It's a strange sound that I can't quite place – almost like a quiet, persistent scratching noise. I have no idea what it is, so I unzip the tent, poke my head out, and try to figure out what could be making it.
For a moment I'm distracted by the sight of the beautiful ocean laying in front of me, and think how lucky I am to wake up here, to witness the sunrise from a beach camp in Okinawa.
Then I see what the noise is – hundreds, maybe thousands, of teeny tiny hermit crabs, scuttling at top speed across the sand! What are they all doing? I get out of the tent, and feel the sand under my toes as I try to tiptoe closer. Within a second, they all stop moving, and retreat into their shells, their miniscule but powerful ears (do hermit crabs have ears?) sensing my footsteps, knowing that a potential predator is coming.
But enough about the hermit crabs... how about this view? I could get used to waking up here every morning.
This is my second time staying at Yagaji Beach Camp (Japanese website), a hidden gem in the Motobu Peninsula. It has everything you need for a comfortable stay on the beach – a gorgeous waterfront view, hot showers, clean toilets, ample space, and total peace and quiet. All you need to do is bring your own tent, and you're good to go. It's one of the few ocean front campgrounds on the main island, and for the fraction of the price of staying in a hotel, it's well worth it.
During the day you can swim in the shallow waters, and at low tide a sandy footpath appears to the little rocky island opposite the bay. You can walk across and explore the island, picking up beautiful shells, looking for fish, chasing crabs. It's idyllic, and simple, and you can feel it wash over you as you get back to nature and leave the 'real world' behind.
At night the manager turns off the camp ground lights, and you can lay back and watch the satellites go soaring past in the sky above, as you sit on the beach drinking a cold Orion beer and eating obento. Yes, this is really paradise.
What's great about staying at Yagaji is that you feel so far away, but you are actually so close to all the conveniences that one needs (such as food and beer). There is a Family Mart nearby, as well as a Michi no Eki, or Roadside Station, selling hot, fresh local Okinawan food. You can drive into Nago City to eat some kaiten zushi and shop at Daiso. It's also ideally located close to Motobu's most popular sights, such as Churaumi Aquarium, Pineapple Park, Kouri Island, and Sesoko Island.
Yagaji Beach Camp is certainly a special place, but if you happen to be visiting Okinawa in the winter, when the ocean is quite cold and the beaches are closed for swimming, I can recommend another great option for camping if you prefer to be in the forest rather than the beach.
A bit further up island is Hiji Falls (Japanese website), the tallest waterfall in Okinawa. The campsite is near the parking lot, and you pitch a tent on wooden platforms. The hike to Hiji Falls is relatively easy but full of beautiful views, especially the suspension bridge.
The Hiji Falls camp ground is also a great base camp for exploring the northern part of the island. Not to be missed is Daiseki Rinzan, a bizarre 200 million year old Stone Forest, and Cape Hedo, the extremely majestic most northern tip of Okinawa. And, of course, there are beaches literally everywhere along the coastline.
Forget the hotels – pitch a tent instead! It'll be a lot more memorable, and don't forget, in Japan, there's almost always a Family Mart nearby. Enjoy!
Traveller's tip: Five more popular camp grounds to check out:
Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park Campgrounds
Okinawa Kenmin no Mori – Prefectural People's Forest Park (Japanese website)
Nakijin Campsite (Japanese website) – Also has camper vans for rent!
Oppadake Forest Park (Japanese website)
Tonokiya Campground and Kayak Rental (Japanese website)