A Grand Tour of Renewal and Relaxation in Southern Okinawa

Okinawa’s warm subtropical climate and clear azure waters have made the islands a popular marine sports destination. Still, Okinawa can also provide relaxation and tranquility for the body and soul.

Although beaches and palm trees may be the prefecture’s iconic image, Okinawa also has 19 hot spring onsen facilities (As of March 2020), The majority are in the southern part of the main island. This article introduces a tour of renewal and relaxation, the focus on the attractions conveniently located near Naha Airport.

An onsen with panoramic views and ancient strata

Just about a 40-minute drive south from the airport, Apeman Spa Sashiki Hot Spring on a hill in Nanjo looks over sweeping views of Nakagusuku Bay. The onsen’s waters come from 1,500 and 2,119 meters below the surface, passing through layers of rock formed from 5 to 54 million years ago. The spa was named Apeman as the water emerges from layers of rock formed when primitive ape-like primates such as Ardipithecus ramidus roamed the area.

The biggest difference between the hot springs in Okinawa and mainland Japan is the waters’ attributes. Okinawa’s springs have a high salinity and iron compounds that create the reddish-brown color. These water elements are said to help with cuts, burns, chronic skin diseases, frailty in children, and women’s chronic diseases. Saltwater on the skin can also reduce the evaporation of sweat to a moisturizing effect. The waters are referred to by locals as atatamari no yu, a bath of warmth because bathers won’t get chills after the bath.

Furthermore, compounds in the water which contain elements such as iron, iodine, calcium, metasilicic acid, and nutritive salts are believed to be related to beautiful skin and an increase in bone density. The spring waters also have properties completely different from regular seawater and are good for reducing fatigue and improving health.

It is well known that warm waters are effective for health and relaxation. When soaking in a hot spring bath, your body temperature rises, and capillaries near the skin dilate, improving blood flow. In turn, that is believed to raise metabolism and speed recovery from fatigue while also relieving stiffness and pain. The end result is a renewed sense of tranquility and calm. Soaking in an onsen is the perfect way to achieve relaxation and renewal.

According to both locals and visitors worldwide, the panoramic views from the onsen baths enhance the soothing effects. With its hilltop location, The Apeman Spa provides its guests with expansive views of Nakagusuku Bay and the Katsuren Peninsula. They can enjoy gazing at the sparkling blue ocean and lush green vegetation during the day or view the twinkling stars and city lights at night.

Before or after a visit to one of the many cultural sights in the Southern Okinawa Main Island, stop by at the Apeman Spa to refresh and relax. The Apeman Spa is within the facility of the Wellness Resort Okinawa Vacation Center Yuinchi Hotel Nanjo. The facility can also arrange accommodation and massages at the spa resort.

Waking up with sunrise yoga

In local legends, the southern tip of Okinawa, known as Nanjo, is where the Ryukyu Islands were created. In Nanjo, you will find Sefa Utaki, an ancient shrine that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Kudaka Island, known as the “Island of the Gods” and the first island created by the Ryukyu god Amamikiyo. Cape Chinen, located a short drive from Sefa Utaki, looks out toward Kudaka Island and is the most popular spot in Okinawa to view the sunrise. There, just before the dawn, locals and visitors will gather to witness the sun rising on the eastern horizon.

Another great local option is to try Sunrise Yoga to gently wake up your body as you bathe in the light of the morning sun. Rui Tamaki from Yoga Design Okinawa leads the program. As the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean, the sky transitions from ultramarine to orange, and the water surface sparkles. The dawn chorus of the birds begins as the trees rustle in the sea breeze. Take a moment and embrace the warmth of the sun as you lie on the grass. Feel your muscles and body awaken as you slowly stretch and focus your breathing. Take in the fresh morning air, the fragrance of the sea breeze, the warmth of the sun as you close your eyes, the feel of the green grass, and the wind against your skin – experience nature with all five senses. Take the time to let your body relax and awaken in paradise.

Massage therapy in Nature

“Hamabe no Chaya” is a destination café that has grown in fame both domestically and abroad. Mr. and Mrs. Inafuku have put their hearts and souls into their tea house Yama no Chaya Rakusui on the hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean alongside a cottage and three villas. AMAMIKIYO relaxation salon opened within the Sachibaru Garden, surrounded by verdant vegetation. The Inafukus provide a warm welcome so that you can thoroughly enjoy your opportunity to unwind.

Gaze over the trees towards the Pacific Ocean as you sip on a hibiscus infusion or one of the other herb teas available at the salon. Enjoy a foot bath with floating flowers and fruits such as shell ginger leaves, Japanese mugwort, and daisies collected from the Sachibaru Garden. Time passes slowly as you listen to the chirps of wild birds and cicadas as dappled light finds its way between the leaves. Warmed cowrie shells and locally produced shell ginger oils are used to loosen the mind and body.

The warmth of the therapist’s hands relaxes any tension in the body, while the natural setting of AMAMIKIYO, soothes the mind and soul. The quiet forest slows the beating of your heart and calms the five senses. Visitors to the salon feel recharged after their treatment and look forward to their next visit.

At the adjacent Yama no Chaya Rakusui, you can enjoy medicinal cuisine and pizzas made using local ingredients and vegetables grown by the staff. The Sachibaru Garden is also a perfect spot for a stroll. At the nexus of mountains and ocean, treat yourself to a well-deserved moment of refreshment and relaxation.

Posted on November 27th, 2020
Text by Kei Itaya
Magazine editor, writer, newspaper journalist in Tokyo and NYC for more than 15 years. Return to her native place Okinawa in 2019.

  • This interview was conducted based on the guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
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