Castles, pancakes, Naha and more in which we had the car for the day and so proceeded to drive everywhere

Travel ?? Comments Sun 30 November 2014

It was 6.30am on a Saturday morning, and there was a heavy fog rolling in from the ocean, engulfing Tancha beach. Yet we moved forward with ambition (At least it's not pouring, I remember remarking). Tania had arrived from UWA the day before, and through some absurd intern voodoo magic had managed to book the OIST car for a full day (a full day! In comparison we were told it was booked out for the entire weekend).

We had the car from 7am to 6.30pm, so the current plan was to go everywhere we could south of OIST, ending up at Naha, the capital of Okinawa-Honto (finally, civilization!).

Jakkapoes Pancakes, Toya

Unfortunately for us, nothing in Okinawa seems to open before 9am. Except for Jakkapoes Pancakes in Toya, The Best Damn American Pancakes This Side of the International Date Line™. And as much as we wanted to try and stick to local Okinawan cuisine, hey, Okinawa was occupied by the US until 1972 (even going as far as to use the US dollar and drive on the right hand side of the road). There are still 20,000 American's stationed on Okinawa in fact. So, we figured, American pancakes isn't too much of a stretch (or so we told ourselves).


Driving our OIST kei car

Toya beach

Waiting impatiently for Jakkapoes to open

Although it turns out even Jakkapoes doesn't open till 8am. This meant we got to explore the rather picturesque beach right next door. Perfect for our must-photograph-everything-tourist-phase.

Toya beach

Toya beach

Toya beach

Low tide. The perfect time for pictures!

Toya beach

Case in point. Fulfilling our tourist stereotype.

Toya beach


Toya beach

Behind the scenes of my piece de resistance 'Crab'

Finally, time for breakfast. And Jakkapoes didn't disappoint, with presentation so good we were forced (forced) to whip out our cameras and document it. Funnily enough, the remaining patrons consisted of an American family with kids and US marines. A testament to the quality of the pancakes, yet at the same time a reminder of the American influence on Okinawa.

Toya beach

Pancakes? More like artwork

Toya beach

Next stop: instagram

Mihama American Village, Chatan

Feeling we needed just a bit more imersion in American culture, we began the drive to our next stop; Chatan, a reasonable sized town in the central Okinawa-Honto. The main attraction: Mihama American Village, a slice of the American broadwalk smack-bang in the middle of Okinawa.

It was a pretty surreal change of scenery, however, being 9am, everything was pretty much shut (save Starbucks, where I shamelessly stood outside and stole the free wifi). So after wondering around for a bit, we decided to head back past Toya to Yomitan (30 minutes back the way we came!) to check out the Zakimi castle ruins.

Which, being outside, are open 24/7 (finally!).

Mihama American Village, Chatan

Mihama American Village, Chatan

Chatan beach

Standing on the Chatan groyne

Zakimi Castle, Yomitan

Zakimi castle was actually quite impressive. Built in 1422, and used in World War II as gun emplacement by the Japanese, all that remains of it is its stone walls. Which you can actually walk along, surprisingly enough for a UNESCO heritage listed site.

But its location on the top of a hill and the surrounding forest makes it even more spectacular; on a clear day, we were told that you can even see Naha in the distance.


The hill leading to Zakimi castle

zakimi castle

Zakimi castle ruins

walking on the walls

Walking along the walls

It was now 10.30am, and we were rejoicing. Things were open! Stuff to do! Things to see! Food! First stop: back to Chatan for the C-1 International Food Battle.

Chatan Baseball Park, Chatan

I was honestly expecting some sort of Iron Chef-esque event from the name, but I learnt from Tania that it was just a street food style 'battle', in which you purchase food from vendors before voting for who you thought should win (last year, the Indian restaurant Bollywood Dreams was victorious).

Okay, slight downgrade from the Iron Chef event I was expecting. But hey, you can't argue with an international food festival. And although it started to rain half-heartedly just as we arrived, the food was pretty exciting.

The food battle

The food battle. I had number 2 - deliciously tender beef on rice. With chips as well, because why not.


Cooking the beef. Perhaps it was Kobe beef, we wondered.

bollywood dreams

Bollywood Dreams, 2013 Champions


Everyone huddled together, safe from the rain

Shuri Castle, Naha

Next stop: Naha, and straight on to see Shuri castle, the former royal palace and administrative center of The Kingdom of the Ryūkyūs, before they were annexed by Japan in 1879.

Shuri Entrance

The entrance to Shuri castle

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, with panoramic views of Naha, Shuri castle was unfortunately destroyed in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, with the present castle reconstructed in 1992. Although still spectacular to look at, it didn't (at least for me) have the same sense of 'awe' surrounding it that I felt at Zakimi castle.

Perhaps it was the high density of tourists, the sense of poignancy surrounding all the missing cultural and historical artifacts that can never be recovered, or the fact that you have to remove your shoes when entering the museum. (The joys of packing lite and bringing only snowshoes - I keep telling myself next month in Russia I'll probably be more thankful).

In contrast, I'd never seen Tania so motivated - she was on a quest to collect all 11 stamps from stations around the castle in order to collect a free sticker!


Giant Shisa guarding the palace walls


The royal courtyard


The throne (also a reconstruction)


Putting my shoes back on afterwards


Since we were basically in Naha (albeit the eastern edge), we decided to head in and check out the city. Luckily, Naha has a monorail that goes straight from Shuri castle to the city center (we were so relieved to finally have access to a train system - although that might be shortlived considering I'm soon to take the Trans-Siberian).


Well, sir, there's nothin' on earth like a genuine bona-fide electrified six-car monorail!

We decided to alight at Kencho Mae monorail station, and walk down Kokusai Dori, the main street of Naha. Which turned out to be mostly back-to-back tourist gift shops (led astray by wikivoyage!).

Kokusai Dori

The beginning of Kokusai Dori looks interesting enough... before it becomes tourist gift shop after gift shop


Some were more intense than others though - this one sold preserved Habu snakes!

Snake shop

It turned out to be the only shop we entered

Halfway down Kokusai Dori however is the Makishi farmers markets; somewhat hungry, and trying to avoid McDonalds and/or Starbucks (the temptation was becoming too great, don't judge me), we decided to head over and check it out.

Snake shop

Stealing some wifi from Starbucks

Of course I couldn't resist more sata andagi. This time: coconut and plain sugar (B-, could have been fresher).


Makishi markets

And so that ended our day of exploring southern Okinawa-Honto; in anticipation of the gridlocked traffic out of Naha, we began our mad dash back, arriving just in time.


The 128km drive in all its glory

Well, 7 minutes late. But almost!

All in all, I drove 128km.

We saw some awesome sights.

And not only that, we managed to master the Japanese GPS system in our Honda. Perhaps our most impressive feat of the day?

Tags: japan okinawa