Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Headed up to Hedo

The good thing about living in Okinawa is that there are so many beautiful places to see and fun things to do.  The bad thing about living in Okinawa is that it is sometimes difficult to get to all of them since the island doesn't have much in the way of public transportation.  Although Okinawa is relatively small, it is also very thin and narrow, making it quite a trek up to the northern-most tip - Cape Hedo - especially since the one stretch of highway we have stops only about 1/3 of the way up there. 

Matt and I decided to head up to Hedo and spend the whole day there.  From our house, the drive up north took about 1 1/2 hours, maybe a little longer as we hit some unnecessary construction on the way... they were literally building underground tunnels for the crabs to get from the ocean onto the land... no joke.  Oh, Okinawa... :)  The day started off a little bit hazy, but it got prettier and prettier the farther we went.  Our first stop was the actual Cape Hedo, which is some of the most gorgeous coastline I've seen here ever!

Our drive up the coast to Hedo

Signs explaining what all the construction was about.  See - I wasn't joking!

Our first view up at Hedo

It doesn't really look like it, but we are sooo high up on top of large cliffs

A shrine we found... normal for Okinawa

Not the easiest rocks to climb on

Looking down

At the edge of the cliffs we spotted a couple Sea Turtles

Me taking photos on the crazy cliffs

Looking down into the water at Hedo is gorgeous!  There are HUGE crevices that are perfect for diving and snorkeling

The actual Cape Hedo - AMAZING

So gorgeous

This is a HUGE bird observatory up on the mountain overlooking Cape Hedo... it's supposed to be an endangered bird they have here on Okinawa that they are obviously very proud of.  We've seen soooo many signs and buildings with this bird on them - we even saw people wearing bird shirts!  Apparently it is called the Okinawan Rail Bird, and it is only found in Yanbaru, the northern-most area of Okinawa.

View of Cape Hedo from the bird (I am actually taking this from the bird's mouth LOL).  Our previous photos were taken over on that point across the bay. 

We drove down to Hedo Beach, where we snorkelled and saw two more Sea Turtles in the crevices of the reef!  And no beach visit would be complete without collecting some shells and coral:)

Our Pajero on the beach

Signs warning us not to hit one of those birds - Matt actually saw one crossing the road!  I did not. 

We ended up taking the loooong way home on the east side of the island, because we were trying to find a waterfall and freshwater pool that we had been hearing about called Aha Falls. 

Check out this video clip of Matt on the rope swing at Aha Falls:

We started to get hungry for dinner but couldn't find any restaurants up in "jungle country" (the northern part of the island).  After miles of driving, we ended up finding our way back to civilization and ended up choosing a restaurant we had never heard of called Sumiya. 

Sumiya had a HUGE menu with tons of individual skewers to order

A yummy radish salad

We were so hungry by this point that we ended up ordering a ton of food - starting with a bunch of skewers.

Oh, did I mention that this restaurant was vintage video-game themed??  We each had a private table with our own old-school TV and game console!

I normally don't like to refer to my era as "vintage", but there really isn't a better word for it - look at these old school games! 

Me caught up in a SERIOUS game of Space Invaders.

Even though it took awhile to get some food in us, and we drove pretty much from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm, it was a really fun day of exploring.  The weather was perfect, and we finally got to see the gorgeous Cape Hedo!  I wish we had no jobs and could do this everyday:)


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mainland Japan Trip Part 2 - Kyoto

The second leg of our mainland Japan trip was the old capital city of Kyoto. While Tokyo was definitely one of the coolest cities I've ever been to, Kyoto was probably my favorite part of this trip. Not only was it further south than Tokyo (warmer!), it was also the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the bustling city scene that is Tokyo. Kyoto is exactly what you envision when you picture traditional Japan - tiny side streets, small villages, girls in kimono, umbrellas, cranes, old temples, and cherry blossoms - TONS of them! 

There are a couple times of the year that Kyoto is known to be at its most beautiful, and that one week in April where the cherry blossom trees are at their fullest is definitely one of them! I am SO glad we picked this time of year to go, and we picked the perfect week to go as well - Easter weekend as it happened to be. We do have cherry blossoms down here in Okinawa, as you've probably seen on the blog in the past, however, they are so much different up in mainland Japan. Not only are the flowers a much lighter pink than those in Okinawa, the trees are also so FULL of them that they look like clouds, and the trees are on every street you turn down! The best part was our mode of transportation around the old city - Matt and I rented bikes (Matt, a mountain bike, and me, a beach cruiser with a basket:) which allowed us to really see SO much more than we ever would have riding public transportation. It was also SO much more fun, and really made our experience in Kyoto amazing!
Here are some of the highlights of our time in Kyoto:

Check out this video clip of the Shinkansen - or the Japanese Bullet Train - that runs down the entire mainland Japan.  It is one of the fastest in the world, and it is such a smooth ride.  The Shinkansen wasn't cheap - we took it from Tokyo down to Kyoto (a 2 1/2 hour ride) and it was just as much as if we had flown there!  But, as with everything on a vacation, it's the experience that counts:)

Our view of Mt. Fuji while on our way to Kyoto

Kyoto Tower

The architecturally impressive Kyoto Station - it had a huge outdoor escalator that went up to each of the 10 floors, and each floor had different types of food.

We ended up eating at the 9th floor (all different types of Ramen) two times during the trip - it was that good!

Our first day riding through Kyoto

There were beautiful cherry blossom trees on every street it seemed

Japanese in traditional clothes and parasols in Gion district

Huge torii gate at an intersection

Heian Shrine

Bamboo canopies of cherry blossoms in the Heian Shrine gardens

Stepping stones

Caught in action (yes, he just swooped down and caught that big fish right out of the pond!)

A Japanese bride

Old aquaduct at Nanzen-ji Temple

Philosopher's Path - a very long and curvy path of thousands of cherry blossom trees along a tiny river.  This was so beautiful:)

Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Temple) is one of the most popular sites in Kyoto because of the real gold leaf that adorns the outside of the pagoda.  Matt and I raced there on our bikes, and we made it just in time as it was closing... we may have been rained on and sweating, but we got to see the Golden Temple!

Sitting riverside in Pontocho at night

I loved this beautiful river walk right in the middle of a street filled with restaurants.

The cherry blossoms literally looked like clouds in the sky

Our second day of biking around Kyoto, we went all the way to a small mountain-side town called Arashiyama.

Gio-ji Temple (The Moss Temple)

Bamboo Groves - this was huge, and I don't think we even rode through all of the different paths!

Beautiful lake and mountains of Arashiyama

Artist's painting

Me with girls in kimono on the Arashiyama bridge

Enterance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is more of a hike than a shrine.  It is composed of thousands and thousands of bright orange torii gates in rows that create winding tunnels up the side of the mountain.  It starts off with two different tunnels and quickly becomes one. 

I wonder what all of these say...

Fushimi Inari is my favorite place in Kyoto - it was amazing!

Can't stop taking photos of these!!

So, that was the ending to our amazing trip up to mainland Japan!  It's easy to think that we know what Japan is like since we live here, but now, I can say that I finally feel like I know TRUE Japan... not just our little island of Okinawa. 

Thanks for following along on our adventures!