©︎ Wanda Proft
Soon after I landed in Japan, Tokyo revealed its charms: at every corner, tradition met modernity. I was captivated by young ladies wearing colorful kimonos on their way to a temple and, only a few meters away, business people dressed in black suits were hurrying to a meeting, passing swiftly before a group of young adults dressed like anime characters. Here I was finally, in bursting Tokyo: a metropolis which somehow managed to find a captivating balance between rich traditions and ground-breaking innovation.
I was eager to stand at the Shibuya Scramble Crossing, which is often referred to as the “beating heart” of Tokyo. As the sun began to set, I witnessed the organized chaos of the famous square from the 47th floor of Shibuya Sky. Newly opened in 2019, this rooftop venue quickly became one of the best view points of the Tokyo skyline, day and night.
teamLab Borderless, Tokyo
Like a Tokyoite, I hopped on the subway and arrived minutes later in Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. There, I was struck by the dream-like beauty and atmosphere of teamLab Borderless, a futuristic art museum. Later on, eager for another multi-sensory experience, I treated myself to an unforgettable gourmet meal at TREE by NAKED, where fine cuisine meets digital art.
Was I not afraid of sensory overload? Not for one second. Tokyo has plenty of areas perfect for introspection and finding calmness. One of these areas I explored was Nezu Shrine. Here, I learned about traditional rituals and, as I enjoyed getting lost in the back streets of Tokyo attractions, I discovered more and more small holy spaces. I remember standing in a narrow street, taking in the sacred architecture of a tiny shrine. And on the day I needed a break from the city, I was re-energized by the greenery and the multicultural designs of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
A visit to Tokyo would not be complete without a sushi feast, I thought! My culinary desires were easily fulfilled in the Tsukiji Outer Market, where dozens of vendors and modest restaurants offer delicious sushi and sashimi.
Before leaving Japan’s capital, I headed to Tokyo Skytree for a final view from above. In its shopping complex called Tokyo Solamachi, I found great Japanese souvenirs. These days, the mementos I collected on my journey make me smile and help during this challenging time.
After experiencing the vibrant energy of Tokyo, I headed to Okinawa, the southernmost region of Japan. Getting there was a breeze. A number of airlines fly from Tokyo to Okinawa’s main airports (Naha, Miyako and Ishigaki), and foreign visitors can benefit from very low rates—something to keep in mind for future travel plans!
In just three hours, I landed in a whole other world. Naha, Okinawa’s biggest city, was clearly a great place to start exploring Japan’s chain of subtropical islands.
To understand the key elements of Okinawa’s history, I first visited its Peace Memorial Museum. I remember learning about the huge scars left by the Okinawa Battle which opposed the Japanese army and the United States forces in 1945. I was very moved by the Room of War Testimony, which offered transcripts of eyewitness accounts for what is still referred to as the “typhoon of steel”.
Next, I visited the local market with a guide from Taste of Okinawa, and together we gathered ingredients for a delicious cooking experience that taught me more about local dishes and traditions. As I tasted these new dishes, I began to understand what makes Okinawa one of the healthiest places in the world and why Okinawans are renowned for their longevity.
Okinawans also have their own alcohol, the awamori. I sampled different types of this distilled spirit in miniature cups at a tiny Naha bar called Oninoude. Its owner, and barman, has found the most creative way to merge his love for artisanal pottery, awamori, and Okinawa food. This Japanese beverage was completely new to me and I deeply enjoyed this unique experience.
After three days in Naha, I took a very short flight to Miyako Island. Excited by my next adventure, I went to Rugu Glamping Resort located on Kurima Island, a short drive away from Miyako airport. How can I ever forget riding my rented Japanese bike on the beautiful rolling hills, surrounded by fields of sugarcane? Later that night, fully satisfied by the resort’s BBQ, I joined fellow visitors for a jungle walking tour and caught sight of purple coconut crabs hiding in the lush forest!
The next day I visited Miyakojima’s spectacular beaches and took in the breathtaking views of Cape Higashi-Hennazaki—I could see why Japanese people spoke of the “Miyako blue”. The color of the sea was truly divine. I swore to myself that I would one day return to Imugya Marine Garden, the most crystal-clear lagoon I have ever seen. That evening, I got my first experience of stand up paddling (SUP) and watched the sunset fall on Miyako’s Yonaha Bay.
On my very last day, I attended a sashimi-making workshop where I learned the delicate art of cutting a freshly-caught bonito tuna for a delicious meal of sashimi and Okinawa soba noodle soup. This was an authentic (and delicious!) fisherman’s experience that turned out to be one more perfect touch to end the most enchanting trip.
If you enjoy discovering different worlds like I do, once the pandemic is over, don't miss adding Japan to your future exotic destinations!
For when we are free to travel again…
Domestic flights (special rates for foreign visitors)
· ANA Discover JAPAN Fare