Okinawa is not really the Hawai’i of Japan

Yes, Okinawa is a SUBTROPICAL island– not tropical, a common misconception. To be brutally honest, it is not the picturesque and beautiful weather that you get in Hawai’i. It sort of grinds my gears when people say, “Oh, Okinawa is just like Hawai’i, right?!” Because quite frankly, the answer is no.

I love Okinawa, do not get me wrong. It has its own sort of beauty and I really enjoy my life here. But it is not Hawai’i. Nor is the weather anything like Hawai’i. Where Hawai’i has mild, pleasant, cooling trade winds, Okinawa is either: a) stagnant in summer or b) freaking cold northern winds gusting in winter. And it gets COLD in winter, especially when that northern wind blows. Okinawa has a winter, like cold-I-need-a-parka winter, while the summers are sweltering and humid (I am often grateful for a/c here). I in fact own and use a kotatsu こたつ (Japanese heated table with blanket) throughout the winter season; granted there are people who would call me a wuss, and they wear shorts, tshirts, and slippahs year-round here, but those people grew up somewhere in the sub-arctic as far as I can tell. Hawai’i is basically the same temperature (+/- a few degrees Celsius) year round. In Hawai’i, swimming and beach activities are all year, too. Okinawa, only during summer months are beach or water activities plausible (without some sort of thick wetsuit!).

Tropical fruit is abundant in Hawai’i. Okinawa has many fruits, but… again… different, and not usually abundant or cheap. And as a reminder: there are almost no coconut trees in Okinawa, because it is subtropical not tropical the weather gets quite cold, not to mention the strong typhoons that knock down any tall trees, coconut trees cannot grow properly (except at the fancy resort areas where they put a lot of money into keeping them alive). The only coconuts are imported from the Philippines, and they usually are expensive and not very good quality. Coconut also just is not part of the Okinawan diet, so it is uncommon to see them anywhere for a reasonable price. Sure, Kokusaidori and Okinawa world sell coconut juice for an absurd amount of yen.. just don’t expect to see coconuts lining the roads.

Hawai’i has absolutely stunning scenery (well, if you get out of Waikiki, that is…). Okinawa has some, but somehow… maybe I am biased, but it is not quite the same. It is a different beauty here, and I can appreciate that, especially once you get out of the concrete jungles that make up the cities. Visiting places like Miyako-jima, Kume-jima, and some of the quieter outer islands are really amazing, and quite beautiful. But it is certainly not Hawai’i, so please stop trying to compare it. I love both sets of islands, Okinawa and Hawai’i, but for very different reasons. The scenes you see in Okinawa are a completely different gorgeous set of scenes than you see in Hawai’i.

I feel like people always try to push that Okinawa is a tropical sort of paradise, but I guess these same people have never experienced a true tropical island. Okinawa is certainly a subtropical climate, but it does not quite make it to “tropical beauty.” Okinawa has many redeeming qualities that Hawai’i does not have though: we can get fresh lettuce here that does not cost a fortune, there are soooo many restaurants in Okinawa (and cheap), conbini are EVERYWHERE, vending machines are EVERYWHERE, green tea is always available, you can ferry to other islands… and probably many other things I cannot come up with right now.

Both places have a relaxed island attitude, so it is okay to be on “island time” and people tend to be friendlier than the mainland in both cases. I am so lucky to have found many lovely people here in Okinawa, while dancing hula and teaching Eikaiwa.

Anyhow, that is my obligatory Hawai’i-and-Okinawa-are-not-the-same rant.

3 thoughts on “Okinawa is not really the Hawai’i of Japan

  1. I understand your rant however, when you move to Oki from north of Seattle, It is Very tropical. That said, one of my closest friends on Oki was from Maui. She introduced me to the purple sweet potato. I don’t know if I should thank her or not because I got hooked like it was a drug and I miss the flavor so much.

    1. Haha, that is so true– people from colder climates are shocked by my intolerance to the (what I consider) the cold! Purple sweet potato is definitely an amazing flavor, it is sad it is not available more places.

  2. I’m sure there are some are some “tropical” similarities between Okinawa and Hawaii . . . my grandparents were born and raised in Okinawa and migrated to the Big Island (Hawaii) in the early 1900s and said that it reminded them of Okinawa . . .

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