Okinawa’s Remote Islands Taking it easy the Okinawan way

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A beautiful Beach on an isolated island

The more remote islands of Okinawa are popular spots for tourists from all over the world. Enjoy clear blue waters under the wide open sky, the engaging local culture, the unique cuisine and the company of the friendly people. Some 400km from mainland Okinawa are the Yaeyama Islands clustered around Ishigaki Island. Island hopping off the coast of Ishigaki at Taketomi, Iriomote, Kohama, Kuro, and Hateruma Island is a great way to see the area. Ishigaki Island can be reached by plane in one hour from Naha Airport via the New Ishigaki Airport. Ishigaki Island itself has numerous tourist spots such as Kabira Bay and diving spots where manta rays can be seen, while the township on Ishigaki Island is the perfect spot from which to visit the surrounding islands. On Taketomi Island, the historic houses have been designated as one of Japan’s Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings. The island’s residents have a keen interest in preserving the old town and the culture it holds. A tour of the island’s tourist destinations via a cart drawn by water buffalo or enjoying a drink while listening to tales of tourist guides and locals is sure to become a memory you will never forget.

Meanwhile, on Iriomote Island, over 90% of the land is covered in subtropical jungle, a feature that has earned it the title of the Galapagos of Asia. In addition to rare animals such as the Iriomote wildcat, a natural treasure, the island is also blessed with mud flats covered in mangroves, clear blue oceans, coral reefs and white sandy beaches. Whether you want go mountain climbing through the jungles or kayaking in the mangroves, gliding down rivers in a canoe or diving
and snorkeling, Iriomote Island has more than enough adventure for all. Kohama, Kuro, Hateruma and the other islands around Ishigaki Island can also be visited, and the main attraction here is their inviting emptiness. The pure white beaches without a trace of human activity are a perfect place to spend the day and enjoy the beauty of having to do nothing at all. There are no showers or shops, but what you can experience is time alone in the midst of natural splendor and a chance to get in touch with your inner self.

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Unique, bright, and colourful Okinawa’s traditional culture

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While Okinawa’s theme parks offer an easily accessible introduction to the region’s traditional culture in the one location, a more authentic experience awaits in the local townships, buildings and venues where Okinawa’s traditions thrive today.

Breweries of awamori, Japan’s oldest distilled alcoholic beverage, can be found all across Okinawa. A visit to a brewery for a tour or a tasting can be a wonderful experience.

Numerous workshops also promise the opportunity to see and experience Okinawa’s traditional arts and crafts firsthand.

See bingata, a dyeing technique used to create bright and colourful patterns and designs, Okinawan lacquer ware with its brilliant red that can only be produced in Okinawa’s warm climate, joyachi ceramics with their bright and decorative glaze, and bashofu, a type of cloth made using banana tree fiber.

However, no trip to Okinawa could ever be complete without seeing its traditional performing arts. Traditional Okinawan dance, performed in time to the soft sounds of the sanshin, can be broadly broken into three different categories: an older style that was performed to welcome visitors to the court of the Ryukyu Kingdom; the zoodori, a more energetic recent style for the common people; and a modern form that has been arranged to suit modern tastes. Each of these styles can be enjoyed as a professional production on municipal and prefectural stages or in Ryukyuan restaurants while enjoying the local cuisine.

Another of Okinawa’s dances is eisa, the region’s own local variant of Japan’s famous bon odori, a dance inseparable from images of summer and enjoyed by men and women alike. Eisa events can be seen from July to September each year all across Okinawa. The largest of these are the All-Okinawa Eisa Festival in Okinawa City held in early August, and the 10,000 People Eisa Dance Parade held in Naha City in late August. Be sure to mark them on your calendar!

Local, more intimate venues known as minyo sakaba, allow visitors to experience traditional local song at close quarters. There are many different types of minyo sakaba, from those with a more up-tempo beat to places where you can simply sit back and relax. All provide a place to enjoy awamori and Okinawan cuisine while listening to the traditional songs of Okinawa.

The people of Okinawa are cheerful by nature and love to sing and dance. Joining them for a drink while listening to a song and, as the night grows long, taking part yourself is a must.

Heading off to remote islands or the countryside is a great way to come into contact with locals, such as fishermen and farmers.

In with the new Chanpuru: Okinawa’s Distinctive Culture

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Awamori, Okinawa’s favourite alchoholic beverage

IN WITH THE NEW

CHANPURU: OKINAWA’ DISTINCTIVE CULTURE

Okinawa’s culture is overflowing with signs of influence from other regions such as China, Korea, South Asia and the US, each of which is blended into Okinawa’s unique culture. This eclectic culture is known as chanpuru.

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Goya Chanpuru, made with goya melon, toru and pork

Chanpuru takes its name from the Okinawan dish with a mix of ingredients around a base of tofu and vegetables.

Okinawa today is an amalgamation of many different cultures fostered through its geographical proximity to China, mainland Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia, as well as the influence of American troops following the end of WWII. An example of this is found in Okinawa’s local alcoholic beverage known as awamori, which originally hails from Thailand. Another example is the sanshin, a three-stringed instrument that is at the heart of Okinawan music and draws its roots from an instrument called the sanxian brought from China during in the 14th and 15th centuries. The original sanshin instruments were created using the skin of the Burmese Python, but in mainland Japan where this skin could not be obtained, the instrument evolved into the shamisen of today which uses cat skin in its place. Another spot where visitors can come into contact with Okinawa’s chanpuru culture is Mihama American Village in Chatan Town in the mid south of mainland Okinawa, a city-style resort built by an American army base. This resort area features amusements, shopping arcades, bars and more.

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Goya Chanpuru, made with goya melon, toru and pork

The youth of Koza in Okinawa City, which includes many foreign residents amongst its population have been strongly influenced by music brought in from the United States in the 1970s. Koza is famous for its new style of Okinawan rock, and
now boasts a number of areas that feature live music and restaurants which have a distinctly foreign air.

Moreover, an increasing number of performers are beginning to use traditional Okinawan musical scales and apply them to rock, reggae and other genres, some of whom have made their debut not only in Japan but also overseas.

No talk of chanpuru culture could be complete without mention of ‘taco rice’, another Okinawan dish that has become a common item on menus. This dish combines minced meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and other taco ingredients with a bed of rice, yet another example of how a dish prepared for American troops has gained mainstream appeal.