Welcome to Beach Week, a celebration of the best place on earth.
Provence, France–based creative director and photographer Pauline Chardin had been to Japan several times before visiting the Okinawa Prefecture, a collection of more than 150 islands at the southernmost point of the Japanese archipelago. "People told us: If you ever go, don’t try to do mainland Japan and Okinawa," Chardin says. "There are several islands, so it’s a real destination in itself." In April 2018, Chardin and her husband, François Guillaume, traveled to Okinawa Island in search of a more laid-back version of a country they already knew they loved. For Chardin, whose recently released cookbook, A Spoonful of Sun, is devoted to exploring "where the Mediterranean diet meets design," much of the trip revolved around visiting local eateries and admiring traditional crafts. Here, Chardin shares some of her favorite spots from her trip, including a bakery housed in former U.S. military barracks and an Okinawan pottery village.
Day 1: Rent a car and head to your Airbnb
"Unlike the rest of Japan, there isn’t a lot of public transport on Okinawa Island, so we rented a car with Nissan in Naha, the capital. Ahead of your trip, you have to get your driver’s license translated to Japanese so it’s valid there. Driving in Japan is one of my favorite things because the people drive really slowly; it’s a very relaxing experience.
We rented an Airbnb on the south coast of Okinawa Island near Nanjo (about 30 minutes from Naha) in an area that feels like the countryside. The house was built in a traditional Okinawa style but with a modern design eye. It’s a long, rectangular house with double sliding doors so you can open it up or put the bug screens down. The owners are quite cool; the wife is a photographer and the husband is a builder-architect."
Day 2: Shop for ceramics and taste vegan dishes in Naha, then soak at a nearby onsen
"Naha is pretty cool to hang around; it has plenty of shops and restaurants. There’s a nice ceramics shop called Miyagiya, as well as a clothing store called Kerouac. One thing about Okinawa Island that’s surprising and a bit different from mainland Japan is the abundance of vegetarian and vegan restaurants; there's a delicious vegan café in Naha called Mana. (There’s also one we loved near our Airbnb—a vegetarian restaurant in the countryside called Be Natural.)
About 15 minutes from Naha is the Ryukyu Onsen Senagajima Hotel, which has an onsen. You can take a bus from the city center and spend the day there as a visitor. It’s by the sea, so you soak in the hot water with a view of the ocean. It’s also not far from the airport, so you can see planes taking off—it’s an interesting sight."
Day 3: Visit a bakery in a former military barrack
"Okinawa has a tough history—when you go as a tourist, you see that the islands are beautiful, but obviously for locals it’s much more conflicted than that. North of Naha, there’s a place called Minatogawa Stateside Town, where former U.S. military barracks have been converted into small shops and eateries. We went to an extremely cute bakery called Ippe Coppe; you push the door open and inside, there’s jazz playing. Then, you have to remove your footwear before entering."
Day 4: Tour an 18th-century Okinawan residence and have lunch in the hills
"We went to another delightful bakery called Ploughman’s Lunch Bakery that’s hidden away in the hills of the Nakagami District. Going there feels like you’re arriving at someone’s house! Nearby, the Nakamura Residence is an 18th-century house with traditional architectural details [like red tile rooftops], which you really don’t see much of in Okinawa. Inside, they have all these really beautiful, old ceramics and pots on display. Slightly further north, the Yomitan Pottery Village has more than 45 traditional artisan workshops and boutiques; it’s worth a stop as well."
Day 5: Swim in turquoise water at Zamami Island
"From Naha, you can take a ferry to the tiny, walkable Zamami Island. A friend of mine went in the winter and said there are lots of turtles you can swim with! In the villages, there are tons of shisa (small lion statues) protecting the houses and buildings. You can find them all around Okinawa, but on Zamami there’s a wilder collection–they’re handmade, fierce, and fun."
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