Japan may seem small but when you add the 160 islands of Okinawa it seems to stretch endlessly into the East China Sea. Like Hokkaido, Okinawa is a recent addition to Japan proper and was its own kingdom and trading epicenter until 1879. Feeling more like Hawaii than Honshu, its a place where flip flops replace business shoes, sugar cane grows like weeds, and the laid-back vibe is as far from Tokyo as it gets. We had the good fortune of spending eight days island hopping the Ryukus with Okinawa Island as our first stop. Naha City is the beating heart of Ryuku culture past and present and the gateway to the Japanese tropics.
Flying in late from Tokyo we wanted a hotel that was easy to get to from the airport, in the heart of town, and with romance a plenty. The Naha Double Tree fit the bill and more. We walked into the newly opened Hyatt property and instantly fell in love with super chic décor and welcoming staff.
Our suite was perfectly appointed with fluffy white bedding, romantic lighting, and best of all....a full body massage chair! Getting massaged head to toe, looking out to views of the city and nibbling on the Double Tree's signature chocolate chip cookies...what could be better?
The next morning we started our exploration of Ryuku culture with a trip to the UNESCO-heritage Shuri Castle. Ryuku is the name of the kingdom that united the archipelago in 1429 and Shuri was the king's residence and epicenter of power. We adored our morning walking the grounds and learning about the Okinawa's roots.
Having established trade with Korea, Japan, and most of Southeast Asia, Okinawan style is influenced by the diversity of people and things that passed through its shores. And when it comes to Ryuku arts and crafts, its the best of all worlds. The Bashofu weaving, bingata painted fabrics, and unglazed earthenware we saw across the charming boutiques of Naha were like nothing we'd ever seen.
Okinawa is famous for its soba noodle soup and Sakura restaurant was said to be a hot local spot. To enter this warehouse-style building, you have to duck through a mini-door, take off your shoes, and crawl to an alcove to find a table. Needless to say, this place was cool. Sakura serves their soba and broth separately, so to eat it like the cool kids, you dip each bit into the salty sweet soup like a sauce. Wash it down with an Orion beer and you have a well-rounded Okinanwan meal.
Leaving the restaurant we started following the sounds of violins, guitars, and this charming voice. We stayed and watched this band play in the perfect acoustics of this tiled breezeway for nearly an hour. Have a listen.
We loved the unique vibe of this island city and can't wait see what the rest of the Ryukus have in store.
Much love from Naha,
Anne & Mike
Note: Double Tree by Hilton invited us to be their guest; however, all opinions are our own.