Places for Wagashi 和菓子 in Okinawa

和菓子 wagashi: Japanese style sweets

製菓 seika: confectionary

Another post that has been sitting in my drafts folder for way to long. So here it is.

There are many types of wagashi. Here in Okinawa, it is difficult to find ones that are nearly as intricate, beautiful, and delicious as the mainland, but there are some places where very nice wagashi can be found. Here are a few of my “not-to-be-missed” spots:

  1. Usagi-ya うさぎや: literally the rabbit shop. This place is lovely but easy to miss, located on the busy road Rt. 34 in Ginowan. There are flags outside that say どら焼き (dorayaki) on them, but otherwise the store front is fairly unassuming and might not catch your eye. The sweets here are absolutely lovely. You can find many types here.    Closed!
  2. Chinen seika wagashi shikisai 知念製菓和菓子「四季彩」: Chinen Japanese confectionary “Shikisai” (4 seasons) is larger shop located in the Shuri area (there is also a second smaller location as well). This place is a very nice location to look for seasonal wagashi.
  3. Shirobara (chain confections store) 白バラ: literally, “white rose.” This is a nice chain shop which makes it convenient since there are multiple locations. There typically is not a lot of variety of just wagashi as it is also a patisserie shop, but some seasonal items come and go. The main location is here:
  4. Miyabi Teahouse. Read about their ohagi and dorayaki in a separate post here. I recommend trying these traditional sweets with green tea in their relaxing teahouse.
  5. 羊羊 Yoyo An Factory: Japanese sweets confectionary: here you can find daifuku and dorayaki, be sure to try them with a bowl of matcha! *Update: they also carry a few more Japanese sweets items now.
  6. Wa Cafe Nodoka: 和カフェ和花: these are sort of “modern” dorayaki, try these with a bowl of matcha, you will not be disappointed.

Special Mention: Suehiro Confectionery 末廣製菓 in Makishi market area. They have a mix of items, mostly more Western or Okinawa sweets, but some Japanese confections mixed in as well. I wouldn’t expect to find any actual fancy wagashi, but may be worth a stop if you are in the Makishi area.

Of course, if you go to the Ryubo department store in Naha, you may also be able to find several of these in one location; some are local and some may even ship in from the mainland.

Yuinchi Hotel: Onsen and Buffet

This blog post is long overdue… it has been sitting in my drafts folder for many months, so here it goes. It seems foreigners are interested in trying out onsen while in Okinawa, so here is a continuation of my Okinawa onsen posts.

Yuinchi Hotel and Spa ユインチホテル in Nanjo is home to Enjin-no-yu 猿人の湯, a.k.a. “Bathing Ape” spa (or “Ape-man” hotspring). The adult entrance fee to the onsen is 1,650yen (elementary age is 750yen, 6 and under is free). Overall, it is a fairly nice facility, with sauna, jacuzzi bath, ocean onsen bath, waterfall bath, etc (but no outdoor bath!). Since the hotel and spa is perched atop a hill, you also have some nice views as you bathe. While it may not be my personal favorite onsen or sento in Okinawa, it is certainly a worthwhile experience and a very nice facility.

This onsen does not allow tattoo in the public area, however, you can reserve private baths (you may enter these as a couple or a family!) for guests with tattoo. I have never reserved a private bath here since I do not have any tattoo, but I have heard others do so with good experiences. **Private bath prices PER PERSON (depends on size of group):  alone 5,000円, 2 people 4,000円 each, 3 people 3,000円 each, 4 people 2,500円 each.

After your bath, be sure to make you way over to Restaurant Sunpeer サンピア, undoubtedly one of the top hotel buffets on island– with plenty of healthy EM options and top-notch cheese from the island’s only real cheesemaker. Everything is superb, and I was totally impressed as it exceeded my expectations. It is a little bit more cost than other buffet restaurants, but well worth it.

pictures coming soon.



Fire-walking ritual in Okinawa

Recently, I was able to attend the Futenmanzan Jinguuji 普天間神宮寺 matsuri (festival) at the Futenma temple (next to Futenma shrine).

The fire-walking ritual 火渡り神事 (hiwatari shinji) is the main draw. Unfortunately some heavy rain showers led to the event ending early, so perhaps next year I can see it in the entirety and get some interesting pictures of the monks walking through the fire.

So, to explain the process: you buy a wood board and write your wish/prayer on it. The monks will start to chant and light a large sacred fire. When it is time, you throw your wooden prayer board into the fire!

First the monks will have some more ceremonial rituals, and walk through the fire; it is supposed to be a powerful cleansing and purifying experience. This portion was cut extremely short due to the heavy rain, and so the fire couldn’t exactly keep on.

Now it is time to walk through the fire…! Well, it isn’t too scary I think, since it at this point they stamp out the flames and it is mostly just hot ashes. Many people lined up and removed their shoes/socks in order to process through the “fire.” At the end of fire area was and altar and when you reach the altar, they gave you an orange.

Really it was quite interesting and not at all what I expected to see in Okinawa, as this is more of a mainland Japan ritual.

Street food… in Okinawa?

Hmmm… street food in Okinawa? To be honest, this is not really much of a thing outside of matsuri (festivals); matsuri are the best times to find all these foods. There are no big street food markets or night markets like some other areas of Asia. But, there are still things I would consider street food, even if they are not all jammed into a large marketplace in one particular area of the island.

Probably the easiest place to check out for “street foods” is in the surrounding neighborhoods of Kokusai-dori (International Street) 国際通り. There are several snack and light meal options, Makishi market, and other small street vendors around. Again, nothing like Taipei, or other places with large street food markets, but some good foods to try while you explore Naha.

Here is a list of some “street foods” to keep an eye out for here in Okinawa:

Yakitori 焼き鳥 (grilled chicken skewers): Yakitori stalls are ALL over the island. Usually they do not open up until ~3pm or so, mostly for the evenings. You can find them alongside many backroads or next to farmers markets, smoke billowing out of their ramshackle stalls. This is not especially Okinawan, but it is a popular Japanese street food.

Pork Tamago Onigiri ポークたまごおにぎり: This is definitely island-style, and I think most Hawaii folks would appreciate this one. I wrote a post on this already, so click the link to check it out. Basically this street stand sells (a fancy version of) spam musubi!

Yatai-mura 屋台村: The literal translation of this place is “street stall village.” This place was set up to replicate Japanese yatai-style dining (again, not really very Okinawan). Anyway, I also wrote a post on this place before, so be sure to click the link to read about it.

Tenpura 天ぷら: Actually, quite a few markets have tempura stalls, where they simply sell individual piece of tempura. Often times you find fish or fishcake, but sometimes there is potato or squid, etc. You will also most likely see mozuku tempura… this is unique to Okinawa, and worth a try.

Nikuman 肉まん (Chinese bun stuffed with meat), Croquettes コロッケ, oden おでん (stewed skewers in broth): You can mostly just find these in the convenience stores. I know, not the same I guess. But, these are types of Japanese street food that you can try in Okinawa. There are occasionally some places that might carry these, but it it is not common to see these along the streets of Okinawa.

Takoyaki たこ焼き (octopus balls) and Taiyaki たい焼き (fish-shaped pastry): The most common place to find these is at Gindaco in the malls. Otherwise you may get lucky and occasionally run into a small shop that sells these Japanese goodies.

Kakigouri かき氷 (shave ice) and Okinawa zenzai ぜんざい (shave ice with red beans): This is all over Okinawa in the warmer months. You can find it on the streets, lunch shops, the mall, pretty much everywhere.

Sata-andagi サーターアンダーギー: Okinawa fried donuts. These can be found in some of the farmers markets or tourist markets.

Just an additional list of some popular Japanese “street foods”: many of these are found at matsuri or other food festival booths in Okinawa, though some may be not be so common outside of that.

Yakisoba 焼きそば: fried noodles.
Ika-yaki いか焼き: I like to call this one grilled squid-on-a-stick.
Yaki-toumorokoshi 焼きとうもろこし: grilled corn.
Okonomiyaki お好み焼き: Japanese savoury pancake.
Ringo-ameりんご飴: candy apple.
Wata-ame わたあめ: cotton candy.
Choco banana チョコバナナ: banana, dipped in chocolate.
Crepe クレープ: Japanese-style crepes.
Frankfurt フランクフルト: hot dog.
American dog アメリカンドッグ: corn dog.

Wauke Juugoya Matsuri: 和宇慶十五夜祭

In a small neighborhood of Wauke 和宇慶, located in Nakagusuku town here in Okinawa, there is a Juugoya (15th night) celebration 十五夜祭 held the Saturday after Juugoya/Tsukimi (15th day of the 8th lunar month).

We rode our bicycles down to the Wauke community center where the festivities were just getting started at about 7pm. Like many small community events, we were welcomed kindly by the local Okinawans and given drinks (cans of beers and green tea), as well as a plate of local foods. We settled onto our mat and watched shishimai (lion dance), fan dance, karate demonstrations, Ryukyu dance, and more throughout the evening. All the performances were very fun and interesting.

At the end, there is what is known as “community dance” called カチャーシー Kachaashii… where basically everyone gathers by the stage of the celebration and dances. As you may guess, beers had been drunk and being the only foreigners (besides 1 guy who was of Okinawan descent from Hawaii on a local government exchange), we were of course shuffled to the stage to participate, as well as our new-found Hawaiian uchinanchu friend. And, well, I guess our elderly community friends here seem to really enjoy these 外国人 who come to and participate in local events, so we indulged them. Some were surprised that I knew “open the door, shut the door,” an integral part of local dance here (this probably sounds a bit strange, so I will need to explain perhaps in a post later about local dancing).

Anyway, a good time was had by all… if you happen to be in Okinawa, I recommend you seek out these small Juugoya festivities in your neighborhood and spend some time getting to know your neighbors. I find making memories such as these much more rewarding than the bigger, well-known events. I forged bonds with my neighbors, and got to understand little deeper about Ryukyu and Okinawan culture/traditions.

Pictures coming soon.

Esthetic in Okinawa

I will admit it– though I am a student, I still like to occasionally get my nails and hair done, get a massage, etc. While many places here in Okinawa cater to Americans, many of them can be overpriced, or on occasion, have poor service (not to name names… Cocoks). So I try to go outside this comfort zone a bit, and instead explore the more local places. Honestly, even though my language skills are not that great, so far I have not been to a place that wasn’t willing to work with me, and the service has always been excellent.

The easiest method I have found is by using a website, Hot Pepper Beauty. I can search by area and type of services, as well as look at photo galleries, read reviews, and book appointments, all online. For me this is a game changer– rarely (in Okinawa) do beauty places do walk-ins, which for me, personally, is… difficult. I am not really much of one to plan and call on the phone, etc, so being able to check out available places online and then use an online booking system is, well, magical (okay I exaggerate a tiny bit, but really it is quite nice). As a bonus, many places have online coupons, and you can earn points good for any type of service at any location. It is really very convenient and easy to use. Sure, I get spam mail in Japanese about specials and coupons (probably I could turn this off or just use a better mail filter, but whatever).

Not all salons use Hot Pepper Beauty, but many of the big ones do and some of the smaller ones as well, giving a wide range in choices. For me, I love being able to use this online service for my beauty appointment needs, so I would highly recommend trying it out if you are in Okinawa. Some of the small salons don’t use Hot Pepper Beauty, but instead I can schedule appointments using the LINE messaging app.

I have had great experiences with salons through this website, including (but not limited to): Bianca (eyelash extensions), Total Beauty Stella (nails), Lux Riche (nails), Anan Aveda (hair), Para gel (nails), Tingara (massage and bedrock stone bath), Love Nail (nails), Pedi Lounge (nails), Taffy (nails)… just to name a few.


Okinawa All-island Eisa and Orion Beer Festival

One of the most popular natsu matsuri (summer festival) 夏祭り is the All-island Okinawa Eisa and Orion beer festival held the weekend following obon— at least with Americans that is. Held at the Koza Sports Park, I have seen more Americans at this festival than any other. It is actually 2 festivals, coinciding with each other: the eisa festival itself and the Orion Beer Festival.

*In 2018, this will August 31-September 2.

To reach the festival, there are free shuttle buses, as there is no parking at the venue. You can park at Aeon Rycom Mall, as well as some other areas to catch the free shuttle buses. Otherwise, there are some paid parking areas near Koza.

On Friday evening, in the Koza area, there is the Eisa parade. The parade is actually pretty nice; bring a leisure sheet to sit on and some dinner to relax and watch. Next to us, there was a family with a kid (who could not have been more than 3 or so) and he played his pint size drum, dancing around in his eisa outfit as the groups played on the street. He was quite entertaining.

On Saturday and Sunday, is the actual eisa festival and beer festival; the festivals, though both are at the Koza Sports Park, is divided into 2 sections. On one side is the Orion Beer festival, with outdoor tables and chairs, music stage entertainment, Orion Beer girls, tents selling nothing but Orion draft beer, and of course, loud drunk Americans (well, and locals too, if we are being honest). When you enter, they give you a wristband if you are of drinking age and you MUST have it to buy alcohol. I usually don’t spend more than about 5 minutes there, as it really isn’t my scene. But I think the beer is usually cheaper on this side than the eisa festival side, so…

The other side where the eisa festival is, however, more family friendly. There are pay seats in the bleachers, but for free you can just bring a sheet and sit in the field to watch. It is all eisa performances, so it can get a bit repetitive, but can be a fun evening out, especially if you have never been to a natsu matsuri before. You will likely see many girls (both local and foreign) wearing summer yukata or jinbei.

Of course, lining the entire area is typical summer festival food tents. A lot of these are what I refer to as generic “yellow tent” food (due to a majority of them using a basic yellow tent), a company that comes in and sells mediocre food in large volume.. often times it is not really hot when you get it. I try to find the more local vendors, who are usually hawking piping-hot fresh food. Over here, you can still buy beer and are away from the drunk scene.

At the end of the night, there are fireworks to finish off the evening. While it is not my favorite festival on island it can still be fun, especially for new-comers, and you can experience a lot of eisa all in one place. Plus, I have to admit, all the lanterns strung up with happy festival goers in yukata, drums and fireworks gives a nice ambience on a hot summer evening.

address: Koza Sports Park,

official festival website:

Rikkarikka-yu: りっかりっか湯

Located in the middle of Naha, at the Naha Central Hotel, is a charming sento (“onsen“) called “Rikka Rikka Yu” りっかりっか湯. It does not have quite the same atmosphere as a natural outdoor Japanese onsen, but it does have a quaint feel of a community bathhouse. It is not quite as “retro” as some of the public bathhouses I have seen on the mainland, and some people may think the features are a bit out-dated (or perhaps some people may think slightly run-down), but I didn’t mind it.

The full name of this place is “Yuntaku ashibi onsen Rikka Rikka Yu” ゆんたくあしび温泉りっかりっか湯; “yuntaku ashibi” means “fun while talking” and “rikka-rikka” means “let’s go together” (these come from Okinawan language).

*Signs indicate very clearly no tattoo of any kind are allowed– they are plastered all over, with English, so there is no misunderstandings.


Anyway, first things first: the parking… well, it is in the middle of Naha, but there are several pay parking lots right next to the building. It is also nearby to a monorail stop (Miebashi station).

Approaching the building, it has a cute little whale graphic on the wall. At the entrance are shoe lockers, so go ahead and stow your shoes (by the way, the desk attendant will not take your shoe locker key, so just hold on to it). Through the next door, there is a cafeteria, a vending machine, and the front desk. Go to the vending machine and purchase your ticket; it is all in Japanese so be prepared in advance. For the type of facility, perhaps the fees seemed a bit high (at least compared to the mainland), but as Okinawa does not have many of these type of sento or onsen, I was willing to give it try anyway.


Price list:

Just entrance fee to bath and sauna, no towels (adults/elementary/ages 3-6)
weekdays: ¥1,000 /¥500 /¥300
weekends and holidays: ¥1,250 /¥650 /¥400

Entrance fee to bath and sauna + 1 small towel, 1 large towel
weekdays: ¥1,400 /¥800 /¥600
weekends and holidays: ¥1,550 /¥950 /¥700

  • “relax wear” (samue 作務衣):¥500

Bedrock bath (ganbanyoku 岩盤浴) + baths and sauna + towels + relax wear course (adults only)
weekdays: ¥2,100
weekends and holidays: ¥2,250

Once you purchase your ticket from the vending machine, hand it to the attendant at the desk. If you chose to borrow towels, they will hand them to you, otherwise they will just point you up the stairs to the bathes. I chose just the bath and sauna entrance, no bedrock bath but maybe I will try it next time. You could also purchase other small bath amenities at the front desk as needed.


There are 2 baths, one side for women and one side for men; they rotate on a daily basis so you may have the opportunity to try both at some point. Today the men’s side was “shiunsen” 紫雲泉 and the women’s side was “tougensen” 桃源泉. I think for the most part they are fairly similar, with various jetted baths, an onsen-like bath, and 3 types of saunas (dry, salt, and steam).

Inside, there was a small vanity area with mirrors, hairdryers, and hairbrushes (UV box), but no amenities. Next were rows of lockers; these require a 100yen coin in the slot to release the key, but it is refunded in full when you put the key in and unlock it, so it doesn’t actually cost anything. I changed out of my clothes, and headed to the baths. All over they had these types of signs showing “proper bath use,” I suppose to assist foreigners…


The cleaning stations were abundant, so there was no waiting around to find a free station. There was only shampoo and body wash, so if you have long hair like me, be sure to bring conditioner or treatment. As promised, there were many different types of baths to dip into, and the 3 different saunas to sweat in. I rotated through until I felt thoroughly cleansed, massaged, sweated, etc. Overall the cleanliness was okay, though as I mentioned, maybe a tad out-dated. It was clearly a popular place despite this, with many locals and even a few tourists.

Once I finished up and changed back into my clothes, I went back down the stairs and purchased a cold milk from the vending machine to refresh myself (when you finish the bottle, be sure to open the drawer at the bottom of the machine and deposit the bottle inside). I settled into one of the massage chairs, 10 minutes for only 100yen. After this I was finally ready to call it a day and head home.


Overall? My impression was decent: though the facilities were a bit old and there was not much in the way of amenities, there was a decent selection of baths and saunas, with lots of room for many people. The price tag seemed a bit high considering I think the Aroma onsen in Ginowan is much nicer for basically the same price (and has free parking). I probably won’t be in much hurry to return, but if you happen to be staying in Naha, it might be a nice diversion to check out after a long day touristing.


Karukan: かるかん

So karukan かるかん is not entirely just Okinawan– it is also a famous sweet from Kagoshima prefecture (Kyushu). But it is so common in Okinawa, many people in Okinawa consider it to be an Okinawan sweet. I have not tried karukan from Kyushu, so I am not sure if the taste is the exact same as the Okinawa taste, but I suspect it is very similar.

Karukan comes in pink/red (赤) and white (白), representative colors for celebrations. In the middle is a sweet bean paste, with a somewhat spongy outside. It is steamed sweet bread incorporating Japanese yam. It is actually very delicious, and a little different from a typical manjuu 饅頭.

Karukan is very common and easy to find in Okinawa, just look in any grocery store, sweets shop, or even sometimes in the convenience store! You can probably even find it in omiyage お土産 (souvenir) shops. It is commonly places on altars during Obon, or given as small gifts during celebratory events.


Kame Andagi

カメアンダギー Kame Andagi is a small cafe located in Umikaji Terrace on Senaga-jima (same area as the Ryukyu Onsen and Happy Pancake) that serves fresh sata andagi サーターアンダーギー with various types of toppings.

Sata andagi is a classic Ryukyu sweet, and here at Kame Andagi, it gets a little bit of a twist. There were several choices, so it was a little hard to choose, but I ended up with the matcha ice cream 抹茶アイス as it was a rather hot day outside. You could even add 2 toppings together for the ultra dessert if you so desired. But the price was a little high, so I decided against it. I think my total was around 400yen, and honestly, it is not that big– an andagi split in half with a scoop of ice cream (I am considering the fact that you can usually get a plain andagi this size for about 80yen).

But it was SO delicious! Warm andagi, cool matcha ice cream… such a good combination. I really recommend trying this place when you are near Senaga-jima (connected to Okinawa main island by bridge, close to the airport). I thought that even though the price seemed slightly high, it was really tasty and unique to Okinawa. Plus, there is a nice view in this popular tourist area, so I figure it was worth it.


That’s not a pineapple…

Okay, so one thing I have noticed wayyyyy too often: people wondering if that strange “pineapple”-looking fruit growing on a tree by the beach is edible.

The answer? No, not really, you will regret trying to eat it and it will be rather unpleasant. You won’t die, though if you do, but you also won’t enjoy it.

It is called adan アダン… it is NOT a pineapple; pineapples do not grow on trees. It is a type of Pandanus (screw pine), and some people may refer to it as pandan. In Hawai’i, it is called hala (or also: pu hala). It is very common to see all over the Pacific, so I guess some foreigners have never seen these before. The leaves from the tree can be used in making various handicrafts though; but be careful the ones here in Okinawa can be a bit prickly. The leaves can also be used in various culinary ways in Southeast Asian cooking, but as far as I am aware, Okinawans don’t really use them for cooking. Some of the larger species of pandanus “fruit” found in other regions of the Pacific might be more “edible,” but not the ones in Okinawa.

The adan “fruit” has a lot of fiber… but not in a good way. So do not attempt to eat this, though you may notice some crabs or birds snacking on it.




Where to see eisa during Obon…

If you are in Okinawa during Obon, then likely you will hear eisa drums in the distance. I previously wrote a tiny bit introducing about Okinawa’s bon dance, eisa エイサー, in another post. You can hear eisa pretty much year-round, and especially at summer matsuri (~July-October), but it is most important during Obon. Neighborhood Obon eisa can occur anytime in the 4 day interval from the first evening (unkeh ウンケー) usually until the day after last day (uukui ウークイ). The act of eisa parading around the neighborhood is called 道じゅねー “Michi Junee.”

So I know many people just keep their windows open and listen for the sounds of eisa, following it when they hear it. But, honestly there is a better way to find out when and where they will be performing near you… there are likely signs in your neighborhood, though if you don’t read Japanese, you might not realize that is what they are for. I have passed dozens upon dozens of simple painted wooden signs indicating when eisa will be performed for various neighborhoods, so just keep your eyes out; occasionally you will get some modernizing areas post it on the official village/town/city website or even on a Facebook page. So what do these signs looks like?


key words that you might see on signs:

旧盆 kyuubon 
お盆 obon
エイサー eisa
盆踊り bon odori/bon dance

ウンケー unkeh, the first day of obon
中日 nakanuhi, the 2nd day of obon
ウークイ uukui, the 3rd day of obon

月 month
日 day
時 hour

場所 place/location
区 ward/neighborhood
公民館 public hall
広場 open space/wide space

Usanmi ウサンミ: Okinawa Feast Boxes

ウサンミ (kanji: 御三味): usanmi.

Usanmi are Okinawan feasts typically prepared during holidays such as shiimii 清明祭 and Obon 旧盆. It is packed into lacquered multi-tiered boxes. The amount of food should be in odd numbers, usually 9. Usanmi seems to be a mixed custom, with origins in China and with Japanese influence… after all, Okinawa is a “chanpuru culture” (mixed culture).

These foods are nearly always some combination of the following, I have noted 7 items which are required, and the other 2 depend on family/region (I will slowly add pictures of each of these):

castella kamaboko カステラかまぼこ: fishcake “cake”; it is similar to “datemaki,” though datemaki is usually a more rolled shape where you can see layers. It is yellow with minced fish and eggs, resembling a castella sponge cake. Optional.

kouhaku kamaboko 紅白かまぼこ: red and white fishcake. Required!

age-doufu 揚げ豆腐: fried tofu. Required!

tenpura 天ぷら: various fried things, such as shrimp, squid, fish. Required.

konbu 昆布: kelp, boiled and tied into knots. Required

gobou ごぼう: burdock root, cut into long sticks and boiled in a broth. Required.

konnyaku こんにゃく: konjac, turned into a twisted shape and boiled. Required.

sanmainiku 豚三枚肉: boiled pork meat ribs, usually cheap and popular with Okinawans. Required.

taimo (tanmu) 田芋: taro, usually fried. Optional.

daikon nitsuke 大根煮付: boiled daikon (radish). Optional.

mochi 餅: usually just plain white rice cake is used for offerings, though if it is for eating there will usually be red bean paste (anko) inside. Mochi are put into a SEPARATE box, and not mixed with the others. This second box is required!

Display of Usanmi at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum

I read some recipes on how to make all of these… at some point I shall put them up for those interested in challenging to make this and become and Okinawa cuisine master.

To be traditional, you should use umeshi (special Okinawa chopsticks) to eat it.

easy prep packages in the grocery store.

Uchanuku: Okinawa mochi for offerings

ウチャヌク uchanuku comes from the Japanese 御茶の子 (ochanoko). It is a plain rice cake made without sugar, typically used as an offering (供え物) for the hinukan (火の神) or altar (butsudan 仏壇).

It comes as 3 tiers of 3 pieces, as well as a “bonus” one for making a “new offering,”  which you can remove the top piece from stack and replace with the bonus one. It is a frugal way to extend the life of your offering.


The taste is not so great, so it is recommended if you want to eat this thing, you should heat it in the oven for about 2 minutes and then add honey or a sweet shoyu mixture to it. I have also heard people say to add a little red bean paste (anko 餡子) and a strawberry, then wrap it to make similar to an ichigo daifuku 苺大福.

There is something else different and unique, called tanna uchanuku タンナウチャヌク. It is made from a simple brown sugar cookie called tannafakuruu タンナファクルー. Tannafa is “Tamanaha” 玉那覇, the name of the family who made it, and kuruu is “black” 黒 as in brown sugar 黒糖 in uchinaaguchi.

All of these are easily available at grocery stores in Okinawa, especially around important times of year where offerings are needed.

*more pictures coming soon… sorry this photo is just of regular Tannafakuru!

PABLO Cheese tarts

PABLO is a popular Japanese chain store that sells cheese tarts; I think they have even opened some overseas locations. There is a location on Kokusai-dori in Naha, Okinawa.

So, the big question is, are they worth the hype?

My verdict: Yes! Very delicious and creamy, they are dangerously tasty. Plus, the price is reasonable for Japan in my opinion. So I would say worth it, very much so. I had read about them online and wasn’t expecting it to be anything more than average, but I ordered the mini Okinawa limited edition Beniimo (Okinawan purple sweet potato) cheese tart and it was sooooo good. I can’t speak for the other flavors, but the beniimo paired so nicely together with the cheese tart. You can eat in their cafe space, or take out.

Kokusai-dori location by Mega DonQ:

Trattoria Shobu トラットリアショーブー

Today’s lunch brought me near to Camp Foster, a little Italian joint called Trattoria Shobu トラットリアショーブー. It is a nice place, and all lunch sets were 1000yen. They also serve dinner (so the prices change up a bit).

You could choose from many types of pizza and pasta, I am pretty sure there was something for everyone. The sets come with salad, soup, and soft drink. I got the pepperocino pasta, so it also came with bread. For an additional 200yen you can add dessert, but I am trying to be good so I decided to pass for today. They had tiramisu which was really tempting.

Inside was a little quirky, but comfy. There are some tables as well as bar seating. The menu comes in both Japanese and English, probably since it is so close to the military base. Parking was a little tight (lucky I have a kei car), but they have 5 parking spaces for the restaurant.

Anyway, the food was really pretty good and I was pleasantly surprised with my experience; I would definitely recommend trying this gem if you happen to be in the area. As a bonus, they also do takeout pizzas (both tomato base and cream base), all only 980yen.

Gusuku Manjuu: 城まんじゅう

Manjuu 饅頭, or まんじゅう, is a popular Japanese wagashi, specifically a rice cake, often with a sweet red bean paste filling.

*also sometimes romanized as manju.

城まんじゅう Gusuku manjuu is a manjuu shop located in Kitanakagusuku village. Of course, I love manjuu but this place is a little special. First, there are 3 types of handmade manjuu sold here: aasa (アーサ, a type of Okinawan seaweed), sesame (ごま), and azuki bean (小豆). Second, the manjuu here are steamed in fragrant shell ginger leaves (called サンニン sannin in Okinawan language), similar to famous “No” manjuu in Shuri and muuchii. Since the leaves of ginger shell have bactericidal effect, in the old days Okinawan people would often wrap rice balls and muuchii with the leaves.

My friends bought some of these manjuu the other day and gave me some… they were very delicious. The delicate smell and taste of the shell ginger leaves infused into sweets has grown on me since living here.

The shop sells both individual and packages of manjuu; good for omiyage or tomb offerings, particularly for shiimii.



Kusatsu onsen: Food

While on a trip to Kusatsu onsen, I encountered quite a few tasty foods, so here is a look below at a few of the things I ate, in no particular order.

ぬれおかき nureokaki: The best way to describe this is a grilled rice cracker skewer, with some seasonings/toppings. My husband got the spicy one and I got one with black pepper and mayo. They were really good, but the spicy one was way too spicy. My husband likes spicy food but even he said the spice was too overpowering.


饅頭 manjuu: like any good onsen town, there is a ton of manjuu around. I enjoyed the karintou manjuu (crunchy manjuu) the best, but there are a few types to try out here. The outside of the manjuu is a little crispy and the inside is smooth bean paste.

揚げまんじゅう age-manjuu: so this is manjuu… deep-fried. Oh my. The taste was good, but definitely felt a bit unhealthy! I would limit how many of these you eat, but definitely try at least one.

温泉卵 onsen tamago: eggs soft-boiled in onsen water. When you crack it open into a bowl, the are soft and creamy, cooked to perfection. Usually they have a little shoyu or sauce to add to it, and you just eat it with a spoon. My husband is addicted to these.


温泉卵ソフト onsen egg soft-serve ice cream: okay, so this sounds kinda gross… egg flavored ice cream? But it really means like a creamy egg-y custard-pudding flavor, not boiled eggs flavor. It was really tasty, and I was really surprised at how good it was. I was initially a little apprehensive of the flavor name.


蕎麦 soba: When in mainland Japan, I pretty much always eat soba. Especially whenever I am in mountainous or onsen areas. Soba here was pretty good, so I was not disappointed. We specifically ate at Mikuni-ya 三國家, which had a long line, but it was worth it. So if you want to eat here during the busy season, be sure to arrive early! They had a special plate of soba for 2-3 servings, then you can order your dipping soup and tempura separately. This is probably good for families or very hungry couples, but we each ended up ordering our own individual servings since we knew we would not be able to finish that much food. Plus for 2 people it is probably a bit cheaper to just order individually anyway.


舞茸天ぷら maitake tenpura: maitake is a type of mushroom, the name actual means “dancing mushroom” and is supposed to be pretty healthy for you. Made into tempura it is delicious (but probably not as healthy). I ate it with my soba.


せんべい senbei: some fancy rice crackers were sold; this one was shoyu-negi flavor (soy sauce and green onion). It was a large cracker with a rather sweet chewy outside.


甘納豆 Amanatto: a kind of sweetened beans, which does not bear fruit below 700 meters above sea level. First the beans are dried, then put into water and finally they are cooked in sugar.

Let’s not forget the beer and drinks.

Cider, two types: 湯けむりサイダー Yu-kemuri (not pictured) and 大滝乃湯サイダー Otaki-no-yu (pictured): Awful. Also remember cider in Japan refers to soda pop, not apples or alcohol. I do not recommend unless you really like sweet sugary drinks. It is made with natural water form the onsen area or something.


軽井沢ビール Karuizawa beer: Turns out this area is close to Kusatsu, so many of the beers were available. I have seen 1 or 2 of these in Okinawa, but here I saw so many different types.


草津温泉物語 Kusatsu onsen monogatari beer: We saw 3 different types with this label. We tried them all and enjoyed each one. The price for them was also not too unreasonable, ~500yen.

Special mention: While in Ueno, I could not resist getting a donut from Shiretoko donuts. It is a “wasshoi” festival panda. “Wasshoi” ワッショイ is chant used in Japanese festivals.



Kusatsu Onsen 草津温泉

Kusatsu onsen 草津温泉 in Gunma prefecture 群馬県 is one of the three famous ancient hot springs in Japan (called 三名泉 “sanmeisen,” in addition to Arima Onsen in Hyogo and Gero onsen in Gifu). These hot springs are renown for healing properties, supposedly to cure a wide array of ailments.

Because I am an onsen junkie, I decided to head to Kusatsu onsen for the long weekend (Mountain Day public holiday, 山の日). In retrospect, this was not the most brilliant idea as: a) Japanese schools are on summer vacation, b) Japanese holiday weekend, and c) Obon in parts of the mainland began the same weekend. So… travel was busy. Very, very busy. I don’t really recommend traveling in Japan during this time if you can avoid it.

Anyway I did make it to my destination with almost no issues, and ended up having a fantastic time even though it was a little crowded everywhere.

We flew from Okinawa into Haneda airport on Friday afternoon; we stayed the night in Hamamatsu-cho 浜松町 with plans to leave for Kusatsu early the next morning. In Hamamatsu-cho, we returned to the restaurant we discovered last time, DevilCraft (this time with reservations!) and enjoyed Chicago-style pizza with craft brews.

There are a few ways to make your way to Kusatsu onsen; we chose to take the limited express from Ueno Station to Naganohara- kusatsuguchi station (~2.5 hours) followed by the JR bus to Kusatsu onsen (~20 minutes). Since we also got a reserved seat on the green car (it has more room), the total travel cost was about 6500yen one-way, from Hamamatsu-cho all the way to Kusatsu onsen. If you are willing to forgo the green car, your costs will probably be about 4500yen one-way.

On Saturday morning we hustled from the hotel to the train station for the 9am train. We arrived early enough to get tickets and breakfast, as well as some snacks and drinks for the train. The train ride itself was rather uneventful, and passed peacefully enough. Arriving at Naganohara-kusatsuguchi station, though, was a bit crazy. Luckily JR had prepared extra buses for the crowd this weekend. The bus went direct to Kusatsu onsen bus terminal so overall the trip out there was very easy.

It was only noon, so though it was too early for check-in, the hotel held our luggage for us so we could go explore the area. Our hotel for Saturday night was right outside the famous Yubatake 湯畑 (steamy hot water fields, provides the main source of hot spring water for the town), called Yubatake Souan 湯畑草菴. We wandered the touristy streets and shops, while enjoying the foot baths and the scenery. Not only this, but the weather was quite pleasant and not too hot or muggy since it is located in the mountains. Some people may complain about the smell of these hot spring towns, but personally I don’t mind it.

As it neared dinner time, we went to the hotel and soaked in the hotel onsen for a bit before changing into yukata for a night-time stroll around the town. The hotel provided basic bathing yukata but I had decided to bring my own (cuter) yukata for strolling. As a note, if you do not own a yukata, you can either use the hotel bathing yukata for walking around or you can even rent a cute yukata at one of the shops in town. One of the reasons I chose this onsen was because it was listed as one of the top onsen towns to walk around in while wearing yukata. I have been to many onsen towns before, and sometimes you may see people strolling wearing yukata in the town, but it is not always very common. Kusatsu is a well-known for being a beautiful location (especially at night) to relax and enjoy wearing yukata.

Anyway, so as we strolled around at night, the Yubatake was lit up and the steaming field created quite a nice atmosphere. We walked around in our yukata, ate some snacks and drank some local beers (Karuizawa 軽井沢 is nearby, as well as some other beer branded for Kusatsu onsen). There was some sort of candle light up near the Kosenji (temple) 光泉寺 and a live music show. Overall, the evenings in Kusatsu were pretty magical!

The next morning, we woke up fairly early, this time changing into our bathing yukata provided by the hotel to walk around the town in. Surprisingly, many people were up and about, even though it was about 6am or so. My husband and I went to the 7-11 to get iced cafe lattes to enjoy while using the foot bath. Since the hotel breakfast was not until 8am (so late!), we decided to wander around for a bit. **As a side note: surprisingly, the Souan hotel provided yukata that was actually big enough for my husband (194cm)!

First, I tried out the Shirahata onsen 白旗の湯, which is one of the FREE public onsen that the town keeps up. Warning: it is hot! But I was able to tolerate it for a short time anyway, so I think it is very much worth a visit. Also I should note, at many of the free bath houses in town, you do not use soap to rinse off because the water is so acidic! Simply undress, splash some water on you using the bucket or ladle and rinse all over your body, then enter the bath. Just look around you when you enter– if there is no shower station, then don’t worry about soap just rinse with the onsen water, but if there are shower stations with soap then be sure to clean your body well before entering the bath.

Next we wandered down to Jizo-no-yu onsen 地蔵の湯, another free public onsen, though it was not open for the day yet; but there is a foot bath there that is always open. What was interesting was that we heard them performing the traditional singing and paddling to cool the water inside! So while we did not get to watch, we got to hear it.

Finally, it was time for the yumomi show 湯もみ at Netsu-no-yu 熱乃湯, one of the things Kusatsu is famous for. Yumomi is the traditional way of cooling down water with large wooden paddles; the town character, named Yumomi-chan, is bathhouse lady dressed in yukata with one of the large wooden paddles. The water needs to be cooled down since it comes out between 50-70 degrees Celsius, much too hot to bathe in.

I got in line to get tickets for the earliest show; it is 600 yen, but discounted to 550yen if you just show the coupon on your phone or print it out from the webpage. We sat in the front row on the side. There is a second level which may have some better photo-ops, it depends on what you prefer. It started with some dance, then the emcee and ladies with paddles came out to perform. Partway through you can try experience for yourself; it is surprisingly difficult to maneuver those paddles. Then they finish the show with a final dance and lots of impressive splashes. It was quite fun.

From here, I made my way to Sainokawara onsen 西の河原 in the park. Again, I received discount ticket, this time from the lady in the visitors center, so stop by there first! This onsen is a large outdoor bath. It was very relaxing… bathing in nature is the best.

While I was finishing my bath at the park, my husband got in line at a popular soba restaurant, Mikuni-ya 三國家. It opens at 10:30 for lunch. Luckily, we were seated around 11:15. I ordered the Maitake (mushroom) tenpura soba 舞茸天蕎麦 and my husband ordered the regular tenpura soba 天ぷら蕎麦. It was indeed very delicious and worth the wait.

After lunch we got on a bus for Mt Shirane 白根山 (active volcano) and Yugama lake 湯釜. We took the bus straight to the trail area and visitor center; to see the beautiful emerald lake in the crater you will need to walk up a rather steep path of about 800m. Also, it is chilly up here, so you may want a long-sleeve even in summer. To return to Kusatsu, we decided to walk down to the top of the ropeway, ride the gondola down to the bottom station, and catch the bus. This was not a fantastic idea. Why? Well, first the pathway down to the ropeway is not really great for walking, though it is only 800m. Not only this, the buses do not frequent the ropeway station… we ended up missing the bus by 2 minutes and then waiting an hour for the next one. Which might not have been too bad, but there is really NOTHING at the ropeway station. It looked like the restaurant may be open for ski season but not during summer, so we couldn’t sit and enjoy a coffee or anything. We spent a rather boring hour waiting around for the bus to arrive. By the time we reached town again, we decided to head to the hotel, relax, and change.

Due to not booking early enough for the crazy holiday weekend, we ended up staying at a different hotel on Sunday night. Futabaya was not quite as nice or close as Souan, but it was a fine room and we did not really have any complaints.

After changing into my own yukata, it was time to hit the town again for some evening strolling. First we tried Jizo-no-yu onsen (where we heard the paddling and singing in the morning) as it was free… it was truly scalding hot! Be careful. I did not last long. Next we went to Goza-no-yu onsen 御座之湯, which had an entry fee. It was a much more reasonable temperature, so I took my time and enjoyed it.

Finally refreshed, we walked around town, just taking in the atmosphere. Again, we had beer and snacks until we decided to crash for the evening. Kusatsu really is a romantic and relaxing place.

On the last day, we checked out and stored all of our luggage in a locker at the bus station (500yen), then walked through the zoo, which had a baby capybara (it was so adorable) and then tried out the Otaki-no-yu 大滝乃湯, famous for its increasingly hot bathing. Otaki-no-yu has a fee, which I found a little steep (900yen) but since it is quite well-known I wanted to try. Now, if I was smarter, I would have purchased the discount pass for 1600yen that included all 3 of the famous onsen (Sainokawara, Goza-no-yu, and Otaki-noyu) instead of paying the individual fees (600yen/600yen/900yen, though with other discount tickets you can get 50 or 100yen off). I guess I didn’t know if I was going to go to all 3, so I didn’t want to buy the ticket in case it went to waste, especially since there were quite a few free ones maintained by the community. My husband only went to 2 of the 3, so he wouldn’t have saved any money. So my advice… plan wisely!

Otaki-no-yu was very nice: there were some indoor baths, a waterfall bath, an outside bath, and then on course, the 4-tiers (5-tiers on the men’s side) of increasing temperature baths called 合わせ湯. Challenge time! I started at the bottom, a mild 41 degrees C; the lady came in to measure and record temps on the white board while I was there. Next I moved up a tier to 42.5 degrees C; again, not too bad. Tier 3 was 45 degrees C… this was hot. I cold tolerate it, but it was very, very hot. I started to dread what the 4th tier, 47 degrees C, would be like. I watched as 2 or 3 other ladies tried the water and immediately jumped out. I carefully tested the water with my hand, then foot. Holy s***. Well, time to buck up. So I reluctantly lowered all the way in… only to jump right back out. I think I lasted about 2 seconds. Out of everyone, I only saw one lady who seemed to be capable of challenging this 4th tier bath. So I guess I did pretty well. After my challenging bath, I drank a cold coffee milk from a glass bottle, and it felt so refreshing.

Finally it was time to purchase omiyage before heading to the bus station. The bus to the train station left at 12pm, and the train back to Tokyo was scheduled for 1pm, with our return flight to Okinawa scheduled at 5:20pm. Just as a word of warning: both the bus station in Kusatsu and the train station in Naganohara-kusatsuguchi had almost nothing for snacks and bento… I definitely recommend getting something at one of the shops in town or even just from 7-11 before walking up the hill to the station to catch the bus! If you don’t happen to stock up before leaving town, there is a snack/drink trolley on the train, though. After all, I think it is almost impossible to go on a long train ride without snacks, bento, or even a beer.

Overall, Kusatsu onsen is a great destination to hit up while in Japan, with good food, beer, hot spring baths, culture, and atmosphere. Pictures coming soon!

I will make a separate post specific to the food of Kusatsu onsen next!

Shark?! サメ in Okinawa

Recently, my hula kumu (sensei/teacher) brought in shark meat and skins from a fishing tour she took here in the southern part of Okinawa main island. Now, admittedly, I paled a bit… killing/eating sharks can be a bit taboo in Hawaiian culture (since some people believe it may be a god or guardian spirit or ancestor), so this was a bit of a shock to me. Now, it depends, as some people do catch and eat shark in Hawaii (only the cutting and eating of fins is illegal), but I would say overall it is somewhat uncommon.

Now, I have seen shark (サメ pronounced sah-meh) for sale in some of the Okinawa grocery stores with fancier fresh fish sections before, so I knew it was not unusual for Japanese people, per se. But it was still a shock, and not just to me but some of my Okinawan hula friends as well since it is not a commonly eaten food.

Anyway, it was certainly unique to hear and see video/pictures of the experience, as well as see the meat and skins in person. We helped clean the skins (皮 kawa) to be used to make drums later. My kumu gave away the meat to anyone who was willing; I am sorry to announce I simply was not up to the challenge so I cannot give any personal story here. My kumu recommended frying in butter and garlic; some of my friends made like a bread-crumb crusted bake as well. Most claimed “oishii,” though some of my friends like myself declined the shark meat challenge. After all, it was not the most pleasant of odors… though maybe I missed out on something delicious. I am still uncertain about how I feel regarding shark meat.

So, if you are in Okinawa, and would like to experience eating shark, it is very possible to do. I am not sure I comfortably recommend it, but it is definitely possible. I don’t know that I have ever seen it on a restaurant menu though so you may need to buy it from the grocery store and prepare it yourself. Perhaps I need to add this to the bizarre foods of Okinawa post I made earlier…


Farmers Markets in Okinawa

I decided I would post some of my favorite fruit and vegetable markets here in Okinawa. Most of these are near to RyuDai (University of the Ryukyus), not necessarily the American bases. I prefer the markets with less foreigners (since most of the ones that cater to Americans import a lot of their produce to satisfy demand) and more domestic/local produce, rather than imported goods. It is always import to check/read the labels to see where your produce comes from– just because it is sold locally does not mean it is grown locally. That being said, some products simply are either not grown locally, or very expensive compared to imported versions, so sometimes you have to pick your battles.

A good example of this is garlic: Chinese garlic is incredibly cheap, and a lot of the garlic sold in Okinawa comes from China. Garlic from Aomori prefecture is pretty expensive, and while it may be higher quality and tastier, it can be hard to justify the price especially when you are on a budget. Locally grown Okinawan garlic is seasonal, so it is important to buy it while it is cheap during Spring time! Of course, it only lasts so long.

Anyway, first check out the key terms for locating a farmers market in GoogleMaps, then I list some of my favorites. If you are in Okinawa looking for fresh local fruit and vegetables, these are some of the best places to look in the South-Central area of the island. Perhaps later I will add some of the Northern area markets in… (like Onna-no-eki, a great place to check out if you go up there!). There are also plenty of supermarkets around, but often times you will find better deals at the farm markets, so it is worth checking them out.

Key terms:

青果 seika: fruit and vegetables

青果店 seikaten: fruit and veg shop

青果市場 seika ichiba: fruit and veg market

八百屋 yaoya: greengrocer, or produce market

ファーマーズマーケット: farmers market, written in katakana

野菜 or やさい yasai: vegetables

果物 kudamono: fruit

List of recommended markets (I will update with some more as I have time):

Nakagusuku Farm Minami 中城ファーム南 (Nakagusuku): This place usually has a lot of stuff cheap. It is my “go to market” whenever I need something.

HappyMore ハッピーモア市場 (Ginowan): Sometimes cheap, sometimes not so cheap, it depends on the item… but it has a lot of chemical/pesticide-free and “organic” items, as well as a curry cafe with smoothies. It is a really nice market overall. Sometimes I can find interesting things.

Kariyushi 軽便駅 かりゆし市 (Nanjo): Tons of locally-grown stuff, and usually the cheapest prices around. It is a bit further from me, so I don’t go there as much as I would like. I only ever see locals in here, never foreigners. Also this place has a lot of fresh cut flowers for cheap, as well as potted plants.

JA Agarihama あがりはま市場 (Yonabaru): One of the Japan Ag (JA) stores. Usually not too crowded (unlike the JA stores near the bases). Sometimes a bit more expensive than the other farmers markets, but cheaper than produce at the supermarkets/grocery stores.

JA Kugani くがに市場 (Haebaru): Also one of the JA stores, this one is brand new. It has a lot of variety and things I have not seen in the other JA markets. There is also a gelato stand outside here… dangerous!

Agri-house Kochinda アグリハウスこちんだ (Yaese): Lots of cheap, local produce, as well as eggs (there is an egg farm next door). You can buy eggs in bulk here.

Need help with names of vegetables in Japanese? Look here: Vegetables Names

Or here for some Food Vocabulary.

And here for Japanese Phrases for Food Shopping

Vegetable Stand: University of the Ryukyus

野菜, or also seen as やさい (pronounced yasai) means vegetables.

At RyuDai 琉大 (short for Ryukyu Daigaku 琉球大学, the University of the Ryukyus), there is an occasional vegetable stand by the “Welcome Plaza” at the Nishihara/South gate (西原口, also labelled 南口). It is run by the agricultural department field studies. The vegetables are grown in the fields at the school and are mostly local types of vegetables like goya, okra, ensai, carrots, and such.

I am not sure if there are any actual set open times, but I know it is open when I see the flags with “野菜” out at the Welcome Plaza. The only times I have noticed it open is around lunch times. Last time I bought a bag of okra and some enormous goya; the prices are pretty cheap for what you get. I should remember to try to stop by there more often, but I usually forget about it since I usually use the East gate (東口) or the North gate (北口) instead.

Summer Festival Food: 夏祭りの屋台

夏祭り natsu matsuri means summer festival (I wrote a little about this before).

Of course, no summer matsuri is complete without the food tents, called 屋台 yatai. Most popular are probably the fried and grilled foods; some of the more “traditional” ones that I have seen in Okinawa are listed below. Just be careful not to stain your yukata…

**I will try and add some more pictures of all the foods as I have time.


Yakisoba 焼きそば : fried noodles. Usually at summer matsuri, I see Japanese sauce yakisoba rather than Okinawan salt yakisoba, but it depends on the festival.

Takoyaki たこ焼き: fried octopus balls. Round dough balls with bits of octopus mixed in and fried, then topped with sauce and usually katsuobushi.

Okonomiyaki お好み焼き: cabbage “pancakes,” topped with sauce, as well as usually mayo, nori, and katsuobushi.

Pote ポテ: potato fries.

Yakitori 焼き鳥: grilled chicken skewers.

Ika yaki イカ焼き: literally, squid grilled on a skewer. Squid-on-a-stick.

Jaga bataa じゃがバター: baked potato with butter.

(Yaki) toumorokoshi (焼き)とうもろこし: corn; in this case it will be grilled and slathered with butter.

Recently we went to a matsuri in Nago and split a mega-combo メガコンボ, which came with a mix of potato fries, yakisoba, takoyaki, and yakitori. It was a popular food tent, and everything was cooked piping hot on the spot. It was nice because it came with a small(ish) serving of a bunch of different foods for variety, and a good compromise for my husband and I to split.

Some food tents are starting to offer some more western choices, like “meat pies” which I think are kinda like empanadas. Often you also see アメリカンドッグ  “American dog,” which just means a corn dog.

You might also see some “local specialties,” which in Okinawa typically means soba. Each festival has its own wide array of foods to try, and we enjoy trying as many as possible. On the mainland I have seen way more variety of matsuri food, and some really interesting looking ones. So keep in mind since this list is mostly applicable to Okinawa, I have only included the ones most common in Okinawa.

And of course, there is more than just savory foods… plenty of sweets as well.

Wataame わたあめ: cotton candy.

Choco banana チョコバナナ: chocolate covered banana on a stick.

Taiyaki たい焼き: fish-shaped bean pastry.

Dorayaki どら焼き: round pancake-like bean pastry.

Sata andagi サーターアンダギー: Okinawan fried “donuts.”

Kaki-gouri かき氷: Shave ice!

In Okinawa, the drink selection is typically some canned soft drinks (though don’t expect much variety beyond water, green tea, and coke), draft Orion beer, and of course, the local booze, awamori.


Miyama Shabu-shabu: 美山しゃぶしゃぶ

My husband wanted to try a shabu-shabu place for lunch. It is a chain from the mainland called Miyama Shabu-shabu. There is only 1 in Okinawa, located in the Haebaru Aeon Mall (southern part of the island).

They offer a cheap lunch course for 1000-something yen, though the menu has various combinations with varying degrees of price (things like beef, or all-you-can-eat meat). The cheap lunch course though, comes with 2 trays of (imported) pork, thinly sliced with 8 slices per tray; since I don’t eat pork this means my husband will get 4 trays. The lunch course comes with all-you-eat eat vegetables, noodles, rice, pickles, etc. For one half of the pot you also choose 1 of the 4 types of soup for cooking (the other half you get a default basic water with konbu in it); we went with the Korean-style “spicy” which was not really that spicy at all. For an additional 250yen you can also get the soft drink bar. As a fair warning, the menu is all in Japanese but there are some pictures which might help.

Anyway, we got seated and ordered without any difficulty. Luckily we were seated in a back corner so no one could stare at my husband while he ate all the meat and I just stuck the veggies. At the table were ponzu ポン酢 (shoyu+citrus) and goma-dare ごまだれ (sesame dipping sauce). We were also given extra peppers and spicy sauce since we ordered the Korean-style broth. The veggies, noodle, rice, salad, etc. were all self-serve. It was all quite good, and I enjoyed a variety of noodles and veggies with my shabu-shabu. There were Okinawa soba noodles, udon noodles, cellophane (bean thread) noodles, and somen.

Even just eating veggies, noodles, salad, rice, and pickles I felt I got a decent deal. My husband said that 3 boxes would have been perfect and 4 was a little too many, but he ate (and enjoyed) it all anyway. So we both left happy, even though one of us doesn’t eat meat.


Okinawa Pottery: やちむん

yachimun やちむん (焼き物): ceramics/pottery in Okinawa language. In Japanese, this would be read as “yakimono.”

There are many pottery areas in Okinawa; in Naha, is a district called Tsuboya 壺屋 which has a street lined with ceramics shops. There is also Nanjo (south), Yomitan (north-central), and many other smaller areas scattered about.

Tsuboya yachimun street is a lovely walk on a nice day, and you can see many examples of Okinawa pottery and visit various artists, as well as a museum. Especially featured are the Okinawa shisa dog statues. You can also find ishigantou in addition to plates, cups, bowls, and more. If you get tired of looking and shopping, there are some cafes to have lunch or bukubuku-cha.

Over the years, I have collected quite a few pieces: mostly mugs, plates, and shisa. Every year, areas like Yomitan, Nanjo, and Tsuboya hold yachimun a “festival” where you can find a lot of discount pieces from artists.




The other day I tried out yet another cute cafe in Okinawa, this one located in Tomigusuku (south part of the island). It is called Maitoparta, and specializes in waffles, as well as having some gourmet coffees.

Technically, this is a “dessert cafe” not a breakfast cafe. Well, whatever, I ate brunch here anyway. You can get a savory waffle set, but I wanted one of the sweet ones. I went with a honey/nuts/vanilla ice cream waffle and a soy latte. You can also choose between 2 types of waffles, or get a “mix.” There are also a bunch of different flavored waffles to choose from, toppings, etc. It was actually pretty affordable compared to other pancake and waffle type places I have been– 830yen for the waffle and drink set I ordered.

There are a decent number of parking spaces outside, but it filled up fast. The cafe was very clean and cutely decorated inside… it was full of young to middled aged ladies. The wait for my food was fairly quick, too… overall it was a very nice experience, and I can see why it has gained popularity. Of course, this is calorie rich, so only a special occasion treat.


Okinawa limes: Shikwasa シークヮーサー

To explain this one is a little tricky. You will see various spellings in both Japanese and English!

シークヮーサー or シークァーサー or シークワーサー all mean “Citrus depressa,”  a type of lime grown here in the Ryukyu islands. It is romanized as shikwasa (most common), shikuwasa, or shiquasa. In Japanese, it is also known as ヒラミレモン hirami lemon.

The name comes from 2 parts: 「シー」shii which means sour (酸い suppai in Japanese) and 「クワス」kuwasu meaning eating/to eat (食わし kuwashi).

It is small and similar to a lime: a sour, citrusy flavor. When I first saw them I thought maybe they were calamansi (which I adore), but the taste is a little different than that. Since the taste is so sour, most people add sugar to the juice to balance it. I prefer less sugar since I really like sour flavors.

You can buy shiqwasa in grocery stores and farmers markets (when they are in season*, or the 100% juice year-round. There is a shiqwasa “park” (tourist attraction) up north in Nago where you can try fresh juice.

*Shikwasa are generally in season from August through February, though they are most sour early in the season. Towards January and February they get less sour and can be eaten just as is.

You can buy just bottled PET bottle drinks of shikwasa drink which is diluted with water and tons of sugar added. It is a popular flavor for various sweet desserts/snacks and ice cream. There is even Okinawa limited potato chips with shikwasa flavor (kind of like salt and vinegar but a citrus-y acid!). Oh, and even Orion makes a shikwasa beer… it is not that great, but it is basically Orion beer with a tiny bit of shikwasa juice (and I think part of the citrus peel) added.

Okinawa Star Sand: 星砂

星砂 Hoshizuna: star sand

There is also a second type called 太陽の砂 taiyou no suna: sun sand

These 2 types of sands are similar but are actually two different microorganism skeletons. Many people just call both of them star sand, not realizing there is a difference. Some people show photos that say, “I found star sand!” but in actuality it is sun sand.

Where can you find star and sun sand? While you may be able to find it various locations, it is not very common to find it on the Okinawa main island (not impossible… just not so common). Below are some places where star and sun sand is easily found! I will add a few more when I have time.

**Special Note: Some of the more famous beaches request that people do not take star sand from the beach! So please be respectful of this.

You can usually buy star sand at various tourist shops all over Okinawa (for instance, try Kokusai-dori if you are looking to purchase some). I have a necklace and earrings with star sand. It is a little cheesy, but I thought it was cute.



Places you can see star sand first hand:

Kudaka-jima 久高島, Upaama beachウパーマ浜: You can take a short ferry ride here.

Tokashiki-jima 渡嘉敷島, Ura beach 浦ビーチ  and Aharen 阿波連ビーチ: You can reach this island via a 1-hour ferry ride.
Ura beach:
Aharen beach:

Hateruma-jima 波照間島, Peh beach ペー浜: You can reach this island by flying to Ishigaki-jima, then taking a ferry ride. It is not convenient for a day trip, so you will need to stay overnight.

Taketomi-jima 竹富島, all over: You can reach this island by flying to Ishigaki-jima, then taking a ferry ride. This is an easy day trip from Ishigaki. This is the location of the famous “Star Sand Beach” 星砂の浜.

Iriomote-jima 西表島, all over: You can reach this island by flying to Ishigaki-jima, then taking a ferry ride. This is an easy day trip from Ishigaki.

Hatoma-jima 鳩間島, all over: Ferries run here infrequently from Ishigaki-jima, so you will need to plan this one well if you want to visit. This place is rather remote and quiet.

Yoron 与論島, Yurigahama 百合ヶ浜: Actually, this is technically part of Kagoshima, however, you can reach Yoron fairly easily from Okinawa. It is about a 4 hour ferry, or you can fly there from the Naha airport (much shorter). Yurigahama is a sand bar, located off of Ooganeku Beach 大金久海岸.

Star Sand Folktale:

There is a folk tale from Taketomi-jima about the “sandy beach of stars.” It is a story of when the Yaeyama islands were still being created.

The sky star goddess (the Southern Cross) conceived children with Polaris (North Star). When birthing the star children, she asked the heavenly god where she should give birth. He responded that there was an island with beautiful coral and white sand and so she should give birth just off the shore of this island, the current location of Taketomi-jima. The star goddess bore her star babies into the sea. However, the god of the sea was angry that she birthed them into his ocean without asking permission. The furious sea god called upon a sea serpent to swallow up all the star children and not leave any remains. The sea snake swallowed all the star children of the star as commanded by the sea god. Later, only the small white star-shaped bones of the star children were left, washed ashore on the island and mixed in with the sand. The god of the heavens collected the bones, put them in a censer, and burned them with incense to send the souls of the stars children to heaven to be with their mother (in some stories, it is instead a sacred priestess not the god of heavens that performs this ritual). So, it is said that the souls of the star children became stars themselves, brilliantly surrounding the star goddess up in the heavens.

Difference between star sand and sun sand can be seen easily:

(pictures coming soon).

Kochi Gusuku: 幸地グスク

Kochi gusuku is another small castle ruins site that I came across, like Tanabaru gusuku, also located in Nishihara. Again, not really interesting enough to make it onto the original post about the gusuku ruins in Okinawa, but a nice hidden location on top of a hill with a view. Mostly just another attempt at me escaping the ennui of lab work and trying to get some fresh air this summer.

Kochi gusuku also located off a back road, which you may suspect is not actually a road, but I promise you it is indeed the road to reach this castle ruins. It is narrow, and turns a little bumpy. When you reach the top, it is mostly just an open looking field.

There are some remains of stones, and if you walk up to the highest point, you will see w place of worship. Walking around the paths you can also see some gaa ガー (wells). Many places were overgrown, but it was clear enough to see the view at least. There was even a placard in both English and Japanese describing some of the history here (photo below where you can read the interesting “tidbits”).

I didn’t get the same eerie sense as I did at Tanabaru gusuku ruins, thankfully. But oddly enough, at this lookout on an off-beaten path seemingly in the middle of nowhere there were some ojiisans hanging out in their cars…



Tanabaru Gusuku: 棚原グスク

グスク gusuku: in Japanese, it is actually 城 (shiro), meaning “castle.” Though I have recently learned that the entomology of the word “gusuku” is controversial, and could have come about several ways. Anyway, if you see the word “gusuku” in Okinawa, it typically refers to a stone castle or fortress type structure (in ruins these days), surrounded by stone walls. The famous ones remain somewhat intact whereas these smaller ones rarely have anything but traces of stones and foundations.

In Okinawa, most of these gusuku are just the ruins. I previously made a post about some of the more common gusuku ruins sites. Tanabaru gusuku, however, is not well known and quite hidden away in Nishihara. Thought to be honest, there is not much to see.

On a whim, I decided to follow the map to where these supposed ruins were near to the university. So I got in my car and followed the directions… I started to doubt that the GPS was taking me to the right location. The last road I turned onto was not really much of a road, even for Okinawa. I started to feel a bit concerned.

But then… ! I seemingly reached a fielded area and a sign post! Some success already. Apparently, GoogleMaps was correct after all. As to where to park… well… it is an empty field, so just pull over I suppose is fine.

The were only very few trace remains of the gusuku itself, and following the path I was able to find a place of worship. The location was high on top of a hill, but was fairly overgrown, so the view was a little bit difficult to see. To be honest though… this place had a strange feel, and I am not normally superstitious. There were a few tombs around, but that is common in Okinawa… it had sort of an abandoned feel to it I guess (despite the signpost proudly proclaiming the site name looking new). I think there may be rumor of a ghost story in this location, but I am not sure yet. I will update if I find it.

It seems that some excavations of the ruins (finding items like pottery, etc.) have been done in the past according to the Nishihara town website. It originally was built by the brother of one of the lords, as a fortification. During and after the war, many of the stones were removed for quarry to be reused elsewhere, so there is very little remaining of walls and foundations that can be observed. If I have time, I may come back and do some more exploring of the area. I read on a Japanese site that there is some sort of trail nearby.