When you think of Japan🗾 what do you picture? The rustle and bustle of city life 🌃, with bright neon signs in front of maid cafes🎆, and large Gundam statues🤖? While the cities may be what Japan is more famous for, there so many different worlds to explore within the same time zone that will make you wonder, “Where in the world am I?” In this article, we will be talking about Okinawa; Japan’s southernmost prefecture that is often referred to as the Hawaii of Japan. People from all over the world come here to escape the pressures of their busy and faced-paced city life. This picture perfect destination is home to many tourists, so oftentimes the language barrier is no problem as many people speak or understand English. When I visited here for the first time, I was stunned at the beautiful beaches, the breathtaking ecosystem, and the deep deep culture that is ingrained in the land and its people. What I didn’t know at the time was difference in culture that Okinawa has compared to the main island, and that the many things I saw on the streets and in the shops were local to the area, and can’t be found anywhere else. Before your next vacation to this island, here are a few things to keep an eye out for, as I’m certain it will make your experience more fun and enjoyable!
Blue Seal Ice Cream 🍨
Okinawa has a cold treat on every corner to combat the strong sun🌞, and this brand in particular is a must try. Their slogan is "Born in America, Raised in Okinawa.” This brand was originally started in 1948, when the US military established a base in Okinawa to provide for the personnel stationed there. Who would have thought it would become the famous brand that Okinawans hold so dearly? They are mainly famous for their soft mouth watering texture, as it melts as soon as you take a bite. They have over 30 flavors, including those that are local to Okinawa, such as the beni-imo(purple sweet potato) and the Goya bitter melon, so try them if you are feeling adventurous. Their website features all of their flavors in an adorable picture chart so hover over them to see them dance!
Benimo Sweet Tart 🍠
This delicious and rich tart is a flavor that is local to Okinawa, as they are sweet potatoes that are grown on the land. The purple appearance is perfectly natural so don’t worry that it has any additives. You will definitely see this tart during your visit here, so give it a try and see if you like it! It is the best selling souvenir in Okinawa, so before you leave, take some home to share with your loved ones! If you would like the experience of making your own then the Okashi-Goten store in Onna has got you covered! While these tarts may be local to Okinawa, because the potatoes are grown exclusively there, many sweets and treats have this flavor as well. If you like this flavor, be on the lookout for other potential snacks to enjoy.
Goya Champuru 🥘
Now that we have covered what sweets to try, let's move on to this savory delight. Have you ever tried bitter melon? If not, the idea of eating something bitter may not seem very appetizing, but I assure you, it is a unique and delicious dish you likely won’t forget. The Goya Champuru is a stir fry dish that contains at least these four ingredients: bitter melon, tofu, spam, and eggs. Most dishes have other things added to it such a bonito flakes and bean sprouts. The bitterness of the melon combines with the saltiness of the spam and makes this a dish you cant stop eating. There is no better way to experience a new culture than to eat like a local, so give it a try and you could be pleasantly surprised.
The perfect drink to go with your Champuru would have to be Okinawa’s famous Awamori sake. A simple drink with a long history, it has roots dating all the way back to 600 years ago! The original method for this drink was from Thailand, and is made today using Thai rice. The long history of this drink is not the only reason it is so widely celebrated, as the special mixing process results in 100% pure alcohol with no additives at all! Around 80% of Okinawans drink this sake, which is said to bring people together. There are many concoctions that is made from Awamori, such as turmeric juice (said to relieve hangovers), Korugetsu (Awamori infused hot sauce), and Habushu (snake venom sake), which is our next main topic!
This drink is a real showstopper for those who are first time visitors, as there is literally a snake in a jar, and someone is pouring you a drink from it? Venomous pit vipers are used for this drink, mixed with various herbs and honey to give it a particularly menacing color. Before you jump into conclusions, the snake has been cleaned and gutted, then soaked in ethanol for at least 30 days and is completely sanitary to drink. The interesting thing about this drink is that it is said to have aphrodisiacal qualities. Because this breed of snake mates for more than 24 hours, it is believed by the Okinawan people that this drink also increases the male libido. If you are not afraid, give it a try on your next visit!
Orion Beer 🍺
For those who like to keep it simple, or enjoy a nice cold beer, try Okinawa’s Orion beer. This brewery is the 5th largest in all of Japan, but believe it or not, only commands 1% of the beer market in the country. So, who is drinking all the beer? Okinawans of course! This light and slightly sweet beer is best paired with some fresh sashimi over white rice 🍣. Yum!
This beautiful stone is found predominately throughout Okinawa, although you can get it other places as well. The mesmerizing blue color attracts anyone and it reminds me of Van Gogh's endless blue sky, or the gorgeous ocean blue that surrounds the islands of Okinawa. This special process of creating these beads are so meticulous that it is well worth the price. I got my hotaru stud earrings at the beautiful Kouri Ocean Tower. Not only can you take in the beautiful scenery that Okinawa offers, you can also browse their amazing collection of different kinds of shells in their museum gallery. There is a shop for souvenirs on the bottom floor and on the top floor you will find the amazing luxury collection of Hotaru Glass accessories that come in the form of bracelets, necklaces, earrings, hair clips, whatever you can possibly image! This venue made my trip to Okinawa truly unforgettable, and I'll always have a piece of it with me!💎
These are my hotaru earnings! I still remember the day I got them, I just couldn't get over how pretty they were!
Okinawa is the perfect vacation destination🏖, with its breathtaking views accompanied by their rich and deep culture, it will be an experience you likely won't forget. Check out this collection for a few of the places where you can find these Okinawan treats🍬!