Posts Tagged ‘Asia Travel’

After a while of relaxing by the pool with a chilled glass of Orion, we felt that we were just about ready to head off and do some exploring, in what could be seen as a different country rather than just another part of Japan – Okinawa, but more on that later. Seeing as we weren’t receiving our rental car until tomorrow, we had to make use of our 1 day monorail pass that we had picked up earlier at the airport. On today’s agenda was a famous pottery district on Naha – Tsuboya and of course one of the most famous roads of the island itself – Kokusaidori. 

Jumping on the monorail we got off at the nearest station and started making our way over to Kokusaidori of which Tsuboya is a turn off about 10 minutes down the street. On the way we grabbed a bite to eat at the local Mos Burger and noticed that the Mos Burgers here had a slight variation on the menu from the mainland –  they had additional toppings of the Goya vegetable. The Goya vegetable depicted to the right is an very bitter vegetable which is extremely famous in Okinawa, I haven’t looked into the research as of yet, but many believe that the Goya vegetable is one of the main reasons why Okinawa has a staggering large amount of people aging to up and beyond 100 years old. Needless to say, in my opinion the Goya vegetable is pretty unlikable due to its bitterness and will most likely not be liked by anyone who only likes mainstream food. Fortunately for us there was a typical Mos Burger chili dog on the menu, so I downed a few of these before making our way into the entrance to Kokusaidori. 

Kokusaidori is a very famous area of Naha, and is characterized by several American related goods stores, and more importantly little souvenir Shisa gifts made from pottery and the like. The street is filled with shops where you can pick up anything from T-Shirts to Beer glasses with the local lingo stamped. There is a strong American presence on the street, and most tourists inevitably end up here when staying in Naha. To go along with this there is several bars and restaurants selling American food if that is what you’re into. Along the street there is two very notable stops, the first being Blue Seal Ice Creamery which has made itself as one of the more famous brands on the island, and the Jump shop selling unique merchandise from the Jump brand with a noticeable Okinawan difference. While not so famous, but equally as impressive in terms of taste is a small frozen Yogurt store where you pay per gram and you can choose from a wide variety of flavours and toppings. If you end up finding the yogurt store as it is not as well known as Blue Seal, definitely stop by to taste arguably some of the best frozen yogurt you could probably get your hands on. While your shopping on Kokusaidori, if you get lucky there will be some form of traditional dance and drumming along the street raising money for something. Whether you choose to give any money or not is up to you, but either way you’ll get to see some traditional arts of which you might usually need to go to some kind of festival or bar for. 

Finishing off with Kokusaidori we made our way into Tsuboya Pottery district. Getting to Tsuboya requires you walking through a long arcade with a plethora of shops on both sides as per usual Japanese style. The shops range from dried fish to souvenir stores, however you’ll know when you’ve reached Tsuboya as there will be pottery everywhere. If you can’t find your way, kindly ask people along the way and English or not they should be able to point you in the right direction if you say ‘Tsuboya’. Tsuboya starts at the end of the arcade and goes for about 1 kilometer and eventually ends up on a main road. You’ll notice the small lion type creature on most of the roofs in this area as it is the local guardian ‘Shisha’. This is probably the most popular souvenir in the area as every pottery shop having Shisha’s in all shapes and sizes or even a Shisha carved into plates. Before splurging on a pottery souvenir I suggest walking for about 10 minutes to get a taste for what each store has, as there is a large variation in price and quality from store to store. A quick tip is if you want a souvenir pick up a small Shisha statue, the guardians always come in pairs and if you get one, the other is obviously free. The best part of this is if its a gift, you can give two to friends and family for the price of one. After picking up our own souvenirs we made our way by Monorail to the DFS factory outlets of Naha.

DFS Factory outlets has a monorail stop right outside the building and if you keep your eye outside the monorail there is no way you’ll miss this building. There isn’t a lot of selection in relation to high end fashion, which is a shame unless your wallet is full of cash, but at the exchange rate we were getting at the time, everything in general cost us more than what we would of been paying back at home so we skipped out on buying a lot of nice clothes. Needless to say there is a huge variety to choose from the high end brands of Gucci, Channel, Hugo, Ralph and the like. When we were done it was getting dark and there was still a bit of rain that was coming down every once and a while so we made our way back to Chisun Hotel and Resort and called it a day, as we had a full day up at the Ocean Expo park coming up. 

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An early start to catch the Airport Limosine took us to Kansai International yet again. This airport is well known for its unique architecture and more importantly being built on a man made island. However this makes Kansai International (KIX) one of the top 5 most expensive airports to land at in the world, which has resulted in not as many airlines taking up slots, and as a further result has continued to maintain the high cost of air transportation from Japan and abroad; This however is getting better with budget airlines starting surface (Skymark) and the possibility that ANA will introduce a low cost carrier to compete with the current Shinakansen network. If you are interested there is another relatively large airport in Nagoya and there is another airport in Kobe, which more or less sums up the Kansai region for air travel. We boarded our JAL plane which was scheduled to take off at 9:00 and as it was a tropical destination with no storms predicted, the plane took off in the usual Japanese ‘on-time’ fashion. Total flight time was approximately 2 hours, and when landing all you can really see outside the plane window is ocean, giving you the illusion that the plane is coming in for a crash landing. At the very last minute you see a bit of land and your already touching down on the run way. 

As the plane taxi’s around the runway you can look farther afield and see part of Japan’s self defense air-force as there is a small Japanese airbase connected to Naha Airport. We were soon on the way to the gate before finding out we had to wait a good 15 minutes or so as there was another plane blocking our path. Being a small airport/coupled with island ‘take-it-easy’ life one would come to expect small delays. On a side note though, – a tribute to Japanese efficiency once again as our plane boarded and debarked within 15 minutes or so. Overall the flight was quite smooth and we had relatively good service even though at the time of flying JAL was still undergoing major changes as the airline had faced a lot of problems over the last few years. I do give credit to the hostesses for really putting in the effort to make the flight run smoother (from what I heard a lot of the problems were attributed to horrendous service which was partially due to bad attitudes etcetera, don’t quote me on that though)

Moving towards the domestic exit and looking out the viewing glasses onto the runway and other gates I was lucky enough to spot the infamous Pokemon Plane which usually flies this route. Even though I was unlucky enough to be on this plane and I am not too sure exactly who to book for that specific plane, I did get to see and photograph it which was a good start to the day. The Pokemon Plane in my opinion is another one of those ‘only-in-Japan’ things you get to see by visiting this very unique country. Before heading out the exit you can take advantage of the duty free in Naha Airport. Okinawa the only domestic island in Japan that allows you to purchase duty free for domestic flights, this could be attributed to the fact that the island is quite far away from Honshu and the rest of Japan. As we were flying domestic we exited without any security checks or hold ups and we were on our way to the monorail which is the only form of train system on Okinawa (in saying that it doesn’t take you all over the island either). 

The best way to see Okinawa is to take advantage of an International Drivers license and rent a car, car rental is quite cheap and provides you with the most flexibility. Alternatively you can use the bus system but with this you are confined to sticking to a time table. But more on the driving of a car to come in later blogs of this series. The monorail has individual tickets starting from around 190 yen and go up to 290 yen for the longest journey. A day ticket costs about 600 yen and go up per consecutive day. The day pass is definitely good value for money as you are more than likely to take more than 3 trips on the monorail system in a single day. If your lucky there is usually staff selling these day passes as soon as you walk into the ticketing area, which will be very helpful if you are a first timer to buying a Japanese rail ticket using the machines. 

We boarded the monorail and made our way to Asahibashi station to make our way to the Chisun Resort Hotel which is part of the Loisir group. The hotel is extremely good value at 5000 yen for 2 people per night and overall was quite homey and spacious with good facilities. The hotel is split into 3 different hotels and the Chisun Resort Hotel is the cheaper of the 3. For a small fee you can use the pool, spa and hot spring facilities which come free with the more expensive rooms and hotels (from memory for unlimited use of the pool/hot spring it costs about 1500 yen per person for your entire stay. The pool is quite nice and is surrounded by an outdoor restaurant and bar which has different styles of Japanese cuisine in most nights. It is usually quite busy so its quite good to book ahead if you want to eat here. Food ranges from Shabu Shabu to Yakiniku. I suggest grabbing an ice cold frosted glass of the local beer Orion, while soaking up some rays poolside.

One main point to note while finishing up this blog is the unpredictable weather being a tropical island. When we arrived it was sunny, a few minutes later clouds blocked out the sun, then the sun came out again and then there was sun showers. So it’s good to plan for variety of different tropical weather patterns when heading to Okinawa. Getting to Okinawa was only just the beginning and we had planned days worth of activities to fill up the week we were to stay for!

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