Okinawa is situated in the middle of South China Sea and in between Taiwan and Kyushu. The word Okinawa can be broken down in to 2 characters, 'oki' meaning open sea and 'nawa' meaning rope, and it basically means ropeway within the sea. It probably does not make much sense looking at it the way it is, however if you look at the Okinawan Islands on a satellite image, it actually looks like a rope connecting Kyushu to Taiwan and the rest of Asia. This is the reason why I came to name this blog entry "the ropeway to the south".
Okinawa prefecture itself is formed by many islands within the South China Sea. The more notable islands are Miyakojima and Yaeyamajima. All these tiny islands form the Ryukyu islands with the furthest one being near Taiwan.
In this blog entry I am going to focus on the main island of Okinawa since I have spent sometime working and living there. I would like to deliver the message of how good a place Okinawa really is and what it has to offer.
The food within Okinawa might make you have second thoughts about coming here since none of it resembles what you have encountered as what Japanese cuisine is. This is true since Okinawa culture is much more closely related to Chinese culture, therefore the food also followed the same path. Here I will name a few famous dishes that you will often here people say or encounter during your stay in Okinawa.
The first dish that I am going to talk about is the goya champuru. It is basically a stir fry dish with goya, tofu, vegetables, and spam. The usual stir fry sauce which they use varies, some like to use soy sauce while others would just use salt. It is also true that you would hardly hear or even see spam dishes with in the rest of Japan however because Okinawan is influences by the US, spam became a part of their food culture.
The next dish I would like to talk about is called Taco Rice and is my favourite dish. To easily describe this dish would be taco toppings on white rice. If I have to explain it in more detail then if would be minced meat, lettuce, tomato sauce, tomato slices, and cheese on white rice. Kind of reminds you of Loco Moco doesn't it? You can add a little Tabasco to it if you like spiciness and it does create a whole new dimension to the dish. How do you eat it? Well you mix everything together and try to get everything in one bite. Believe me, one bite is what it takes to fall in love with this dish.
Every Japanese prefecture has its own noodle dish and Okinawa is no exception. Okinawa soba is a well know dish and is one of locals favourite fast food. If you are expecting a very Japanese-ish taste to this dish then I am sorry to shatter your dreams because it tastes nothing like the Tonkotsu ramen you had in Hakata nor the Miso ramen you had in Sapporo. The soup is actually made with pork and bonito stock and salt is added for flavouring. So you actually have a much clear taste of pork than the thick Tonkotsu ramen soup you had in Fukuoka. The soup reminds you of 'shio' soup base ramen rather than Tonkotsu soup base. The noodles are called soba but its not what you think. Okinawa soba is made of flour and not buckwheat, that is why it much more thick and has a yellowish colour to it. They finish this dish off with kamaboko, sallions and a piece of san-mai niku (pork belly). There is another version of Okinawa Soba called Soki Soba where it is topped with pork spare ribs Okinawan style (soki).
If you head to any izakaya in Okinawa, you will sure find a dish called Umi-budo or sea grapes. They are like little green fish roes with a strong salty flavour to it. There are people who like it and there are those who hates it. Since you are all the way in Okinawa, why not give it a try and see if you are the like it group or hate it group?
There are two types of famous desserts in Okinawa and they are sata andagi and zenzai. Sata andagi is actually deep fried dough balls, kind of like the Tim Hortons' Timbits but imagine it being larger. If you miss Tim Hortons Timbits while on vacation in Okinawa, grab some sata andagi instead and trust me it will make you feel you have never left home.
The next one is zenzai. Within Japan 'zenzai' basically mean azuki bean soup, however in Okinawa it is kind of different. When you order zenzai, you do not only get the azuki bean soup, but you get shaved ice on top with toppings of your choice. The usual toppings are mochi and condensed-milk. This is a favourite dessert among locals especially during the summer time to cool down your body and regain some liquid. If you are heading to Okinawa then this is a must try.
Since Okinawa is quite big, the attractions are scattered all around the island. The most notable ones will be Churaumi Aquarium, American Village, Pineapple Park, Shuri Castle and Kokusai-dori. While the lesser known ones would be Himeyuri and the Peace Memorials, Okinawa World and Ryukyu-mura. Let me first take you through the more notable ones.
Churaumi Aquarium is located in the city of Nago in Okinawa, which a little big above the center of the island. This aquarium is the largest aquarium in Japan and has a tank that's filled with multiple whale sharks. There are also many other sea creatures you will find in the aquarium which can only be seen with in Okinawan waters. Outside of the aquarium is a park called Ocean Expo Park and is broken down into three regions. By going through all three regions you can see the history of Okinawa as well as the ocean life of nearby waters. If you come to the aquarium the dolphin show is a must see.
American Village is an entertainment and shopping complex in the Chatan area of Okinawa. It is called American Village because it wants to make the Americans who are currently working in the military to feel like they are back home. However, if you have been to American you will definitely feel like the US. This is all the image of what Japanese think and feel like America really is. Walking around this complex makes you feel you are in vintage America.
Pineapple Park is located in Nago city and is a park for tourist to ride a automatic golf car around the pineapple field while listening to tapes of recordings explaining about pineapples. If you have kids this might be a great place to visit since it is fun riding around in those cars. Near the exit there is a place for you to refresh with some free all-you-can-eat pineapples.
Shuri Castle is located in Naha city and can be easily accessed by the Yui monorail train. Do not let the word castle fool you in Shuri castle because it definitely does not resemble of castles which you see in Japan. This is more of a Chinese court rather than a Japanese castle but however since it is named that way we will stick that. The most outstanding part about this castle is the use of colouring. The whole castle itself is red with colourful pictures of dragons all around it. This building kind of reminds you of Forbidden City in China but on a smaller scale. If you want something different for a change, visiting Shuri Castle will definitely make your day more interesting.
Kokusai-dori or international street is the heart of Naha tourism. This street is full of great dining restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops. It is also close to the Makishi Ichiba (famous fish market in Okinawa) and the entertainment district of Matsuyama. You will have the best experience here if you choose this area for your stay.
Now for the lesser known places.
Himeyuri and the Peace Memorials are located in Itoman city (southern part of the island). These two attractions are closely related to World War II and the Battle of Okinawa. Himeyuri Tower is a memorial dedicated to the nurses who took part in adding the Japanese troops during the battle and died, while the Peace Memorial is dedicated to those veteran soldiers who gave their life during the war. If you are history person then this place is a must go for you.
Okinawa World is located in Itoman city and is a part theme park walking ad part cave exploring. You go spelunking and explore old Okinawan style houses and culture. There is also lessons on Habu, one of the poisonous snakes you can find in Okinawa as well as daily Eisa dances (Okinawan style dance). It is a fantastic place to go for couples, family with or without kids.
Ryukyu-mura is located in Onna-son in the middle part of the island. This is another Okinawan culture theme park but much more houses to explore and more to learn about. This is for people who want to learn something new during their trip to Okinawa.
In every blog post I try to incorporate some anime relation to the place I am talking about. There are anime that takes places in Okinawa where some have special episodes which takes place there. Off of my mind I can think of 'Asobi ni Ikuyo' and the 'Monogatari series'. I haven't seen the former so I cannot say anything about that. The latter one is a modern classic and probably all anime fans knows about it. There is an episode where the main female protagonist flies to Okinawa to meet with a guy named Kaiki. There are drawings of them being at the Naha Airport, the Churaumi Aquarium and the Shuri Castle.