Urban exploration in Okinawa? Not exactly my first association when I think of the former kingdom of Ryukyu. For me it would be more like sun, beaches and… Karate Kid 2 – a movie I’ve never seen, or at least I can’t remember seeing it, but in Germany it had the tagline “Entscheidung in Okinawa” (something like “Decision in Okinawa”) and I guess that stuck with me ever since. Okinawa = Karate Kid – but I always thought it was the third one, not the second one…
When my haikyo buddy *Michael Gakuranman* and I went on a *road trip to southern Honshu* earlier this year we were talking about future expeditions. Michael mentioned that he went to Okinawa just a couple of months prior and that he explored a huge hotel he really wanted to re-visit. So he suggested a haikyo trip to Okinawa. And I was skeptical. Going to Okinawa to revisit a hotel? I knew right away which hotel Michael was talking about since it is one of the few famous abandoned places in Okinawa (Okinawa really isn’t famous for urban decay, not even amongst urban explorers), but him saying that he wants to stay a whole day there didn’t exactly seal the deal. But I am currently re-discovering Japan as a tourist (I travelled a lot in spring!) and the chances to go to Okinawa are limited, so what the heck. Let’s go to Okinawa and do some urbex! It would surely beat the beaten tracks of urbex in Kanto!
A couple of years ago the concept of budget airlines finally reached Japan and if you book early you can get really good deals. To make sure that we both arrive and departure at around the same time and we both would get reasonable rates Michael was kind enough to take care of the booking – 10.800 Yen for the roundtrip Osaka-Naha-Osaka; booyah! A Shinkansen train ticket Osaka to Hiroshima costs about the same – one way…
Late May isn’t exactly the best time to go to Okinawa since May and June are two out of three most rainy months down there, but again… why not? It’s Okinawa and I’ve never been there. The places we planned to explore sounded kind of okayish on paper, but I was more interested in Okinawa itself. The local atmosphere, the local architecture, the local food. Biggest surprise: shikuwasa (pronounced something like sheek-wasa), a Okinawan citrus fruit and the basis for all kinds of food and drinks – juice, cake, wine, mochi, sodas, chiffon cake, syrup (for kakigori), fruits chews, … In the humid pre-summer heat the most refreshing taste I ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Another popular local fruit is the pineapple. Close to the city of Nago are actually two pineapple theme parks close to each other – separated by the Okinawa Fruits Land. Michael and I visited the Nago Pineapple Park on one of the three days we spent in Okinawa. Not much of a park it features one of the tackiest rides possible – automatically driven carts through a pineapple field, telling you everything you (never) wanted to know about pineapples in horrendously pronounced English. And that was it for the park part – we basically paid 600 Yen to enter a gift shop. One of the most awesome gift shops ever though. Here you could buy (and sample!) all kinds of pineapple and (some) shikuwasa related products. Wine, cookies, chocolates, prize-winning cakes, dried fruits, different kinds of fresh pineapples, pineapple charcoal soap (!) and of course the usual gift shop stuff like plush dolls, key chains and whatnot. Awesome place, expensive though – I nevertheless loved it.
Over the course of our visit Michael and I managed to enjoy a good mix of urban exploration and tourist stuff, although Okinawa isn’t exactly famous for urban exploration. Luckily the urbex locations turned out to be way more interesting than they looked on paper, including an original find – one location freaked me out so much that I got fed up and left, one of the worst urbex experiences I ever had. So in the end we saw three abandoned hotels, two abandoned cactus parks and one abandoned restaurant island on the course of three days. As for touristy locations we visited the already mentioned Nago Pineapple Park, Shuri Castle (awesome!), Nakagusku Castle, the Underground Naval Headquarters of WW2 (overrated – it almost always makes me cringe a little seeing Japan presenting WW2…) and of course Kokusai Dori, the main tourist / night life street in Naha, Okinawa’s capital.
I didn’t plan to write about this trip so quickly, but last weekend opened up out of nothing and the East Asian rainy season (tsuyu) hitting Japan basically rendered it useless for outdoor activities – and overall I loved the trip, so it was the next best thing to get this series of articles started. The weather was constantly changing, but sunny most of the time. The food was awesome (I’m still not a fan of goya though…) and the places we visited were interesting. Life in Okinawa seems to be much more relaxed that in mainland Japan. For example: Taxi drivers in Osaka wear suits and white gloves, taxi drivers in Okinawa wear kariyushi – basically the Okinawan version of the Hawaiian shirt. And what’s not to love about an island that has strong reservations about Americans and Japanese alike?
And finally here’s an alphabetical list of the upcoming articles about this haikyo trip to Okinawa:
Dolphin Restaurant Island
Lequio Resort Hotel
Nakagusku Hotel Ruin – The Background Story
Nakagusku Hotel Ruin – The Exploration
Okinawa Cactus Park / Okinawa Seimeinooka Park
Sunset View Inn Shah Bay