Okinawan Moments of Culinary, Art and Ocean

Kudaka Island, Okinawa

photography by: Omri Westmark

Nestled at the southernmost part of Japan, the archipelago of Okinawa, aka the Ryukyu Islands, is a distinct cultural entity, utterly different in almost every aspect of life from the rest of the country. Once an independent nation, Okinawa absorbed both Chinese and Japanese influences throughout its history while also maintaining a strong character of its own. I spent five days in this remarkable paradise, experiencing a tremendous amount of unique moments, all of which are different from each other, making the time spent unimaginably enriching.

Culinary

The Okinawan sweet potato, locally known as Ube is almost synonymous with the archipelago, as it’s found in a plethora of food items such as this delightful soft mochi.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Okinawan cuisine is singular, consisting of endless array of exceptional flavors and bites. The ones captured by my camera were the Okinawan sea grapes, or formally known as an algae called Caulerpa lentillifera, complemented by a soy sauce, an ube salad-ball, Tofuyo, a fermented tofu reminiscent of a French cheese and a glass of cold Awamori, a local distilled alcoholic beverage made of rice.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Jimamidofu, also known as peanut tofu, is yet another Okinawan specialty made of peanut milk mixed with few starchy ingredients.

photography by: Omri Westmark


During WW2, Okinawa was occupied by the US army, keeping military presence up to this day, resulting in many hybrid food items like the incredibly scrumptious Pork Tamago Onigiri consisting of spam, tamago omelet and rice wrapped with nori seaweed, while on the right is a purple sweet potato and milk flavored American-style ice cream.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Naha’s central market is a must for seafood-lovers, offering all sorts of exotic stuff to behold at. For people who wish to engage their tastebuds, handful of seafood eateries operate on the second floor.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Habushu or Habu-Sake is an awamori mixed with honey, herbs, and yes, a snake, more specifically a pit viper known locally as Habushu. Fortunately the venom is dissolved by the alcohol, making it perfectly safe for drinking.

photography by: Omri Westmark


As mentioned before, the purple sweet potato is Okinawa’s most widespread staple food. Interestingly, some studies attribute the exceptional longevity of Okinawans to the rich content of anti-oxidants found in this lavender-colored yam.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Naha’s main shopping arcade is where I found this exotic treat, Ube flavored sticky-rice paste wrapped in banana leaf.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Naha’s main street is home to countless creative cafes and shops, one of which is a bakery offering a Hungarian desert called Kürtőskalács filled with a purple sweet potato ice-cream, truly delightful.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Art and Architecture

Guarding every house in Okinawa, Shisa is the local version of the Chinese guardian lions who keep demons and bad spirits away. This canine lion hybrid almost always comes in pairs and serves as the no.1 souvenir from the islands.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Under the Ryūkyū Kingdom, the district of Shuri functioned as the royal seat of the emperor. Currently this historic area is the perfect place to peacefully stroll and awe at the remnants of once a formidable kingdom.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Shuri castle on the right is a restored version as it was destroyed and rebuilt several times, most recently in WW2 as a result of the fierce battles between Japanese and American military forces. On the right is one of ponds surrounding the lake, providing home to some adorable fluffy ducks.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Ocean

Okinawa is home to countless cafés known as Ocean cafés, and as the name suggests, they offer a gorgeous ocean view accompanied by typical Okinawan tasty treats.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Cape Hedo is the northernmost point in Okinawa Island, blessed with spectacular views and unique endemic flora.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Mihama American Village is a piece of America in the middle of Okinawa as it features American style shopping center, theme park and a restaurant complex, however I found the adjacent beaches as its most appealing part.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Okinawa is sometimes mistaken to be just one island, it couldn’t be furthest from the truth as many small islands are found just few kilometers off the main island of Okinawa, one of which is the sacred island of Kudaka, linked by a daily ferry service.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Kudaka Island is considered as a sacred place according to Ryukyu Shintō, the local indigenous Okinawan religion, blessed with couple of shrines labeled as significant holy sites, most of which are natural formations with minimal or no man-made intervention.
Cape Kaberu is probably one of most graceful shrines found in the island.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Cape Kaberu is also a popular fishing spot for the Kudaka islanders, holding their fishing-rods while gazing into the crystal clear water.

photography by: Omri Westmark


If you ever opt to visit this secluded nook, make sure to rent a bike as it’s by far the best way to explore this beautiful island. A bicycle renting shop next to the pier offers a bike rental for 10-15 US dollars a day.

photography by: Omri Westmark