From The Tropical South To The Frozen North

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DISCOVER: From the Tropical South to the Frozen North

Part Two: Tokyo to Okinawa

The second leg of our journey to Japan’s most remote corners transported us from the busy streets of Tokyo to the heart of Japan’s sub-tropical ‘blue zone’. Powered by nature with year-round sunshine and abundant fresh food, Okinawa is home to breathtaking tropical landscapes and one of the world’s longest living communities.

Right in the thick of it all – and within easy walking distance of some of Tokyo’s best bits – Shibuya is the perfect jumping-off point for a flying city visit. The ideal base for a tour on two feet, our precious few hours in Tokyo were spent between shrines and shops, peaceful parks and bustling backstreets, happily wandering in the Saturday sun.

Head directly north from Shibuya and you’ll quickly find yourself far from the neon-lit buzz, peacefully veering off the beaten track to join Tokyoites enjoying one of the city’s largest green spaces – Yoyogi Park. A true slice of local life, pick a park bench, watch the world go by, and keep your eyes peeled for the world’s most pampered pooches.

Yoyogi Park is also nestled next to Meiji Shrine, and a detour under one of the towering torii gates that mark the entrance to the temple grounds quickly whisked us further away still from the crowds of neighbouring Shibuya. Surrounded by thick forest, the tranquil approach to Meiji Shrine feels a world away from the bustle of the city and soon reveals a myriad of local traditions – from blessings and prayers to weddings and seasonal matsuri.

Unassuming backstreets in Tokyo’s under-the-radar design district Sendagaya are home to inspiring stores including Loopwheeler – dedicated to perfecting the humble sweatshirt.

Leaving Yoyogi for a taste of the city, our pre-pinned map took us to the best design stores in one of Tokyo’s lesser-known creative districts – Sendagaya, where a quick loop through winding backstreets revealed design studios, independent retailers and welcoming coffee shops. With check-in fast approaching, we ended our whistle-stop walking tour by cutting back through busy Harajuku, packed with shoppers and at its most vibrant on a Saturday afternoon.

Tokyo’s train lines are surprisingly easy to navigate, helped in no small part by knowledgeable, English-speaking staff at every station. So, without a hitch and with luggage back in-hand, we were soon airport-bound – riding the highspeed Keikyu Line through Tokyo’s sprawling suburbs.

Airport upgrades: ANA’s automated baggage-drop and a delicious bowl of steaming hot ramen are amongst the small things that make traveling in Japan that much better.

Anchored off the southern tip of mainland Japan, stretching into the warm waters of the East China Sea, white sand and palm-fringed Okinawa lies some 700km south of mainland Japan. Connecting Tokyo and Okinawa’s capital city Naha, ANA’s domestic service runs 26 flights daily, transporting passengers from bustling metropolis to laid-back tropics in just three hours.

Landing in Naha, the sun had already set, so we were going to have to wait until morning to see our surroundings, making our way north through the dark in our hire car. Journeying an hour away from the city towards Okinawa Main Island’s peaceful east coast, our destination was Hiramatsu Hotel & Resort – built into the gentle slopes of a secluded inlet, surrounded by the subtropical landscape of rural Ginoza.

Last November, We Are Japan took a seven-day trip – exploring the country’s most remote corners to discover sand and soba, skiing and snow crab all in one week. Follow our trip over the coming weeks as we track our journey from the tropical south to the frozen north.  

Images and video: Alex Rebbeck for ANA

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