In with the new Chanpuru: Okinawa’s Distinctive Culture


Awamori, Okinawa’s favourite alchoholic beverage



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.


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.


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.