Okinawa: Things to do, see, and eat
Okinawa is known for scuba diving, and its crystal blue waters. Located south of mainland Japan, it’s home to 1.4 million people.
Many refer to it as Japan’s Hawaii. Like Hawaii, Okinawa is comprised of of many smaller islands. One of them, Ishigaki, was named the top destination on the rise worldwide in 2018, according to TripAdvisor.
With that said, there’s plenty to do there from shopping, to beach hopping to checking out historical sites and scrumptious hole in the wall restaurants. We were fortunate enough to be able to stay with my cousin and her husband, and have them give us the grand tour of the island.
Okinawa was separate a kingdom before it came apart of Japan
Until 1879 when it was annexed to Japan, Okinawa was known to the world as the Ryukyu Kingdom, an independent nation that had been around for 450 years. Much of this culture has been preserved at the Shurijo Castle Park, a World Heritage site which it is definitely worth a visit. The castle is the symbol of the royal court culture. There, we walked through the living quarters of previous kings. We went inside the national palace and got to take pictures in front of the King’s throne. We also saw displays of ancient writings, and paintings from the Kingdom era.
My favorite part was the free dance performance. Men and women together performed traditional Ryukyu dances marked by slow, sharp movements in traditional layered clothing. Much different from the salsa dancing, Chicago stepping and twerking I’m used to seeing at dance performances. It’s a fascinating place to visit and a great place for photos, especially in the lookout tower area, where you can get a view of all of Naha, Okinawa’s main city.
Okinawa has a major United States military presence
Ever since World War II, the United States military has kept a substantial presence in Okinawa due to its strategic location in the middle of southeast Asia. There are 10 United States military bases there. Because of that, many people in tourist areas speak English. But some of the natives aren’t happy about the American presence. You need to visit the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum to understand why. The museum is dedicated to the Battle of Okinawa which occurred in March 1945. At the museum, there is a massive outdoor memorial listing the names of all of the Japanese and American soldiers who died in it. It’s called the Cornerstone of Peace. It seems like the plaques never end.
On the second floor, the exhibits detail the invading forces indiscriminately bombing the island over three months, killing more than 200,000 civilians and soldiers. It is said the civilian death toll far outnumbered the loss of soldiers. The museum features first hand accounts from survivors. The goal of the museum is to pass on the historic lessons learned from the Battle of Okinawa in order to move toward establishing permanent peace.
The museum is open from 9 to 5 pm and I highly recommend getting there early because you wont be able to visit the second floor after 4:30 pm.
Okinawa is a scuba diver and beach lover’s paradise
Okinawa is known as one of the top places in the world to scuba dive. If you’re scared to do that like me, rent a paddle board and go stand up paddle boarding. Or better yet, get a rental car and drive to one of Okinawa’s many islands. Some are accessible by ferry and some by bridges. We checked out Kourijima. The beach was beautiful with white sand, and blue water. But being on the beach in Japan is far different from South Beach. While Americans love barring it all, it was interesting to see the Japanese work to cover it up. I’ve never seen people where floor length looking coats to the beach but that seemed to be the Japanese way. From what I observed and was told, they believe in covering the skin to avoid sun exposure. Even when they’re in the water. Tanning is not their thing. But they take beach photoshoots to the next level. The men started taking pictures of their women on the beach without being asked and were getting all of the angles. I’m talking about bending down in the water and everything else. I told my husband to take notes.
Okinawans love pork
Much of Okinawan meals contain pork and are influenced by Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Okinawan soba is considered soul food to islanders and it was delicious! We ate some in Kourijima at what appeared to be a hole in the wall type restaurant and it was to die for. Soba is made of flour noodles, pork, and stir fried vegetables, all mixed together in soup fashion. We also tried ramen there and visited a sushi go around. Due to the American influence, we also found the restaurant, “Crazyz Chicken N’ Waffles,” which served some finger licking good fried chicken and waffles. Trust me, you wont go hungry there.
Some other things you should do is visit Okinawa World to learn more about the culture and dress up in kimonos for a picture, and check out Okinawa’s Churaumi Aquarium, the second largest aquarium in the world.