Okinawa prefecture is a group of many small islands in the south of Japan. I flew into Naha, the capital city of Okinawa Island, the biggest and most populated island in the area. Even though there isn’t a long white sandy beach anywhere near the city, everything in Naha attempts to create an illusion of an idyllic island paradise. Walking down the main street, I was constantly reminded of the “island life” idea by the hundreds of souvenir shops selling beach inspired merch, the ice-cream stands with dozens of tropical flavours and the extravagant seafood restaurants on every corner. Of course the blue skies and palm trees don’t go too badly either.
“Oh yuck it looks so touristy and horrible blah blah..” I can hear the travellers saying. YES, it IS extremely touristy. I know lots of people would absolutely hate Naha city as it really is a mecca for tourists and it has been built to be that way. If you really dislike this sort of atmosphere, then head further north to the more remote parts of the island, or to a different island altogether. Honestly I actually quite liked Naha. It reminded me a lot of Surfers Paradise, which made me feel like I wasn’t far from home at all.
The island is home to a number of American military bases so as a result there is a noticeable American influence on things like food and entertainment. Somehow, a strange cultural mix of Japanese, Mexican and Hawaiian has emerged. The (somewhat) signature dish of Okinawa is “Taco-rice.” A bowl of Japanese style white rice topped with Tex-Mex inspired salad, salsa, cheese and the choice of beef or chicken. In addition to the unusual take on Mexican food there is an unmistakably Hawaiian theme to the place as well. Many of the locals can be spotted wearing Hawaiian shirts, even the bus drivers. Some souvenir shops even sell hula skirts and leis!
The most concentrated American presence in Okinawa can be found at the Mihama American Village, where I sourced the delicious feast above. It’s located about a 45 minute bus ride north of Naha, and is very close to the US military bases.
This entire village has been created to resemble a large American outdoor shopping mall, abundant with restaurants specialising in taco-rice, hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as numerous fashion boutiques that attempt to mimic American style clothing and accessories. Many of them accept US dollars as payment, and most sales staff speak great English. There is even a movie theatre showing the latest films straight from Hollywood. Of course, the area is very popular with the residents of the US army bases, as well as offering a change of scenery for the locals. On the day I went, the village was packed with American teenagers shopping with their moms. It was a very bizarre feeling, I almost felt like I was walking around LA or somewhere. It definitely felt strange to be surrounded by way more foreigners than Japanese people.
The village is situated behind Sunset Beach, a tiny but very nice looking beach with plenty of sun lounges and picnic tables on the grassed area behind the sand. It was still a little bit too cold for swimming when I went but I imagine it must get crazy busy during summer.
On my last day in Okinawa I went for an unexpected super long walk up a hill to Shuri Castle. The Castle didn’t interest me very much, but I got to witness this view on a perfect day.
Pretty sad to be saying goodbye to Okinawa and Japan as a whole. The last five months have been awesome, and I seriously can’t believe how fast that time has gone. Srsly.
There are still so many places in Japan that I didn’t make it to, which gives me all the more reasons to come back again another time. I’ll be climbing Mt Fuji one summer soon for sure.
And now, onwards to Taipei! Bring on the street food!