Okinawa, Japan, is blessed with beautiful beaches & isles, bountiful exotic fruits of the sea and of course Awamori (rice wine).
We spent our last Christmas 2014 and New Year 2015 on this land with one of the highest number of centenarians in the world. There is a misconception that Okinawa is closer to the main island of Japan but its location is nearer to Taiwan. Thats where we took a budget airline, Peach, for just over an hour from Taipei TaoYuan airport to arrive in Naha.
Some highlights of our trip:
1) Taketomi isle (located at Yaeyama Islands)
We took a domestic ANA flight from Naha airport to Ishigaki island, taxi transfer to the port and took a ferry to reach Taketomi isle. This is a very charming little island where most traditional culture and customs are still intact. We travelled the whole isle by bicycles with Tz sitting in the back. Yep, this is the only common mode of transport here. So cool. We cycled from one beach to another beach, visited the little village where you will find the roads covered mostly with white sands or very fine corals. There are some little B&Bs in the village but we chose to stay in Hoshinoya Taketomi, a little away from the village. You can find very charming, part bohemian, part funky cafes and eateries serving local seasonal dishes. Their home made ice cream, especially sweet potato and vanilla are to die for, very creamy with a hint of saltiness from the seasalt harvested locally. The brown rice here is especially delicious.
During December, though the temperature was around 19-21 degrees celsius, its still a bit chilly to swim in the sea unless you have wetsuit. We did some diving but did not have enough time to dive in the Manta Rays grounds. We will definitely return in summer to dive again. You can dive all year round in Okinawa.
On-route from our hotel to the village for meals
Typical shops in the village
2) The beaches
We are spoilt for choice when choosing which beach to visit. Not only the many little isles have fantastic beaches, the main island are littered with so many different beaches with wide array of resorts and hotels. Sadly, we did not rent a car as we forgot to apply for international driving licence back home, so we could not visit many of the beautiful sights on the island. Its a necessity to rent a car if you want to travel around the main island. There are tour buses and private drivers too but self drive holiday on this island is a better option. Below are some shots of Cape Manzamo and the beach at our hotel (Hotel Monterey).
3. The food & Awamori
I think one of the main pull factor for us to come back again is definitely the food, really suit our palate. Besides the wide variety of exotic seafood, there are many interesting typical Okinawan food offerings such as Pig’s ears, sea grapes (My absolute favourite), bitter gourd in Goya Chanpuru, Jimami (Tofu Pudding Dessert salty sweet), Taco rice, etc. Taco rice is an institution here, a combination of Mexican and Japanese cuisine. The market in Naha is a good place to visit . There is a fresh seafood and meat market on the ground floor and a large canteen with many eateries on the second floor where the fresh food we bought from the market were sent up to be cooked and served to us. And my staple drink for every meal, a good bottle of Awamori, straight. This rice wine contains higher alcohol content than sake, typically between 30% to 60%. However, I don’t get hangover at all. Awamori uses Thai rice to ferment.
Typical breakfast with fresh vegetable, fish, egg onsen accompanied with rice and soup.
The market in Naha (Must try : the local fish Gurukun in sashimi and salt grilled styles)
Lovely in-room meal at Hoshinoya Taketomi and local gyoza wrapped in chicken skin (sinfully addictive)
Goya Chanpuru ; Sea Grapes (a type of seaweed where the little grapes pop in your mouth like caviar)
Awamori tasting ; Awamori with a whole snake inside (supposedly to be good for male potency)
Jimani (Tofu Pudding) & sweet potato ice cream
Besides the food and beautiful sights, Okinawan music is exquisite too. The singing is usually accompanied with a traditional guitar called Sanshin www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvsYoqRfhSI. I just fell in love with the music.
We will be planning to return to this place again in Summer and with a rented car next time to cover more places.
Hope you enjoy my little writeup about Okinawa.