Staring out of the window and gazing upon the island as it slowly disappears from my sight, i whispered softly, ” Ill be back”glancing up at my wife, i could see her sharing the same sentiments as me. I love travelling because it enriches my life and open my eyes to see beyond the daily hustle and bustle of big cites.
For this trip, I was in Okinawa island for three weeks. This is my third time visiting Japan, having been to Nagoya, Tokyo, and Hokkaido a few years back. The Battle of Okinawa during World War II may be the first thing that some people recall whenever Okinawa is mentioned. This battle lasted for 82 days and the island was placed under American ruling after World War II until May 15, 1972, it was reverted back to Japanese ruling. Today,
Okinawa is one of the leading resort destinations in Japan, visited by both domestic and international travelers.
I was in Okinawa for two reasons: to participate in the Strongman All Japan Triathlon – one of the most established triathlons in the world; and to embark on a new photography project exploring the longevity of the people living in Okinawa – where it is rumoured to be the island where people have the longest lifespan in the world.
Prior to the triathlon, I had an unfortunate turn of events and had sustained an injury during one of my training sessions. I was advised by the doctor to stay away from any sports for a eriod of time and after weighing the consequences, I made the difficult decision to withdraw from the triathlon.
Picking myself up from where I left off, I tried to focus my energy into the other passion in my life – the photography project.
While researching for interesting subjects for this project, I read about people in Okinawa having long lifespans and leading a healthy life. That intrigued me and I wanted to capture the essence of life in my project to showcase it to the world via photographs and interview snippets.
My focus for this project is on taking portrait shots of the elderly people and their hands. Why hands? This is because each hand is unique in its own ways, the wrinkles that run cross the hands tell a different story of life but the same story of resilience and experience .
For the first few days in Okinawa, my wife and I stayed in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture, the southernmost prefecture of Japan. During the Battle of Okinawa, Naha suffered extensive damage from the fighting
and the entire city centre had to be rebuilt. Today, the restored and rebuilt Shuri Castle, the former royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, is one of the finest Okinawan castle and is one of the most important historical sites in Naha.
Bidding adieu to Naha for the time being, our next stop was at Nago, a city located at the northern part of Okinawa Island. Our next stop is to Taketomi Island to the south of Ishigaki Island. To reach Ishigaki Island, we need to take a plane from Naha so we went back to Naha and had a 3 days 2 nights stay at RIHGA Royal Gran Okinawa, where one can overlook Naha City and enjoy an unobstructed view of the sky.
Taketomi Island requires quite a bit of effort to get there – an hour’s plane journey from Naha to Ishigaki Island followed by a 50-minute bus ride from Ishigaki airport to the ferry terminal and a 10-minute ferry ride from the ferry terminal to Taketomi Island.
For all the effort put in to reach Taketomi Island, it is well worth it. Taketomi is known for its “traditional Okinawan” houses, stone walls, and sandy streets, making it popular with tourists. One can relax at the beach, go snorkeling, take an oxcart ride through the village, or simply walking/biking around the island while enjoying the quaintness of the village and the natural scenery the island has to offer.
Our 3 days 2 nights stay in Taketomi Island was taken care of by the luxurious HOSHINAYA Taketomi Island Resort. After we have checked-in, we were given a tour of the resort and was then shown our unit.
We had afternoon tea at the Yuntaku Lounge in the resort and were treated to a live traditional music performance by a local artiste using the Sanshin – Okinawan traditional three strings music instrument – accompanied by aromatic coffee and biscuits. We ended the day with a scrumptious dinner at the resort’s restaurant with a Nouvelle French cuisine, à la Okinawa – HOSHINAYA Taketomi Island Resort’s novel
take on French cuisine by putting a twist on local dishes that feature ingredients found on the islands.
The next morning was off to a great start with breakfast and a beautiful view of the pool. The pool is heated 24/7 so you can jump right in whenever you want and enjoy a breathtaking view of the blue sky during the day or a sky full of stars at night.
The rest of the morning was spent snorkeling and diving at one of the spots. The water was crystal clear, abundant with coral reefs, and I could see the rich aquatic life under its transparent veil. To be able to swim alongside various species of fishes and other aquatic animals is a wondrous experience that everyone should go through at least once.
We embarked on an exploration of the Taketomi Island in the early afternoon and participated in the Taketomi Minsa Weaving Experience Workshop back at the resort, a craft that has been passed down for generations. In this 2-hour workshop, we were taught to weave using a foot pedal loom, a part of the history of Taketomi Island.
The workshop was conducted by a lady who also manages the place – she has been doing it her entire life – and supported by two staff who helped out in the day-to-day operations and assisted in the weaving
workshop. The machinery used there for weaving are mostly made of wood, adding a touch of traditionalism in this otherwise modern world.
Living the time of our lives is an ode to trying out new experiences so we decided to have our dinner back in our room. Here is the catch: BBQ in our room. Yes, you heard right, yum yum in my tum tum! After the belly delicious dinner, we took a shuttle service to Nishi Pier to watch the sun set over the clear blue sea as the soft glowing light emanated from the twilight, blurring the horizon that divides the sky and the sea.
The next day, we were up before dawn to catch the early morning sunrise. The beauty of it would forever be etched into our hearts as we embraced the reality of being on that island for the last day. We were so enthralled by the weaving workshop that we spent the last day back there, taking videos and photographs to document the special moment we have had and to show our love for traditional craftworks.
Visitors to Takatomi Island would be thrilled to know that there are three major beaches on Taketomi Island, namely the Kondoi Beach, Aiyaru Beach, and Kaiji Beach. Each of those three beaches has its own personality and feel but all of them offer captivating deep blue skies and welcoming silence perfect for an afternoon of personal reflection.
Three weeks in Okinawa has made me appreciate life on a deeper level. We always take things for granted, want things in an instant, but good things come to those who wait. Ask yourself how many times have you slowed
down your pace in life to just appreciate the beauty of nature or how fleeting twilight truly is?
Staring out of the window and gazing upon the island as it slowly disappears from my sight, I whispered softly, “I’ll be back.” There is an end to everything, to good things as well. This may be the end of my trip but it is
just the beginning of a sub-chapter in my life.