A Japanese Island For Everyone
My knowledge of Japan is limited to Tokyo, Sushi and Pokemon. So when I found out I was going to Okinawa, I did my due diligence by performing a quick search on Google and mostly learnt that Okinawa's most known for its tropical climate and beaches.
But after spending four days in its capital city, Naha, that description barely scratches the surface of what this island has to offer. So whether you’re a health junkie or a culture vulture, you’ll wonder why you’ve never been to Okinawa before.
Still need some convincing? Then, check out the video we made while we were there below!
1. Go cafe-hopping in Okinawa’s quaint hideouts
Who would’ve known that Okinawa has its own cafe culture? From beautifully-crafted tarts at oHacorté to C&C Breakfast, a hole-in-the-wall cafe that serves Hawaiian-style breakfast, Singaporeans who love huddling up in cafes will be spoilt for choice.
oHacorté is a specialty fruit tart store that doubles up as a cosy escape for one looking to hide away with a book and a hot cup of coffee. For a tart that both tastes and looks incredible, for got the purple Beniimo. Made from the Okinawa’s native sweet potato, if overly sweet desserts rub you the wrong way, this makes the perfect treat.
Here’s a bonus tip: the tarts offered here are seasonal so that means you might get an entirely different selection depending on when you visit.
oHacorté – Izumizaki Store
Address: Kina Building 2F, 1-4-10 Izumizaki, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours:10:30 AM to 8 PM, Daily
At the recommendation of our waitress, we tried their best-selling Souffle Pancakes and their popular Acai Bowl. While the pancakes were especially fluffy, I would recommend you share it with a friend if you don’t have a big appetite. But if you’re like me and prefer something lighter in the morning, the Acai Bowl is perfect for a quick breakfast fix.
C&C BREAKFAST OKINAWA
Address:Takamine Building 1F, 2-9-6 Matsuo, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours:Mon - Fri, 9AM-4PM ; Sat, Sun and P.H., 8AM-4PM (Closed on Tue)
I never thought I’d be one to promote a vegan cafe, but Natural Cafe Nifera has won my vote. Serving up all vegan versions of our favourite brunch items, give any one of them a try - we promise, it’ll surprise you. I tried their popular Eggs Benedict, which was so flavourful, I didn’t even realise my eggs had been swapped out for tofu.
By the end of the meal, I was so ready to be vegan on the condition I could eat there everyday.
Natural Cafe Niferra
Address: 1-13-19 Tsuboya, Naha-shi, Okinawa, Japan
Opening Hours: Tue - Sat, 8AM-10AM
2. Catch the sunrise over a yoga session on the beach
Whenever I’m on a holiday, I struggle to keep fit, especially when you want to eat everything (see point #1). That’s why I was stoked to find yoga classes available on Senaga-jima Beach - one of Okinawa’s iconic beaches!
When we arrived on the beach, we were greeted by our instructor who already had our mats set up for us and raring to go. Yoga in the mornings but be a little chilly, but your bodies will naturally warm themselves up after a couple of “Downward Dog” and “Warrior” poses.
But best of all, being able to catch the sunrise while doing yoga has to be an experience I will never forget anytime soon. And when our session was over, our minds and bodies were ready for the rest of the day. Namaste.
The classes are fully customisable to your needs, from the choice of the beach to the choice of your instructor. Best of all, the classes are only ¥2000 (~SGD25) per person! So if you're interested, just send in an enquiry and they’ll take care of the details for you!
Take note though - there is a minimum of two people for the class to take place so grab a friend and enjoy a unique yoga experience unlike any other in Singapore.
Okinawa Beach Yoga
Contact: +81- 90-7370-6561
Mail: [email protected]
3. Get a taste of Okinawan food - something you won’t find in Tokyo
A lot of people look forward to having some convenience store onigiris whenever they’re in Japan but when in Naha, skip those and tuck into some real Okinawan comfort food. You can enjoy a traditional home-cooked meal at Iroha-tei for food only familiar to locals.
The set meal (¥3000) we had comprised of multiple small dishes that include appetizers, mains and a dessert. But don’t let the size of these dishes fool you - the meal was more filling than we expected.
And if you didn’t know, Okinawans take their pork very seriously so this set comes with a couple of varieties of pork cooked differently. While I didn’t taste the pork myself, my travel partner, Q, described the meats to be tender with just the right amount of chew in its texture.
Uchina Ryori Shuri Iroha-tei
Address: 3-34-5 Shuri Kinjocho, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Mon, Tues, Thurs - Sun, 6PM-9PM (Closed on Wed, but open on Public Holidays)
Alternatively, modern options such as at En Okinawa serve up top-quality award-winning Motobu Beef - Japan’s top quality Wagyu, and Okinawan Agu Pork.
The food here is served izakaya-style so grab a couple of friends and enjoy a communal meal with over glasses of Orion - Okinawa’s very own beer.
Bishoku Dining En Okinawa
Address: 2F, 3-16-19 Kumoji, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: 6PM-Midnight Daily
If noodles are more your thing, you have to head to Kinchichi Soba for soba noodles made from 100% wheat grown in Okinawa. The firm but springy noodles are served with a special flavour-packed soup made with bonito, the type of fish used to make those fish flakes served with the ever-popular takoyaki.
Nothing beats a hot bowl of noodles to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Kinchichi Soba (Onna location)
Address: 8-3 Nakama, Onna-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Tue - Sun, 11AM-4PM
For a sweet finish, hit up Jahana Kippan, a Japanese confectionary shop that sells traditional Okinawan sweets served only to royalty in the past. My favourite was the Tougatsuke, an all-natural candy made from winter melons. With just the right amount of sweetness to them, they make the perfect gift for friends and family back home.
And yes, I bought a couple of bags and yes, I may have eaten more than I should have.
Address:1-5-14 Matsuo, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Mon - Sat, 9.30AM-6PM (Closed on Sun and open on Public Holidays)
But the highlight of my food journey in Naha was tasting the onigiri from a quaint take-out stall called Pork Tamago Onigiri. As advertised, all their onigiris contain pork in the form of Spam and eggs and are to order so you can throw in a customisation or two. I was able to request for my Tuna Mayo and Mentaiko Onigiris to come without the Spam.
As for taste, let’s just say that I’ve never had better onigiris in my life. Sorry, Family Mart.
Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten
Address: 2-8-35 Matsuo, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Mon - Sun, 7AM-6PM (Closed on Wed, last order at 5.30PM)
4. Buy non-tacky souvenirs at the local handicraft shops
For those who want to bring a little piece of Okinawa home, from modern pieces of pottery crafted by young artists to cold-pressed natural soaps, here are some locally-made products you should get your hands on:
While many would describe pottery as a dying artform, Garb Domingo proves that it’s not. This store doesn’t only sell unique pieces of pottery and tableware for your homes, it also has collections made by young artists who use traditional pottery techniques to create contemporary designs fit for more modern tastes.
Address: 1-6-3 Tsuboya, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Mon, Tues, Fri - Sun, 9.30AM-1PM and 3PM-7PM (Closed on Wed and Thu)
When you’re in Okinawa, forget The Body Shop and head over to La Cucina Soap Boutique for a large selection of artisanal handmade soaps for every skin type. All their products are made from natural ingredients but what’s most unique about this is that they make use of a cold-press method to extract the active ingredients from these ingredients. Basically, all the goodness from these ingredients are going straight to your skin!
La Cucina Soap Boutique
Address: 1F, 2-5-31 Matsuo, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: 12PM-8PM, Daily
Why stop at that when you can also buy clothes and fabrics that incorporate traditional dyeing techniques? Housed in a small hut away from the city, Karansha is a dyeing and weaving studio owned by Ms. Chika Miyara, who hand-dyes and designs all the textiles she uses for her products such as scarfs and norens (traditional Japanese fabric dividers).
But what makes her designs truly unique are the stories behind each of them. Loosely translated, “Night Sky with a lot of Stars” is a textile in a deep Ryukyu Indigo colour with little white dots. Go figure.
Address: 152 Katsuren Haebaru, Uruma-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Mon - Sat, 9AM-6PM (Closed on Sun)
And if you have an inner fashionista screaming inside of you, you have to check out Yokang, a designer boutique that specialises in unique ready-to-wear dresses and wedding gowns.
Started by Ms. Kanna Yamauchi, she started her boutique after returning from studying fashion design in France. All her designs have modern silhouettes but incorporate the traditional Okinawan dyeing technique called bingata. And guys, don’t worry - there’s a selection for you too!
Address: Paris-pana Arch Building 2F, 2-9-1 Kohagura, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Mon - Sat, 11AM-7PM (Closed on Sun)
5. Don their traditional costume at a cultural theme park
Not many people know this but Okinawa has a unique culture of its own, separate from mainland Japan. While certain things are inevitably similar, Okinawa has its own traditional costumes, dances and even dialect - something we learnt when we paid a visit to Ryukyu Mura, a mini theme park dedicated to traditional Okinawan culture.
There, we got to dress up in their traditional costumes and even joined in one of their dance performances. We must have looked pretty legit up there so much so that other visitors in the park took the chance to photographs of us.
Other than the many performances that go on throughout the day, there are many cultural experiences a visitor can expect at Ryukyu Mura. From learning traditional dances to dying your own fabrics, this theme park is unlike any other I have visited before.
But what I enjoyed the most was getting my hands dirty and attempting to make Sata Andagi, a deep fried dough fritter. From making the batter to getting schooled by a little old lady when we tried to fry these treats, I couldn’t stop myself from being excited at the idea of making something else other than a mess. But best of all, we got to taste our own creations at the end of it and boy, were those doughnuts addictive.
Address: 1130 Yamada, Onna-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa
Opening Hours: From October 1st - June 30th - 8.30AM-5.30PM, Daily (Last entry at 5PM) From July 1st - September 30th - 9AM-6PM, Daily (Last entry at 5.30PM)
6. Try your hand at pottery and craft your very own good luck token
Speaking of getting your hands dirty, those who are more artists than MasterChefs, would appreciate making pottery at Tsuboya Yachimun Street, a pottery street with over 300 years of history. In our case, we went to Ikutouen Togei Dojo where you can make the regular pots and vases or challenge yourself by making a Shiisaa, an Okinawan lion-dog statue said to be able to ward off evil spirits.
Our teacher was very nice to guide us every step of the way even though pottery clearly wasn’t my calling. And after the hour-long workshop, we were done and she took our “masterpieces” away to be fired up in a kiln. Do note that it’ll take two months before they’re ready so leave your addresses with them and they’ll ship it to your home. I can’t wait to see how my finished Shiisaa looks like when they arrive in Singapore!
*The hands-on session requires an appointment!
Ikutouen Togei Dojo
Address: 1-22-33 Tsuboya, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: Ceramic Workshop, 9AM-5.30PM, Shop 9.30AM-6.30PM
7. Stay in Naha’s most luxurious (and instagrammable) hotel
Located within walking distance from both Tsuboya Yachimun Street and Kokusai Street, Naha’s popular shopping street, the Hyatt Regency Hotel is perfectly situated for anyone to enjoy the best of both worlds. With stunning views of the city and a rooftop pool, the hotel is the perfect escape when you’ve had a little too much fun at the end of the day.
It also helps that the hotel is incredibly photogenic so be prepared to take all the pictures you can to make your friends jealous that you’re there.
Hyatt Regency Naha
Address: 3-6-20 Makishi, Naha-shi, Okinawa
8. Explore Okinawa’s largest castle from the 14th century
Special thanks to Okinawa Churashima Foundation for allowing us to film in their premises
If you’re tired of only having been to Singapore’s one and only World Heritage Site, get another notch in your belt when you visit Shurijo Castle, Okinawa’s largest castle dating back to the 14th century. Even though most of the original castle was destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, it was reconstructed in 1992 to highlight the unique architectural style and rockwork that has both Chinese and Japanese influences.
Explore the inside of the castle to see how royalty lived during the Ryukyuan Dynasty. You’ll even be able to see some of the original rock pillars that served as the foundation of the castle. Most importantly, don’t forget to take a stroll around the castle premises for a panoramic view of Naha.
Shurijo Castle Park
Address: 1-22-33 Tsuboya, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: From April to June, 8.30AM-7PM (Last entry at 6.30PM) From July to September, 8.30AM-8PM (Last entry at 7.30PM) From October to November, 8.30AM-7PM (Last entry at 6.30PM) From December to March, 8.30AM-6PM (Last entry at 5.30PM)
9. Get a massage at an internationally-acclaimed spa
Source: Okinawa Prefecture
Holidays are the best time for you to relax so what better way to do so than a massage? So when in Naha, you have to treat yourself at CHURASPA for a treatment that fuses local knowledge of Okinawan herbs with Ayurvedic techniques. And if you have no idea what that means, all you need to know is that they were awarded a “World Luxury Spa Award” in 2016 so your body is in good hands.
That’s not all! You can also take a dip in their natural fossil seawater hot spring! Apparently, this hot spring was formed 8 million years ago with sea water coming from the local ocean. But all that matters is you’re going to have the most blissful experience there.
CHURASPA inspired by SMART ARYURVEDA
Address: Loisir Spa Tower Naha 2F, 3-2-1 Nishi, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Opening Hours: 2PM - 11PM Daily, Reception closes at 9.30PM on weekdays and 10PM on Sat, Sun and Public Holidays.
A Japanese Island For Everyone
What began as a trip where I didn’t know what to expect, became an adventure that was full of surprises at every turn. I got to experience Okinawa that has not only managed to retain its unique cultural identity but also a modern and exciting city full of life. This unique balance of the old and the new was something that truly left a deep impression on me and I’m sure I’ll be back for more.
If you’re looking for a new Japanese adventure that’s not your typical Tokyo, Osaka, or Hokkaido, then pick, choose, and get ready to fall in love with Okinawa. If you don’t know where to start, head over to Be Okinawa website- a ready travel guide for all the inspiration you need to plan the perfect getaway.
This post was brought to you by Okinawa Prefecture.