8 premium agents and I got a unique taste of Japan on a four-day famil in Okinawa and Tokyo thanks to ANA (All Nippon Airways) in collaboration with Okinawa Convention & Tourism Bureau.

Feeling extremely lucky and grateful, our journey began from Sydney in style, flying Business Class with Skytrax award winning ANA on the brand spanking new Dreamliner 787-900, overnight to Haneda (Tokyo).

From there we smoothly connected onto our ANA flight down to the holiday isle of Okinawa, which is just a two and half hour flight from Haneda Airport.

ANA Business Class

ANA Dreamliner 787-900 Business Class

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The ANA girls. Pic: Matt Leedham

Tropical Okinawa is still a relatively new destination for Aussie tourists, but one that’s growing in popularity, not least for it’s 160 surrounding reef fringed large and small islands, crystal-clear blue seas, pristine white sandy beaches and mind-blowing scuba diving where you can dive with whale sharks and Manta Rays in season.

Okinawa maybe not what you were expecting in Japan

Okinawa maybe not what you were expecting in Japan

Culturally, the area is rich in experiences that differ greatly from the rest of Japan, including a glut of food and wellbeing options (Okinawa has the highest life expectancy in the world), Ancient UNESCO World Heritage sites and a cherry blossom season that starts earlier than the rest of Japan from mid-January to mid-February.

It’s a great tour option for Aussie snow bunnies planning a trip to Hokkaido who don’t want to miss out on seeing the Cherry Blossom and can instead get to experience ‘Sakura in the south’.

Cherry Blossom (Sakura) season comes early in Okinawa

Cherry Blossom (Sakura) season comes early in Okinawa

Another bit of pub trivia: Okinawa is also the birthplace of Karate. Remember The Karate Kid movie and Mr Miyagi? Okinawa was where the grand master himself was born before he moved to the United States (There’s even a Miyagi island) with some of Karate Kid II filmed in Okinawa.

 

THE DREAM TRIP – DAY ONE – TOKYO – OKINAWA

The Hilton Okinawa Chata Resort and Spa

The Hilton Okinawa Chatan Resort and Spa. Pic: Matt Leedham

Lucky for us escaping the Sydney winter, we arrived in the height of summer, with bright sunshine and a deliciously balmy 34 degrees temperature giving the island an even more laid back, holiday vibe.

July to September is the busiest time of year in Okinawa with our full flight from Tokyo transporting vacay seekers to a relaxed place far, far away from Japan’s everyday city stresses.

Touring the island after leaving Naha airport, our first stop was the Double Tree by Hilton, Naha Shuri Castle Hotel for a delicious lunch. The hotel is literally next-door to the historic Shuri Castle and perfect for sightseeing across the island.

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Teppanyaki time. Pic: Matt Leedham

Then it was off to our beachfront base for two nights, the gorgeous Hilton Okinawa Chatan Resort to settle in for a swim in one of the resorts gorgeous pools, sunset cocktails and dinner at nearby ‘Captain’s Inn’ Teppanyaki restaurant.

 

DAY TWO – OKINAWA

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Puffer fish ‘Fugu’ anyone? Pic: Matt Leedham

Up bright and early, our day began with a visit to the Naha markets to source ingredients for our Japanese cooking class with Cooking School ‘A taste of Okinawa’ founder, Tomaki Goeku.

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Touring the markets with a Taste of Okinawa founder ‘Tomaki Goeku’. Pic: Matt Leedham

Weird and wonderful foods and delicacies (and some perhaps not so wonderful) were all on display at the markets and we came away with baskets of Okinawa booty as well as skilling up on local foodstuffs such as the dangerous Puffer fish sushi ‘Fugu’, pigs faces (yes really) and the long life benefits of eating seaweed super food and tasty Bento smoked fish.

The Masterchefs!

The Masterchefs! Pic: Matt Leedham

It was Masterchef eat your heart out in the class as our wannabee Iron Chefs whipped up a four-course lunch that we all then enjoyed together as a sit down meal. Delicious!

Our afternoon then took us on an hour-long fast ferry ride out to one of Okinawa’s many islands – Zamami. The unspoilt islands are pure paradise with the visibility in the sparkly, turquoise water wowing the entire group as something very special indeed.

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Zamami Island from above

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We’re on a boat!

The snorkelling was incredible too with so much live coral and life to see and a balmy 25-degree water temp. It was only a shame we had to leave really with all of us secretly hoping the ferry would break down in port and force us to stay longer.

I for one could have gone all Tom Hanks I reckon and found myself some peace and quiet and a Wilson to hang out with for a while.

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Looking for Nemo. Pic: Matt Leedham

Sadly, the ferry didn’t break down in port so after a contented, sleepy ride back to Okinawa and more delicious Japanese cuisine and plum saké for dinner at a local restaurant, some of us (ahem) kicked on to sample the great Japanese tradition of ‘Karaoke’ late into the night.

 

DAY THREE – OKINAWA – TOKYO

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The kings and queens of Zakimi Castle (Today anyway). Pic: Matt Leedham

Our final day in Okinawa gave us a chance to learn about the islands military heritage, by firstly visiting Zakimi Castle, which was built around 1420 and apparently features the most sophisticated and beautiful stone-built wall and gate amongst all of castles in Okinawa.

After lunch we fast forwarded to 1945 where Okinawa was the site of most of the ground warfare in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, when U.S. Army and Marine Corps troops fought a long and bloody battle to capture Okinawa, so it could next be used as the major air force and troop base for the then planned invasion of Japan.

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The Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. Pic: Matt Leedham

We visited the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters for what was a sobering reminder of the futility of war. In 1944, the Japanese Navy Corps dug a 450-meter tunnel complex to serve as their underground headquarters. Towards the end of the battle with the U.S Forces, as things began to get hopeless, the commanding officer and 175 of his staff all committed suicide in the tunnels.

The feeling here is a reflective, sad one yet only adds to the people of Okinawa’s positive spirit and everyday mantra: “There is nothing more precious than life”.

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The view from the top of the Navy Tunnels. Pic: Matt Leedham

We left for Naha Airport having enjoyed a whirlwind but captivating insight into Okinawa’s story and with a great curiosity to come back and learn more.

Our flight back to Haneda was another smooth one with ANA, and soon we were back amongst the masses and eclectic energy of Tokyo with the Metro speeding us from the airport to the iconic Conrad Tokyo for one night of heavenly luxury.

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‘Twenty Eight Bar” at The Conrad Tokyo

It’s easy to see why the Conrad Tokyo is so revered. It was a full house the night we stayed and was apparently fully booked for days to come. With the reception up on the 28th floor, the hotel looks out to both the bay and city sides of Tokyo with uber high floor to ceiling windows that make you feel as though you can peer down on the entire city. The design is flawless and all of the rooms have the same huge windows and are some of the largest sized in Tokyo.

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Heading to Shinjuku. Pic: Matt Leedham

We hit the hotels famous ‘Twenty Eight’ bar to soak up the glittering night city views, live Jazz and a few delectable cocktails before venturing out for a late one amongst the dizzy bright lights of Shubuya and The Golden Gai bar district. And then of course, more karaoke.

 

DAY FOUR – TOKYO

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Views from the Conrad Tokyo. Pic: Matt Leedham

Our last day and after a sumptuous breakfast and an inspection of the Conrad (Wow!), it was out into the city heat for some Sunday sightseeing that included Takeshita Street, Harajuku and the legendary Shibuya crossing. Amazingly 45,000 people cross the junction every 30 minutes. No wonder it’s the busiest crossing in the world.

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Takeshita Street, Harajuku. Pic: Matt Leedham

The famous Shibuya crossing

The famous Shibuya crossing. Pic: Matt Leedham

Our final port of call was the fantastic Hilton Tokyo Odaiba. The bay front hotel has stunning views of Tokyo city and is just a 15-minute ride from Haneda airport, close to major sightseeing options such as the fish markets and is a great alternative option to staying in the heart of the action.

Director of Business Development, Peta Ruiter (from Brisbane) hosted us for an extraordinary farewell dinner that ended with all of us outside admiring the sun setting over the city in what was a fitting end to an incredible trip.

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Sunset at the Hilton Odaiba, Tokyo. Pic: Matt Leedham

Could we be any more spoiled? Turns out we could as we all got the chance to try out ANA’s Premium Economy on the way home.

The verdict: Excellent. Really comfy seats, great seat pitch (17% larger than economy) with plenty of legroom and the smart invention of a leg bolster that sits under your thighs and creates a semi flat bed for even more comfort. Nice. Premium travellers also get priority check-in and baggage, extra luggage and best of all – access to The ANA Lounge pre take off.

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ANA’s Premium seat

Having flown on the Dreamliner a few times now I can honestly say that I do think the jetlag is reduced as Boeing claim. I slept for 5 hours of this 9-hour flight and felt pretty good at the other end.

All up ANA’s Premium Economy product is a great value alternative to Business Class and definitely worth a look compared to economy price wise.

We landed in Sydney to a cold morning but still smiling from what for me was one of the best trips I’ve been on. Fantastic experiences, great people and a wonderful opportunity to sample ANA’s premium products and discover some of Japan’s emerging new destinations.

ANA flies direct daily from Sydney-Haneda (Tokyo) on the Dreamliner 787-900, departing at 20.55 and arriving the morning after at 05.25. Haneda-Sydney (Tokyo) leaves Haneda daily at 22.10 and arrives at 08.30.

For more, visit www.anaskyweb.com

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