Travel – Okinawa, Ryukyu Japan: Kokusai Dori, folk music restaurants, Heiwa Dori, Kouri Beach, Kouri Island & Kouri Bridge, Gyokusendo, Cape Manzamo, Ishigaki beef
As the world globalizes and the borders blur, it is amazing how Okinawa, a long stretch of islands located southwest of Japan, still retains almost every bit of its traditional culture. The island known as one of Japan’s main attractions has not been affected by tourist invasion; we found ourselves immersed in their local arts & food the moment we landed.
Rent a car
Renting a car is recommended to get around the island. It may take a while to get used to driving on the left side, but a car can take you to places the mono rail can’t. Turn on the radio and you will find their stations playing Ryukyuan music (nanto kayo). There are some traffic restrictions at certain times. Check with your service provider for details.
Shop in Okinawa – Kokusai Dori (Main street)
Kokusai Dori is the main street of Okinawa. The street is lined with souvenir shops, boutiques, bargain shops, and restaurants. It is also connected to Heiwa Dori, another shopping paradise for souvenirs, local hand crafts and awamori – Okinawan’s regional distilled alcoholic beverage similar to shochu, but made with long grain rice instead of short grain rice.
Drop by the fish market to try some exotic seafood that you’ve never seen (or dared to eat).
Spend some time in the area and collect some wicked items:
Dine at a folk music restaurant
Pick a restaurant with live eisa/ traditional dance performance, choose a private washitsu or booth and enjoy a dinner set featuring local dishes. There are plenty of folk music restaurants on Kokusai Dori and throughout the city.
Shisas, Okinawa’s lucky charm. You see them everywhere, why not create your own to keep? A few art studios in Heiwa Dori allow you to make and/or paint your own shisa. There are also a few stores where you can create your own sanshin, Okinawa’s traditional music instrument with 3 strings and usually covered with snake skin.
Islands, Beaches, and More Beaches
Pure white sand and crystal-clear water, it’s them countless sparkling beaches & islands that form this subtropical paradise. If you’re on a family trip, there are many family-friendly beaches that are supervised by lifeguards. These beaches have a designated swimming area enclosed by a jellyfish protection net, some ban water activities and some charge for admission.
If you are an adventurous one, learn from our mistakes and head to an unsupervised natural beach, some unsupervised beaches include Kouri Beach, Kaichu Doro Beach, Anchihama Beach, Odo Beach, and Diamond Beach.
If you have a tight schedule like we did, the islands that are within drivable distance include Kouri Island (Kouri Beach/unsupervised), Sesoko Island (Anchihama Beach/unsupervised & Sesoko Beach/supervised), Ikei Island (Ikei Beach/supervised) and Yagaji Island (Yagaji Beach/supervised).
If you are a slow-traveller, take a ferry/plane to the islands that are not accessible by car for a different scene.
Enjoy the water activities including diving, snorkelling, kayaking surfing, and flyboarding. There are also submarine tours for those who don’t want to get wet. Whale watching is seasonal from late Dec – Apr. We missed it. Visit the Blue Cave located at the base of Cape Maeda, a popular diving spot in Okinawa. The cave is not big but it has a magical spot to see the entire cave glow in blue.
Kouri Island & Kouri Bridge
Before heading to the Kouri Island for the Kouri Beach, stop right before heading on to the Kouri Bridge to enjoy the scenic landscape.
There is a seashell museum in the Kouri Ocean Tower showcasing over 1,500 types of seashells from around the world. The top of the tower offers photo services for cliche tourist pictures.
Manzamo Terrace/ Cape Manzamo/ Cape Manza (Okinawa Kaigan Quasi National Park)
Cape Manzama has a picturesque cliff composed of Ryukyu limestone. The lawn on top of the cliff is said to be big enough for 10,000 people to sit.
Experience Okinawan culture & heritage, make your own local handicrafts, explore tropical fruits, see the incredible collection of Okinawan shisas & Asian lions, shop for snake liquors & pineapple cakes. Do not forget to visit the Gyokusendo, a 5,000-meter long, slimy cave with over a million stalactites formed approximately 300,000 years ago.
We found the best sushi in Japan, as well as the finest beef. Ishigaki beef, part of the wagyu (Japanese beef) family, has the best of the best texture among all beefs that I’ve tasted. We all know Japan’s famed beefs Kobe & Matsusaka, but did you know many of them come from Ishigaki?
Like tunas, Japanese beefs are graded by marbled fat. Ishigaki beef possesses at least 25% of marbled fat. The meat melts in the mouth so fast you will think you have too much lipase enzymes.
Read also: 9 Bizarre Foods to Try in Okinawa
(photos by Tanya)
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