Okinawa is more than just a collection of subtropical islands with crystal clear seas and white sandy beaches - it has a unique history and food culture combining the east and west. Okinawans have the highest life expectancy in the world, and with these foodie itineraries, you can discover some of their secrets.
The beautiful flavours of Okinawa's northern coast
Enjoy breakfast with a view at Inoh Restaurant! Located on the fourth floor of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium (no admission ticket is necessary to enter the restaurant), it boasts panoramic views of the East China Sea. The restaurant serves a special Morning Menu which includes local Okinawa ingredients like Agu pork sausages from Motobu, served with thick toast and locally-grown salad.
*The special Morning Menu is available until March 31st, 2022.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Home to about 21,000 marine creatures, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is a great place to learn about Okinawa's marine life at every depth. The dynamic Kuroshio Sea tank - one of the largest in the world - features gigantic whale sharks and manta rays. The Deep Sea tank re-creates the mysterious world of the deep ocean with about 130 species of creatures that are rarely seen.
Kominka Shokudo Yukuru
Stop for a hearty bowl of Okinawa soba - a bowl of soupy egg noodles topped with tender pork ribs - at Kominka Shokudo Yukuru, a cozy restaurant in a traditional Okinawan-style building. Yukuru is located in Bise, which is famous for its row of ancient Fukugi trees, called Fukugi Namiki, once planted as a windbreak to protect the village. You can walk through this tunnel of trees, lined with mostly private older homes, to Cape Bisezaki.
Drive across the bridge from Yagaji Island to the tiny Kouri Island, which takes only 10 minutes to go around the coastal road. Surrounded by the turquoise ocean, you can go swimming or snorkelling during warm weather seasons, or simply enjoy the cafes on the island. A popular tourist site is the unique coral formations resembling whales' tails or hearts, therefore popularly known as Heart Rock, located just offshore on the northern tip of the island.
Kouri Ocean Tower
At 82m above sea level, Kouri Ocean Tower is a great vantage point to see Kouri Bridge. The tower is home to the Kouri Island Museum where you can learn about the island, completed with indoor observation areas. The ocean deck on the rooftop is an amazing spot to enjoy a full panorama of the landscape with a drink, and travelling up to the deck is best experienced through an automatic cart.
Get your coffee fix with great seaside and sunset views at Zhyvago Coffee Works Okinawa, located on the busy promenade of American Village. The casual cafe merges the trendy vibes of west coast Okinawa with west coast USA. Grab a few treats - from cookies to cakes - and enjoy them with your coffee on the cafe's terrace overlooking the pier.
Tubarama Kokusaidori branch
Immerse yourself in Okinawan culture at Tubarama Kokusaidori, a rustic restaurant with an interior that resembles a traditional Okinawan village with their iconic roof tiles and coral walls. Enjoy a dinner of Okinawan cuisine with an impressive range of options, from jimami tofu and stir-fried goya, to stewed rafute and many more. Accompany the meal with local drinks like awamori or snake wine - all with live folk music performances in the background.
Food and adventure in Southern Okinawa
Itoman Fishing Cooperative Osakana Center
Savour the bounty of Japan's waters at Itoman Fishing Cooperative Osakana Center - it's one of Okinawa's many markets and eateries where you can sample seafood fresh off the boat. Itoman has 11 stores and holds a morning auction at the nearby fishing port. It's a great place to taste freshly-made sushi and raw oysters, as well as fill your stomach with cooked seafood, all of which can be consumed on-site at the dine-in area.
DMM Kariyushi Aquarium
The Kariyushi Aquarium is unlike any other aquarium you've seen. Featuring stylish art installations and visual technology, the aquarium boasts unique environments ranging from an indoor subtropical forest that houses animals like capybaras, penguins, and otters, to featuring of marine life with artistic settings - including jellyfish swimming in colourful cylindrical aquariums . There's also a zone where you go barefoot over a glass panel, as well as large screens projecting virtual images of swimming sharks and whales.
BUKU-BUKU teahouse and Gyokusendo Cave in Okinawa World
Head to Okinawa World for a trip to the massive subterranean world of the Gyokusendo Cave, a large limestone cave with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites that are well-lit and accessible via boardwalks. After exploring the caves, take a break with a cup of Buku Buku tea unique to Okinawa at the cafe! Buku Buku Cha is a traditional, fragrant brown rice tea that's made with a special bowl and whisk to create the mountain of foam, usually served with a piece of Ryukyu confectionery.
Stop by Café Yabusachi, perched on a hilltop with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean and Hyakuna Beach in the southern region of Okinawa. This cafe serves a wide range of Japanese-style western fare, from taco rice to parfait. From its large windows and terrace, you can enjoy an uninterrupted, expansive view of the ocean. The drive to the café also boasts many scenic spots, including castle ruins, natural springs, and beaches which you can stop at along the way.
Okinawans practise an indigenous religion that places emphasis on the worship of nature. Sefa Utaki is the spiritual heart of this religion, nestled in an area dotted with rock formations and grottoes found in a densely forested hillside along the ocean. It came to prominence in the 16th century and is one of many sacred sites dotted around Okinawa. Sefa Utaki's sacred spots are connected to each other via serene walking trails.
Taste of Okinawa
Taste of Okinawa is a culinary space that showcases the flavours of Okinawa in two ways: cooking classes and local craft beers. The 3-hour Cooking Experience (starts from 10:30 and 15:30, except Monday) includes a tour to nearby Naha Public Market where you learn about the local ingredients used to prepare a 4-course menu under the guidance of a chef. Their bar serves Okinawan craft beers, paired with a special local menu, which you can enjoy when not driving.
Exploring the best of Okinawa's Kokusai Street in Naha
Pork Tamago Onigiri Makishi Market
Savour the delicious Pork Tamago Onigiri which looks like a compacted-rice sandwich that's wrapped around a slice of SPAM and a tamagoyaki omelette. Pork Tamago Onigiri has gained popularity in recent years for its trendy Okinawan reinterpretation of a beloved Hawaiian-Japanese snack called Spam Musubi , which is sushi topped with a slice of SPAM.
Makishi Public Market and Kokusaidori Street
Kokusai street is Naha's main street which is lined with all sorts of shops, restaurants, services, and even hotels. Venture off the street into various shopping arcades, including the Makishi Public Market for a local experience. The market is the city's main provider of fresh meat, fish, and produce, and the surrounding alleys feature stand-up shops where you can sample local delicacies such as the Goya Champuru.
AJITOYA, Okinawa Brown Sugar Curry
Stop for lunch at AJITOYA, known for its Okinawan Brown Sugar Curry. Their bestseller is the Grilled Chicken curry which is the best combination of a silky spicy flourless roux and crispy, juicy and flavorful chicken. The curry is made with local ingredients such as Okinawan turmeric and brown sugar, making it a healthy yet richly flavoured dish. Alternatively, they also have stewed pork, stewed chicken, and tofu versions of the curry.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Shurijo Site is the emblem of Okinawa, as it represents a castle of the Ryukyu Kingdom which was a separate country until it became part of Japan in 1879. The date of its founding is unknown, but it is believed that the castle existed around the 1300s. It boasts a spacious courtyard and defensive walls, as well as an elaborately-decorated main hall, influenced by both Chinese and Japanese architecture. It is now in progress of getting rebuilt since the 2019 fire incident.
Okinawa has its own distinctive distilled spirit known as awamori, which is made from rice and contains about 30-40% alcohol. Awamori is typically served with water and ice. Founded over 130 years ago, Zuisen is a revered brand that specialises in kusu, a type of awamori that has been aged for at least 3 years, resulting in a smooth flavour and mellow sweetness. You can sample this special awamori at their distillery, where tours are also conducted.
Try a new style of Okinawan cuisine in a restaurant that incorporates Western cooking methods using the best of local flavours. Their unique and ever-changing omakase menu draws out the full potential of Okinawan ingredients to create novel and delicate new dishes that you can fully enjoy when paired with sake. Waryu Sally offers both private seats as well as counter seats so you can see the creative process from the start till the end.