A relaxation destination with blue skies, white sand beaches, and picturesque palm trees, the islands of Okinawa Prefecture are commonly known as the “Hawaii of Japan,” a tropical paradise with distinct local cuisine and a signature laid-back atmosphere. Previously the independent state of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa is now made up of more than 150 islands dotted throughout the East China Sea between mainland Japan and Taiwan. Influenced by trade, Okinawa’s culinary history gained strong influences from Asia and the U.S., creating local cuisine called Ryukyu Ryori, after the indigenous people. The friendly locals’ diet features a high intake of vegetables and tofu, seasoned with spices and ingredients bearing bountiful health benefits. Supposedly giving properties of longevity, Okinawan cuisine is made from local sweet potatoes (violently purple), native shikuwasa citrus fruits, sea grapes, and more. The U.S. Military Occupation led to some of Okinawa’s most famous culinary innovations, like Blue Seal ice cream, locally-brewed Orion beer, and taco rice (a rice bowl with taco fillings).
Naha is the capital city of Okinawa and the gateway to the prefecture’s broader islands. The stunning beaches of Ishigaki island, Miyako-jima, and Tokashiki (to name a few) offer world-class scuba-diving among coral reefs and surfing in crystal-clear waters. On the main island of Okinawa, Shurijo Castle and the American Village offer different worlds, while Cape Maeda is a popular snorkeling spot for its breathtaking underwater scenery; enjoy views from the cliffside Naminouegu Shrine, or the ruins of Katsuren Castle overlooking the ocean. Seafood sold at Naha’s tasty fish market is rivaled by restaurants and lively izakayas on the main street, Kokusai Dori, serving specialty dishes like Okinawan soba noodles, rafute (succulent pork belly), and goya champuru (stir-fry featuring bitter melon). The Tsuboya pottery district locally produces rustic Ryukyu-yaki (Okinawan ceramics) including plates, bowls, and legendary shiisa (lion-dogs) motifs, the ancient symbol of the Ryukyu Islands. Distinct from mainland Japan in its tropical environment and regional cuisine, Okinawa Prefecture is Japan’s mouthwatering paradise.
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