June 6, 2014

Taking a Ferry to Islands Around Okinawa

Venture out to the Islands Surrounding Okinawa

take a ferry on okinawa
Ferry to Zamami Island
While Okinawa is a beautiful island, and has many things to see and do, nearby islands also offer unique experiences and adventures. Tokashiki, Ie, Izena, and many more islands are just waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

These islands are just miles off the coast of Okinawa and can usually be reached in an hour or two by ferry. You can go for just a day trip, or turn it into a few days. Accommodations are usually available, but planning ahead is a good idea..

Each of the islands around Okinawa have unique cultural opportunities to experience ranging from foods to language. There are many beautiful sights to see, including some of the best beaches and snorkeling in the world. If you thought Okinawa had great snorkeling, try some of the less touched nearby islands.

What Islands to Visit Around Okinawa

ferry around okinawa
Ie Island
Almost all of the islands surrounding Okinawa are worth visiting. Some islands are more geared to expensive getaways, while others are much more rural. Do a little research on accommodations and information about the island you want to visit before you get there so you have a better idea of what to do.

But if you don't know what island to visit, here is some help for you:

Ie Island - One of the closest islands with just a short ferry ride from Motobu. There are a variety of things to do on this island including renting mopeds, climbing the iconic mountain in the center of the island, camping on the beach, and staying in fancy resorts. Here is some more information getting to Ie island.

Iheya Izena Island - Located a little north-west of Okinawa, these islands are fairly rural, and provide wonderful cultural and traditional experiences. Be sure to make reservations in advance if you plan to stay the night, although a day trip is also possible. Ferry leaves from Nakajin village, north of Nago, daily and takes about an hour.

Kerama Islands - Made up of Tokashiki, Zamami, Aka, and Geruma islands, this is one of the best places in the world for snorkeling and especially scuba diving. There are many tours that go from Okinawa out to the Kerama islands just for diving. The daily ferries leave from Naha port. Each of the islands offers some different opportunities, so look at what each offers, and plan your trip accordingly. 

ferry to islands around okinawa
View of the Ocean around Zamami Island
There are many more options for island adventures around Okinawa, but these are a good start. Information and resources can sometimes be hard to come by, but asking others about their island excursions can yield great information.

If you happen to want a more exclusive getaway, Ishigaki Island and Surrounding Islands can only be reached by a i hour plane flight from Naha, and present a wonderful weekend, or week long vacation.

To get to the islands around Okinawa, there are a variety of ferries that leave from ports around the island. Naha is the main port, but if you are traveling to islands north of Okinawa, the ports on Motobu and beyond are where you will need to go.

We hope this information will help inspire you to go beyond Okinawa, and enjoy some of the exciting adventures on the surrounding islands.

If you're looking for summer activities, look no further than our list of Things to do on Okinawa. You might also find our 7 Essential Words and Phrases useful.

Leave a comment if you have questions.

September 19, 2013

Pictures of Okinawa Beaches

Photos from Okinawa's Best Beaches

Okinawa offers plenty of beaches to enjoy and take pictures of. Here are some pictures of beautiful Okinawa beaches.

If you want to learn more about the beaches on Okinawa, check out our Beach Reviews.

Okinawa's beaches tend to have beautiful, clear water that is great for snorkeling or swimming in. The water is very comfortable in the summer, and stays relatively warm even in the winter. The sand on most Okinawa beaches is a made up of crushed coral and limestone rock. It can sometimes be a little rough, although some beaches, like Okuma, smooth their beaches to make it very comfortable underfoot.

Below are a selection of beaches on Okinawa with a short description of the beach.

pictures of okinawa beaches
Tropical Beach on Okinawa
Tropical beach is located in Ginowan area, near the middle of the island. It is a little south of Kadena AFB and Camp Foster. Tropical beach is popular because of its nice swimming area, vending machines, picnic areas and convenient location.

photos of okinawa beaches
Zamami Island, off the coast of Okinawa
Exploring beyond Okinawa's beaches is a great opportunity. Many small islands are within a short ferry ride from Okinawa and offer pristine beaches with wonderful snorkeling opportunities. You can also camp out on many of them.

pictures of okinawa beaches
Another photo from Zamami Island
 Zamami Island offers some of the best Diving and Snorkeling in the world - so don't miss out!

pictures of beaches on okinawa
Araha Beach near Jusco and the Ferris Wheel (in the background)
 Araha beach is another popular beach centrally located near Kadena AFB. This beach has nice wide sandy beaches, and a park with playground equipment. A wonderful beach for an afternoon beach trip. Read our review of Araha Beach.

pictures of okinawa beaches
Kadena Marina Beach on Okinawa
 Kadena Marina is one of the closest beaches to Kadena AFB and offers a small but family (and American) friendly beach for taking a beach trip to. There are lots of other things to do at Kadena Marina including boat rentals, so read our Review of Kadena Marina to learn more.

Okinawa in Kanji
'Okinawa' written in Kanji in the sand
Okinawa truly has wonderful beaches just waiting to be explored. If you enjoy more deserted beaches, take a trip to the northern parts of Okinawa where you can find a beach all to yourself.

We hope you enjoyed these pictures of Okinawa's beaches, and leave a comment with any thoughts or questions.

You might also enjoy reading our recent post with the 7 Basic Words in Japanese. Or our most popular post is Top 10 Things to do in Okinawa.

September 6, 2013

7 Essential Japanese Words and Phrases

7 Japanese Words and Phrases Everyone Can Use

Knowing a few words in Japanese can go a long way in making it easier to live in or visit Japan. While a number of Japanese people do know some English, anyone living in Japan should know these essential words and phrases to make life easier and more fun.

7 essential basic japanese words phrases
Basic Japanese Words and Phrases
Using your Japanese, even if you only know a few words, will go a long way in making the Japanese feel like you care about their country. They will often be more willing to give you good advice and help if you are in need. It shows that you are more savvy than the average traveler, and will often bring a smile to those you try to speak to.

Many American's know a few words of Japanese, so some of these you may already know. But learning all these words and phrases will put you ahead of most foreigners in Japan.

These are just the seven basic words or phrases that are most useful to know. Read them, practice saying them, and eventually practice saying them to Japanese people. It takes practice to learn Japanese, so don't just try to memorize them.

The words below are in English - then Japanese - and then the pronunciation
  1. Hello - Konichiwa - (Ko-ni-chi-wa)
  2. Yes/No - Hai/ Iie - (Ha-i/ Ii-e)
  3. Thanks - Domo - (Do-mo)
  4. Excuse Me - Sumimasen - (Su-mi-ma-sen)
  5. Nice to Meet You - Yoroshiku - (Yo-ro-shi-ku)
  6. How Much Is This? - Ikura - (I-ku-ra?) (informal)
  7. Where is the Restroom? - Otearai wa Doko? - (O-te-a-ra-i wa do-ko?) (informal)

How did you do with those words and phrases? If you think you have them down, or already knew them, move on to these two bonus phrases that may prove useful! Also note the '(informal)'
at the end of some of the phrases. Japanese has a variety of levels of formality, and these phrases are meant for more informal situations. Like in a restaurant, store or with friends. For more formal situations, like at a business meeting or when speaking to elderly Japanese, look up the formal form.

Two more phrases that are very useful:

     8. More water please - Moto mizu onegai - (Mo-to mi-zu o-ne-ga-i) (informal)
     9. See you later - Mata ne - (Ma-ta ne) (informal)

Often when one is at a restaurant it is useful to know how to ask for more water. A simple 'Moto mizu onegai' to the waitress with 'Domo' when she comes back will go a long way in getting what you want without blundering around and gesturing at your cup.
basic japanese words and phrases
Japanese - English

Many American's know the Japanese word for goodbye - Sayonara. But this word is not often used in Japan, as it is more formal, or for more long term goodbye situations. Instead use 'Mata ne' which means 'see you later' or 'later'.

Quick Tip: A great resource for when you need to know or look up a word in Japanese, is a Japanese-English Dictionary. It will come in handy if you ever live or travel in Japan!

Now, one more phrase for the overachievers out there. This phrase is really just a direct translation of the English phrase 'have a nice day'. It will often bring a smile to stranger's faces, and can be used in many situations.

Bonus phrase for the overachievers:

Have a good day "have nice day' - Yoi ichi-nichi o - Yo-i I-chi-ni-chi o

Learn these 7 essential Japanese words, and the 3 bonus words, and you will be a head of the majority of foreigners living in Japan.

Remember to practice these words, and learn the correct pronunciation. Ask Japanese friends or coworkers for the correct pronunciation if you need help.

We hope you find this useful and practical. Leave a comment with any thoughts or questions.

If you enjoyed learning these Japanese phrases, you will love our recent post with some of the Basic Words from the Okinawan Dialect.

Also check out our recent guides to Hiking Hiji Falls as well as the Japanese Convenient Store Familymart

And if you plan to enjoy the waters around Okinawa, Learn How to Check the Water Conditions before you go.

August 21, 2013

How To Check Water Conditions Around Okinawa

How To Check Sea Conditions Before Enjoying Water Activities on Okinawa

Okinawa offers a wide variety of water activities in both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan,
which provide an almost endless supply of aquatic options.

water conditions in Okianawa
A Perfect Calm Day in Okinawa
But the water is not always safe for activities, and it is important to know when to enjoy the ocean, and when to keep your distance.

When Typhoons come through, the ocean can become an angry, swelling mass of energy and power that will ruin your day if you try to go snorkeling, scuba diving or other activities.

Even if there isn't a typhoon in the area, the ocean around Okinawa can become dangerous in hours if the right conditions are present.

So how do you know when it is safe to enjoy the beautiful ocean around Okinawa?

Learn from our tips below!

How To Stay Safe While Enjoying Water Activities Around Okinawa

Following these simple tips will help you stay safe while partaking in water sports on Okinawa.

The first tip is to simply check weather conditions online at the many weather websites available. If conditions are stormy, it is likely the water will also be rough and possibly unsafe. Look for clear sunny days, which will also help with water visibility if you are diving or snorkeling.

Next, take a look at the water you are thinking of entering. The water around Okinawa is very accessible and can be seen from most locations on Okinawa. So get near the water, and evaluate the swells, the waves, and how rough it appears. If it isn't calm and there are extra risks involved, such as a coral reef, reconsider your aquatic plans and if you still think it is good to enter the water.

Finally, there are several online resources fro providing you more information about the water around Okinawa, and if it is safe to enjoy.

Kadena Weather provides a simple site with a rating of All Clear, Caution, or Danger to inform you of the water conditions on each side of Okinawa.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center is a very good website for tracking and getting information about tropical storms and typhoons, which can quickly cause water conditions to become unsafe.

In the end, Okinawa offers some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world, but be sure to stay safe, and know the water conditions before you enter the water.

One final bit of advice is this, if you don't see others in the water at the location you are diving/snorkeling, it might be a sign that the conditions are unsafe. Learn from the locals who know the water better than you.

If you found this useful, you might enjoy some of our other recent posts, such as our Review of FamilyMart, or everything you need to know about Hiking Hiji Falls.

One of our more popular posts: 10 Important Sushi Tips 

Leave a comment with any thoughts or questions, and share with others to help keep everyone on Okinawa safe while enjoying the wonderful water.

August 12, 2013

Okinawa Review - FamilyMart

All About FamilyMart Convenience Stores on Okinawa

Have you ever been exploring Okinawa when you discovered you were hungry or thirsty? Or perhaps you have seen the small stores with white, green and blue markings and a big FamilyMart sign and wondered what could be found inside.

You might even have no idea what FamilyMart is, so no matter your level of knowledge, here you will learn about FamilyMart, what they have to offer, and a general review of the service and quality provided by this Japanese store.

About FamilyMart

review and information okinawa familymart
FamilyMart view of front doors
FamilyMart is a Japanese Convenience store chain based in Tokyo, Japan with stores all over Japan, and even many other countries in Asia. They also have about 10 stores in the US.

There are several different convenience store companies in Japan, including Lawson, 7Eleven, CoCo and others. But we will focus on FamilyMart here.

You can find FamilyMarts in many locations all over Okinawa. They are often on busy streets or street corners in plain view and with at least some parking.

What You Can Find at FamilyMart

FamilyMart has a surprisingly wide variety of items for such a small convenience store. They primarily have food/snacks and drinks.

Foods Commonly Found in FamilyMart:

  • Fresh breads - a wide assortment of breads are usually available
  • Onigiri, bento's and other Japanese foods
  • Pre-packaged hamburgers, sandwiches and similar items
  • Desserts - custerds, pudding and other sweet treats
  • Snacks, chips, cookies, candy, many other Japanese snacks
  • Fried foods - Variety of fried foods available at the counter, (ask for Spicy Chicken!)
  • Instant foods like Ramen and canned foods
  • Lots of other options, so wander around and try new things
Besides plenty of food choices, FamilyMart will typically have a great selection of drinks and even ice creams to choose from. They have sodas, tea, sports drinks, dairy drinks, coffees, other kinds of drinks, and alcoholic drinks.
review of Family mart okinawa
View of the many drinks available in FamilyMart

FamilyMart doesn't stop at just food and drinks though, they also have newspapers, magazines, manga, personal hygiene products, household products and sometimes seasonal items like fireworks. 

Copy machines and ATM's are also usually available in FamilyMart, along with postal, bill pay and ticket services.

Truly they pack a lot into these small stores, and you may be surprised at the things you can find in them.

Now, let's look at a review of FamilyMart's service and quality

Review of FamilyMart - Service and Quality

At FamilyMart, as with most Japanese service busninesses, the workers are polite and efficient. They are quick to help or answer questions, and will usually smile if you try using some Japanese words.

For those who might not know much or any Japanese, don't worry! The workers are generally very understanding, and will show you the final cost of whatever you are purchasing. 

The facility itself is usually very well maintained with a lot of pride taken by the workers in keeping it nice. Bathrooms are available, and almost always clean and easy to spot when in a hurry.

Overall, FamilyMart is a wonderful part of Okinawa that must be enjoyed and explored like the rest of the island. Try dropping by a FamilyMart and pick up lunch sometime. You will be surprised at how good it is, and even how reasonable the cost can be.

We hope you enjoyed learning a little more about FamilyMart and what it has to offer. Leave a comment with your thoughts or questions!

Visit some of our other recent posts, such as our Guide to Hiking Hiji Falls or our Guide Buying and Selling on Okinawa.

July 29, 2013

Guide to Hiking Hiji Falls in Okinawa

A Guide for Hiji Falls - Information and Tips

Anyone looking for an outdoor activity and the opportunity to explore the amazing Okinawa jungles and a beautiful waterfall will find hiking Hiji falls to be an activity to add to their list of things to do in Okinawa!

This guide is created by Okinawa Travel Guide Blog and will cover what Hiji Falls has to offer, what to bring, directions for how to get to Hiji Falls, plenty of pictures and much more.

About Hiji Falls and What to Expect

Hiji Falls okinawa
View of Rocks at the Bottom of Hiji
Hiji Falls is a well known waterfall and hiking trail located in northern Okinawa near Okuma resort. It offers a 1.5 kilometer hike from the base camp to the waterfall over a well maintained path that winds along the river.

While Okinawa offers a number of hiking trails for those willing to find them, Hiji Falls is a convenient and popular hiking locations with picturesque river and waterfall views. The path is only 1.5 km (3km round trip - about 1.8mi) long, but it does have a number of steep staircases that offer a moderate degree of difficulty, depending on your fitness level.

Due to northern Okinawa's mostly rural state, one can see a considerable amount of native wildlife and foliage on the hike, and it gives visitors a great chance to see the natural Okinawan jungle. The path crosses the river at one point on a suspension bridge, towering almost 20 meters/yards above the river, giving a great view of the tree tops.

One can expect Hiji falls to provide an adventurous hike with plenty of photo opportunities, as well as an enjoyable outdoor experience with no modern noises to distract you. It takes most people less than an hour to hike the 1.5 km to the falls, which are a great place to stop and take a break.

Initially the path from the main gate goes through a camping area, and past a dam, but it quickly turns into a dirt or wood path with heavy vegetation all around.

What to Bring When Hiking Hiji Falls

Hiking Hiji can easily be done in a few hours but there are a few suggestions one might want to bring to make the hike more enjoyable.

Directions to Hiji Falls
The tree top Suspension Bridge
  • Comfortable Hiking Shoes - The trail consists of dirt paths, dirt steps, wood paths and wood steps. So wear shoes that you are comfortable hiking in, such as running shoes or other closed-toed options.
  • Appropriate Clothing - Okinawa is usually hot and humid, so wear clothes that you can move around in, and will allow cooling. 
  • Water/Snacks - Bring plenty of water, and perhaps an energy bar or other snacks if you think you will need it.
  • Bug-spray/Sunscreen - While most of the path is in shade, sunscreen is still a good idea. Bug-spray might also be a good idea of the bugs will irritate you.
  • Yen for Entry Fee - The entry fee to Hiji Falls is 500 Yen per person, paid at the main gate area. You should probably have more yen for vending machines (or eating at CoCo's Curry afterwards!).
  • Camera - Lots of beautiful things to photograph, so don't forget your camera!
  • Other Items - Anything else you might need for a couple of hours hiking though in Okinawa.

Directions to Hiji Falls

Information about Hiji Falls
Water pouring down Hiji Falls
Getting to Hiji Falls is relatively easy. The easiest directions are:

Drive to Okuma Resort, but at the intersection of Hwy 58 and the road that takes you to Okuma, turn right (if you are coming from Okuma, you would go straight at the intersection). Follow the signs for Hiji Falls, it is about 2km to the parking lot at the entrance of the park.

If you don't know how to get to Okuma, it is also a relatively easy drive, taking less than 2 hours:

From Naha, or any of the exits along the expressway, you simply take the expressway to Nago, then follow Hwy 58 north for about 45 minutes. As you drive along the coast, you should see a peninsula jutting out with beautiful sandy beaches. As you get to the intersection with a Familymart, you should also see signs for Okuma Resort. Taking a left will lead you to the resorts, taking a right will take you to Hiji Falls. Here are driving directions from Google Maps.

If you have any questions, you can ask them in the comments below!

General Information - Cost/Hours

cost and hours for hiji falls
There are a lot of stairs to go up and down!
Hiji Falls Park Information:

Hours: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm (Entry until 4:00 pm, in winter months 3:00 pm)
Closed during inclement weather

Cost: 500 Yen per person

The best times to visit Hiji Falls is usually in the spring or fall, when it is not too hot out. Hiji Fall is closed in inclement weather, and sometimes for Japanese holidays, so have a backup plan, like going to the beach.

We hope you found this useful, and are able to enjoy the hike to Hiji falls! If you have questions or thoughts, leave them below. Also be sure to share this with others who might enjoy it!

Looking for more on Okinawa? Consider some of our recent posts, such as Basic Words in the Okinawan Dialect or the all important Sushi Etiquette Guide.

July 2, 2013

Basic Words in the Okinawan Dialect

Okinawan Dialect: Simple Words and Phrases

okinawa dialect words and phrases
An Eclectic Version of an Old Okinwan House
Okinawa has its own dialect that is different from Japanese. In fact, Okinawa and the surrounding islands have many different dialects, but the dialect used on Okinawa is typically the most common and well known.

The Okinawan's used their dialect for many years, from sometime around 1400's or before, to the 1800's when Japan seized Okinawa and the official language was changed to Japanese.

While learning the Okinawan dialect might not be the best choice if you simply want to learn words to help you get around the island, it is a lot of fun to use with the elderly Okinawan's and it usually brings a smile to their face.

Here are just a few simply words to say in the Okinawan dialect. One should also learn as many basic phrases and words in Japanese as possible to make getting around Okinawa that much easier.

7 Simple Okinawan Dialect Words to Use in Okinwa

We will show the word in Okinawan, then with some pronunciation help, and the translation to English. If you don't think you can learn all seven words, try just one at a time.

Word -- Pronunciation = Meaning in English

Haisai -- Hai sai = Hello

Nifeedeebiru -- Ni Hey De Biru = Thank You

Chya ganjyuu -- Chi ya gan jew = Are You Healthy? (How are you?)

Mensoree -- Men so re e = Welcome

Chyuurakagi -- Chyu ra kagi = Good Looking or Beautiful

Deijii -- De i jii = Very (deijii oishii = very delicious)

Uchinanchu -- U Chi Nan Chu = Okinawan or a person from Okinawa

okinawan dialect basic words
Okinawan - English
The best way to learn these is through practice with others, especially Okinawans! So learn one or a few of these words, and try to use them as you interact with the people in Okinawa. Just remember that not everyone will know these words, so if you get a funny or confused look, it may be best to not try any other Okinawan phrases on them.

We hope you will have fun with these words, and enjoy Okinawa a little more as you get out and use them. Share this with others who might find it useful and entertaining, and leave a comment with any thoughts or questions!

Looking for ideas of things to do? Look no further than our Top 10 Things to Do in Okinawa. Or you might be interested in learn more about Typhoon Season in Okinawa.

And who wouldn't want to read our Sushi Etiquette Guide to make your next sushi adventure enjoyable, and respectful.

If you are particularly studious or ambitions, you can check out this website, which contains a list of many more words in the Okinawan dialect which you can learn, and use!