It’s the island where they say the locals are happier than anywhere else in the world, and after this vacay we want in on a slice of Okinawa too.
Wanderlust? We feel you. We’re always looking forward to the next holiday, be it a staycay, a weekend getaway, or a week long adventure in some place new and exotic – and yes we have a bit of an obsession with all things Japanese in Singapore. Already gotten Tokyo out of your system? Okinawa is where it’s at. More than just a place known for the longevity of its locals (seriously, there are more centenarians here than anywhere else in the world), Okinawa has so much happening. Warning: we’re about to torture you with tales of delicious meals, the impressive scenery and lots of sandy beaches…
How to get there…
Fly into Japan and take a domestic flight to Okinawa’s Naha Airport – we took a flight from Tokyo, but you can fly from other major cities including Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo. Some carriers also fly direct from Singapore, if it’s more convenient to do so.
Visit Cape Manzamo for a view of the massive elephant trunk-shaped coral cliff (do remember to keep yourself wrapped up as the winds can be extremely strong there), and drop by Cape Maeda for an unobstructed ocean view, before heading to the mysterious Blue Cave at the bottom of the cape, a spot highly popular with scuba divers and snorkelers.
If you wish to explore the seas without getting wet, pay a visit to the famous Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, the main attraction of the Ocean Expo Park. The highlight of your visit will be the Kuroshio Tank, a massive 7,500 cubic metre tank where you can admire schools of whale sharks and mantra rays. Or take a walk down one of Okinawa’s many beaches – check out Azama Sun Sun Beach: if you’re a romantic type you know you’ve gotta get a shot with the love bell here.
Culture vultures, this one’s for you: check out Shuri Castle, a world heritage site which was once the centre of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Admire the architecture – a mix of Chinese and Japanese influences – while exploring the grounds of this unique castle park. You can also get a decent view of the city from the top of the hill.
Okinawa may be an island itself, but the surrounding islands are definitely worth exploring too. Drive all the way up North and you’ll find Kouri Island where there are plenty of pristine beaches to see and explore. Don’t miss out on the famous Heart Rocks, two protruding heart-shaped coral rocks that have become quite an attraction, and check out the Kouri Shrimp Wagon, a pastel retro-looking truck, for boxes of huge buttery shrimp and rice. Simply delicious!
For those with less time to spare, Senaga Island is a much shorter drive from central Naha. Once you get past the queue of cars entering the island, head straight for the Umikaji Terrace, a beautiful Mediterranean-looking terrace of shops and F&B. Famous eateries which you can find here include pancake specialty shop Shiawase no Pancake, hammock cafe La Isla, and homemade gelato store Yukuru.
And it’s always about the food…
If you’re a fan of Japanese food, you’ll find that Okinawan cuisine is slightly different, with dishes that are unique to the island and incorporating a variety of cooking styles and ingredients.
Try Okinawan onigiri from Pork Tamago Onigiri Honten, which offers a menu vastly different from the typical convenience store onigiri (spam with eggs, anybody?) Okinawa soba is another fan favourite, with a texture that resembles ramen instead of traditional Japanese soba, and you can try them at Ryukyu Sabo Ashibiuna near Shurijo Castle Park. Visit during lunch for lunch sets that allow you to try the different Okinawan flavours, but also be prepared to queue as this place is highly popular with tourists and locals alike.
And you definitely shouldn’t miss out on the seafood in Okinawa, with many eateries serving fresh and rave-worthy dishes. We became fans of Hamanoya, a traditional-looking seafood eatery near the Onna area, when we found out about their delicious grilled fish rice sets and (sinfully) rich lobster baked with uni.
Have a car? Drive up the hills for cafes and restaurants with stunning views of the oceans. Make Cafe curcuma one of your first stops: it’s famous for its Thai cuisine peppered with hints of Japanese inspiration (and there’s a spectacular sea view from the terrace seats). And check out Kajinho, a unique eatery which only has one pizza on its food menu. Heads up: the drive uphill may be slightly steeper than usual, and you need to make sure you’re turning at all the right junctions as the directions can be confusing.
Cafe hoppers will find Okinawa to be an island of many hidden gems, including the famous C&C Breakfast Okinawa, which serves delicious Hawaiian brunch food, bakery-cafe Maybe Bakery, and the extremely Insta-worthy Junglila, with its unique campground theme and beautiful waterfront view – perfect for chilling!
Make it a point to stop by Minatogawa Stateside Town, a cluster of old housing which has been refurbished into a cluster of colourful and quaint shops. Personal fave? Fruit tart specialty shop oHacorte, which served a fantastically delicious strawberry tart when we were there during the strawberry season.
If you’re a fan of smoothies (and vibrant colours), Magenta N Blue is your top pick. This cafe is all about brightly coloured interiors, photoshoot-worthy props, and a small but delicious seasonal menu of smoothies. It may be quite a distance from Naha city, but the visuals are definitely worth the effort to get there.
There’s always time for shopping…
Okinawa is no Tokyo or Osaka, but this doesn’t mean you can’t find some gems here. There’s Mihama American Village, a massive entertainment complex of shopping malls, F&B, hotels and more, and it’s the colourful buildings here we’re really into. There’s plenty to see and buy, from quirky knick-knacks to daily essentials, and when you’re done with the shopping (and eating), pop by the nearby beaches for a nice stroll at sunset.
If you’re in central Naha, you can also get your shopping done at Kokusai-dori, Naha’s main shopping street which is always bustling with activity. Visit Yukishio Salt, a specialty store where you can taste all kinds of salt varieties and pick up something to bring home to foodie friends. Psst… It’s also where you can get a cone of sea salt soft serve!
Looking for fresh Okinawan produce? Head to the nearby Makishi Public Fish Market where you can shop for stuff like unique confectionery, condiments and more, or go to the dining floor for some seafood goodness after you finish your shopping. This is the stuff that keeps the locals living to over a hundred, after all…
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