Eat, make pottery and live long in Okinawa
My original plan when I got to Okinawa was to enjoy the beach and nature there: exploring Gyosenku Cape, visiting Ie island and go sightseeing in Ocean Expo Park.
To be honest, I did not have a rigid plan specifying which place to go, I just went and discovered spontaneously everything. Usually, I got lots of lucks with travelling unintentionally like that.
However, the moment I set my foot in Okinawa, it was raining so hard that I had to call every friend to connect me with someone who is living somewhere in Okinawa.
That's how I met Maruko (her name is not Maruko – she justs resembles Maruko in Chibi Maruko-chan manga). She really saved me and I got the chance to see Okinawa in a completely different way.
1. Eat in Kokusai Dori Food Street
Kokusai Dori Food Street is a new area set up for tourists, yet it is not something 100% commercialized.
I really liked the "Izakaya" atmosphere here: the little tiny Japanese bars are packed into a narrow, noisy street. They remind me of Irish bars in certain aspects: we enjoy food and (a little bit) wine for a nice evening with a friend.
I'm not fluent in Japanese, so I just followed Maruko to a small izakaya owned by an old man and some young boys.
Right there in the corner of a tiny street in Okinawa on a rainy evening, I had the best soba I've ever tried in Japan.
The soba are different from the ones in Tokyo: in Okinawa, they made thick wheat noodles with flavoured broth. My bowl of soba is finished with stewed pork ribs, scallions and pickled ginger. Not to mention the taste, the bowl was just a masterpiece of colour.
After soba, I drunk some awamori and enjoyed sukugarasu. Sukugarasu is little boxes of tofu with a little fish on top. I said in my heart in the most sincere way "Arigatou gozaimasu" to the men who invented this dish.
I ended my big dinner with Beni Imo (purple sweet potatoes). Maruko told me to eat these because after an evening full of meat, noodles and awamori, potatoes are the ways Okinawa people balancing their diet.
It turned out that Beni Imo has several health benefits such as anti-ageing and antioxidant, minerals, similar things. I love these lovely purple potatoes just because of a very simple reason: they tasted amazing!
2. Make Pottery in Tsuboya Pottery District
Knowing that I'm an artist, Maruko took me to a place full of arts and crafts. Just 400 meters from Kokusaidori Street, Tsuboya is a place of pottery or "yachimun".
Walking on the stone-paved path of the street, I just could not keep my mouth closed. I walked in and walked out dozens of pottery shops, which offered me both traditional and contemporary pottery.
I finally chose a Shisha dog statue, which is a symbol of Okinawa.
I also spent lots of time exploring the Tsuboya Pottery Museum. Though I'm not a fan of history, this museum illustrates everything simply and attractively, from the origin of yachimun to the techniques to make it. I just love how Okinawa people use everything in their environment to create pottery.
Maruko told me that there used to be an artisan recognized as Living National Treasures. He is a specialist when it comes to yachimun, his designs are combinations of traditional Japanese beauty and wonderful creativity.
3. Live long in Ogimi Village
Because I was so excited after the trip to Tsuboya, Maruko decided to take me to Ogimi village, which is known for making bashofu. Bashofu is a rare lightweight textile made of plantain fibre. This is one of the finest textiles in Japan (according to local elderly people I met).
Which surprised me more is that there are so many old people here and they told me in the proudest tone that Ogimi is a village of longevity. The village is covered by forest and fields. The elderly here still work in the field, even some of whom are over 90 years old.
The village is peaceful, tranquil and pleasant.
If you have a plan to come to Okinawa, remember to visit this village and enjoy the Longevity Meal which is composed of ingredients grown by the local people. The meal is one of the best memories I had in Okinawa.
So that is my short trip to Okinawa. It ended nicely with a warm hug from Maruko who saw me off at the airport. But it is not a goodbye hug, she and I both knew that I will come back some days!
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