Tokyo - Ueno streets and udon

A few weeks ago I spent less than 24 hours in Tokyo to go to the Madonna Rebel Heart Tour show at Saitama Super Arena. It was almost painful for me because I was on such a tight schedule that I had no time to stop and look around (or even breathe), but all I wanted to do was take some photos and enjoy the Tokyo atmosphere (never fear, I will be back there in a few weeks with plenty of time to take photos!).

I woke at 6am so I could get to Narita with plenty of time for my flight back to Okinawa, and it was really cool to be walking through the quiet streets in Ueno before the shops opened and Ameyoko was packed with tourists. 

I will always have a soft spot for Ueno in my heart because it was the last station for my train when I was living north of Tokyo, so I would often find myself there of a weekend shopping, eating or going to one of the many museums in Ueno Park. It's also a great and very popular place for Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) during cherry blossom season with lots of stands selling food and beer and people packed under the cherry blossom trees having a great time with their friends. I also had a lovely time there last year with my family riding in the swan boats on Shinobazu Pond. 

I managed to take a few early morning photos along the way to the train station, as well as arrive at Narita with enough time to get some kitsune udon for breakfast! Yum!

It makes me happy to think that in 3 short weeks I will be back there again with family, during the bustling daytime hours with plenty of photo opportunities!

Gold shoes and manhole covers
Ueno Tokyo
Black and white

Ueno Tokyo
Morning after Madonna, walked past a sign that says Madonna in katakana

Ueno tokyo


Narita terminal 3
Narita Terminal 3 - Udon breakfast

Life lately - February

February is almost over and next month will see the first of our visitors arriving for what will be a visitor-packed 6 months!

This month has been very chilly, grey and dreary, weather-wise and and we've only had one sunny weekend day this whole month, which has been getting to me. I really can't wait for the weather to warm up and for the sun to come out again on a more regular basis. This winter has involved lots of time at home making tasty foods and watching tv. We just finished season 2 of Transparent on Amazon, which was AMAZING, and have just started watching Damages on Netflix, which is from 2007 or something but is really gripping. So basically, life lately, is pretty uneventful on a day to day basis. Expat life, it can be just like everyone else's. Haha.

I've been getting into the seasonal sakura (cherry blossom) products that start coming out around this time in Japan. From ice creams, to beer (only the packaging, not the flavour), to drinks and biscuits, Japan loves sakura. I even heard that pepsi will be bringing out a limited edition sakura flavour next month! You know i'm going to try that, and I don't even like soft drinks!

Even though we haven't done much this month, i've been enjoying walking around my little neighbourhood and taking photos of the cherry blossoms and the cute little streets. I really like our little neighbourhood and I hope you enjoy the photos below.

Nakadomari beach
Our beach
Okinawa cherry blossoms
The Okinawa cherry blossoms are slowly disappearing 

Our house is at the end of this street.

sakura ice cream and gudetama ice cream
Trying some new ice creams

Orion limited edition sakura
Limited edition Orion beer. 

vegan pulled jackfruit and slaw sliders
Pulled jackfruit and slaw sliders - so delicious!

Swimming class japan
Weekly Saturday morning swimming lesson

Donuts and bagel
Pre swimming lesson donut balls and bagel

Best Beaches in Okinawa

Read here for recommendations on the best beaches on the Okinawa main island!

As summer is approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share the best beaches I have found here in Okinawa (drivable from the mainland - not including the islands). The list below is obviously based on my own opinions and preferences and there are many beaches on the mainland I still haven't been to!

Now the things that I think make an amazing beach may differ from other people, but what makes a great beach for me is:

  • Water quality - I LOVE LOVE LOVE me some crystal water and this basically trumps all other requirements for me.
  • Can I snorkel? - I have become obsessed with snorkelling, so if I can get in some snorkelling while I'm at the beach, it's a win as far as i'm concerned.
  • Is there shade? - I love it when there's easy shade near the beach. I find that with a child in tow and the crazy hot Okinawa summers, it's much more enjoyable if i'm not worried about getting burned as so as we arrive. I do have a beach tent for this reason as well.

So now for the list of my favourite beaches:

sesoko island

Sesoko Island - Ok, so this is technically a whole island, but it's tiny and accessible by car from the mainland. I've been here twice now and both times (even though the second time the water was a little rougher), the water has been the clearest i've ever seen both in Okinawa, and Australia). Sesoko beach, which is a netted beach and you need to pay 1000yen for parking was still gorgeous and had great snorkelling within the netted area. You could even see the fish just standing up looking at the water without a snorkel, which is great for kids. The other beach on the Island, which is under the bridge as you drive over to the island, is not netted and has a lot of water sports, but the water is even more amazing, with more great snorkelling. Both beaches had changing and shower areas. You will need to wear reef shoes.

best beaches in okinawa

Ikei Beach, Ikei Jima - This beach on Ikei Island is really clean, has great facilities, and the water is gorgeous. I know people tend to prefer Oodomari Beach (Mama-san beach) a bit further up the road, but I find that beach a little annoying for some reason (maybe it's the needy fish that follow you around looking for food). Ikei beach has good changing facilities, a cafe with yummy kakigori (shaved ice) and two netted off swimming areas that are deep and clear with fun pontoons you can climb on. I also spotted some cool fish in the netted swimming area on the left. You have to pay to enter, but the facilities are great and it's really clean. You don't need any reef shoes here. There's even a kids play area. I have two posts on Ikei Beach. Here and Here

best beaches in okinawa

Maeda Beach/Maeda Flats - This beach can be a little hit or miss, so it"s best to go on a clear, calm day, but when you get it on a good day, it's really really good! You can snorkel off this beach, and although it can get crowded, there are a few secluded spots you can find. To get to this beach, keep diring past the main carpark for Maeda Cape and it's the first path on the left. Often there will be snorkelling tours down here if Maeda cape is closed. There is also another, less busy beach the next path along. Both are lovely. You will need reef shoes.

best beaches in okinawa

Nabee Beach and Manza Beach - These beaches are next to each other, and if I go to one, I usually go to both, so i'm including them as one. One of the reasons I love these beaches are that they are close to where I live, another is the fact that on Manza beach there is lots of shady nooks that you can sit in very close to the water. Nabee beach is great because it is netted and the sand is good so there's no need to wear reef shoes, Manza beach you definitely need reef shoes because there are lots of sea urchins (check the photos in the linked post) but the snorkelling is good. Nabee beach water is generally lovely and clear, however Manza is better on a calm day. You can find another post on these beaches here.

For more beach posts:

Please note, that i've found it's definitely worth investing in a pair of good reef shoes, as the sand is not like Australia. It's coarse and full of spiky coral. It's also worth buying your own snorkel set. They are cheap and it saves renting them at every beach (for around 1000yen a go).

Let me know what your favourite beaches on the Okinawa mainland are in the comments! Are there any you think I have missed?

100 yen sushi - Hamazushi

One my my favourite places to eat in Japan is at 100 yen sushi restaurants. There is something for everyone and it's so so cheap! I've been to quite a few different chains in Japan (Sushiro, Uobei, Genki etc) but my favourite one in Okinawa is Hamazushi. At Hamazushi all plates of sushi are 100 yen each (about 0.90 USD) and only 90 yen on weekdays! There are other items on the menu that are more expensive, however everything is still cheap. The bowl of ramen in the picture below was about 360yen.  

Most 100 yen sushi places in Japan are similar. You walk in, and if there is a wait, you can use a machine to input the number of people in your group and whether you want to sit at a table or a counter (or whatever is available first). You take your number and wait for it to be called.

Once you are seated, you can choose what you want to eat off the conveyor belt as it goes around, or you can order from the touchscreen menu (available in English) at your table. Even if you are vegetarian or vegan there are things on the menu you can eat. It's not all raw fish and strange foods! They also have a seasonal menu, so that you can occasionally try different things.

So many cheap tasty foods
Hamazushi okinawa
So many options

Kid friendly

Hamazushi okinawa

Seasonal menu

This crepe cake is amazing!

Happy boy!
The branches I have been to in Okinawa are in Uruma/Gushikawa, on route 85, near the Aeon Shopping Centre (ph 098-979-2870) and the Chatan branch on route 58 (ph 098-982-7331)

Tokyo - flying visit and Madonna

Last sunday I had a whirlwind trip to Tokyo, less than 24 hours, just to see the Madonna Rebel Heart Tour with a friend of mine. It was awesome. When I heard that Madonna was coming to Tokyo with her tour I really wanted to go but never thought it would happen, however, when my friend Yuko mentioned that she wanted to go as well we decided to just do it! The last and only time I saw Madonna was when I was 13, with the Girlie Show tour in 1993 and I have always wanted to see her again (however she never came back to Australia). So here we are 23 years later (how old am i!!??) and I got to see her again.

I flew up to Tokyo from Okinawa on Sunday afternoon, arrived at Narita at around 3, raced to my hotel in Ueno (Dormy Inn Hotel Ueno Okachimachi) on the Keisei Skyliner Train (only 40 minutes to Ueno with only 1 stop - great way to get into Tokyo), raced to my hotel to drop off my bag, then was back on a train by 5 to get to Saitama Super Arena and meet my friend by 5:30. There was barely a moment to stop and take a breath, let alone any photos - which I kind of hated. I LOVE to look around Tokyo.

Tokyo Skytree in the distance


Dormy Inn Ueno
Free hotel noodles

Ueno station - full of these short tunnels
When we finally got to the concert venue it was a chance to sit down and catch up while waiting for things to kick off. One of the things I love about going to see concerts in Japan is that they always start early, so you can get the last train home. In Australia, if you are going to see a band, it's likely they won't start playing until close to midnight, but in Japan, some things will start around 6pm! I had heard that the night before Madonna hadn't started until 9pm, 2 hours late, so I was hoping that wouldn't be the case this time. Luckily it only started an hour late! Haha!

Waiting for the concert to start
I was actually really impressed with the whole show. I was expecting Madonna's voice to sound average, but it sounded great, and she played plenty of old songs, which is good because I don't think i've listened to anything past the Music album! She did an awesome guitar heavy rocking version of Burning Up! All in all, i'm really glad I went, even if, for the price I couldn't really see much!

Burning Up

These days people use the torch on their phones, not lighters

Madonna Rebel Heart Tour Tokyo

Madonna Rebel Heart Tour Tokyo
When I got back to Ueno, everything was closing up because it was close to 11, but there were still a few people out and about and some restaurants open. I was exhausted by this stage to headed straight back to the hotel, where they have free ramen between 9:30-11pm. Such a good idea and it was really tasty. The hotel also has a roof top onsen, which I really wanted to try but I was too tired by that stage and my flight was at 9am the next morning back at Narita, which meant getting up very early.

Late night walk back to the hotel through Ueno

Free ramen at the hotel

Perfect Saturday- Greek food and beach swim

This past Saturday we had a perfect weather day here in Okinawa (but as I type this it's a chilly 10 degrees celcius!). Seeing as I was flying up to Tokyo on Sunday, we decided to have a little family valentines celebration by going out to Ikei Island to have lunch at Little Greek Kitchen, a restaurant I have been desperate to try for ages. We, rather hopefully, packed a bag of beach stuff in case the weather was warm enough and we were so lucky it was because we also managed to get in our first beach swim of the year (even though it's still winter!)

Firstly, Little Greek Kitchen. Basically I was just there for the feta cheese, because the owner and chef makes it herself. It was divine. Next time I really need to remember to pre-order some to take home with me. She served us a huge amount of food and we were stuffed by the time we left. Her Greek salad, dips and tzatziki were AMAZING. Even though it's over an hours drive to get there from our house, it's worth the drive. You need to be sure to reserve a table in advance because they don't take walk-ins. 

The restaurant is in an old shipping container.
Little Greek Kitchen Okinawa
This food made me happy

Chocolates from my valentine
After lunch, the weather was really lovely and warm, so we decided to check out Ikei beach and see whether it was open for swimming. You have to pay to enter this beach, which seems crazy coming from Australia, but it really is gorgeous, and has a lot of nice facilities. After checking we could swim, we got changed and headed down to the water. Of course we were the only people swimming. The water was chilly, but after a couple of minutes in there it seemed perfect. We swam out to the pontoon and could see some tropical fish swimming around under the sea. It really was the perfect day! Here's hoping the weather heats up again for more swimming in the near future!

Ikei Beach

Ikei Beach Okinawa
We swam out to the pontoon. Griff loved hanging out on it!

Ikei Beach Okinawa
The water was crystal

Happy times!

Little Cactus Bagels - Sunabe Seawall

Last weekend before G's swimming lesson we decided to go in search of a bagel place that I had seen someone post on their instagram...... mmmm bagels. I had heard of Cactus Eatrip and their delicious bagels but had never been because it's in Ginowan, which is just a little bit further than we usually go for our usual weekend errands, however when I discovered that they had another, little outpost on the Sunabe Seawall (pretty much on the way to swimming), I couldn't get there fast enough. Little cactus is part of a kind of mini food court with two other vendors. It's hard to describe, but more like a cafe setting, but with three different counters to order food from the vendor you want. The other two were a donut ball place and a chicken and beer place. The both also looked good.

Little cactus okinawa

We ordered one with sun dried tomato and herbs cream cheese, and one with avocado and tomato. They were both delicious and I really loved the texture of the bagels. Their coffee though..... not the greatest. That's ok though because the bagels were awesome! We will definitely be back.

Bagel goodness!

Little Cactus Okinawa
Bagel counter
I will!

You can find their location and opening hours here