Final Day in Miyakojima: Exploring Irabu Island & The Great Bike Crisis that was Averted

A scene from Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta recreated on Irabu Island.

After a sublime day of scuba diving on the best beaches in Miyakojima and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave, I was about ready to wrap up my Okinawa trip and fly back to Tokyo. However, before my flight departed at 4pm that day, there was one more island I wanted to see early in the morning. Irabu Island is connected to the mainland of Miyakojima by the appropriately named Irabu Bridge and can be reached by car, bike, and even on foot! It is roughly 11km from the main resort strip of Miyakojima and is extremely rural but has some beautiful beaches, cafes, and resorts to see. I figured it would be the perfect final destination to end my trip and reflect for a bit before taking the 5 hour plane ride home.

I woke up early, rented a regular road bike from my hotel, and set off for Irabu Island! During my morning run I had the chance to see the sun rise and it looked absolutely stunning on Painagama Beach. The blue colors of the ocean that surrounded Irabu were also impressive as I crossed the bridge. I had flashbacks to the Grand Tethe’alla Bridge from Tales of Symphonia as I made my way to the other side. This almost didn’t feel real!

It took me about 50 mins to bike to the main beach of Irabu called “Day’s Beach” but the view was definitely worth it. It looked just like the beach in one of my favorite anime movies Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta. Even though this was slightly different from the setting of the movie, it still had the same vibe:

Here are some more photos that I took of Day’s Beach. If I had more time I would have went swimming! I noticed that there were a lot of farms and plantations here. One of the highlights of biking was stopping to see all of the tropical plants on the way:

After walking along the beach and feeling refreshed, I decided to stop by a nearby restaurant called Blue Turtle. Here I tried their signature rum cocktail called the “Blue Turtle”, ate some fried sweet potato and octopus, and drank a dragon fruit smoothie for dessert. The food here was top notch and the view of the beach was even better. Despite not being able to see any turtles during my scuba trip the previous day, this feast sort of made up for it.

Finally feeling fulfilled that I accomplished everything on my itinerary, I went to unlock my bike and set off back off across the bridge. But that is when disaster struck—as I started riding back I noticed I had a flat tire despite not feeling it at all before. I’ve ridden around Tokyo with flat tires on my bike when I’ve been short on time, but having this happen on a rural island is less than ideal. I thought about biking the 11km back or even walking if I had to since I had enough time, but I instead decided to do the smart thing and stop at the nearest resort and ask for help. Fortunately the staff at Azure Villa were more than willing to help me!

Initially I thought it was just a flat tire (パンクしたタイヤ) but after inspection the staff confirmed the tube was damaged too. This is the danger of renting bikes on rural islands—you truly never know what you’re getting and sometimes weather conditions can hasten these damages. Fortunately the staff drove me 11km back to my resort for free (because I don’t think most Okinawan taxis could carry this bike) and were super empathetic. I offered to pay them the normal taxi fee but they refused me. I couldn’t have asked for more kindness than what they had showed me. Okinawan culture is truly amazing!

When we arrived back at my resort on the mainland, Hotel Locus, the staff there was also super kind to me, gave me my bike rental money back, and added 様 to my name which was the greatest honor. I was able to make my flight with time to spare and saw everything on my itinerary, but if this would have happened the first day it would have killed the vibe a bit. However, no adventure is complete without some obstacle, and we all handled this in the best way possible so I’m proud.

Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my Okinawa article series! I am so happy I was able to make this trip safely in between emergency states and have such a phenomenal time. In the future I will be writing a spin-off series of my previous trip to Okinawa in 2016 mentioning all of the heritage spots I visited. This weekend I will be going to Kyushu to have some more island adventures, but they will be more a lot more relaxed than this. Life is never calm for an adventurer but I am loving every second of this life!

Scuba Diving and Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave in Miyakojima

Halloween came early this year in Miyakojima.

After spending a pleasant first day on Miyakojima exploring local shrines, biking to Sunayama Beach, and stumbling across old ruins, it was time to get to the main event—scuba diving with turtles. And more importantly, trying out my underwater camera equipment that I bought for my GoPro Hero 7 last year. I had originally planned to scuba dive with turtles in Cebu last March but my trip to the Philippines got cancelled due to the pandemic. I still have the ticket and still plan on going after I get vaccinated, but I imagine it’s going to be quite a long time until I can safely enter. Luckily with its pristine coral beaches, Miyakojima is one of the best places to go scuba diving in Japan so I finally got the chance to go here!

This article will detail my scuba diving experience at Shigira Beach and Boraga Beach as recommended by my instructor.

Scuba Diving at Shigira Beach

Before coming to the island, I decided to reserve a tour package from Klook that included both scuba diving with turtles and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave. Though I brought some of my own scuba gear, I really wanted to go with a local who knew the island well so I could learn the most about it. The combined tour cost 13500 yen which is much more expensive than doing similar activities in Thailand of the Philippines, but for what I saw the price was worth it. My tour started at 9:30 at Shigira Beach which was just a 30 min taxi ride from my hotel. From there I met up with my instructor who took me to the best scuba spot based on the weather conditions. The tour was entirely in Japanese but fortunately easy for me to understand.

The major bummer is that no turtles appeared, however. It might have been due to the gale advisory that swept Japan just a day before, but you would think with the lack of tourists that more wildlife would be around! Looking on the bright side, I did get to see a bunch of clown fish up close. And I also learned how to swim and use the correct settings on my camera to take quality photos. The reefs were absolutely beautiful and once again I felt like I was in the Little Mermaid World of Kingdom Hearts. Though I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to see the turtles here, I vow to meet them once I can safely travel to Cebu!

Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave

While researching destinations I wanted to travel to in Miyakojima, the pumpkin limestone cave was #1 on my list. As soon as I saw the pictures of it online I knew I needed to see it with my own eyes. I mean where else in the world can you see something like this? After a short break my instructor kindly drove me to Boraga Beach where the cave was located. This is just roughly 15 mins from Shigira Beach where the turtles apparently reside. I was surprised to find that the water was extremely shallow and rocky so we were given special boots to wear as to not hurt our feet. The entrance to the cave is about a 15 min walk over rocks, but the gorgeous blue shades of the water made it fun. Once you reach the entrance of the cave, there is a gap of emerald water that you can swim through to go inside. How cool is that?

I was unaware this is actually a religious place, so we were asked to pray before entering. Though I am not religious, I am honored to have received the pumpkin god’s blessings. The inside of the cave is extremely dark so we were given flashlights so we could see where we were going. You can see the beautiful pumpkin shape as soon as you enter the cave and it looked almost ethereal from where I was swimming. My instructor guided me to a ledge where I could start climbing to the top. Though parts were a bit slippery, it was overall easy to reach the highest point where water was dripping down from stalactites. My instructor told me to sit down underneath them so the cool water droplets would hit my skin, and it really did feel relaxing! The inside of the cave was warm so the mini shower was much appreciated. There was also mud here that you could smear on your face for smooth skin. I saw mud masks in the souvenir shops before and was happy that I had the chance to experience the real thing. The mud here really does make your skin look smoother after you wash it off!

It took us roughly 20 mins to fully explore the cave, but my instructor stopped to give me some pretty interesting lectures. Here is a video of me jumping off the highest ledge of the pumpkin cave taken by my instructor. The gap was extremely narrow and a bit scary so you can hear me scream! But rest assured, this is a safe tour and I was wearing a life jacket and helmet so everything was fine. Even if you’re afraid of heights, this really isn’t that bad:

Nature & Soba

In between going to the two beaches, my instructor dropped me off at a delicious soba place called Maruyoshi Shokudo. Not only were the noodles cheap here, but the staff was amazing. They made me a custom fish and veggie bowl since I’m pescatarian and I topped it with some light curry powder to give it the perfect zest. Miyako soba is extremely famous and after eating here I can see exactly why it is true. I also explored some gardens nearby and discovered some beautiful butterflies and flora. Nature is also impressive here because everything gets a lot of sunlight. It was so fun to see all of the wildlife up close!

Chasing Sunsets

The tour ended around 3pm and my instructor drove me back to my hotel so I had just enough time to shower off, grab some food, and start chasing sunsets! The first and last two pictures were taken at morning and night at Painagama Beach near my resort. The middle picture was taken at Shigira Beach right before I left. As I grabbed some shochu from the convenience store across the road, I was surprised to see that a number of locals were gathered around playing instruments, drinking, and watching the sunset on a Tuesday night. But this is just Okinawan culture plain and simple. Though I am addicted to the city due to the endless opportunities it offers, island life is truly the life for me. I love being on the beach because I feel the happiest there.

This was my last night in Miyakojima and I think it was extremely well spent! I have one last article of my Okinawa series to publish, then I will be spontaneously traveling to Kyushu at the end of this week to finish Golden Week with a bang. Thank you all for reading and supporting my dream!

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Okinawa and Miyako

Okinawa in a bottle as it appears in Non Non Biyori.

With the end of sakura season in central Japan, it’s time to start thinking about plans for one of the craziest holidays of the year—Golden Week. Though I’ve taken a number of 3 day trips this year, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve created a multi-day itinerary. In fact, the last time I’ve an extended trip was in January 2020 to Taiwan. I’ve decided that this month I’m going to beat the Golden Week rush and take a 5 day trip to Okinawa focusing on Naha and Miyakojima since a number of attractions have been added since my last trip in 2016.

The dates I have chosen are 4/23 – 4/27 which should give me enough time to see everything I want. My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Naha → Miyako → Naha ↺ Tokyo

My itinerary in 2016 was similar but replaced Miyako with Ishigaki. Both islands are worth seeing from what I’ve heard and while my last trip was focused on sightseeing, this trip is more focused on photography. There will be plenty of relaxation and adventure as well of course!

Though Japan is currently between emergency states and still not open for international travel, a large number of companies are forced to close during this holiday and inevitably people will be traveling domestically. Roundtrip flights to Okinawa from Tokyo usually cost between 16000 – 23000 yen depending on which airline you choose, but I found a reasonably priced fight with Jetstar for the average of 20000 yen and purchased it because I want to arrive there early in the morning. Even if certain places have curfews or restrictions, I will make the most of what I can enjoy.

Day 1: Relaxing at Naha’s Sanrio Resort

I will be departing from Narita Airport at 8:10am and arriving to Naha Airport at 11:05am.

On my first trip to Okinawa in 2016, I mostly stayed in budget hostels so I could use my money for bus tours to see the highlights of the main island. This time since I have more money saved up and wanted to try nicer facilities, I fortunately found the perfect place to spend my first night in Naha. When Hotel Okinawa with Sanrio Characters opened just a few years ago, it was spread all over my timeline and I knew that I was destined to stay here eventually. This hotel has rooms with 66 individual designs of Sanrio so picking my favorite series was difficult, but I decided on the My Melody themed double just because I love the bright pink colors in the artwork. These rooms cost roughly 11000 yen a night and have a nice location so I think the experience will be worth it! You can definitely find slightly cheaper facilities around Naha, but they won’t be as aesthetic as this. Expect a lot of photos of this place from me!

After I get checked in, I plan on checking out Ti-da Beach Parlor for some high tier smoothies then checking out the surrounding beaches. I will also walk down the main street for old times’ sake and see if Epica is still going all night. I intend for this day to be chill but I’m open to whatever comes my way!

Day 2: Dessert Museum at Stem Resort

Another amazing attraction that got added to Naha after my first trip was the Stem Resort theme park with an extremely photogenic dessert museum. Like Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo that I just visited last month, the museum is very cute and has a number of photo opportunities. Though I am mostly coming here for the sake of photography, I am looking forward to enjoying the inflatables and dinosaur museum if I have time afterwards. Also the rooftop bar doesn’t sound like a bad idea either. The admission fee seems to vary from 1800 – 3000 yen depending on what attractions you want to see so that is actually quite cheap to enjoy a resort of this caliber.

After I finish shooting here, I plan on heading back to my hotel at Hotel Aqua City and enjoying some fine wine. This resort is cheaper than the Sanrio one and has an amazing pool. I will need to rest up because the next day I am flying to Miyako!

Day 3: Getting Acquainted with Miyako Island

I will depart from Naha Airport at 9:40am and arrive at Miyako Airport at 10:30am. A one way flight costs approximately 8000 yen but is overall worth it. Ishigaki (which I previously visited) and Miyako are the most popular islands to visit aside from the main one so I’m looking forward to comparing my experiences of the two.

On my first day I will mostly be getting acquainted with the island and taking it easy, but the places I want to see the most are Miyako Shrine, Kamamamine Park, and bike to Ibaru Island which is extremely rural but has some scenic points. There are a few bars and restaurants I have in mind too if they’re open. I’ve heard Miyako is much smaller than Ishigaki and has less things to do, but the beach game is still strong and I want to go somewhere that I’ve never been before. Regardless I am looking forward to getting away from the city and getting to know this little beach town!

I chose to stay at Hotel Locus for 2 nights just because it is located right on the beach and also has a beautiful pool. It is around the same price as the Aqua City Hotel in Naha so it’s affordable. I plan on renting a bike and also using taxis if needed to get around but overall most of the things I want to see are near my accommodation so it should be convenient.

Day 4: Snorkeling with Turtles & Cave Exploration

Since I still haven’t been able to travel to the Philippines and snorkel with turtles in Cebu like I originally planned last year, I decided to try it in Miyako! I found a good tour on Klook that includes the turtle experience with the exploration of a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave and figured that was right up my alley so I immediately booked it. I am beyond stoked to try underwater photography with equipment I bought last year for my GoPro but haven’t been able to use yet! This tour will take me around the Kerama Islands and has a lot of activity so it seems like a great deal. There are also kayaking and boat tours available, but I have already done that stuff in other countries already and am going for the more unique experiences. This tour lasts for around 6 hours so I know I will be exhausted by the end of the day, but it will be a blast!

Day 5: Final Day of Enjoying the Beach & Heading Home

On my final day I just want to go swimming at Sunayama Beach and explore any last place that I haven’t had time to see yet. I have to catch two planes to get back to Tokyo, but I will leave Miyako at 4pm and reach Tokyo at 10pm. I have a layover at Naha Airport so I can do souvenir shopping and photo editing while I wait. Though it seems like a long while, I am sure the time will go fast. Overall I love tropical weather so just the warm atmosphere is enough to make me happy. It’s been almost a year since I last had a beach vacation in Miyazaki, so I am more than ready for this trip! It’s going to be another one for the books. Please look forward to my upcoming Okinawa article series!

Yet Another Perfect Weekend in Nagoya

 

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In the Heart of Nagoya: The silhouettes of the mountains gently fade into the sunset.

As I’ve noted countless times before, Nagoya is one of the most underrated cities in Japan.  It is here that I first attended the World Cosplay Summit back in 2017, went to Legoland and Nagashima Spa Land, and also met my first boyfriend at a gaming bar (which is a legendary story I’ll save for later).  Though Osaka and Kyoto undoubtedly overshadow this city with their hotspring getaways and large amusement parks like Universal Studios, Nagoya has a cozy atmosphere that can’t be beat.  There are far less tourists here but still a lot of interesting things to see.  As much as I love living in Tokyo, I often find it hard to relax so I try to escape to Nagoya at least twice a month.  Every time I travel here, I discover something completely new and amazing.  Be it a cafe, park, or meeting a new friend—I’m always left with fond memories on my way home.

I’ll be noting some of my recent discoveries in this article.  Please see Aesthetic Food Finds in Nagoya for my recommended foods.

Yamazaki River

I had planned on flying to Aomori Prefecture earlier this year because it was ranked as the best place to see the cherry blossoms in Japan, but the festival was sadly cancelled due to the COVID-19.  Fortunately my boyfriend took me to a semi-secluded area in Nagoya where the Yamazaki River runs through and you can see a perfect view of the cherry blossoms in this prefecture.  Since the branches hang over the river, the petals gently fall into the water creating that dream-like Japan aesthetic you see in anime or printed on postcards.  The sakura donut I picked up at Lyrical Coffee Donut only added to the already perfect scenery.  Fortunately we could come here and still practice social distancing while enjoying the best season in Japan.  It was a small moment of peace amidst the chaos around the world that I’ll never forget.

On our way back, we stumbled upon a very interesting restaurant called “Not Curry“.  The menu consisted of some sort of soup pairing with rice.  What interesting advertising!  Also, the internet pointed out that my shadow looked like Isabelle from Animal Crossing when I uploaded it to social media.  I haven’t played the game due to wanting to devote my free time to research and writing, but who would have thought!  All sorts of magical things were happening here.

Yamazaki River Access

2 Chome Murakamicho, Mizuho Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 467-0008

Tsurumai “Pokeball” Park

This park became a meme in Nagoya due to it’s circular Pokeball-like shape and the fact that it’s a Pokemon Go hotspot.  Besides Shiratori Park, Tsurumai is one of the most beautiful parks in Nagoya.  I loved seeing the beautiful European-esque fountain, life-sized bird cages and gardens, and railings shaped like birds.  Not to mention there was tall grass where you could seemingly hunt Pokemon.  I imagine this is a popular photoshoot location for Pokemon cosplayers during World Cosplay Summit.

Our favorite activity here was live-Tweeting turtles.  We sat by the pond and watched in awe as a turtle from underwater swam up to join its friend on the rock.  Being a turtle and living in complete ignorance of the COVID crisis must be blissful.

Tsurumai Park Access

1 Chome-1 Tsurumai, Showa Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 466-0064

In my next article, I will be exploring more aesthetic food finds in Nagoya.  Please stay tuned for more updates~