the sea side, there is a tropical foliage lined path that takes you along tiny little caf├ęs where all kinds of cool surfer type people come to chill all night. I forgot to take a picture but I will next time we visit.

chatan, okinawa

At night, you could clearly see the American Village from our balcony, with the ferris wheel as its most obvious landmark. I'll take you there in a next post.

American village chatan

The next morning, we got breakfast at San A and had it al fresco on one of the picnic tables next to Araha beach. It was incredibly windy, but a little breeze won't keep me from being on top of the world when I'm on a tropical beach!

Araha beach picnic tables
& other stories under the sea print dress

Perfect backdrop for my & Other Stories under the sea print dress. It got a little rainy in the afternoon, and I had spotted an Uniqlo on our drive over to Chatan, so off we went to do some more shopping. I got the skirt I'd been lusting over in Fukuoka but told myself I didn't need (turns out I did), we bought souvenirs at Daiso, and an extra suitcase at one of the thriftshops that are everywhere near Chatan. Pro tips: always bring an extra suitcase when you go to Japan. You'll need it.

Araha beach sunset

Again, in the evening the weather cleared up so after changing into my new clothes, we headed out to watch the sunset before dinner.

Uniqlo eyelet blouse, white skirt
Araha beach sunset
Uniqlo eyelet blouse
Araha beach sunset
Araha beach sunset
Araha beach sunset
Araha beach sunset

Not much more to say here except that this sunset was probably one of the happiest moments in my life. I'm very grateful to have experienced it, and more importantly, that thinking back doesn't fill me with sadness. I used to have this feeling that pure, true happiness was rare, and that a moment like this would never come back, making my experience of it tainted by a feeling of preemptive loss. I don't have that anymore. Now I know that I'll make more of these moments for myself, maybe even better ones.

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