When my aunt invited me to tag along to Japan (specifically to the Okinawa Islands) with her and my cousin about four weeks before the departure date my first thought was, “there is absolutely no way I can make that work.” But after looking at a few flights and day dreaming of being transported to spectacular beaches at the other side of the world I just decided to make it work. Literally the only thing stopping me from going was myself.
And after the beginning of this year I decided a little break wouldn’t be half bad for me. I will probably never be one of those carefree people that throws everything to the wind and just goes with life. I like to plan. I like to plan the future. Or plan it as much as possible that is. I’ve also concluded that it’s okay to be a bit of a crazy, OCD, planner. It’s okay to like (slash love) to plan and have somewhat of an f-ing idea of what I want to happen. It’s okay as long as I’m open to the flexibility of those plans changing.
So in the end I decided I was just going to Japan, if not only for a bit of a brain break from my life, but also to just try to be present. So that is what I did. I went to Japan and attempted to let go. To let go of all of the planning, to let go of living in the future, to let go of living in the past and to let go of all the anger that I feel towards the world for the cruelty that happens everyday.
And when it was all said and done I would say I did a pretty good job. I wasn’t always present or not crazy with anger but I was there. And I tried to live every moment for just being there and being grateful for a new place, a new culture and a new point in life (literally and emotionally).
So here is a look at our INCREDIBLE trip (without any more self realization talk)!
the people. I cannot think of two better travel companions to go to the edge of the world with than my aunt, Heidi, and cousin, Kailey. Kailey was slowly making her way back to the states after being overseas for 9 months. She is now a PADI dive master after mastering all that diving business under the water in Thailand. She also has a tan that most would kill for. Can we all say jealous? And my aunt. She has always been there for me but in the past months has been one of those people that I know I can rely on. She is like a whirling combination of caring, empathy, reasonable and humorous that never stops moving forward. Both also happen to be great travelers.
Another wonderful part of these two ladies are the laughs. There were so many laughs and fits of hysteria had by all of us during our trip. A laugh a day definitely keeps the doctor away.
the places. Japan. Japan is a new world. I have traveled through Europe and the Americas but Asia, never Asia. I flew from Sun Valley to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Okinawa. I was extremely surprised by the number of Americans on my flight to and from Okinawa (there is a ginormous base on the northern part of the island). Heidi and Kailey arrived a bit after I did and we made our way by bus a bit north on Okinawa to the Western side of the islands. We were tempted by a magnificent hotel and white sand beach.
But after arriving we realized that this hotel was not quite our dream. It was a very large hotel and very infiltrated with knick-knacks and large crowds. It was an adventurous night and we decided to book tickets to Ishigaki the following day. Ishigaki is a part of a smaller set of islands about an hour flight south-west from Okinawa. Rumor has it you can see parts of Taiwan from the islands. While in Ishigaki we stayed at the most magnificent place (after a bit of a miss booking when we booked a hotel in the middle of nowhere with a view of an alley). Side note: booking hotels is hard in Japan. Websites will say every single last room is booked when it looks like no one is at the hotel. Either everyone rolls in on a tour bus later in the evening (which is entirely possible) or the rooms are held by Japanese websites. A little planning of where you want to stay is reasonable if you are considering going to the Okinawa Islands.
Ishigaki and the surrounding islands literally felt like the edge of the world. We rented bikes that were a bit used (to say the least) and explored Ishigaki port one day. We also scooted over to Taketomi by ferry and explored for the day by bike. Taketomi was by far my favorite place of the trip. It has a village with about 300 inhabitants. The roads of made of crushed coral and wide enough for a water-buffalo cart. The island has spectacular turquoise water, white sand beaches with star sand and apparently hundreds of deadly spiders and snakes, none of which we encountered thanks to some lucky stars. If you ever find yourself on Okinawa you must go to Ishigaki and Taketomi. You will not regret it.
And our last night we stayed back on Okinawa by the airport and went out with some Idaho friends. We had a great dinner followed by karaoke singing in a closed bar, with Mana-sans and Tokito, that our Idaho friends had been to before. We were given copious amounts of chips, strawberries and tomatoes, chocolate and sake. If that’s not a great way to end an incredible vacation then I don’t know what is.
the new friends. We made a ton of new friends in Japan. Upon arriving on Ishigaki there was significantly less English spoken. But we got by quite fine. Most people tended to look at us like we were possibly the three craziest, whitest ladies that they had ever seen and I think most questioned how we had gotten so far without a lick of Japanese or a clue of what we were doing. But we didn’t let that stop us.
We quickly realized that the Japanese are very reserved and quiet. We were likely neither. There were very few public displays of emotion that we encountered. But after starting to say “hi” to locals that we passed on our bikes most of the locals would literally light up and give us the most genuine and beautiful smiles. Interacting with little to no verbal communication was literally one of my favorite parts of the day. Imagine the hotel clerk who also cleaned the windows and the pool, gardened and bartended, depicting a water buffalo with his hands and head after we told him we were going to Taketomi. How can that not be a highlight of your day?
Here are the many friends we made along the way!
the food. I am self admittedly a picky eater. The boy tells me frequently I’m picky and I prefer to respond that I just know what I like. Which I do. I like fresh fruits, vegetables, some grains, beans, tea and coffee, lots of coffee. It’s not a bad diet but definitely not the Japanese diet. For someone that hasn’t eaten meat (or fish) for over 12 years, everything tasted a bit fishy in Japan. But I just went with it and tried to be as accommodating as possible of my crazy, freak eating habits.
Japan has quite possibly the most beautiful fruits and vegetables you will ever see. The Okinawa Islands are famous for having the longest living inhabitants. This fact is quite understandable as they just eat the most amazing fresh produce, fish, sweet potatoes, seaweed and a bit of rice. That right there is the diet of champions. We visited several markets on the islands and each time were met by beautiful, clean and clearly not GMO/hormone/antibiotic ridden fresh fruits and vegetables. Most even had baked sweet potatoes for a to-go snack. (Side note: it was clearly not a social custom to munch on the sweet potato as you shop and then pay for it…). However, like the rest of the world Japan has a TON of pre-packaged food. Almost to a point of insane consumerism. We chose to focus on the fresh food instead and feasted like champions…
the handstands. So many handstands were had. Kailey has a bit of an inversion to being inverted (understandable). She is more of an underwater hand-stander. So Heidi and I did handstands all over Japan. I’m certain the locals thought we were insane. But it provided a great new perspective and a bit of fun to be had literally everywhere we went. We are now both on a mission to master the handstand.
If you happen to ever venture the world of Okinawa, Japan please feel free to contact me! Also huge thanks and enormous gratitude to my aunt and cousin for letting me tag along to the edge of the world. I can’t think of anyone else I would have rather shared the time, laughs, sore butts and adventures with. Love you both!
And I will leave you with some wise words from Tony Noodle: