Part 5 in the Japan 2019 series. Part 4 is here.
I hadn’t quite anticipated being out the night before out 5 o’clock start. Narita airport isn’t exactly close, hence we were on the airport train at 6am. We were flying with Jetstar, a low cost airline, but because we were taking hold luggage we got exit row seats and a voucher for the on-plane catering amounting to a KitKat or Pringles and a drink.
The flight was two and a half hours, and to say it was slightly rough is an understatment. The airport came into view, and then we were away again. Before long I realised we were circling, though there was no announcement explaining why we couldn’t land for a long time which was a tad unsettling. Finally we started to descend…towards water. We got closer and closer, the nervous energy building. Then suddenly the tarmack came into view and we were on the runway. I’m sure it was perfectly innocent and they were just waiting for a slot, but it’s the closest I’ve felt to a ‘what happens if we don’t actually land?’ moment.
The cases were unloaded efficiently and we made our way to the Yui monorail, the main public transport on Okinawa and the only rail line. Naha is the city on the main island, and for some reason I had the idea that an island town should be undeveloped with scattered palm trees and a not much going on. Naha is big, bright and bustling. If you had me blindfolded and transported there, I would’ve happily belived it was somewhere on the main islands of Japan. Our hotel was the Aqua Citta Naha, but we arrived too early so cases were dumped and we headed off into the market district. On our way we stopped off in a little café and had smoothies made with Okinawan fruit, and a slice of cake.
Okinawa is THE domestic tourism destination for mainland Japanese people (little bit misleading considering mainland Japan is made up of loads of islands.) There are quite a few shops selling tat, but there are some beautiful local crafts, too. We picked up a pair of glasses made on Okinawa with some fluorescent minerals embedded, and managed to squeeze in a visit to the local Donki.
Back to the hotel, and straight to the rooftop pool overlooking the city. The views were quite impressive for a budget hotel, and the pool had a curved glass edge overlooking the street below. Slightly jarring but an experience all the same. The water was anything but warm, and thankfully there was a hottub next to the pool we could warm up in. The rooftop bar was a tad expensive for what it was so we headed out to grab dinner in the city.
We were heading towards Yappari Steak 2nd, a joint offering cheap but great quality beef. Our path to dinner brought us past a rather unusual bar. Rather shabby from the outside, the inside was a mishmash of different seats and tables and various styles. Hardly high class, but we sat down and ordered drinks. Looking around it was a standard affair, but against the back wall was a floor to ceiling tank. Fish? Nope. Penguins! We were in Penguin Bar Fairy, the only place in Okinawa where you can have a pint and watch penguins be…penguins. I wasn’t a massive fan of the enclosure size, and I can’t imagine it’s an optimal habitat, but the animals seemed happy enough and we got to feed them fish. They had a deep area to swim in, and a land portion as well. A bizarre experience, but worth seeing if you’re in the area. I’m at a loss as to how they came up with the idea. Utilising the age old “Penguins + X = profit” formula, probably.
Time for Yappari Steak 2nd. As the name suggests, it’s the second Yappari Steak restaurant to open in Okinawa. An unassuming, rough and ready vending machine ticket eatery, it would be easy to judge it upfront and steer clear. Looks can be deceiving. By the time we were sitting down to eat, it was well after 9pm, but this place stays open all night long. We arrived and were greeted by an enthusiastic employee who showed us how to use the vending machine, and then took the ticket off us to bring to the chef. This defeated the whole purpose of the vending machine concept, but it made for a pleasant experience. We went for the 1000 yen option (about £7.50) for 180g of steak each and unlimited pasta salad, cabbage and rice. Shortly after sitting down, our steak arrived on individual sizzling griddles. We are both fans of rare to medium-rare steak so this was the perfect option. The meat was excellent for the price, and the range of accompanying sauces was great. Japan can really do beef.
We picked up some cake and ‘waffles’ from the Family Mart at the end of the road and made our way back to the hotel for an early start the next morning.
To the Queen Zamami!
Continued in Part 6