Escorted Tour from Honolulu – Spring Okinawa, Ishigaki & Yaeyama Islands 2019
Day1: Mar 14 (Thu) Departure from Honolulu
We checked in at the ANA counter. Everyone was on time and it was a smooth check-in.
Our 8 hr 10 min flight was on time! Lunch was served 1hr 30 min after departure. We had a choice of Seafood Tempura or Chicken Curry.
Sandwich and yogurt was served 2 hrs prior to landing in Narita airport.
Day2: Mar 15 (Fri) Arrival Narita airport & Naha Airport
Upon arrival in Narita airport, we were transferred to Immigration by bus.
After Immigration, we claimed our luggage then went thru customs inspection which lead to the transfer counter to drop off our bag for our 3 hr domestic flight.
Upon arrival in Naha airport, we claimed our bags and were greeted by our English speaking tour guide and two JTB Okinawa staff, and then we were off to the JAL City Naha Hotel. Room keys were provided on the bus which was time saver, since our arrival was late in the night.
Day3: Mar 16 (Sat) Northern Tour
The buffet breakfast was wonderful with a variety of dishes for everyone to enjoy.
After a delicious meal, we left for 2hr bus ride to Churaumi Aquarium at the Expo Park in Motobu.
Arrangements were made for us to park our bus right next to the Aquarium, which was great!
The World Expo was held in 1975 at Ocean Expo Park in Motobu Okinawa, where the original aquarium was built. The existing aquarium (named “Churaumi”, which means “beautiful ocean”) was built in 2002 and was the largest aquarium in the world until 2005 when the Georgia Aquarium surpassed it.
In the main tank, Whale sharks and manta rays along with many other fish are featured for visitors to enjoy and learn about the different fish species. Some of us visited the turtle and manatee tank near by.
From the park, you can see the beautiful Ie Island, where American War Journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr Ernie Pyle was killed.
Our lunch was at old Okinawan traditional house Ufuya where we enjoyed the Okinawan Agu pork dish along with the popular Okinawan mixed stir-fry (Irichaa), and other side dishes. The restaurant was unique and really had the feeling of an old Okinawan house so we took a group photo there.
Our next stop was Kouri Island.
Kouri Island is a small island. You can circle the island in 10 minutes by car. Kouri Bridge was opened to the public in 2005 connecting Kouri Island & Yagaji Island and allowing access by car.
The island, surrounded by an emerald green ocean, is distinguished as the best beach in Okinawa.
We enjoyed the beautiful beach and nature, as well as the delicious Blue Seal Ice Cream!
Next we visited Okashi Goten for shopping.
Okashi Goten in Onna Village is a palace reminiscent of Shuri Castle, where you can enjoy a variety of sweets while experiencing the Okinawan culture. Their specialty is Beni Imo Tart (purple sweet potato tart) an award-winning dessert. Beside the sweets, they offer many souvenirs unique to Okinawa.
Our lat stop of the day was at Manzamo Cliff, which means “a field for 10,000 people to sit”. When King Sho Kei visited this place, he said that the top of the cliff was big enough for 10,000 people to sit.
It is a scenic rock formation facing the East China Sea with views of the beautiful sunset.
After our hotel arrival, our guide escorted us on a short walking tour to give us restaurant recommendations.
Day 4: Mar17 (Sun) Southern tour
We left the hotel at 9 a.m. for Himeyuri Peace Memorial & Museum, which opened it’s door in 1989.
It was dedicated to the Himeyuri Student Corps during the battle of Okinawa.
Prior to the war, there were two schools with their own magazines.
- Okinawa Female Normal School……”Shirayuri”(white lily)
- Okinawa First Girls High School……”Otohime”(young ladies)
After the two schools began to operate side-by-side, the magazines were unified into a new version named “Himeyuri”.
The Female Normal School was for training for future teachers and the First Girls High School motto was “Aim for development of highly Intellectual and well cultivated women”
At both schools, student had to pass extremely difficult exams, and they were very intelligent.
In 1945, near the end of WWII, a fierce battle was unleashed with the US Forces landing on Okinawa.
Male and female students from 21 secondary schools in Okinawa were mobilized for the war effort and sent to the battlefield. At the young age of 14 to 19 years, girls worked as nurses at Army Airfield Hospital, while boys worked on transporting supplies, repairing bridges and electric cables, distributing telegraphs, etc.
Out of 222 girls students and 18 teachers, 136 lost their precious lives,
Our next stop was an anxiously awaited lunch at a golf course restaurant which had gorgeous views.
We were served a Makunouchi set menu with sashimi, pork, various tempura and much more.
After lunch, we visited Chuko Awamori Distillery
Awamori is an alcoholic beverage unique to Okinawa. It is made from Thai long grain rice and unlike Japanese Sake, it is a product of distillation and not brewing.
When Awamori is aged 3 years or more, it is called Kusu or Koshu and the age is noted on the bottle label.
At this facility, they produce their own pottery to store Awamori. They use kiln firing, not any glazing or coloring, to make it dense and firm, the technique for making Awamori and Kusu. They also produce non-alcoholic beverages as well.
After the tour, the evening was free to do as we wished and enjoy dinner on our own.
Day 5: Mar18(Mon) Ishigaki Island
Today, we are off to the islands!
After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the airport with our carry-on overnight bag. Our suitcases were stored at the Naha hotel for our return.
It was a short 1-hour flight to Ishigaki Airport, and upon arrival a bus was there to take us to lunch and the Ishigaki Island tour.
For lunch we were served the island’s local tofu, a variety of tempura along with several dishes.
After we enjoyed lunch, we walked over to the Kabira Bay and boarded the Glass Bottom Boat. We boarded the glass bottom boat and saw spectacular tropical fish, various types of coral and large clams, sea cucumbers etc.
Kabira Bay is one of the 3-star rated 100 beautiful sights in Japan according to the Michelin Guide. It is one of the most beautiful sightseeing spots on Ishigaki Island with breathtaking scenery.
Kabira Bay is one of only two places in Japan that cultivate Black Pearl (the other is the neighboring Iriomote Island). Due to Black Pearl cultivation, no swimming is allowed, however visitors are welcome to walk on the white sand beach and enjoy the beauty of the bay. On the way to the bus, we stopped at the Black Pearl gift shop to see the beautiful finished products.
One cannot resist the beauty of this bay. We took a professional group photo as a souvenir.
Our next stop was Tamatorizaki Observatory
Here you can see sweeping views of the bay and East China See and the Pacific Ocean, as well as the narrowest point of the island, which is only 200 meters wide. There is a hut and benches for your comfort.
It started to rain, but despite the weather some of us took a stroll up to the point, and some stayed on the bus.
Our dinner tonight was famous Wagyu Ishigaki Beef BBQ!
It was a set menu that included a few types of meats, some fresh vegetables to grill on your own and some side dishes.
Born and raised in Japan, Wagyu (literally meaning Japanese cow) are exported to all over Japan and slaughtered on Okinawa island. This is how Ishigaki beef became the famous Kobe Beef.
After dinner we checked into Hotel Miyahira in the new tower and had a good night’s sleep.
Day 6: Mar 19 (Tue) Iriomote/Taketomi/Yubu Island tour
After we had a sumptuous breakfast, we were off to the pier for ferry ride to Iriomote Island.
The hotel was conveniently located near the pier, which was few minute’s walk. After a 35-minute ferry ride, we arrived on Iriomote Island then were off on a 1-hour tour on the Nakama River Mangrove forest cruise by chartered boat. Nakama River has 200 hectares of mangrove forest, which is the largest in Japan and home to many flora & fauna.
We got off the boat to see Sakishimasuo tree (Sundri Tree). This tree has a very tough wood used in boat building.
After the cruise, we were transferred to Mihara by bus for our Yubu Island tour. Upon arrival in Mihara, we were transferred onto Water Baffalo Carriage for a short ride to Yubu Island. The driver of the carriage entertained us with a Minyo (Ryukyu Folk song), which was a treat.
Yubu island is a small island comprised entirely of subtropical botanical gardens with colorful tropical flowers that bloom throughout the year.
There is a butterfly garden, shell house, bougainvillea garden, children’s playground, and gift shop to satisfy visitors.
Upon arrival in Yubu island, we were escorted off to restaurant for Okinawan cuisine, a Makunouchi Bento set meal.
After touring island on our own, we returned to Iriomote Island by the Water Buffalo carriage, then got onto the bus to Ohara port for a ferry ride to Taketomi island. We were off to visit Star sand beach by mini bus. Only two places on Earth are known to produce the tiny star-shaped grains of sand that make up Star sand beach. These unique grains are pointy husks of millions of tiny Protists(single celled organism of Kingdom Protista-such as alga, and fungi.) It was fun to watch people pressing their hand on the sand to find their own star sand.
Next was the island tour by Water Buffalo Carriage.
Taketomi Island is the site of beautifully preserved traditional Ryukyu villages and consists almost entirely of traditional style one-story houses with stonewalls and covered with red tiled roofs with lion-like Shiisa statues to ward off evil spirits.
Our water Buffalo Carriage driver/guide entertained us with folk music (Minyo) and the popular song, Asadoya Yunta, originated in Taketomi island.
After our island tour, we headed to the ferry port for 2nd night stay on Ishigaki Island.
We strolled to downtown Ishigaki for dinner, and our tour guide introduced us to several restaurants.
When we returned to the hotel, some of us had the chance to enjoy a free live show (Okinawan folk songs with Sanshin, an Okinawan musical instrument).
Day 7: Mar 20 (Wed) Ishigaki Island – Naha
After breakfast, we had an early check out then were off to our morning tour and activity.
Our first stop was Tojin Grave (Chinese Cemetery) which was built in 1971 as a memorial for the Chinese victims of the slave rebellion on an American slave ship in 1952.
Our next stop was Mineya for a hands-on Minsaa Weaving experience!
Minsaa is the traditional weaving of the island. For women of Yaeyama, there’s a long tradition of weaving special patterns on Minsaa textiles as an engagement gift for new husbands. In modern days, they produce bags, accessories, neckties and many other items using the same traditional techniques which make the perfect gift.
It was a great experience and lots of fun to weave, and we all made beautiful, colorful coasters to take home as souvenirs!
After weaving, we stopped at Max Value Super Market for lunch, then were off to the airport for our fight to Naha.
Upon arrival in Naha, we made a quick stop at the hotel to drop off our luggage then were off to Tsuboya Pottery Museum. We had a chance to view original kiln near by, then continued our walking tour of Heiwa Street, and public markets and much more.
Our Farewell dinner was at Suitenro Restaurant where we enjoyed Okinawan traditional cuisine and dancing. We also had some talented tour members who entertained us with Irish dance and more Okinawan dance.
Day 8: Mar 21 (Thu) South & Naha
After breakfast, we were off to tour Okinawa World in the south.
Okinawa World is a theme park with Gyokusendo Cave, which is the park’s main attraction. Gyokusendo Cave is the longest cave on Okinawa Island and the second longest cave in Japan. Roughly 850 meters of the cave is open to the public and features spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. It is well maintained and well lit for walking. The park showcases glass making and Eisa dancing, as well as traditional-style Okinawan homes with various Okinawan crafts.
Our next stop was at Nahatei for lunch!
The menu was the famous Okinawa soba, a seasoned mixed rice and Mozuku (seaweed).
After we enjoying our lunch, we were off to visit Shuri Castle which was designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in year 2000.
King Shohashi unified the three principalities of Okinawa & established the Ryukyu Kingdom. He used Shuri Castle as a residence and Shuri flourished as the capital of Ryukyu until the second Sho Dynasty. During World War II, the castle’s underground rooms were used by the Imperial Japanese Army as a headquarters and was heavily damaged. After the war, the University of the Ryukyu was established on the castle site on 1950.
From the Shuri Castle tour, we visited near by Ryusen to enjoy a Syuri Dye hands-on experience.
We were introduced to Coral Dying, unique to Ryusen. Using coral fossil and coloring we made our own special designs. We had a choice of t-shirts, tote bags or furoshiki (large handkerchief). We had fun painting the material and showed off our finished products!
After Ryusen, the rest of the day was free to do as we wished!
Some of us rode the monorail to Aeon Mall in Oroku for dinner and last-minute shopping.
We packed our suitcases for departure the next day.
Day 9: Mar 22 (Fri) Departure Naha-Haneda-Honolulu
After breakfast we were free until check-out time and some of us did more last-minute shopping and enjoyed lunch for the last time in Okinawa.
Our final tour was visiting Umi Budo farm (Caulerpa lentillifera) for a hands-on harvesting experience.
This seaweed is one of the favored species of edible Caulerpa due to it’s soft and succulent texture.
Freshly harvested Umi Budo is served with a soy sauce and vinegar dip, which is so delicious and great as a snack or on salad.
We experienced harvesting of Umi Budo and at the end of tour we had a chance to taste this unique dish along with refreshing ice cream!
From the Umi Budo farm, we headed to Naha Domestic Airport for our flight to Haneda.
We checked in at the ANA check-in counter with enough time to do some more last-minute shopping.
Upon our arrival in Haneda Domestic Terminal, we were transferred to the International Terminal by shuttle bus. Since our check-in luggage was checked all the way to Honolulu, it was an easy transfer.
After the normal immigration procedure for exiting the country, we headed to the departure gate, where we had dinner and did more shopping.
Our flight to Honolulu was only 6 hours and 15 minutes due to the tailwinds.
Our first meal was served after 2 hours and we had a choice of Beef Bowl, or Hawaiian Chicken.
Shortly after dinner, sandwiches were served as a snack for the remainder of the flight.
Some enjoyed the movie and some of us took a short nap.
We arrived home around 10 a.m. and said good bye to our tour members.
Please join us on future JTB Okinawa tours for a first-hand experience!
By Sumie Consillio
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