Everyone would like to know the reason for this, but they just call it Nuchigusui, which means “life is a medicine”, a philosphy that is centered around mindfulness, spiritual and physical wellbeing. Reasons to go visit this wonderful place are many, from mindfulness experiences, outdoor adventures, wholesome food experiences, craft and culture lessons and events. Whichever you are looking for, Okinawa is the place to go!
From admiring the Milky Way to taking yoga classes, mindfulness experiences take place is beautiful and peaceful sceneries. Taketomi Island is applying to become part of the International Dar-Sky Association, making Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park part of Japan’s first night sky preservation area. The perfect reason to go on a tour with a star-guide to ask all your questions to. If you prefer yoga, then go and test your skills with a SUP yoga class in the ocean, or on the grounds of the Katsuren Castle, which is one of Okinawa’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
And if you need extra meditation, you can get in touch with nature in Yambaru National Park. Another spot where to meditate is Naha’s Shikinaen Royal Gardens, which was constructed back in the 18th century as a home for the Ryukyu kings.
If you prefer seascapes, then you can visit crystal-clear uninhabited beaches like Hatenohama Beach, near Kume Island, or you can visit Kerama Shoto National Park and the stunning Kerama Islands. Or still, these three uninhabited islands, Kuefujima, Nagannujima, Kamiyamajima are the best place to go diving and explore coral reefs and all the sea life. All islands can be easily reached via ferry from Naha.
As already mentioned, Okinawa is the place of birth of Karate, so why don’t you pay a visit to Okinawa Karate Kaikan, where you can learn and participate in the sport. The institution also holds an arena, a training room and a small museum open to public.
If all that yoga and meditation wasn’t enough, hop on a ferry and visit the island of Kudaka, considered the sacred spot, an islands of the gods, where the ancient Ryukyu people first started cultivating. Many of the locals living here still speak the uchinaguchi dialect. The most sacred spot of this island is Sefa-utaki, where utaki decribes the sacred area in the region, including the one in Nanjo City.
Go to Hamahiga Island if you want to go fishing and have a look at the tradtional red-tiled roofs and stone walls in the two villages of the island, which can be reached from a bridge.
If spiritual wellbeing is not your thing, then Okinawa offers tourist an endless list of outdoor adventures to go on. Water and nature are perfectly paired if you go at Nirai Beach, north of Naha. Turquoise waters and sandy shores are ideal for a family excursion and a kayaking experience.
For those who instead are looking for a wild adventure, hop over to Iriomote Island, a quick ferry ride from Ishigaki Island, where you can experience the ultimate kayak excursion through dense jungles and beautiful waters.
Another great experience is a perfect horse ride on the beach. You can head on over to Okinawa Horse Riding Club on the coast of Yomitan Village for lessons and guided treks through the area. Don’t worry if it’s the first time on a horse or if you are a master at it, you are all welcome here.
The incredibly clear and beautiful seas around Miyako Island are a special destination and it’s often referred to as ‘Miyako Blue’. Yonaguni Island, west of Ishigaki Island, also offers untouched waters where you can dive deep through underwater sea ruins.
For those trekking-lovers, Okinawa offers something for you too. Head on over to the most beautiful sites at Daisenkirinzan, a park located in a natural wonderland in Yambaru, where you can trek on four different routes. If this area is too far, then head on over to the valley of Gangala, near Naha. The valley is the home to mysterious gajumaru, known as Chinese banyan trees. These trees are said to be the homes of the kijimuna, or forest spirits from Okinawan mythology.
From horses to kayaks to on-foot trekking, Okianwa doesn’t forget about bicycles. An easy route to start with is the hour-long ride from Kencho-mae Station to Okinawa Hassha Okinogu on the main island of Okinawa.
For solo travellers and lazy people, the island of Okinawa offers plenty of tradtional and craft things to do. Just interact with Okinawa’s friendly locals, who are happy to help visitors and guide them through food and objects in the market. The people of Okinawa enjoy sharing the mentality of ‘treat everyone you meet as family’, a phrase known in the Okinawan language as ‘ichariba chōdē’. If you want to have some fun, head on over to Sakaemachi, a pub district with serious depth.
Enjoy Okinawa’s tradtional music through sanshin players on the street singing and playing, or through live performances, especially those at Shurei, where music is accompanied with A5 Ishigaki beef raised in the Yaeyama Islands. If the art of sanshin making interests you, then enroll yourself in a class with the sanshin master craftsman Tsuneo Yara. If you prefer to just listen to music then head over to Naha’s Sakurazaka and Sakaemachi, where a mix of locals and travellers tend to hang out on the regular.
Awamori is a healthy type of sake, with zero carbohydrates and which tastes better in time. In Okinawa the best way to store awamori is in Kin Koshugura, housed inside a limestone cave, and it offers a perfect place to age into mature the liquor.
If you also want to taste awamori, go to Zuisen Distillery near Shuri Castle and Chuko Distillery, which offers English tours. Izakaya Kozakura is instead the place to go is you want dinner along with your awamori.
Okinawa is rich in culture and traditions and hosts many traditional events like the tug-of-war event Naha’s Great Tug-of-War or the Otsunahiki Matsuri, or the Eisa Festival, Okinawa’s traditional Bon dance celebration.
If you want to head back home with some pottery, then head on over to Yachimun No Sato, or Yomitan Pottery Village, which is lined with numerous ceramic shops, kilns and studios where you can see artisans at work. Visit also the Tsunehide Pottery Workshop for ceramics, or Niji Glassblowing Workshop for glassware. Shopping is tiring so go to one of the few cafès of the area like Gallery Mori no Chaya, run by a pottery master, Meiko Kinjo, and taste a nice cup of tea or coffee.
For those foodies reading, Okinawa is a gourmet heaven, offering a unique dining experience. Not only its food is delicious but it’s also healthy, so don’t worry for your diet. Here lays also their saying, nuchigusui, which describes how someone who eats a meal receives vitality from the person who made it.
For those who love to cook, join the cooking experience at Taste of Okinawa, an English-friendly cooking studio in the heart of Naha, where you can learn how to cook up a tasty Okinawan-style meal using fresh, local ingredients. The program also includes a tour of the public market, where you can learn about local products, and then followed by a cooking class focused on a particular Okinawan dish.
Another way to experience nuchigusui is by visiting local restaurants run by an ‘obachan’ who can cook a tasty spread of Okinawan cuisine with local products. You can try specialities like rafute (braised pork belly), jimami tofu, Japanese bitter melon, umibudo sea grapes and mozuku seaweed in a soy and vinegar sauce, and other dishes.
If you’d like to eat with locals, then head over to Makabe China, housed in an old refurbished tea house where herbs grow in the garden and the residence is shaded by a great Okinawan banyan tree.
Kokusai-dori, International Street, is home to numerous restaurants, where locals often finish a night in town with a delicious protein-packed meal at late-night restaurants like Jack’s Steak House.
When you think of Japan you think of tea, and Okinawa is not different. Sip traditional buku buku cha, a royal tea drink, topped with a foam made from whisked white rice and sitting on top of warm genmai tea. Nowadays the foam can be flavoured with a hint of jasmine tea or with a sprinkle of peanuts.
Another Okinawan speciality is a sweet bean dessert called zenzai. Even if it usually comes in a soup-like form, the kakigori zenzai served at the local shop Inamine is something special. Here you’ll find a sweet mix of kintoki beans and chewy mochi topped off with a mountain of fluffy shaved ice and drizzled in a sweet milk topping. Perfect for the warmer seasons.
How many soba soup have you eaten before knowing that in Okinawa you will eat the best one? The town of Motobu is known as the district called Motobu Soba Main Road. Stop at Kishimoto Shokudo for their delicious homemade noodles in a deep-flavoured broth.
After thinking of soba and tea, how about tasting real sushi? Head on over to the market, where you’ll find tropical fish, used for Okinawa’s unique sushi. Go to Gourmet Kaiten Sushi Ichiba to taste umibudo, sea grape, gunkan and tropical fish nigiri at reasonable prices. If you are nostalgic, take some bentos at Daiko Sushi in Naha Airport to take them home.