by Karyn Wofford
When you think mesmerizing snorkelling destinations, what comes to mind? Hawai'i, the Bahamas, Mexico or the Florida Keys? Japan is too often overlooked because of its already captivating culture and landscape, but to explore Japan to its full depth, ocean exploration should be intertwined into your visit.
We found ourselves in Okinawa; a charming, tropical island vastly different from mainland Japan. Okinawa hosts typical Japanese culture while presenting an enriching range of its own history and practices through its past influences, such as the Ryukyu era. With some American vibes, due to the military presence, you'll find a unique and accommodating environment to explore. One of the most iconic Okinawan traditions is the Shi Shi Mai Lion Dance. While you’ll hear the simplistic and distinctive music all around the island, you can venture to Okinawa World to see it being performed. Dancers move about - under a bright fabric body complete with a cartoonish lion head - to the beat of drums and strumming of a three-string sanshin. Goya, Habu Sake and American-Okinawan fusion taco rice are also unique to this slice of Japan. Now back to snorkelling.
While Okinawa's beaches attract ocean lovers worldwide, part of the island has dramatic rock faces and cliffs, which was where we embarked on our snorkelling journey. Our sister-in-law served as a translator between us and our guide, who escorted us down a rocky staircase, which descended directly into turquoise water. Briefly, we stood on a shallow stone platform before leaping off directly into deep ocean waters where colors changed to a vibrant royal blue. Gorges and reefs sat below us, floating directly over these open valleys was creepily astounding, as it was dark but rich in beautiful hues of yellow, green and blue from the chunks of lively reef.
Perhaps the most incredible experience while exploring the coast was emerging in a cave carved into the side of the rock island wall. Again, the water color melted into another shade of blue; the ever-changing water vibrancy was visually exciting and unique. Directly outside of the cave was a school of friendly fish, seemingly excited to say hello. Playfully swirling around us creating quite the “Little Mermaid” moment. One or two lightly kissed our fingers. It’s rare and often not safe to have an up-close, wildlife interaction such as this, but it’s what travellers hope for.
I could have snorkelled forever, so our trip seemed far too short. Disappointment welled over me as we approached the cliff from where we began. Although saddened that our time along this breathtaking route had drawn to an end, I was on a high from the magical experience. While we have much to explore before returning to these islands of Japan, we are inspired to come back to delve deeper into Okinawa and its other islands within the prefecture; Miyakojima and Ishigaki.
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