During the months of March to May of 2022, I spent about 3 months on a small island in Okinawa, Japan called Zamami island, part of the Keramashoto National Park, known for its white sands, turquoise seas, sea turtles and humpback whales. Zamami Island is such a beautiful island and I have already made a post on Why Zamami Island is the best island in Okinawa. If you want to experience something that is different from the ordinary, I recommend doing a workaway experience in Okinawa, and I really cherish my work away experience in Okinawa. I have also done a workaway experience in Tokyo for 3 months, and I wrote about my experiences on my blog post Workaway experience in Tokyo (Language Cafe).
What is workaway?
Workaway is a platform that allows members to arrange homestays and cultural exchanges around the world. A membership to Workaway costs $44 a year and opens over 50,000 opportunities in more than 170 countries worldwide!
Workawayers are basically volunteers and are expected to contribute a pre-agreed amount of time per day in exchange for lodging and food, which is provided by their host. Of course, these conditions change according to the hosts.
Workaway experience in Okinawa
This workaway was held at a building that combined a guesthouse and a restaurant. From 9am, most mornings were either spent at the guesthouse preparing beds, cleaning the guesthouse, and checking out guests. Some days of the week I also helped babysit the host’s children.
Then, from around 11:30am to 2:30pm, I worked at the restaurant component of the building, as a front of house staff. Work included being a waitress, cleaning dishes, and dealing with the cash register. It was really fun getting to talk to everyone, and getting to know the locals that would come by often. I definitely felt as my Japanese got better since I was talking in a more polite way. There were also many non-Japanese who visited the restaurant, and it made them feel at home to be able to communicate in English, while eating foods like burgers and pizza.
During the afternoon times, I also checked in most of the guests that were staying in the guesthouse. I showed them the facilities, their beds and made sure they have made payments.
Working with the guests was so much fun and definitely one of my favorite parts of my Workaway Experience in Okinawa. I was glad I was able to use my knowledge of the island and help others on their trips. There are also some guests in which I have become friends with and exchanged Instagram with in which we still do keep in contact. I was just happy that I was able to make guests trip more enjoyable in general.
The work was not too hard and the host was very fair and kind and always helping out to making sure I was doing all right. A work day was usually around 5 and a half hours from 9am-2:30pm, and we would have about a day off per week. Since work was from 9am-2:30pm, after work, I still had a whole day to do whatever I wanted to do, and there was really never a time in which I thought there was too much work. It was the perfect work, life balance. I often spend my days after work going to Ama beach to swim with turtles and watching the sunset.
The ferry comes 3 times a day to the island and that’s when we predict that guests usually come in check-in. There will be some times when I stayed at the guesthouse to wait for guests to check in.
Days off were so much fun and were usually used spent exploring the islands around like Aka Island and Tokashiki Island. I also did so many things for the first time, like snorkeling and stand-up paddling. It was also my first time seeing wild sea turtles so close, and I even learned how to swim! (Sadly, I didn’t know how to swim before). By the end of the 3 months, I like to think that I became an island girl.
The family of the host is so welcoming, and it definitely was one of the best parts of the experience. Because Zamami is such a small island, I quickly started remembering a lot of faces within the first one to two weeks. By the end of my time there, even locals that I never actually talked too, knew my name, face and where I was working. It felt so weird meeting people and them responding “oh, your that half Japanese girl that works over at the burger shop”
While I was working, I was either the only workaway or I had one other workawayer with me, so it was really nice to explore and experience Zamami with him, as well as work together. Most of my time there, I was by myself, but it was actually really nice being able to fully relax and not worry about anything. Silence and nature was something that is usually super rare to find in a big city, so I really appreciated it.
During Golden week, my closest friend from Tokyo visited me and stayed in Zamami for a week. This week was probably one of the most fun I had, and even though I did like being at my myself, it was so nice to have someone who knew me to explore the island together. It truly felt like a mini vacation for a moment. We even rented a car and drove all around the island we went to areas I never went to before.
A bed was provided in the girl’s dorm room in the guesthouse. There is enough room to put luggage under the bed, but when it was busy, it was pretty hard to keep on opening and closing luggage. It was really nice when there would be no one else in the girls room since I had the whole room to myself, but on busy days, it was quite hard to sleep since there were 5 other sleeping in the same room, and it sometimes felt as if there were no where I can just go and talk on the phone comfortably.
When it wasn’t restaurant hours, the restaurant became a lounge for the guests to relax at. It was also a nice place to talk and get to know the other guests while having dinner or breakfast. Everyone was always very friendly and down to talk about their life experiences. It was crazy to hear where everyone has been and what they were doing with their lives.
The host also had many amenities to make our stay comfortable. He let us use bicycles and snorkeling sets for us to use whenever we wanted. I used the bike daily, and it was a workout since Zamami had so many hills.
In exchange for working 5 and a half hours 6 times a week for a bed, we also got 1 free meal per shift, usually a pizza, made by the host. This is also where I discovered my love for squash topping pizza. On occasion, we also got burgers as well.
The restaurants on the island were really delicious, and also had a lot of varieties, and I never felt like I was lacking in the food department. I was able to try so many Okinawan foods like rafute, goya champuru, and agedashi tofu, as well as regular Japanese food like Tonkatsu. Eating out and trying new food was definitely one of the cool parts of my workaway experience in Okinawa.
Cooking at the guesthouse was hard and I didn’t do it often. I most often just survived on microwavable food and the free staff meal we got, as well as occasionally eating dinner out. There are only 2 small shops with groceries, and most times if you see something you like, you might never see it again. Certain raw ingredients and meat were hard to get. The prices of food at these groceries wasn’t too expensive but it was definitely a hassle to get the things you really wanted. The host also gave us simple ingredients like vegetables to cook with as well that helped out a lot.
Overall Workaway experience in Okinawa
It was nice to get away and experience something completely different from the lifestyle I had previously, in New York City and Tokyo. I loved not having to worry about anything and just spending my days relaxing at the beach and nature. My three months at Zamami Island are something that I will always cherish. I want to go back and enjoy this island again.
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Some Useful Sources when traveling to Japan:
My Japan posts: Pennyless Travels Japan posts
Youtube Channel: Just Coneys Corner
Food/Travel Instagram: @coneystravel
General Tourism information: Japan Travel Website
Best E-sim for travel in Japan: Airalo
Airport pickup pocket wifi: 4G WiFi pocket wifi
To Buy Discount tickets for attractions:Klook.com