Yomitan Part I: So much to see and do in Okinawa village
Yomitan Village on the west side of island is known for its historical sites, amazing ocean vistas and pottery. The village is easily accessible to Torii Station and Kadena. You can spend a day here and not run out of fun activities for everyone in your group. Below are three great spots to some quality time and grab a nice bite to eat. Get out and try them for yourself!
Take go-karting to the next level
Whether you live in or are visiting Okinawa, tourists in costumes driving go-karts alongside regular traffic are a common sight. But did you know there is a way to up the ante on regular go-karts with no costume required?
Just a short 10-minute drive from Torii Station or 30 minutes from Camp Foster, you can feed your need for speed on the Kukuru Yomitan Circuit racetrack.
This is a racetrack where drifting, mini motorbike and go-kart competitions often take place on weekends. The rest of the time the track is open to visitors who would like to get a taste of what it feels like to be a Formula 1 or Indy Car driver, albeit in a go-kart.
Since go-karts are not complicated machines, they are easy to maneuver and easy to drive. While sharing the road with regular traffic in a go-kart can be exhilarating, a drive on the racetrack is bound to give you an adrenaline rush.
It is often said that driving a go-kart can feel two to three times faster than its actual speed thanks to the low angle view from the cockpit. At Kukuru Circuit, go-karts can reach a speed of 30 mph, fast enough to get your heart pumping. Plus, there are several hairpins and big curves, where the gravity hits drivers not just vertically but horizontally.
Though prior experience and driving skills can make a difference on the track, they are not essential in making you feel like a professional driver at Kukuru.
The go-karts have great traction, making a steep U-turn easy, giving confidence to first-timers, and, in turn, making a Michael Andretti or Luis Hamilton out of them.
The exhilarating fun of driving the small open-wheels attracts many Americans, according to Rina Onaga, a staffer.
“They have a good time go-karting here,” Onaga said. “Many of them become repeat customers.”
To accommodate American customers, the racetrack has brochures and written instructions in English.
Depending on what type of adrenaline rush you’re searching for, Kukuru offers several programs. The “5-Minute Plan” is an introductory course and most affordable program where adults can drive up to 7 to 8 laps on average.
For those who would like to have more fun and thrills on the track, the “All-You-Can-Ride Plan” might be up their alley, allowing visitors to drive as much as they like within the time limit of 30 minutes or one hour.
Bringing family and friends? The “Rental Race Plan” allows you to tap into your competitive side with a practice run, a time trial and two heats that pits you against others in your party.
Just like a real race, the plan even includes a victory ceremony to present a trophy to the champion and a champagne fight. For this plan, visitors can choose between a sprint race and an endurance race.
Due to the high-speed racing, Kukuru Circuit takes safety seriously. A safety briefing is provided to all riders regardless of which plan was chosen and drivers are required to wear helmets. Six go-karts can compete at the same time in the “Rental Race Plan,” whereas only four cars can run in other plans.
So, let your hair down, bring all your friends and family to the Yomitan Kukuru Circuit to feel like a pro.
Yomitan Kukuru Circuit
GPS Coordinates: 26°24’26.1”N 127°43’12.6”E
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (summer) / 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (winter). Open for go-karting every day except during motor sports event days. *Closed on Mondays
- 5-minute plan (1,250 yen for adult, 950 yen for high school student, 700 yen for child)
* Drivers need to be 140 cm or taller.
* A two-seater ride is available for 1,850 yen. Drivers need to show a driver’s license (stateside or SOFA). Passengers need to be 3 years old or above.
- All-You-Can-Ride-Plan (3,500 yen per person for 30 minutes, 5,500 yen for 1 hour)
* available only on weekdays.
* Drivers must be 18 years old. For this plan, visitors are advised to carry an ID such as driver’s license/sofa license/international driver’s license to prove their age.
- Rental Race Plan (9,300 yen per person for a group of 9 or less/ 7,300 per person for a group of 10 or more)
* The fee covers a trophy, champagne, and insurance. Registration is required at least three days in advance.
* Drunk driving is prohibited on the racetrack.
* The racetrack has go-karts which can go 31to 37 mph. To ride those go-karts, visitors need to take time trial and have a lap time of 28.399 seconds or less.
Theme park brings back old views and history
Near Yomitan Village’s coastline, you’ll find a theme park which offers something curious to both history buffs and arts and crafts fans. At Murasaki Mura, take a walk back to Naha’s old Chinatown and see a park dedicated to Okinawa’s history and culture.
Originally constructed as a TV set for “Ryukyu no Kaze Dragon Spirit”, a historical TV drama which aired nationwide in 1993, visitors can now enjoy the traditional-style buildings reminiscent of when the Ryukyu Kingdom was invaded in 1609 by Satsuma, a feudal domain.
The TV show was set around this time, using the story of the invasion as its plotline. For viewers, the drama depicted the difficult time that the kingdom went through as its prosperity took a downturn.
Today, visitors can visit the buildings and try several arts and crafts and other activities the park has to offer.
Upon entering a large red-gated entrance, a brick-paved road and stone walls lined with many Shisa dogs above welcome visitors. The red accents of the buildings stand out and are a nod to Chinese culture’s past influence on Okinawa.
The theme park’s buildings share similarities with Shuri Castle but are dedicated to Kume Mura, a Chinatown that once sat near Naha Port.
The Tenshikan building, near the main entrance, is a replica of a building that used to accommodate Chinese delegates. Now, instead of delegates, it is mostly tourists that visit the red-tile-roofed building for Shisa dog-making, Okinawan guitar (kankara sanshin in Japanese) making and lessons, and classes on making Okinawan doughnuts, or sata-Andaggy.
Another building, Shounin Yashiki replicates what a merchant’s house would look like, and is used to exhibit arts and crafts such as miniature windmills.
Miigsuku, a stone structure on the coastline inside the park, recreates a pier that was 500 meters off the coast of Naha and thought to have functioned as a fortress to defend Naha port against pirates and later served as a place of worship for safe navigation. The iconic spot was even drawn by the artist Hokusai as part of his “Ryukyku Hyakkei” (Eight Views of Ryukyu) series of paintings.
Although Murasaki Mura’s buildings and structures may be replicas, a visit to the theme park will take you back into the era and provide a perspective of Okinawa’s rich history and a place to try many different Okinawan crafts.
GPS COORDINATES: 26°24’26.2”N 127°43’11.5”E
HOURS: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Last entry at 5 p.m.)
*Open every day
Admission: 600 yen for adults, 500 yen for middle school-aged, 400 yen for elementary school-aged.
* Free for under 6 years of age
* On-site food vendors are open regularly
* There are also animals such as bulls, horses, goats, rabbits kept on site.
Village pizzeria pairs American-style slices and Okinawa ocean views
While eating pizza may not require a special location to enjoy it, at Ocean’s Pizza in Yomitan Village the ocean views add something special to the dining experience.
Find the pizzeria at “Gala Aoi Umi”, a facility with many shops and restaurants near Murasaki Mura. It sits along the village’s coastline, which is known for its beautiful ocean views and long stretches of sea cliffs.
According to its website, the restaurant’s concept is “a delicious and delightful American dining experience.” This goes both for their food and atmosphere.
The specialty pizza menu includes “Hawaiian”, “Hamburger”, “BLT”, “American” pies and more. Customers can choose between “Krispy,” the restaurant’s name for a thin, crispy crust, or “New York,” which is a much doughier, softer base. Diners can choose from 12 pizzas on the a la carte menu or go for the popular All-You-Can-Eat-Pizza (1,150 yen) buffet, which includes pasta, salad and drinks.
On my visit to the buffet, the lineup of pizzas included a couple of sweet dessert pizzas, one featuring marshmallows and caramel sauce, while the other was topped with chopped fruits and corn flakes.
Visiting the pizzeria after an adrenaline-pumping go-kart ride, I found it hard to stop enjoying the pizza. I especially liked the dessert pizza with the combination of baked marshmallows and caramel on a crispy crust as its subtle sweetness hit the spot.
To match the setting, the restaurant’s all-wood interior, its roomy dining area and soft lighting enhances the casual beachy vibe. Ask to sit on the terrace for a front-row seat to the ocean vistas while you enjoy a slice, or two.
At Ocean’s Pizza, the warm homemade pizza paired with the stunning ocean view make for an inexpensive way to enjoy a nice lunch or special sunset dinner. Next time, I’ll share the joy of American-style pizza and the Okinawan ocean views with my family.
GPS COORDINATES: N 26.409060, E 127.716107
Hours: 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
* Open every day
All-You-Can-Eat-Pizza: 1,150 yen for adult, 1,000 yen for ages between 11 and 12, 900 yen for 9 and 10, 700 yen for 7 and 8, 500 yen for 4 and 6.
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