On my first trip to Okinawa I didn’t know what to expect. My prior knowledge of the prefecture was slim, with only a vague recollection that it was the birthplace of Mr Miyagi from the popular film series, The Karate Kid. However, I’m glad to say I learned a lot during my stay and Mr Miyagi is now just one of the notable things I can drop into conversation about Okinawa.
With healthy staple foods such as sweet potato, kelp and bitter melon, it’s no wonder so many of the local residents exceed 100 years of age. And aside from the plentiful tasty and authentic Okinawan cuisine on the island, the influence of culinary cultures from the United States and the rest of Asia means visitors can enjoy a wealth of other gourmet treats, too. During our tour we enjoyed a kaiseki (traditional Japanese course) meal, a juicy steak cooked at the table in teppanyaki (hot plate) style, and an extravagant Chinese buffet as full of color as flavor.
A tour highlight was our visit to the Okinawa Karate Kaikan, a huge facility dedicated to the practice and exhibition of the Okinawan martial art. The place was buzzing with the news that karate will make its debut as an Olympic sport at Tokyo 2020. During the visit we explored the impressive 1,278m² wooden floored dojo that is used in high-level karate competitions. We looked at historic examples of karate weapons, and even tried a few tests of strength. Though it may take a few more visits before I can get my black belt, I now have a much greater understanding of the benefit to body and soul that the art offers its 100 million practitioners worldwide.
As well as having some truly beautiful beaches and sea views, not least from our wonderfully spacious rooms at the Kanucha Resort, Okinawa offers opportunities aplenty for the watersport enthusiast. I was thrilled to try flyboarding for the first time, and am proud to say that after just a few inelegant bellyflops I was able to soar into the air on a jet of water like a true spirit of the seas. It was also a real treat to go kayaking in the beautiful green waters of the Gesashi River. The tour took us through part of the island’s largest mangrove forest, which is designated as one of Japan’s natural treasures and home to an astoundingly rich variety of animal and plant life.
Pairs of happy looking shisa (lion-dog cultural artifacts) can be seen everywhere around town, and are perhaps the most conspicuous item to be found in the bustling Kokusai shopping area: a well-known hub for great food and fashion. As shisa represent protective guardian spirits, I picked up a pair myself, and feel much better knowing my computer desk will be free from evil spirits from now on. There were plenty of them to be seen during our visit to Ryukyu Mura, too. I saw them in all shapes and sizes, looking down wide-eyed from the traditional tiled roofs of the cultural theme park. The park is a nice place to see other aspects of Okinawan traditional culture, too, from folk dance to craftwork, with chances to try some of the creative activities first hand.
Like all good things, our tour was over far too soon and I was sad to leave the prefecture and its beautiful warmth. Okinawa is truly a treasure trove of pleasant surprises into which I look forward to diving again the first chance I get.
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Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium / The Mysteries of Okinawa in Living Color
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