Okinawa: Naha & Zamami
Okinawa is that kind of Japan but kind of not place, due to history. I got to check it out in 2011.
We started off by taking a boat from Naha, Okinawa's main city, to Zamami island, an island just west of the main city. As we pulled up to the dock, a happy young woman from the hostel that we were staying at was waiting to warmly greet us.
Zamami Island is small and very walkable, with little beach coves every so often. The main area is condensed, so getting across it takes only several minutes on foot. It has a very small community vibe being that it's a small town, one where everyone knows everyone. People are extremely laid back, casual and friendly.
We went in late April/early May, and the water was still quite cold. The beaches are swimmable, but due to the temperature, not the most comfortable. We wore wetsuits one day, then toughed it out without them on another. The water is clear, and in some places there is an abundance of fish, but there are sea snakes that hide in the coral so beware of them.
Here are a few food spots on Zamami Island that I'd recommend:
Marumiya is a good place on the island for dinner. Soki soba, Okinawa's version of ramen, is fat noodles and a nice piece of pork in a light broth. If you've had Hawaii saimin, the flavor is very similar.
After our stay on Zamami Island, we made a quick stop at another neighboring island, Aka. Getting back on the boat, we headed back to Naha city.
Naha is a lot bigger as it is the central city in Okinawa. The vibe is very different as well, it's culturally quite diverse and feels somewhat like a mix of Japanese, American and Chinese cultures. There are a lot of businesses geared to internationals, a big reason is due to the big American military presence there.
The nearby Churaumi Aquarium is one of the major attractions as it's one of the most well known aquariums in Japan. It will take a big chunk out of your day as it's big and not central, but it houses a wide range of animals, even whale sharks.
Foods aren't any different from what we had on Zamami, but we did get our fill of seafood at Makishi Food Market.