Second trip to Okinawa (sort of)



We visited a small island called Yoron essentially in Okinawa (but which is actually just over in the neighbouring Kagoshima prefecture) a couple of years ago when we lived in Japan (you can read about that trip here, here, and here) and loved the sun and amazing, pretty much tourist-free beaches there and thought that now that we are on holiday in Japan, we should visit the Okinawan islands again.

So here we are in Zumami Island, about 1 hour from the Okinawan main island by catamaran.  At least partly due to the ease of access, Zumami it is one of the most popular Okinawan islands for tourists – having said that, there is hardly anyone here! See the photo below of the busiest day on the beach that has been voted the best in Japan. In fact, I’m not sure who voted given that there are more people at any given beach in England in torrential rain than on the beaches of Zumami in warm April weather.



When we told our Japanese friends in Osaka (some of whom are from Okinawa) that we were going to Zumami for 5 days, they all were a bit surprised and said that 5 days was a long holiday for Zumami as there was practically nothing on the island to do – and they were right. The island is tiny, there is one ‘supermarket’ (a small shop really), a couple of local restaurants that are open between noon and 2pm for lunch and apparently 1 policeman (whom you can call by using one phone in the village centre). In fact, to illustrate how small it is, my husband set himself a challenge to run every bit of road whilst we were there – which he did!


A two-table strong eatery on the island, serving only Okinawan noodles, pot noodles, crisps, ice cream and beer in a rather rustic environment.


There is not that much to do on the island other than enjoy the amazing beaches (and, like my husband, run up and down the handful of roads if you are that way inclined). But the beaches and the sea at Zumami is pretty amazing! One of the beaches on the island homes turtles (Ama beach) and the other one has a tropical fish filled coral reef (Furuzamami beach), and we’ve spend much of the past days on one or the other, even though my husband struggles with the fact that the nearest beach to our hotel (Furuzamami beach) lacks some pretty essential services for British holiday makers, more specifically, the café on the beach does not serve any alcohol!



And so, we’ve just spent 5 days on the beach without a single glass of wine – which led to my husband contemplating running to the ‘supermarket’ (2km away) emptying its liquor shelf and bringing some sake and wine for us to sip while resting our eyes on the clear blue sea (but we refrained from doing that when we then noticed the safety warnings telling swimmers not to drink and dive). But after an alcohol-free day on the beach, in the evenings when back at the hotel, we had a little stroll on the beach next to our hotel and had some sake and plum wine there.


One-cup of plum wine on the not-snorkelling-beach.


So we’ve done a fair amount of sober snorkelling for the past days, which has been wonderful.


The reef starts literally 5 metres from the beach and snorkelling there feels like you are in a fish tank filled with Nemo and Dory from Finding Nemo, puffer fish, angel fish and lots of other types of colourful fish that I don’t recognise and I felt I was smiling every time I dove into the water (regardless of the fact that it was a rather ungraceful entry with flippers which felt like boots that were too big for me). But what wiped the smile off my face pretty quickly and demonstrated that the boots were in fact too big for me (for snorkeling in tropical waters) was a close encounter with a large venomous sea snake! It was about 1 metre from me, but luckily heading from the surface to the reef and was not paying much attention to me. Nevertheless, you’ve never seen me scurry back to the shore as quickly as then. Once on dry land, I went to the lifeguards to tell that I had seen a large specimen of the snake whose photo hung by the beach telling people that if bitten to immediately squeeze the venom out of the bite and to go directly to the hospital, but they seemed rather relaxed about it and said that it would be safe to return to the water. For some reason I felt like snorkelling was done for the day (and we had fun and games outside the water).







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But if you think that you want to visit Zumami island, a word of warning might be in order. The island really is very quiet and the accommodation very basic. You would be disappointed if you arrived there expecting a high-end, state of the art resort and found Kerama beach hotel with its interior and exterior having peaked maybe 30 years ago and instead of all inclusive buffet tables catering for all diets, you’ll get a tray of Japanese food for breakfast and dinner (which we found super delicious but which nevertheless gives little choice for those who are picky eaters).



French Riviera style luxurious hotel complexes simply do not exist on this island. But what compensates for the rustic lodgings is the staff’s customer service. In true Japanese style they bent over backwards for us, driving us around the island like a personal taxi service (as there are no taxis on the island and no public transport to speak of), offered us ice and sake glasses when they noticed that my husband had emptied the liquor shelf at the village shop (maybe so that we would return the plastic cups back to our bathroom) and spontaneously made us vegetarian tempura for dinner when they noticed that my husband (who is vegetarian) was eating mine and the children’s rice while we were having his grilled chicken.

But if you are after a relaxing beach holiday in a rustic environment, appreciate that sea snakes live in the reef for the same reason you want to swim there (i.e. for the fish) and can cope with the lack of access to alcohol on the beach, Zamami island should be on your bucket list!



Frankie and Egg


We have a problem – A problem that many parents of young children have:

Our kids want a pet.

This all started when we were in Okinawa and we saw some pretty big and dangerous looking spiders in the bushes (see photo above).

To make them appear less scary for the kids, my husband and I suggested that we should give them names. The kids named the first one as Frankie. A couple of days later we discovered another whopper a few metres away from Frankie. The kids assumed it was Frankie’s brother, and called him Egg. This was regardless of the fact that it didn’t look like a particularly well-fed spider, nor did it smell bad.

Having seen the size of Okinawan spiders, and having been warned that there were some habu, i.e. poisonous snakes, in Okinawa, we were a little bit worried when we decided to hang out on empty beaches


or discovered secret caves



or even when we just tried to battle our way through the snake-infested bushes to get to the beach.


The path to the beach


But I am glad to tell you that apart from Frankie and Egg, we didn’t see anything that looked dangerous during our holiday… well, apart from (a) Frankie and Egg’s little sister that we found in a restaurant toilet (see photo below) and (b) my cave woman appearance and behaviour in the mornings after downing a bottle of white wine the night before.



No-one got bitten or attached to by anything even though the kids, as most parents would expect, disobeyed our command to not go off and explore the bushes and caves.


The punch line is that our Okinawan holiday resulted in our kids wanting a pet, and to my husband’s horror I’ve gone and promised that we’ll buy a dog when we move back to England. My husband is now trying to convince the kids that a hamster might make a better pet – or that, in fact, Tamagotchi would be even better.


The only Westerners on the Island



Yesterday, we visited Yurigahama, a sandbank about 1 km from the shore of Yoron Island. Yurigahama is peculiar in that it is only exposed for a couple of hours during the low tide, after which it is hidden under water again. The island guide leaflet says that one can only visit it a couple of times a month and only if it is your destiny!

For several days before our trip, the boats that run between Yurigahama and the coast of Yoron were pulled out of the water due to a typhoon warning. It must have been our destiny because they were running the day we visited.


My aim here is not to make you Brits and Finns reading this feel bad and think ‘We won’t see the sun again until next June and you bastard brag about the sunshine’ but Yurigahama was amazing! I can’t possibly put it into words how beautiful it was. Maybe the photos above and below give you a feel for what it was like instead (and maybe you can go and visit sometime). There was clear turquoise water and white sand, turtles and colourful fish swimming in the corals, a fabulous location very close to the far edge of the reef where you can see the dangerous waters beyond the reef (but are yet in the safe, shallow, waters of the reef), and importantly, a lack of German tourists hogging all the sun loungers, Brits boozing their way through the day, Americans acting like they own the beach and Finns looking as miserable as the sharks on the other side of the reef.

What might make you feel better, is the knowledge that when we got to Yurigahama, I noticed that my husband had forgotten our towels. When going swimming, one might consider forgetting towels a bit of a disaster, but not my husband. His plan was to use his spare boxer shorts as a towel. You can’t but love a man that thinks outside his wife’s comfort zone.




As, throughout our Yoron holiday overall, we were the only Westerners on Yurigahama. Yoron seems very much a Japanese holiday-makers’ paradise – and there weren’t even that many Japanese around.

On our way back from Yurigahama on a small glass bottom boat, a Japanese lady from Tokyo asked where we were from and said that she was amazed to see any Westerners on the island. She was baffled as to how we had even heard about Yoron, let alone managed to book the holiday via non-Japanese booking websites. She was convinced we were the only Westerners on the island. For some reason it made my holiday.





Emergency rations

Pre-typhoon clouds

Pre-typhoon clouds

If you read my previous post, you know that we are currently on Yoron Island (near Okinawa) on holiday, and you also know that yesterday we bought some emergency rations (chocolate, biscuits, crisps, pot noodles and wine) for our holiday cottage so that we could survive through super typhoon Dujuan, which was heading towards Okinawa.

Dujuan however missed Yoron and headed to Taiwan instead. I was relieved that we didn’t have to experience a super typhoon whilst in our holiday cottage by a beach on a tiny, relatively remote, Pacific island. However, my husband, whose mindset is that of a 16-year old’s, was disappointed. He wanted to experience a proper typhoon – something that a year and a half in Osaka hasn’t been able to deliver.

You see, in terms of Typhoons, Osaka seems to be ideally positioned. Many times there has been an emergency warning for Osaka, and we’ve stocked up on food and bottled water, filled the bathtub with water (to flush the toilet if electricity goes), brought the washing line and our kids’ paddling pools in from the balcony, and expected a front row view from our 24th floor apartment of the wind, rain and airborne 7-Eleven staff, who are expected to go to work even in emergency weather conditions. But the typhoons have always changed their course and battered other places, most commonly Okinawa, and we’ve yet to experience a flying 7-Eleven cashier.

Anyway, today was a new day, and no sign of Dujuan.

Like most mornings, our son and daughter got up earlier than my husband and I. They went downstairs to the living area of our holiday cottage, discovered the chocolate and crisp wrappings and an empty bottle of white wine that my husband and I had polished off after the kids had gone to bed (and Dujuan had changed its course), and with disgust, my son goes:

‘Look! They’ve been pigging out again.’

Pre-typhoon clouds

Pre-typhoon clouds