Things to Know Before Going! Basic Knowledge About Okinawa
The joys of travel can be enhanced by knowing the characteristics of the places you are visiting. So this time, we introduce Okinawa Prefecture. We hope you will read this article to deepen your understanding of Okinawa.
What Okinawa Prefecture is Like
Current day Okinawa has its roots in the Ryukyu Kingdom which flourished in the 15th century. The kingdom actively traded with China as well as with other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as Korea and Japan and thrived as a seafaring nation. It came under Japanese control in 1609 but maintained trade with various countries. It adopted elements of culture from other countries to develop its own unique culture. The history of the Ryukyu Kingdom ended in 1879, when Okinawa Prefecture was established. It was the only prefecture in Japan that saw land battle during the second world war, and had many victims. It was occupied by the United States military after the war, but was returned to Japan in 1972. You can still see the cultural imprint of the United States in Okinawa today.
Okinawa has a subtropical climate characterized by high temperatures and humidity. The average temperature is 25.7℃. The sun can be harsh in the summer, but the temperature rarely exceeds 35℃ due to the sea breeze. The average temperature in the winter rarely dips below 15℃, but it may feel colder due to the northerly winds. It has substantial rainfall reaching more than 2,000mm a year. Rain is most common during the Japanese rainy season (May to June) and the typhoon season (August to September). Late June and July tend to be sunny.
It is said that the Okinawans have a great love of their land, precisely because it has such a tumultuous history. The Okinawans also have a strong sense of familial solidarity based on a patriarchal system called monchu. It is said that Okinawans are generally cheerful, optimistic, laid back, and like to do things at their own pace.
Okinawa consists of a large number of islands including the Okinawa Islands, Miyako Islands, and Yaeyama Islands. The dialect differs from island to island, but is generically referred to as Ryukyu-go. The Okinawa Hogen is a dialect spoken primarily on the main island of Okinawa. Hello, which is "konnichiwa" in standard Japanese is "haisai", "irasshaimase" (welcome) is "mensore", and "arigatou" (thank you) is "nifedebiru".
Getting to Okinawa
The most convenient way to get to the main island of Okinawa is to take a direct flight to Naha Airport. It is approximately 2 hours 20 minutes from Haneda Airport in Tokyo and 1 hour 50 minutes from Kansai International Airport in Osaka. There are also international flights from Taiwan, China, South Korea and Thailand. In addition, there are ferries to Okinawa from Osaka, Kobe, Kagoshima and Taiwan.
Transportation Within the Prefecture
By far the easiest way to get around on the main island of Okinawa is to rent a car. The Okinawa Urban Monorail, Yui Rail, can be taken from the airport to Naha City. Private Taxi Tours, which will take you on sightseeing courses for a set fee, are also recommended. You will need to take an airplane or express ferry to get to any of the other islands. The other islands do not have much public transportation, so rented cars, bicycles, and motorcycles are the recommended modes of transportation.
Major Tourist Spots
Okinawa is surrounded by beautiful seas with coral reefs. The best place to experience the allure of the ocean is the Ocean Expo Park. The park has beaches with white sand that is striking against the emerald green sea, as well as one of the world's largest aquariums, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, where whale sharks and manta rays are bred. The World Heritage Site, Shurijo Castle, which represents the glory of the Ryukyu Kingdom, is also a must see. It is interesting to see the unique architectural styles that is an amalgamation of Chinese and Japanese castle-making culture in a castle that was the center of politics, diplomacy and culture at one time. In the Yanbaru area in the north of the main island that is covered with trees, there are many activities, such as trekking and sea kayaking through mangrove forests, that will take you out of the ordinary. On Taketomi Island, which can be accessed on an express boat from Ishigaki Island, the starting point for visiting outlying islands, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of houses with traditional red tiled roofs.
Specialty Gourmet Food
One dish you'll want to make sure you have is the Goya Champuru. It is a stir fry of goya (bitter melon), which is a key island vegetable, tofu, pork luncheon meat (or pork)—a standard ingredient in Okinawan food—and eggs. Okinawa Soba noodles are also popular as a specialty gourmet item. The thickness of the noodles differ by region and shop, but it is standard to have boned rib of pork, negi scallions, and red pickled ginger as toppings. Rafute, which is pork ribs cooked in brown sugar, soy sauce and Awamori (an Okinawan alcoholic beverage) is also popular. The Okinawans are known to consume a lot of pork, and to eat all parts of the pig, so there are dishes made with pig's feet ("tebichi") and ear skins ("mimiga") as well.
Why not choose the uniquely Okinawan textiles with bright and warm colors as souvenirs? The traditional craft of Yaeyama Minsa that was developed in Ishigaki Island and Taketomi Island is especially recommended. It is characterized by five by four patterns that represent the wish to be together forever as represented in the expression "itsuno yomademo suenagaku" (meaning "forever till the next life") which incorporates sounds like the combination of the word for five "itsu" and four "yo". Yaeyama Minsa were traditionally made into obi sashes, but today, there is a wide range of products made with them including cosmetic bags, coasters, and table centers. Glassware made with Ryukyu glass, which is characterized by various bright colors including red and greens and bubbles trapped in the thick glass, are also popular. Ryukyu glassware look refreshing and are perfect for serving the Okinawan alcoholic beverage, Awamori. There are other recommended souvenirs including everyday items such as dishes, shisa lion-dog figures used to ward off evil spirits, and the popular Yachimun pottery (Yachimun literally means pottery in Okinawan).
Okinawa has a unique culture that developed as a result of its complex history. We hope you will visit and enjoy the slow passage of time, beautiful ocean, and the southern island feel.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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