Okinawa sits on the Southern-most tip of Japan, surrounded by water and with a primarily tropical climate. The prefecture has rich culture and heritage to boast, and it is an upcoming Japanese destination among travellers.
Of onsen resorts, water activities, great food and spellbindingly beautiful sceneries, Okinawa is quite unlike the big Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Okinawa will enchant with its island life and resort-style experiences.
Okinawa is hugely influenced by Chinese culture from when the prefecture was once called Ryuku Islands – which was an independent kingdom and tributary state to China for several centuries. Hence, some of the customs and cuisine differ slightly from the Japan we know.
Thanks to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, we had a chance to experience this part of Japan and were brought around to have a taste of the best of this lovely cluster of islands.
#1 AWAMORI OKINAWA SAKE – CHUKO DISTILLERY
Awamori is the main sake of Okinawa. It is a distilled clear liquor that is very popular with both locals and tourists. At Chuko Distillery – Okinawa’s oldest and most established distillery – you can even buy unique hand-made jars to store and age your Awamori.
To learn more about the whole process of Awamori, you can sign up for a free tour of the distillery, followed by a tasting session. It is a must to check out the cool hand-made earthenware jars, and you might even catch one of the craftsmen at work when you are there.
Address: 132 Nakachi, Tomigusuku City, Okinawa
#2 CORAL/BINGATA DYEING & OTHER HANDS-ON ART ACTIVITIES
Bingata is a traditional dyed cloth in Okinawa. It was pretty therapeutic as we made our own patterns by pressing the cloth over corals to create unique patterns. Anybody can sign up for little painting sessions here and create their own masterpieces.
Shuri Ryusen (Coral Dyeing) – Address: 1-54, Shuriyamagawacho, Naha, Okinawa, 903-0825
We also had a chance to paint a little clay Shisa figure at Okinawa World. Shisa is found pretty much everywhere in Okinawa and it is known as a symbol of safety and to drive evil spirits away according to folklore.
Okinawa World (Shisa Painting) – Address: Japan, ?901-0616 Okinawa Prefecture, Nanjo, ????1336
#3 FARM-TO-TABLE FOOD – FRESH PRODUCE AND JUICY PORK
Okinawa cuisine is not too different from the regular Japanese fare that we are all familiar with. Focusing a lot on freshness and local produce, a typical meal Okinawa is wholesome and pretty much farm-to-table. Pork is used widely and you will notice that beef is rather rare.
Bitter gourd and Umi Budo (Sea grapes) are found in almost every meal. Umi Budo is a variation of seaweed and it is sometimes referred to as caviar. It is the local speciality of the prefecture.
Also, Okinawa has the sweetest harvest – from juicy mangoes to sweet pineapples.
Okinawa Seafood – Ichiro Ya – Address: 1-1-9 Maejima | 1F, Naha 900-0016, Okinawa Prefecture
Pork Barbecue – Ganju Farm – Address: 228 Toguchi, Nakagami-gun, Yomitan-son 904-0315, Okinawa Prefecture
#4 GLASS-BOTTOM BOAT TO EXPLORE THE SEA
You might dismiss this as just another boat ride, but it was happiness amidst simplicity for us. The boat had viewing glass flooring so we could see through the boat to the waters below. Once we got to the corals, we were greeted by hundreds of fishes, some of them so unique and never before seen – including a pretty iridescent fish that left us in awe.
Glass-Bottom Boat – Busena Marina Park – Address: Japan, ?905-0026 Okinawa Prefecture, Nago, Kise, 1744?1 (Contact: +81 980-52-3379)
#5 HISTORICALLY-RICH SHUJIRO CASTLE PARK – UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
You cannot leave Okinawa without visiting the iconic Shujiro Castle Park, of which part of it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Shuri Castle was originally built in the 1300s but much of it was restored after.
It served as the administrative center and residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries until Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879.
Address: 1 Chome-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 903-0815, Japan
#6 SHOPPING PARADISE – KOKUSAI STREET, AMERICAN VILLAGE & MORE
Kokusai Street is Naha’s main street. Filled to the brim with shops and restaurants, it stretches for about 2 kilometres. In the shopping arcade lies crazy discount stores and traditional Okinawan restaurants.
Stop by the Makishi Public Market for some fresh seafood too!
Because quite a few American military camps used to be located here, this whole shopping area has been modelled after streets in the U.S with American-centric stalls and beautiful palm trees. A huge ferris wheel also sits as the main attraction there.
There is, too, a store offering a whole bunch of perfectly restored vintage clothing at very affordable prices!
Address of American Village: 9 , Sofia MIHAMA Chatan-cho Nakagami-gun , Okinawa Prefecture 904-0115, Japan
#7 SNORKELLING, PARASAILING & OTHER FUN WATER SPORTS
Beaches and beautiful blue waters are the main draws of Okinawa, and water sports complements the whole experience on the island.
We had a go at snorkelling into the famous luminescent blue cave and we saw the coral reefs and fishes up close. The only setback was that the area around the cave can get pretty crowded so be sure to head down at non-peak hours if you want to avoid crowds.
Other water sports you can do here include diving, parasailing, kayaking and so much more. The water is seemingly untouched – so clear and clean.
#8 STUNNING BEACHES WITH BEAUTIFUL BLUE WATERS
There is no denying that the sea surrounding Okinawa is gorgeous. It is a side of Japan you never knew about. They were a stunning mixture of bright cobalts, true turquoises and muted violets.
The most unadulterated experience you can take home and remember forever is the joy from taking a little stroll down any of the beaches in Okinawa.
You can also visit Kouri Island and get high up on the Ocean Tower to catch the breathtaking view.
#9 UP CLOSE & PERSONAL WITH SEA CREATURES AT CHURAUMI AQUARIUM
This popular tourist spot is home to a ton of stunning sea creatures.
Skip the controversial shows and dive into the huge aquariums where you can spend hours marvelling at their beauty. You will see gargantuan manta rays, huge sharks and unique sea creatures every where you go.
Just watching these under-water beauties glide and swim; it is a wonderful way to meditate and to forget all your worries.
Address: 424 Ishikawa, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0206, Japan
#10 VISITING SACRED SITES – SE-FA UTAKI
For a truly complete experience of Okinawa, we highly recommend taking a few hours of your day to visit Se-fa Utaki, a sacred site. It is a powerful spiritual site where many come to say their prayers or simply to seek peace internally.
Slowly trudge through the area and take in the calming vibes of the place.
This is exactly what Okinawa is all about – unwinding and finding peace, while having a great time.
This trip to Okinawa is made possible by Okinawa Prefectural Government.
About the writer:
Cheryl is a staff writer for ladyironchef. She loves a good steak and an even better cuppa. She eats just about anything and everything. In her free time, she regularly starts on sci-fi or fantasy movie marathons.