Welcome to Okinawa winters. The skies are a permanent shade of grey. The wind is constant. The rain has been unfaltering for a solid 6 weeks. It has been pretty blarg around here.
Now let me start by saying I know winters here don’t even resemble winters that many of you are dealing with. However, by Okinawa standards, it has been damn cold here. It even snowed. Yes, there was actual snow falling from the sky here, for all of two minutes but it hasn’t happened in over 115 years! Basically, it has been stupid cold for a sub tropical island. This is all after Wade and I were desperate for some cold weather for a christmas trip in Osaka. If only we waited.
Growing up in New England, winters were harsh. It is cold and wet. Snow turns from a beautiful white to dull brown sludge in the amount of time it takes to get your dunkin. Your goal is to get from one place to another and have the least amount of interaction with mother nature as possible. I have certainly taken a longer subway ride to stay underground to get home, than trudge through the mucky streets for an extra 5 minutes for a faster connection. And still I don’t miss it. 🙂
So no, Okinawa winters are not exactly like the ones I have lived through. What does seem similar is my lack of desire to get up and outside. My instinct tells me to curl up, drink copious amounts of coffee or wine, depending on the time of day (or not), and not move a muscle. I get really grumpy when I fall into these funks and no one likes a grumpy Ashley. The island fever has really set in and I’ve been feeling negative towards this little island lately. For the first time since moving here, I actually feel… stuck.
To combat the grump, we have a few things that we enjoy doing during the blarg Okinawa winters. Hopefully these will help motivate you to get you out of the house.
There is so much hiking in Okinawa.The weather within the jungle of Okinawa is actually really pleasant right now. Okinawa winters means less humidity and heat. Less bugs and spiders. Less Habu snakes! That is reason enough to go on a hike. You can hike up mountains, down rivers that lead to waterfalls, through dense forest with really beautiful greenery. Last year, at this time, we had a friend come visit. Not the best time of year for visitors per say but we made the most of it. One of her favorite outings and ours was our hike to Tadake Falls. We hiked up a river to end at a waterfall. We have been a few times since moving here but it was really beautiful when we took her. The spring greenery was starting to show, there were small white flowers falling and flowing down stream. It was beautiful, though a little cold. I would recommend a good pair of hiking shoes, dressing in layers and remembering that during the wet weather rocks can get pretty slippery but if you take it slow you’ll be fine. I love using Map it! Okinawa to find trails and falls.
Before I turned 30 I had a few accomplishments that I needed to, well accomplish. Diving was one of them. I did it. Not well, but I did it. The experience wasn’t all I was hoping it would be. That being said, Wade and I have been itching to give it another go lately and now is the time. The water gets cool in Okinawa winters but nothing a 3 or 5mm wetsuit can’t fix. The deeper waters stay pretty warm and the fish are active! The great part of diving is that it doesn’t matter, rain or shine you can dive. There are not many storms in Okinawa during this time of year, just rain. What is better than diving with amazingly active fish around beautiful coral? Okinawa winters also means whale migrating season. I’ve been told you can hear them while diving during these months, some boat tours focus on taking you close to them!!! No lie. Diving with humpback whales, SIGN ME UP!
The fish really are more active in Okinawa winters, and there is a lot more of them. We were invited on a trip this December for my first real fishing experience ever. Go big right? We hopped in a small fishing boat, went an hour or so off shore and caught tons of fish. Tons. I think our grand total was 25 Mahi Mahi and 15 Tuna. It was great fun. If you get seasick easily, please take care and use motion sickness pills according to the package. It would be a really terribly long day if not. Wade struggles with this and used the small patch that is placed behind your ear. Worked perfectly! Having never been fishing I was amazed the whole time. We now eat fish at least once a week and will be for the foreseeable future. If anyone knows any good Mahi Mahi recipes, please leave them in the comments 😉
C’mon, did you think that this wouldn’t make the list? Okinawa is great but during the winter you can start to feel some island fever. It is raining, it is cold, you just want sun. I think regardless of where you live, island or not, you start to feel the need for some vitamin D. Okinawa’s Naha airport has really improved in recent years. With many cheap airlines available, you can use this time to hop on a flight to somewhere warm, sunny and dry. Winter is a great time to visit lots of countries with fairly easy flights right out of Naha. Taiwan (our next trip, fingers crossed… still waiting for that emoji!) Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, all have great weather during these grey months on island.
Can’t get away? Other than Osaka, we couldn’t either. We tried to visit Hong Kong or Taiwan but work schedules wouldn’t line up. So we did the next best thing. We decided to take a drive to somewhere we hadn’t been, the northern tip of Okinawa, Cape Hedo. After two years we had still never made it that far. We took the scenic route along the eastern side of the island, on Rt. 70. With no time limits we took it slow, stopping to try new bakeries and adorable coffee shop. Along the way we found a section of 70 lined with blooming cherry blossom trees. It was a perfect day trip and we came home with a few new things added to our Okinawa bucket list.
This is my hands down, bar none , for sure, unquestionably the best part of Okinawa winters for me. Have I told you I love flowers? Let me tell you again how much I love flowers. I loooooooove flowers. Due to the lack of all consuming heat, Okinawa winters means plants begin to bloom. Okinawa is lucky to be the first in Japan to see cherry blossoms. They bloom across the island and there are festivals in their honor. They start blooming mid to late January. Followed by the Orchid show and the Tulips at the dream center, then the Sunflowers in Kitanakagusuku (there will be no festival in 2016 but will resume in 2017). The Cosmos start blooming all over island at the end of February. Azaleas in early March, Iris and Begonia in April, I loooooooove flowers. Hydrangea and Roses in May. In June you will see Sunflowers again, along with stunning Bougainvillea, cheerful Alamanda, and Hibiscus for the rest of the summer. As you can see, this time of year is when my heart eyes are going non stop. There is so much to look forward too.
Okinawa winters may mean grey skies but the rest of Okinawa in waking up for another stunning year of sunshine and beauty. At times this winter I found myself preferring the idea of hibernation over exploration. I drank lots of wine and hid inside on the coldest days, and sometimes there were full weekends where pant wearing was thought of as a chore. Other times I was down right mad that we are still living here but the sun has been showing its face more and we have had some warmer days so with that my mood is changing towards excitement. Even with those tough days, looking back we still had fun; there is still a lot more to see and do here. I’m not ready to leave quite yet, but I am ready for some consistent sunshine.