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Only in Okinawa

Article by Jonathan DeHart 04.12.2017 Photographed by Andrew Faulk

A laidback vibe, distinctive arts and crafts, and a longevity-boosting cuisine give Japan’s southernmost islands a character all their own.

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Arriving in Naha, the subtropical capital of Okinawa, you could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere far from Japan — on a balmy isle in Southeast Asia, perhaps. Here, the white-sand beaches and azure waters combine with a laid-back vibe and distinctive culture to weave a spell all their own.

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The islands’ eclectic culture is every bit as alluring as the terrain. The local beverage known as buka buka cha — containing polished white rice, brown rice and peanuts — is stirred into a rich foam with a bamboo whisk and served cold.

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A boy runs down the street in Naha, Okinawa’s capital.

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At Shuri Castle, just east of downtown Naha, a number of architectural frills evoke the islands’ history of trade with Ming dynasty China: red walls, opulent gates, ceramic dragons and especially shisa, as the lionlike talisman is known, warding off evil spirits around doorways and on rooftops around the complex.

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Though many of the shops overflow with awamori cups and leonine shisa figures, Kiyomasa Toki offers some elegant alternatives — and more than 300 years of history.

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At Usagi-ya in Ishigaki City, diners enjoy izakaya (small plates) cuisine alongside live performances of sanshin, the iconic three-stringed, python-skinned instrument of Okinawa. Salads, teppanyaki and the islands’ famed bitter melon are washed down with awamori, a strong local spirit made from Thai rice.

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Travelers on the 15-minute ferry ride between the islands of Ishigaki and Taketomi-jima.

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A bicycle is the preferred method for getting around Taketomi-jima, where no stoplights, no supermarkets and no convenience stores disturb the low-key vibe, idyllic streets and splendid views.

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Plan Your Visit to Okinawa


  • Okinawa

    Location Okinawa, Japan

    Experience An island retreat surrounded by a championship golf course.

    • Embodies the friendship spirit, “Keion”
    • 18-hole golf course overlooks the ocean
    • Feel the power of nature at award-winning ESPA