Okinawa, exploring a blue zone

We knew we wanted to visit Japan during March and the cheapest way for us to travel there from Hong Kong was to fly into Okinawa.  I thought there was a connection with the U.S. military, but I really knew more about it from having watched a Netflix special on blue zones around the world.  Okinawa is one of the places with a much higher than normal percentage of its population living over the age of 100.  After a week here, I could see why it would be such a place! The abundance of fresh produce and fish available at the supermarket as well as the surrounding seaside would make it an amazing place to live. 

When we arrived at the airport in Okinawa, we went through immigration and customs and then picked up a rental car to drive to our home for the week in Chatan.  We immediately found it interesting that both immigration/customs and the car rental required multiple checkpoints along the way.  It seemed that they had a lot of extra people doing extra jobs that seemed a bit unnecessary.  Maybe they are just making sure that nothing or no one falls through the cracks?

Welcome to Okinawa!

We drove about 45 minutes north to our Airbnb, which was a small apartment located above Beer Rize pub.  It was the perfect size for us and had a huge deck for the kids to run around and get some fresh air on.  We were also only a couple of blocks from an oceanfront path that ran several miles along the coast. 

Goose and I walked a couple of blocks to the supermarket to load up on groceries for the week.  As we went in, we were overwhelmed by the cartoon music playing and all the products written in Japanese. It took us well over an hour to find everything we needed as we had to spend so much time using Google Translate to help us identify most of the products. It ended up being a fun game for Goose and me! The other thing that struck us was how many Americans were in the grocery store. We spent the last six months travelling all around Asia, hardly seeing anyone from the U.S.  It was so surprising to see so many US military men and women and their families walking around.  To them it was no big deal, but to us, it was crazy!

Our first few days in Okinawa were quiet.  We explored our neighborhood, James and I took morning runs along the water, the kids caught up on school and we sampled Blue Seal ice cream every day. 

First of many Blue Seal ice creams

All of us were excited to have a kitchen for the week to be able to cook for ourselves and eat in.  We bought fresh, local sushi grade fish and ate that almost every night.  Manji was in heaven as he is our big sushi lover!

On the boardwalk near our apartment

Okinawa is a scuba diving paradise and James had his sights set on diving while we were there.  After much searching, he found Aloha Divers Okinawa and he and Goose woke up early one morning. They drove an hour and dove in some of the clearest, bluest water they have ever seen.  James said the visibility was even better than our previous dives on Gili T, which we loved.  I’m so glad the two of them got to enjoy the experience and refresh all their skills they had just learned.  I was especially proud of Goose.  How cool to be 10 years old and scuba diving AND in Okinawa! He was nervous on their drive to the dive shop, but he and James were able to work through all his jitters and had a wonderful time!

Goose and James on their scuba dive (Photo credit: Aloha Divers Okinawa)

While James and Goose were diving, Manji, Bingo and I went to the Okinawa Zoo and Wonder Museum.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and we arrived to join several school groups who were also visiting.  The zoo had mandrills, lions, giraffes and hippos.  The cages they were in were so small and it was a little sad to see, but they appeared to be healthy and well cared for otherwise.  The craziest part, though, was seeing the chimpanzees.  As soon as we walked in, one ran up the glass right in front of Bingo and smacked the window! It startled us all! I’m not sure what the communication was, but he clearly was not happy with our presence!

We treated ourselves to more Blue Seal ice cream while at the zoo and then went to a small science museum that was also on property.  Both kids had a blast trying the exhibits and we played until they were thoroughly exhausted. As soon as we walked through the door to find James, Bingo declared, “Well, you just missed a great day!” Everyone was in high spirits and it was a great reminder that sometimes space from each other can be such a gift!

Not sure that eating Blue Seal ice cream is a reason for Okinawa to be a blue zone but it certainly tastes good!

Blue Seal ice cream at the zoo

That evening we had dinner at Beer Rize, the pub below our AirBnb.  We walked in and it was full of American military! The pub owner also owned our AirBnb and he invited us down for free beers, which led to dinner.  He had Beach Boys playing in the background and it felt like a bygone era.  Again, James and I couldn’t believe all the Americans after being solo for months! 

The following day, Goose led us on a hike around Zakimi Castle Ruins.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day and we enjoyed being outside and taking in the views of the coastline. 

Zakimi Castle hike

After, we drove about 10 minutes west to Cape Zanpa Lighthouse.  It was an unexpected, amazing find for the afternoon. And, it even included a stop in the parking lot for some sweet potato soft serve ice cream (called Beni Imo!).  The lighthouse was on the edge of a cliff, with beautiful deep blue waves slapping against the rock.  We watched several people walking along the cliffs and it looked terrifying to us! One wrong step and you’d plummet to frigid waters!

The stunning views of Okinawa gives you an idea of how it is a blue zone, with incredible views of the Pacific ocean.

Views from Cape Zanpa Lighthouse

On our last day in Okinawa, we headed north to Nago for a beach day.  We found Seikinomori Park, which had huge fields and a gorgeous beach.  We packed a picnic lunch and spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and splashing in the clear, but chilly, water!  

One of our favorite parts of exploring Okinawa as a blue zone was enjoying all of the beautiful beaches

Beach day at Nago

As we headed out the last day, we stopped at the Peace Memorial Museum.  While in Okinawa, we spent a lot of time homeschooling on the Battle of Okinawa.  James and I had very little knowledge of this event and it was shocking to learn about its history.  The Peace Museum is dedicated to the battle and it tells the story of the events that occurred.  The park is enormous and set upon a hill along the coastline.  We spent an hour going through the exhibits and to say we were shocked is an understatement.  It was so intense that we all had to walk away in the final room. That room was comprised of individual testimonies describing unspeakable things that the local Okinawan people experienced. 

Okinawa – it’s traditional Japan meets laid back beach vibes!  We loved our time on the island!

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