“Mibaru Biichi ni ikimasu ka?”. You hope this is the #39 bus going to Mibaru Beach, a beach town on Okinawa’s southeast coast. The driver nods with a slight smile. You walk to the back of the bus and take your seat. The interior is lined in plastic surfaces, the colour blue is heavily dominant and Japanese characters are in great abundance.
Naha is a heavily concentrated town, the capital of Okinawa—a Japanese island far in the country’s southernmost reaches. Outside of the sea, there is little feeling of nature with building after building after road after building.
You had plans to visit an island off the coast of Okinawa, and possibly a second which is uninhabited. Unfortunately, due to the Peach Airlines debacle, such a plan was scuttled and visiting Mibaru Beach was the closest you were going to get to a beach getaway in Japan.
The building sprawl and the bus both continue further and further from Naha. You aren’t sure if you are in a different town or city, it just seems like a giant blob of development. Perhaps 10 minutes from Mibaru Beach, the bus ascends a hill. Out of the left side there is a great overview of the countryside if you can call it that. It is also around here that the sprawl seems to peter out enough so that you start feeling the impact of nature.
At the other side, as the nearly empty bus descends, Mibaru Beach and the ocean come into sight. The ocean appears shallow towards the shore with rocky tidal pools covering much of it. Large boulders, probably remnants of a volcano, sit scattered about. The houses in the town are more integrated with foliage and other natural elements; it feels much less industrialized. It is a good escape.
The tidal pools and shallows are alive with ocean life; fish dart at the sight of your shadow. A sea star, rich blue and variegated, gleams from beneath the crystal clear water. The current is nearly non-existent, cut down by the marine topography further out. You keep your shoes on to protect against the large, sharp sea level rocks and their smaller, easier to miss, descendants.
As afternoon sets in, you make your way on foot on a roadway heading west from Mibaru Beach. You come upon a wooden gate and stone stairs. It looks to be some sort of restaurant. You open the gate and head down to find a bunch of people in an airy café overlooking the water.
You attempt to get a menu but the waitress points for you to go to the door. She mutters something incomprehensibly and you reverse course and leave. You observe your surroundings and not sure what the process is, head back up the stairs and depart.
There isn’t much of anything other than the beach and a scattered café or restaurant here and there. So you walk back to the bus stop and, luckily, board soon thereafter. You notice on the return trip that there is a monitor on the bus that tells you how much the fare is, increasing as the bus travels.
There is a beach is Naha. Interestingly enough, the one you were recommended curves underneath a highway overpass, a good use of the typically wasted terrain. There are signs not to swim in the water, a curious oddity given that the locals recommended to go here. The water is cold and clear but soon enough you find yourself traipsing along the bridge overpass which provides a great overhead view of Naha (as your camera sits back in your room).
Continuing over the bridge, you find yourself a seafood market which you enter. Numerous vendors are lined in a rectangle loop hawking all kinds of fresh seafood, sushi, sashimi and fish cakes. You purchase a box of sashimi and a pile of fish cakes and make off to a nearby park which just so happens to also have a water spigot, a perfect resource at the perfect time.
As you continue onwards, you pass a series of homeless people living from tents that appear to be functioning more permanently than typical for such devices. It seems they have made their own community of sorts. Electrical wires snake from a nearby building into their domains and cookware can be seen stacked in a pile.
The homeless encampment turns into retail stores and then random buildings and finally ends at a blockade and a guard. Any ideas of traveling further along the coastline are now evaporating. Sensing an end of the walking journey, you make your way back through the expanse of heavy low-rise development.
The journey is continued in Tokyo at #043
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