A long, long time ago, the Ryukyu Kingdom served as a point of contact between the shoguns of Japan and the Chinese emperors. But even today, Okinawa Island is not quite like the rest of Japan

 

Japan’s southernmost prefecture is located on an uplifted coral reef separating the East China Sea from the Pacific Ocean. Take some soft yellow sand and a rich aquatic life, add a mild, subtropical climate, and you have the perfect beach. The whitest and the least crowded ones can be found on the smallest of the Ryukyu Islands, but you can discover your very own little piece of Heaven even within an hour’s drive from Okinawa’s capital – like Mibaru Beach, for instance.

The 1945 Battle of Okinawa had a devastating impact on the region: the ancient monuments of the Ryukyu Kingdom were bombed into oblivion. They have all been restored since. One of them is the Shurijo Castle of Naha, an extraordinary example of the Sino-Japanese architecture. Not far from it is the 15th-century mausoleum of Tamaudun used to entomb members of the royal family and court nobility.

200 Japanese banana trees have to be processed to make the amount of bashofu cloth sufficient for a single kimono. Japanese banana fibre is not only used to produce apparel, but also tablecloths and folding screens. Bashofu is exclusively handcrafted.

One of the island’s most famous places is Ogimi, the Village of Longevity. Lots of locals are over ninety years old. The phenomenon is being researched by scientists, while popular explanations include healthy diet (rice, tofu, fresh vegetables), working outdoors, and a lot of face-to-face contact within the community. Some say the secret remedy is the local citrus fruit known as shequasar. The local Eminomise eco restaurant serves the ‘longevity meal’.

Shisa, described variously as the lion dog or the dragon dog, can be found all over Okinawa: near doors, on the rooftops, and in souvenir shops, usually in pairs. There are numerous theories explaining the meaning of this twin ward. One of them says the open-mouthed shisa catches luck while the close-mouthed shisa holds it tight.

While in Naha City, you can book a diving trip or a Whale Safari. From January to April, humpback whales come from the northern seas to the warm waters near the Kerama Islands, some 30 km away from Okinawa’s capital.

The main tank of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is named after the warm Kuroshio Current which is the reason why Okinawa’s coastal fauna is so diverse. The huge, 7,500-cubic-meter tank has enough space to accommodate the aquarium’s stars – whale sharks and manta rays.

When visiting the Okinawa World theme park, you can drink some snake wine, see tropical fruits grow, and enjoy a variety of shows – like a performance by Eisa Drummers who do acrobatic feats while holding their drums and delivering mesmerizing, syncopated rhythms.

One of the largest in all of Japan, the Gyokusendo Cave was not explored and researched until fairly recently, in 1967. A small 890-meter stretch of its respectable 5-km length has been fitted with lights and platforms, and the stalactites around it have received poetic-sounding names like the Squeezing Curtain, the Ceiling of the Spears, or the Golden Cup. The cave’s grotesque walls and ceilings took 300 thousand years to form.

Three experiences

  • At the Mother Sea pearl factory, you can personally open a seashell and extract a pearl with your own hands. Will it be big or small? What color will it be, white, pink, or golden? It all depends on your luck. Your trophy will be socketed into a ring, a locket, or a bracelet, and given to you with the seashell.
  • Want to know more about Japanese foods like goya or kamaboko? Kazami, the owner of the Yonner Food studio, will bring you up to speed during her cooking class. It begins with a visit to Naha’s marketplace to buy all the ingredients and ends with you cooking a tasty meal for yourself under Kazami’s tactful guidance.
  • Naha’s Tsuboya District has long been occupied by numerous potteries producing the world-famous traditional Okinawan ceramics. The Ikutouen Pottery offers tourists to try their hand at making some of it themselves. After being dried and fired, handmade wares are sent to their creators by mail.
 

Text: Olga Savelieva

Published on: February 26, 2018