4 interesting things about Okinawa - Waku Waku

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4 interesting things about Okinawa

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4 interesting things about Okinawa

To many travellers, cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or the winter wonderland of Hokkaido are considered the must-visit destinations in Japan. Unlike the aforementioned destinations, Okinawa seems to be a less ideal choice for foreign tourists probably due to the inconvenience in terms of accessibility, or maybe because the images of Okinawa haven’t been fully conveyed to overseas visitors through the media. However, this doesn’t mean that this paradise is any less exciting than other more prominent Japanese attractions.

Waku Waku

Waku Waku

Published on 21 Dec 2019, 16:45

Through some further investigations, I got to know that Okinawa situates in the southernmost part of Japan, consisting of the main Okinawa Island, Miyako Islands and Yaeyama Islands. Surprisingly, Okinawa is in close proximity to Taiwan than it is to the Japan mainland. Okinawa used to be a part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, hence the island has it own distinctive Ryukyu’s dialect, architecture and cuisine which are inspired a lot by China and Southeast Asian countries since ancient times.

Local delicacies such as Goya Chanpuru, Blue Seal ice cream, and Sweet Potato Tart are a must-try when you visit this place. In Figure 1, you can see the welcoming phrase of the sign board in Naha airport was written as "Menso-re" instead of "Yokoso". I only got to know the meaning of "Menso-re" by asking the staff at the airport, because I have no knowledge about Okinawa’s dialect. In Ryukyu language, "Menso-re" means "Welcome to [name of place]".

Besides the influence from China and other Southeast Asian countries, after World War II, Okinawa had been occupied by the U.S. until the 1970s, therefore you can still see a lot of influences from American culture that are reflected in Okinawa through culinary, fashion style, lifestyle and so on.

There are many interesting tourist attractions and delicious dishes in Okinawa, however due to the lack of time and the inability to rent a car (as I don’t have the driving license), I had to resort to using the bus tour and taxi to visit only the most popular destinations such as Churaumi Aquarium, Blue Seal Ice Cream Museum, Okashigoten Sweet Shop , Cape Manzamo etc. In the next sections, I will share some of my insights about the 4 most interesting things about Okinawa that I’ve experienced from my last trip.

There are many interesting tourist attractions and delicious dishes in Okinawa, however due to the lack of time and the inability to rent a car (as I don’t have the driving license), I had to resort to using the bus tour and taxi to visit only the most popular destinations such as Churaumi Aquarium, Blue Seal Ice Cream Museum, Okashigoten Sweet Shop, Cape Manzamo, etc. In the next sections, I will share some of my insights about the 4 most interesting things about Okinawa that I’ve experienced from my last trip.

Figure 2: The instructional pamphlet of the One-day sightseeing bus tour
Figure 2: The instructional pamphlet of the One-day sightseeing bus tour

1. Churaumi Aquarium

Figure 3: Check-in spot at the entrance of Churaumi
Figure 3: Check-in spot at the entrance of Churaumi

The Churaumi Aquarium located in Motobu, Okinawa. The aquarium is made up of four floors, and different types of sea creatures, sharks, coral and fishes are kept in seperate sections and tanks. The total amount of tanks are 77, containing approximately 10,000 m³ of water. The main tank, called the Kuroshio Sea, was considered the one of the largest largest displaying tanks in the world when the aquarium was established.

In this main tank in Figure 4, you can observe whales, sharks, manta and other small fishes that are kept together. At the moment when I visited the aquarium, I could observe 4 manta rays in the main tank. Also, the instructional board mentioned that this main tank is one of only a few aquariums in the world that keeps whale sharks in captivity in an effort to conserving this species.

Figure 4: Photo of the Kuroshio Sea (main tank)
Figure 4: Photo of the Kuroshio Sea (main tank)

2. Souvenir shopping at Okashigoten Sweet Shop

Figure 5: Photo of the production line of Sweet potato tart - The celebrity of Okinawa
Figure 5: Photo of the production line of Sweet potato tart - The celebrity of Okinawa

When it comes to Okinawa’s cuisine, you will be surprised by the wide variety of dishes, such as Goya Chanpuru, Seafood, Soba or fruits and vegetables like pineapple, sugarcane, sweet potato, etc. I was lucky enough to pay a visit to Okashigoten, where local produces are processed and sold directly. And guess what, the most iconic product and best seller at this sweet shop is no other than "Beni Imo Taruto" (Sweet potato tart).

Sweet potato has become a real phenomenon in Okinawa because this root vegetable is considered a superfood by many nutritionists. Not only it is packed with many health benefits, the vegetable is also rich in flavor and can be used as the ingredient for a variety of local dishes. The sweet potato ice cream is also something you must try when visiting Okinawa, because you will hardly find it in anywhere else in Japan.

Figure 6: Photo of the production line of the Sweet potato tart - The celebrity of Okinawa
Figure 6: Photo of the production line of the Sweet potato tart - The celebrity of Okinawa

3. Cape Manzamo – The Elephant Rock Formation

Accessibility: From Naha Bus Terminal, you can hop on either Bus 20, 28, 29, 120, or 228 and get off at Onna Murayakuba-mae (in front of Onna Village Office). The cape is about a 15 minute walk away from the bus stop.

I have always had a keen interest on naturally formed landscapes, and therefore Cape Manzamo has been selected as the first priority on my list. At first, I thought Manzamo was the name of the elephant-like rock formation, however after listening to the explanation of the tour conductor, I got to know that in the ancient times, emperor Sho Kei (king of Ryukyu Kingdom) realized that the area around this cliff was so vast that there should be enough room for ten thousand people to sit, and this was the origin of the name "Manzamo" (ten-thousand-sit-field).

The cliff is famous for a particular rock that looks exactly like an elephant’s trunk. When I arrived here, the sky was clear so I can take a clear photo of the rock. But I believe the scenery would be much more romantic when you visit here during sunset. The water of the ocean is also crystal clear that allows you to see through the seabed.

Figure 7: Cape Manzamo
Figure 7: Cape Manzamo

4. Blue Seal Ice Cream Shop

Figure 8: Check-in photo at Blue Seal ice cream shop
Figure 8: Check-in photo at Blue Seal ice cream shop

Blue Seal got its start on the US bases in Okinawa but as time went by, the brand grew exponentially and their ice cream eventually became a local staple. You can find the influence of American culture from the color scheme (blue white red) to the counter and the interior designs.

While Blue Seal serves traditional flavors such as Beni-imo (Okinawa sweet potato), Shiiquasa (Okinawa citrus), and Ryukyu Royal Milk Tea, other normal flavors such as mint chocolate chip, strawberry cheesecake, and vanilla and cookies are are also the best-sellers here. I arrived here on a sunny day and ordered Chocolate chip and Vanilla flavors in an attempt to beat the scorching heat, and that was definitely a brilliant idea because the ice cream’s texture was so condensed like gelato and can help cool down your body’s temperature.

Figure 9: Exhibition corner in Blue Seal ice cream shop
Figure 9: Exhibition corner in Blue Seal ice cream shop

Another fascinating thing about many famous shops/restaurants, etc. in Japan is that they usually have an exhibition corner (museum) to display the development progress of the brand throughout the history. In Figure 9, you can see a wide variety of products that Blue Seal used to introduced and is currently serving like milk, chocolate bar, etc. But seems like nowadays, people prefer the ones that are contained in paper cup (Figure 10) the most, probably due to the increasing awareness towards environmental issues. You can find these paper cup ice cream at pretty much everywhere in Okinawa, from convenient store, supermarket to vending machines or tourist attractions.

Figure 10: Paper cup Blue Seal ice cream - the signature of Okinawa
Figure 10: Paper cup Blue Seal ice cream - the signature of Okinawa

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