Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!

A Flawless Day in Fukuoka

Sunset at Momichi Park in Fukuoka, Japan.

Given the nature of my project-based job plus the economic effects of the pandemic, this Golden Week I found myself with more free time than ever before. After returning to Tokyo from Okinawa and checking my work email, I learned that I had three extra days to kill before I returned to the office. Not wanting to waste this newfound vacation time, I looked at places on my travel destination list and decided that Fukuoka and Saga had the best weather so I spontaneously booked yet another plane ticket to Kyushu from Narita Airport for around 17000 yen. By this time most people had returned to Tokyo from their long holiday so tickets were slightly cheaper than they were the previous week.

I left at 8:45am and landed at FUK Airport (Fukuoka Airport’s brilliant abbreviation) at 10:50am. One of my friends texted me and told me they didn’t know anyone else who travels as much as me and it really is true. I am highly determined to make the most of my life here and explore lesser known regions of Japan so I can better understand the culture of this country. I also love the thrill of going somewhere new and trying delicious food on my journeys so I can recommend it to others. I am happy to say that this trip was another huge success! Fukuoka is a tropical city with beaches, temples, amazing hot pot, and plenty of memes. This was my sixth time going after over 2 years and fortunately there still was a lot to see!

Hedgehog Pastries for Breakfast

My first stop from the airport was a small bakery called Patisserie Pas De Deux which is uber famous for its adorable hedgehog-shaped pastries. They also make custom cakes and and cute cookies that resemble animals. The first morning that I went they were already sold out of their hedgehog pastries so the owner profusely apologized for me and asked if I wanted to reserve one the next day. I filled out a form and was able to try one the following morning as soon as the store opened. Inside of the pastry was custard cream that tasted way better than anything that you could buy in stores so it was definitely worth the wait. I also bought a hedgehog cookie because it was irresistibly cute. If you come here, be sure to arrive in the morning so you have first pick of the pastries!

Address: 2 Chome-1-38 Takamiya, Minami Ward, Fukuoka, 815-0083

FUK Coffee

The second stop on my itinerary was a local coffee shop that was geniusly named FUK Coffee. Not only is the name hilarious but the mango smoothie I had was above the average quality of smoothies that I had tried in Japan. I’ve been to Fukuoka around five times but this was the first time that I had ever seen it. But I had to admit the concept was truly original and unique. Look at these guys, capitalizing on memes! My friend who lives in Kyushu came here to meet me and ordered their latte. We were both giggling at the artistic latte art they used all day. Definitely come here for the laughs—it’s a great way to kill time and meet up with friends since it’s near Tenjin Station. This is also one of the few places in the world where you can say “FUK” and have it be non-offensive.

Address: 3 Chome-21-17 Haruyoshi, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0003

Tochoji Temple

After our hilarious meme coffee, my friend drove me to a local temple called Tochoji in central Fukuoka. At first glance I already loved the contrast of the bright red pagoda against the city skyscrapers. Once entering the temple, you can go through a pitch black tunnel underneath large golden Buddha that will lead you to enlightenment. The journey is really fun because you lose all of your senses in the darkness, but you can hold on to the walls to guide yourself. As I emerged I was greeted with bright sunlight arising from the parting clouds, so I definitely felt the after effects! I would happily recommend this temple to all of my friends because even if you’re not religious, exploring it is quite the adventure.

Address: 2-4 Gokushomachi, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, 812-0037

Atago Shrine

After finding enlightenment, we decided to go to Atago Shrine because it has a great view of the skyline of Fukuoka. The climb to the top only took around 5 mins but there was so much to see! We took pictures of the mountains and the ocean as well as the tall city buildings that really didn’t look so big from up here. Near the shrine is a tea house that serves delicious sweets. I ordered the deluxe mochi set with macha while my friend tried their giant dango. We both couldn’t believe how delicious it was! Outside of the tea house was a forested garden that had smooth green leaves. Once again I was blown away by the architecture of the city—it really did feel limitless!

The best thing about Fukuoka is that even without a car you can take local buses around to see all of these aesthetic shrines. Everything is extremely reachable and you can relax and enjoy your day without being strict with time.

Address: 2 Chome-7-1 Atago, Nishi Ward, Fukuoka, 819-0015

Lunch at Bistro Shirokuma

Continuing the theme of animal-shaped meals, we stopped at Bistro Shirokuma for lunch. Their most famous dish is their Shirokuma Pasta which features creamy Italian carbonara topped with fluffy bear-shaped foamy cheese. It was almost a cheese overload compared to my regular diet but fortunately wasn’t too heavy on the stomach. Since I wasn’t driving, I also ordered a high ball. This restaurant was cheaper compared to ones found in central Tokyo and I was definitely taking advantage of it!

Address: 810-0023 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Kego, 1 Chome−15−50 アークタウン 2F

Watching the Sunset at Momichi Seaside Park

After saying goodbye to my friend who lives a bit outside of the city, I decided to spend the remainder of my evening at Momichi Seaside Park. Similar to Aoshima in Miyazaki where I traveled to a year ago, this beach is one of the best places to watch the sunset on central Kyushu Island. When I arrived there were a number of people playing volleyball and drinking on the benches near the beach. I was happy to see that even amidst the pandemic that the island culture I loved so much here was still alive. While sipping on some sparkling sake I bought at Bic Camera, I watched the sky turn vivid colors and Fukuoka Tower light up. This was truly the life. I will never grow tired of watching the sunset on the beach in Asia!

Accommodation

In my previous trips to Fukuoka I always stayed with my friends in Hakata, but since they sold their house I decided to try a city hotel with an onsen so I could fully relax This time I stayed at Candeo Hotels Fukuoka Tenjin because it was central to the city and looked like it had amazing facilities. Every time I went to the onsen I had it completely to myself so I was lucky. This hotel is also close to the bars and night club district so the location is pretty amazing too. Rooms are around 4200 yen per night, but you can find way cheaper options around. Some hostels in Fukuoka are less than 1500 yen so I would recommend looking for what suits you best because there are a lot of places to choose from.

Thank you for reading the first article in my new Kyushu series! In my next article I will talk about exploring Saga from the hit anime series Zombieland Saga! Please stay tuned for more updates.