It’s no secret I live on Okinawa, Japan’s sub-tropical southernmost prefecture, but I don’t think I’ve ever extolled the wonders this entails. Allow me to fix that. Right now.
In no particular order:
All of the beaches.
Let’s start with a cliche shall we? Beaches. Okinawa has a fuck ton of them. If you’re more than 10 minutes from the closest one you probably live in the centre of Naha (where traffic is a bitch). I haven’t come across a beach yet that doesn’t look like something from a glossy travel magazine. Crystal clear oceans and soft sandy beaches are a great outlook to have. I live 5 minutes away from my closest beach. Sometimes I go there, sit on the wall, and watch the sun set. I love it.
Sunset at Araha beach.
This is hands down my favourite cafe. Ever. It’s small, unassuming, and isn’t generous on the parking front, but the owner is a sweetheart, the food is delicious, and they can make a mean matcha latte. You can even get your car washed or serviced at Bright Factory next door whilst you catch up on work/school/enjoy a drink. Clever.
Sakura latte and a bacon cheese sandwich at Key’s cafe.
Okinawan folk are just bloody lovely. Polite, friendly, warm, will let you in when you fuck up and get in the wrong lane, and they always try their best to communicate even if there is a language barrier. One of my best memories is waiting for a bus in Koza, and having three elderly ladies spark up a lively conversation with me, all in Japanese. I understood the gist, but not all of what they were saying, but I loved that they took the time to make me feel welcomed. Going anywhere outside of Japan is now a shock because everyone else seems rude in comparison!
My lovely Okinawan friends, Eri and Ai.
I can’t not mention food. Japan’s favourite dish is curry, and in this they do not disappoint. For a cheap and quick option, I love Coco’s. You can get Indian (my favourite) too, as well as cook at home options from the supermarket. Other local delicacies I enjoy are taco rice (an Okinawan creation), Omurice (literally a huge ass omelette on top of rice), stews (with rice, naturally), matcha-infused cakes, their take on hamburgers, yakitori (glazed chicken on a stick), and pretty much anything you can get in Lawsons (the bento boxes and cheese nuggets!). Special mention to Arin Krin, where every dish contains garlic. I love you.
Aubergine gratin at Arin Krin.
This is a village very close to where I live, and it’s one of my happy places. It’s peaceful, interesting, and close to other things I love, such as Nakamura Old House (literally an old house in traditional Ryukyu style), Naritasan temple (more on this later), and a little walk called the Gusuku Route (a trail that takes in all of Kitanakagusuku’s best spots). I love nothing more than escaping here in my car, driving the winding roads, and parking up to get a bird’s eye view of the ocean.
Shisa sculptures in Kitanakagusuku.
As mentioned above, Naritasan Fukusenji is another love of mine. It’s a Buddhist temple. Popular for traditional Japanese holidays, you can buy omamori here (lucky charms), get your car blessed (they have a smaller temple with parking for this), and for local worshippers they offer wedding, birth, and funeral services. Part of their car park affords the best view of the ocean, of Kitanakagusuku, and of the winding mountain roads.
Barely a 5 minute drive from my house is beautiful Futenma Shrine, a Shinto place of worship (Shintoism is one of Japan’s two major religions). It boasts traditional architecture, sanctuary from life’s daily stresses, and an intricate cave network (part of which you can visit for free). There are two fascinating legends attached, but since I love Futenma so much, I’ll save it all for a separate post.
Another village, this one about 30 minutes north of where I live, is also a happy place of mine. It’s home to FM Yomitan, my favourite radio station, as well as Yomitan Pottery village (a village of artisans that make and sell pottery from their homes). Aside from it’s weird system of traffic lights, Yomitan is a pretty village close to Cape Zanpa and with it’s own stunning ocean views. It’s one of the places I could happily live in given the chance.
Pottery sale at Yomitan Pottery Village.
I have to add this here, because I fucking love FM Yomitan. They play great (and weird, let’s never forget weird) music, have the funniest presenters, the craziest adverts, and the best radio jingles I have ever heard. There’s one that comes on a few times a day that I shamelessly sing along to.
My car, AKA gateway to FM Yomitan.
Shisa are actually a talisman of Chinese origin, but you’ll see them everywhere here. Almost always in pairs, these Lion Dogs stand guard outside homes and businesses. One has a closed mouth to keep good spirits in, and the other has an open mouth to chase away the bad. You can buy these pretty much anywhere that sells gifts, though if you want a really high quality pair your best bet is Yomitan Pottery Village (and a good relationship with your bank account).
My very own Shisa’s.
This isn’t just an Okinawa thing. Conbini’s (convenience stores) in Japan make everywhere else look like shit. 24 hours, ATM/toilets/post office type services/bill paying options/tourist help/ they would probably mow your lawn if you asked, as well as food, drinks, and reading material, mean they are a shining beacon in a storm if you’ve suddenly ran out of milk/ have an urge to read the latest cat magazines. I love their seasonal offerings (sakura cakes for example), and also their hot food options (cheesy nuggets anyone), as well as their helpful staff and generous loyalty cards (I love my Ponta card). Also, they feed my milk tea addiction, which brings me to my next point.
A tasty festive treat from Lawson’s.
I think I can hear some of my American readers recoil at this one (milk??? In tea????), but trust me, this stuff is my crack cocaine. I can’t stop drinking it. I tried it once almost four years ago on a whim (from a vending machine), and since then more than a day or two without it and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms. San A happily feeds my need with their large bottles (179 yen yes hello I’ll take all of them). For any fellow Brits reading, it’s basically a cold version of what we drink. Okay stop hyperventilating. It’s fine. No no, really! It’s not like when you forget about your cuppa and rush to drink it before you realise it’s gone cold and you’ve made a terrible mistake, it’s deliberately cold, and it’s delicious so shut up.
My drug of choice.
Another nationwide thing, vending machines are everywhere. I hear even up Mount Fuji, but I haven’t been so I can’t confirm. Anyway, here on this sub-tropical rock you’ll find those fuckers on a narrow road in the middle of nowhere, or lurking in a sugar cane field, or right outside someone’s front door. It’s great if you’re lost somewhere and dying of thirst. Or eggs, since Highway 6 happens to have an egg vending machine. You can also find ones that dispense tobacco, ice cream, and hot food, though the last one has thus far eluded me. In Tokyo, you can find used underwear ones, and in Nagoya, I’ve seen butt plug vending machines. Not everything is helpful but it’s nice to have options.
A vending machine near Kakazu Heights deals in surprise drinks too.
Cheese in curry.
This might seem odd, but hear me out. You’ve tried Japanese curry? Maybe? If I said Katsu, you’d probably nod and then reminisce about how good it was. And you’d be right to do so, but you’re missing out if you haven’t had that sucker with cheese in it. Again, I think I can hear the dismay, but don’t knock it until you try it. In fact, if you’re in Japan, head over to Coco’s Ichibanya and get yourself any curry, then ask for extra cheese. You can thank me later.
Cheesy sausage curry and cheese naan because there’s no such thing as too much cheese.
The cat obsession.
I love cats. Maybe I feel an affinity because they’re basically me (smaller, furrier assholes), and on this point Okinawa (okay all of Japan) just gets me. Cat cafes, cute kitty magazines, Neko Atsume goodies (I’m addicted to this game), plus actual kitties. I love how kind most are to the strays too. There’s a great TNR (trap, neuter, return) programme here, as well as lots of locals that feed them. My favourite kitty-related thing? Sakura cats. This is the name given to TNR kitties, as the vet nicks a triangle shape out of the cats’ ear when they are neutered, indicating that the kitty has been fixed. They got the name as the ear sort of resembles a sakura blossom leaf. Isn’t that adorable?
Neko Maru cat cafe, Futenma.
This is by no means comprehensive, but you get the general gist. Come visit Okinawa, it’s a wonderful place.