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.