Japan has always been familiar with most people, because aside from it being an über-popular tourist destination, it’s culture and influence is always present in modern pop culture. However, there is definitely more to the lights and bustle of Harujuku and Roppongi, the meaningful culture of Kyoto and Kobe, and the beautiful sakura in Osaka and Hakodate. Japan also has an island that has beautiful beaches and a perfect sub-tropical climate–Okinawa. Now if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, you’re not too late to the party! Here are some rather persuasive reasons why it’s high time to check out Okinawa.
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1. Its Asia’s very own Hawaii!
The island of Okinawa has been likened many a time to being the Hawaii of the region, and for good reason, too! If you’ve been fortunate enough to experience Hawaii for yourself, or at the very least have just seen it in photo like me, Okinawa boasts of the same sights and feel. From scenic views of the island’s turquoise blue waters, countless palm trees lining up the streets, to hills and mountains peeking from the background of the city. One comparison also lies in Okinawa’s Polynesian influences, further linking Japan’s southern-most prefecture to the eastern equatorial island of the United States.
2. Nature at its most beautiful, period.
What I personally look for the most in an island, is that, aside from it having nice beaches, there must also be a variety in its natural scenery. Pair a good island beach with lots of trees, and that, to me, is paradise! Okinawa has just that, and more. With its steady sub-tropical weather, maintaining a cool 15 to 25 degrees all year-round, Okinawa provides rolling greens, with a beautiful sea of blue draped behind it. Not to mention that there are several capes around the island with beautiful cliff side views of the sea as well. Okinawa is known for its diverse marine life, too, with chances to see manatees, turtles, and sharks!
3. The culture.
One of the more interesting things you’d pick up when you get here is that their local culture, may be quite different than what you might be used to seeing (and hearing) in the main land. Once an autonomous region independent from Japan, Okinawan culture has had more influence from neighboring China, as well as a mix of Austronesian/Polynesian influence, which is seen through their architecture, practices, and even the physical features of the locals! Okinawa even has its own language, unique from Japanese Nihongo, and is not understandable to the main land. However, Okinawans do understand and speak Nihongo as well, with the exception of some of the elders, which stay deeply rooted with their customs.
4. The local cuisine.
You can set aside all the sushi and yakitori for now, as Okinawa has quite a selection of local food. They are particularly known for their fresh produce, as well as livestock. Goya, or bitter gourd, is a popular item in their local cuisine, as well as Umi Budo, or sea grapes, which is a kind of seaweed that is a must try when you find yourself in the area. But, surprisingly (as this is quite unique for Japanese cuisine), what stood out the most was their pork dish called Rafute, which is their version of braised pork belly, simmered in soy sauce and brown sugar. There are more dishes that are definitely must-tries, but like in any place in Japan, food is an important experience.
5. Kanpai on Awamori!
One of my personal highlights in Okinawa was getting to try this local gem. This is Okinawa’s locally made alcoholic drink, and is commonly considered to be their version of sake. However, it should be made clear that rather than being brewed, as with sake, Awamori is distilled, more similar to that of shochu. So, in essence, awamori is made from long grain rice, and is usually served and consumed on the rocks, with a splash of water. This drink is known to be quite strong (I can attest to this), carrying with it around 30-60% alcohol. Perfect to celebrate any day spent in this island paradise!
6. It's easy to get to!
No matter how beautiful a place is, if it’s difficult to get to, the likelihood of visiting tourists starts to dwindle. But to everybody’s fortune, Okinawa is very much accessible from the Philippines. For a more express transit, Philippine Airlines flies straight from Manila to Fukuoka, where all you’d need is to book a quick domestic transfer to Okinawa upon landing, which is no bother at all. And alternatively, for those that want a more steady route, Manila dwellers can also take a cruise aboard Star Cruise’s Superstar Virgo, which leaves from Manila, and circles to Okinawa and Taipei.
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Photos from: The author, En.japantravel.com, Viator.com, Gyokusendo.co.jp, Twitter.com/sushisushi_uk