Here’s our second report from Okinawa, the most southern part of Japan.
Although Okinawa is influenced by foreign cultures, Japanese core value in architecture still remains. Shuri Castle locates in the central Naha town and it is the main tourist attraction which is always full of visitors.
This is historic Ryukyuan Gusuku built on a hilltop of Naha about 650 years ago, known as the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, also registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was very impressed by its huge scale and the overall display, especially the high wall. People said this castle used to belong to several kings and it had many rooms.
This is an ideal place either for walking, learning its history or viewing Okinawa from the top of the hill.
I suggest you stay one more night in Naha city and stroll around the popular Kokusaidori Shopping Street at night. Many souvenir shops and local food vendors provide Okinawa specialties that are very unique and sold only on this island.
Okinawan cuisines are very different from Japanese traditional cuisine due to its history and tropical climate. The food culture here includes China, South East Asia, Japan and the United States and often served in smaller dishes sharing on the table. They even offer Okinawan live folk music (Shimauta) at the small shops .
After having a look at the menu at restaurants, I understand why Okinawa people are said to be the one who live the longest life on the world. I realized that a vegetable Goya, also called as bitter melon is a very popular dish here. You can easily find Champuru (stir-fry) with ingredients of Goya, tofu, eggs and pork anywhere. Very healthy and at reasonable price.
Taco rice is also a unique dish that is popular and inexpensive. It seems to be influenced by food culture of America with ingredients of typical taco, beef, lettuce, tomato and salsa, eaten by a spoon which is useful to someone who is not familiar with chopsticks.
If you are in mind of finding souvenirs to bring back home, I think Kokusai Dori will not disappoint you. It is impossible to ignore products made from purple yam (Japanese: Beni Imo) as sweets and ice cream using this violet sweet potato are on sale at almost every corner of Naha.
Beni Imo is extremely sweet, rich in fiber and vitamins so it has an outstanding value. Don’t leave Okinawa without tasting one of these desserts!
Mini pineapple here is so cute, only about 2 cm in diameter. I did not believe that they are real ones until I came closer and touch them. Many plants in Okinawa are prohibited from bringing out of the island, but they allow you to bring mini pineapple back home.
Once you arrive at Okinawa, even for the first time, I think it is impossible to ignore the presence of Shisa , statue of guardian lion dog, often seen in similar pairs sitting outside or on roof of many buildings including temples, houses, stores, hospital and even schools.
You can find many other souvenirs with Shisa shape such as pottery, key holder, T-shirt. If you look at these figures carefully, you will see there is slight difference in the design of this lion couple. A closed-mouth female supposed to keep in the good spirits and an open-mouthed male supposed to scare evil spirits away. Some Shisa statues are designed with one paw grabbing a sapphire ball that represents good fortune.
And our Okinawa adventure will continue!
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