Kagoshima and Sakuraima 2023

Our second trip post covid was to Kyushu, and we visited Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Kurakawa onsen. This post is specific to Kagoshima and Sakurajima.

Overall impressions

It was hot on our travel days, and in fact Kagoshima set a record high of 33.5℃ with 90% humidity. As someone used to the cooling trade winds of Hawaii, this was a bit of sweltering weather for me, but since Japan has cold vending machines on every corner, we stayed hydrated with green tea, Aquarius, and Pocari Sweat. But enough complaining about the weather, what did we see and eat!

ShiroKuma (literally polar bear) iced treats

As we mentioned above it was warm, luckily Kagoshima is known for it’s Shirokuma ice. This is a large pile of shaved ice, with sweetened condensed milk, and “fruit cocktail” style frozen fruit. This treat gained popularity after the second world war as a cheap treat that could be made with canned products, as fresh milk and fruit was too expensive for most people at that time. They are easy to find around town, the train station shopping area has shops dedicated to them! We got one at Sengan-en, which is great garden and samuri house that we talk about below.

Now you can see why it is called polar bear! This was a particularly good looking one, but most places try to make it look a bit like a cute bear. The “nose” is vanilla ice cream here. Carolyn also got matcha with a green tea sweet that was good.

Sengan-en – Gardens and the home of the Shimadzu clan from 1658

This UNESCO world heritage site is a great example of Japanese gardens, and the house of a well off local family, whose members were important in Japanese history thru the Meiji revolution. The gardens use Sakurajima (The active volcano, described below) as a backdrop to add drama to the scenery. The house is a prime example of Japanese mixing with the newly opened western world. You can get here on the City view bus (The routes are significantly different post COVID, ensure you follow the maps posted on the bus stops and given to you at information desks. The maps online may be out of date!). In the mansion we enjoyed looking at the different nail covers in the beams. Old style Japanese joinery is renowned for using few metal fasteners, but they are still used, and then covered. Enough talk, lets take a look!

Lots of photos, but it was very photogenic! On to Sakurajima (Literally cherry blossom island, a bit strange for an active volcano, but still pretty!)

Sakurajima Ferry, bus ride, and soft serve

Sakurajima is an active volcano, but the kind that mostly leaks lava and doesn’t explode like Mt. St. Helens. It has had some minor explosive eruptions, but is generally safe to visit (most of the time, pay attention to any warnings, and if things are really going on, they won’t let you on the ferry to the island!). As we lived on the Big Island of Hawaii, and our dog was literally born in the town of Volcano, a lot of the sites reminded us of our history, but if you didn’t live on a Volcano (our house was in Lava Zone 3, which meant USAA wouldn’t insure us! (Lava Zone 3 is a 5% chance of lava over 100 years)) these sites will be exciting. Lots of old lava flows and volcanic soil.

When we were there it was overall very quiet, the tourist bus ride around the island was fun, and is included if you get the CUTE one or two day pass. Now I will say again, the bus routes and ferry schedules have changed a lot the last year or two with COVID. When we went the sightseeing ferry had been suspended (only in March of 2023, just when people are coming back!). I would recommend buying the pass at the information booth at the Kagoshima train station, the ladies there when we went were super helpful and spoke good English, they had guides in English, Korean, Chinese, and of course Japanese for the various routes and passes.

Where is the Ono?

Oh right! More ono needed. In Kasogshima we had a few meals. We were feeling a little unadventurous on the first night and had pasta at Pietro’s in the Sun Terrace. It’s good pasta, we like them better than somewhere like Olive Garden, but it on that level, chain Italian food. We started off with a french onion soup and cheese bread, then onto pasta.

Breakfast the next morning

We went to a Bakery called Backen then next morning. There they had great morning sets of salad, yogurt, choice of “soups” and choice of two fresh baked breads for about ¥1,000. It was all tasty and the bread was fresh. We had black curry and corn soup as our “soups”. It was a little warm for us in the middle of summer, but they would be very comforting on a cool day!

Black pork (Kurabuta) Okonomiyaki at Mangetsu (Full Moon!)

Lastly for our special meals we have okonomiyaki. We have a whole page just on this treat here: OnoOkinawa Okonomiyaki so we won’t go into details, if you don’t know, it a pancake made with a savory batter, cabbage, and other ingredients (like meat, or kurabuta in this case!). Topped with a savory brown sauce and mayo. The brown sauce is it’s own thing, it’s sort of like an A1 steak sauce, but more mild and sweet. More similar to Yakisoba sauce. Most places cook the food in front of you on a hot plate, at some you cook it yourself, and this place was one of those. But in a new twist to us, instead of the staff assisting us an iPad played a movie that had every move and the timing. It was fun, and more importantly it was delicious. Mangetsu (Which means full moon, like what a fresh okonomiyaki looks like!) is a chain, and they had English instruction and menu.


We really enjoyed our two days in Kagoshima city. If we had more time, I think it would be worth renting a car as the more rural aspect of Kagoshima prefecture means that there were things outside the city we couldn’t get to easily on public transit. Everything in this post are things that we really enjoyed doing, we also did some other fun things like their historical museums, riding the tram, and general street exploring. We highly recommend getting the “CUTE” one or two day pass and including the extra money for the Sakurjima ferry ride and bus (if you have the time, we took about 4 hours total on the ferry and bus).

Let us know if you’ve been to Kagoshima and if we’ve missed any of your favorites!

Coffee Specialist Nietzsche: 珈琲専科にーちぇ

珈琲 koohii: coffee

Another day, another coffee. This time I ventured to another retro kissaten (coffeeshop) in Naha, called Nietzsche.

There is free parking in 2 spots: behind the shop (2 spaces), and in the park across the way (16 spaces). It is very cute and inviting on the outside, very spacious inside with 2 floors. Inside is also a treasure trove of retro coffee gadgetry. The atmosphere is really quite amazing. As a word of warning, it is an adult oasis, and young children are not encouraged to enter as a way to keep that peace.

The menu is mostly coffee, and a few dessert options. I got the retro toast set and an ice coffee; it was quite wonderful. If you are looking for an amazing retro kissaten experience in Naha, this is definitely it.

address: https://goo.gl/maps/KLmsxM3RT6r

Retro Kissaten in Okinawa: 沖縄のレトロな喫茶店

喫茶店 kissaten: traditional Japanese tearoom/coffeeshop serving drinks, sweets and light meals; often they have a nostalgic vibe as most of the shops look as if they’re stuck in time.

I have a thing for the retro kissaten. Something about them just feels peaceful once you step through the front door. Sure, there are tons of trendy, cute, modern, hipster cafes with high-end coffees and stylish desserts sprouting up everywhere but for the quintessential Japanese coffee shop experience an old-style kissaten is where it is at.

Today took me to CoffeeShop Laramie コーヒーシャープララミー. There is no parking at the shop, so you need to go to the paid parking lots (there is one around the corner for 100y/30 min). This place is only open Fridays and Saturdays, from 1-5pm.

As I walked up, the outside says “Coffee & Pancakes” plainly on the outside. A step through the door, and you are in a difference time and place. There are 2 working jukeboxes, some table seating, and counter seating. A quick warning, the seating is a little low to the ground; if I had brought my husband (194 cm) he would have had a hard time fitting. The menu is pretty simple, pancakes, desserts, and drinks. I think they may occasionally have some light meal on the menu but there was not today.

I ordered the pancake and coffee set for 850yen, with the Laramie blend coffee (might as well try out the house coffee). While I was waiting for my food, an older gent came in got a coffee, played some songs on the jukebox, and read the newspaper. It added to the retro atmosphere. There are vaguely some “Hawaiian”-themed items up, which made me chuckle a bit and the shop is entirely wood-paneled.

I noticed when I went to pay that even the cash register is retro! I admit, I thought that was a nice touch. Anyway, the shop staff was kind, the food and coffee was really good, plus an awesome retro atmosphere. If you are looking for a retro kissaten in Okinawa, I would definitely recommend trying out this little place in Naha.


address: https://goo.gl/maps/QDuWEYZtdF92

looking for more retro kissaten in Okinawa? More posts coming soon, but also check out Genten 原点: Coffee Specialist in Okinawa.

Mokupuni Melon Pan: モクプニ

メロンパン melon pan: “melon” bread.

Today we went up north for a bit, and took a diversion to Sesoko-jima (connected to Motobu by bridge). There we found a little Hawaiian-inspired building called “Mokupuni” モクプニ selling Japanese melon bread (melon pan).

Melon bread is not named for the flavor, but rather the appearance. The outside is crunchy like a cookie crust which is supposed to resemble a melon rind, and the inside is beautifully soft.

At this little shop there were a few options, but I just went with the cream-filled melon pan. It was so good and fresh! Places in Okinawa will sell melon pan, but typically packaged and not usually quite so fresh as this was. Now, the price was 350yen, which is not terribly cheap, but not too bad either since it was stuffed with cream.

address: https://goo.gl/maps/rX4r2LtGFTt

Cokofu: Sweets shop in Okinawa

Cokofu is located in the eclectic Minatogawa Stateside Town in Urasoe. The name stands for: Coconut × Kokuto 黒糖 (brown sugar) × Fu 麩 (wheat gluten).

It is a mix of Okinawan style and some Kyoto style… it is interesting!

The best part? Vegan-friendly! I ate delicious soy milk and Okinawa brown sugar ice cream, drizzled with brown sugar syrup and sweet crispy fu on the side. I also had the fizzy kumquat juice drink (so really more like a soda than a juice). All the sweets and cafe drinks are made with soy milk, no regular milk is even available. There are several types of teas, coffee, and natural juice drinks to choose from. The menu is in Japanese and English, with pictures, so it should be easy to order.

Everything looked so good, and I actually wanted to try some of the Kyoto-style sweets, but it was warm out, I had already ate lunch (and was kinda full), so I opted with something a little smaller. Overall– AMAZING! I will definitely be back here to try everything else.

**There are some parking spots (maybe 2-3) for the store so you do not have to pay for parking!

address: https://goo.gl/maps/UMpyHoHjoNG2

Sunny Side Cakes: サニーサイドケークス

Today I needed a little cheering up, so I decided to check out a place offering sunshine– Sunny Side Cakes, located in the northern part of Ginowan.

Just some quick info: here are a few parking spaces by the shop building, so no need to park on the street. There is an eat-in area of the shop as well, and they offer some drinks and dessert sets, or you can do take-out. They also do custom cakes.

Anyway, I entered the bright and cheery shop. Some info was English but most of the labels were in Japanese, so of course I was asked if I understood. Well, yes, of course, but it may be nice to know for those of you uncomfortable with reading/speaking Japanese that someone who speaks English is available.

There were a fair number of choices, but I had already decided that the shop’s “cookie sandwich” was a must. There were quite a few flavors, but I predictable ended up with “Cafe Nuts” which was a coffee and nuts flavor… delicious!! I also went ahead and got what was labeled as a “German Cake” of some sort (I forget the name now); it tasted similar to a non-chocolate German chocolate cake. Anyhow, I liked both confections quite a bit, and they were reasonably priced. I would definitely recommend checking out the cute shop if you find yourself in the northern part of Ginowan near Rt 330 (not far from the Ginowan town office).

address: https://goo.gl/maps/gT2aKxFuXyj

Cake Shop Asahi-ya: あさひ屋

和洋菓子店 wayougashiten: Japanese-western confectionary shop

Near 2 of the military bases in Ginowan, Futenma and Foster, there is a small confectionary shop next to the Union grocery store. It is called “Asahi-ya” あさひ屋.

When you pull up, you may not notice the small sign for “parking” at first. It is really just one space next to the shop, by the sidewalk. There is a sign indicating you should pull your car all the way in and not block the pedestrian sidewalk. Or you could just park at the Union since it is next door.

When you enter, it is not much to look at, and may seem a bit dated. There is a small area where you can eat-in or you can take out. They have whole cakes, cake slices, and even some Japanese and Okinawan style confections. The cakes may not look super impressive at first, at least not compared to some of the expensive and trendy shops, but if you look closer you will notice they have a lot of different flavors and types.

On this day, I purchased a shikwasa mousse cake slice… it was delicious and decently priced! The slice was 195yen, which is not too bad considering what some of the other shops charge. I would definitely recommend stopping into this “retro” cake shop and trying a slice of cake!


address: https://goo.gl/maps/e358RuCYdVz

Christmas Tea Ceremony: クリスマス茶会

茶会 chakai: a tea “gathering,” a more informal tea ceremony.

クリスマス kurisumasu: Christmas

Recently I had the good fortune to attend a chaikai 茶会 here in Okinawa. The location was at Shoufuuen 松風苑 in Haebaru 南風原 (southern part of the island), the birthplace of Ultraman ウルトラマン (hometown of Tetsuo Kinjo, scriptwriter)! The theme of the chakai was Christmas, and of course, with a little Ultraman thrown in the mix.

Anyway, I dressed myself in kimono and met up with some fellow foreigners at the event venue. Of course, as a foreigner who dressed themselves in kimono and speaks some Japanese, many people found their way to talking to me. I don’t think it is so impressive for me to do these things, but Japanese people are often overly kind and complimentary regarding these things. It was a little embarrassing for me as I did not actually have time to do my hair and make-up properly due to oversleeping, so I had rushed to get ready.

The venue consists of some beautiful buildings and gardens set away from the main road; it is one of the few places here in Okinawa where I felt more of the Japanese atmosphere (rather than Ryukyu or Chanpuru cultures).

In general, a chakai is a little less formal than a proper tea gathering ceremony, called a chaji 茶事. This particular event was a 3-part event (lasting a little less than 3 hours total): tea ceremony outside, light meal, and an indoor tea ceremony. For the first tea we were seated at a table outside and served tea with 2 types of wagashi. Afterwards met with a famous potter here in Okinawa; he made the giant shisa that sit on either side of Kokusai-dori area in Naha. He also made the small pottery cups that were used (and we got to take home) during our light meal.

The light meal was held inside the banquet area. It was tatami seating, so properly one should sit seiza 正座, but as a foreigner that is a bit difficult for long periods of time so… I did not, despite the awkwardness of sitting in kimono. The little pottery cup we received as a souvenir has a design for the New Year… the year of the dog! This made me very happy as coming new year, the year of the dog 戌年 (inudoshi) is my zodiac year. The meal was beautifully and carefully prepared, as well as quite filling. I cannot remember everything in it, but the only meat was the chicken (which I did not eat); there was of course fish/seafood, which I ate on this occasion (though admittedly I am not a huge fan of fish in general).

Anyway, next was the last tea ceremony held in one of the more formal tea ceremony rooms. It was beautifully decorated. Again, this time we sat seiza for the whole time and admittedly I need practice as my feet became a bit painful. But overall I enjoyed the entire thing.

After the last ceremony, we found ourselves going up to the small “museum” dedicated to Ultraman. It is only 2 small rooms, but very cute and interesting. When not used as an event space, Shoufuuen is also a restaurant… I definitely recommend trying it sometime for a nice kaiseki (traditional multi-course Japanese/Okinawan meal) experience!

Posted below are a few pictures from the event; I could add so many more, but tried to choose some of the better and more relevant ones. Hopefully everyone who spends time in Okinawa or Japan will take the opportunity to attend a chakai!

address: https://goo.gl/maps/8wKb1rhbLBx

sweets cafe O’CREPE

In Naha there is a very cute crepe shop called sweets cafe O’CREPE; I think the word “quaint” comes to mind. Actually, it is sort of Martha Stewart-countryside kind of adorable and quaint.

Anyway, it is off a quiet street, located on the second floor… you may even miss it if you aren’t looking for it. Despite the rather drab outside, once you step inside, it is just so cute.

The menu consists of both sweet and savory crepes, as well as cafe drinks. Overall, it is a bit pricey to be honest, but the setting and atmosphere more than made up for it. Anyway, I ordered a sweet crepe and a hot tea, the total was around 1100yen. There was some English on the menu, so ordering shouldn’t be difficult if you don’t speak Japanese.

address: https://goo.gl/maps/F9ce3b25gT82

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:  https://goo.gl/maps/Xp5uyuNX1pT2

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.


address: https://goo.gl/maps/d34HAGF2Tx82

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.



LOOK x Sanrio Cinnamoroll Chocolates

To be honest, I don’t actually like chocolate that much. But these chocolates were just too cute to pass up, plus they were coffee flavored (which I do love). So on an impulse, I purchased them from the conbini here in Okinawa. It was only about 120yen, so fairly cheap.

Sanrio’s Cinnamoroll character is featured on this special edition of LOOK chocolates, and the theme is “cafe.” There are 4 flavors in the box (and 3 of each, so a total of 12 small chocolates pieces). From left to right, the flavors are:

  • カプチーノ cappuccino
  • シナモンロール cinnamon roll
  • シフォンケーキ chiffon cake
  •  エスプレッソ espresso

Of the 4 flavors, I really only liked the 2 coffee ones; they were actually quite good for cheap chocolates. Cinnamon roll was… overpowering cinnamon to say the least, I was not a fan and I think this was the worst of the 4 for me. Chiffon cake was… kinda weird and vanilla-y; it was okay and maybe if you like that weird “birthday cake” flavor you might like this. When I read the ingredients, it said something about “dry crepe” in it so I suppose this is where that flavor comes from. The chiffon cake chocolate was so-so overall. After trying 1 of each of the 4 flavors, I was overloaded with sugary sweetness and saved the rest for later (or more likely, my husband).

Anyway, this is what I get for being suckered into cute packaging when I don’t even like chocolate candy that much. However for those who do like little chocolate candies, you may enjoy these. And they are adorable~~

Update: as matter of fact, I did give the rest to my husband. And he LOVED the cinnamon roll chocolate. So our tastes are pretty different some of the time. Who knows, maybe you too would like it if you like that burst of cinnamon-y flavor.


Mother Leaf Shave Ice

かき氷 kakigouri: shave ice. Or snow cone, for those of you from other places.

Anyway, rainy season has ended and summer time is upon us in Okinawa. Today was pretty darn hot, so I decided to make a short trip to the central portion of the island north of where I live. My main goal was to try a different shave ice shop: Mother Leaf.

Mother Leaf is pretty popular, so this is not necessarily a “hidden gem” (it even has English on the menu). But it is tasty and so refreshing on days like today. Apparently several other people had the same idea as me. Even though I say it was busy, there was a decent amount of parking and the line goes pretty quick; also the inside had plenty of seating. I had no issues on a hot Sunday afternoon, so I can recommend stopping by even at the busiest of time since this shop can clearly handle it.

I ordered the shirokuma-mango 白くまマンゴー at a whopping 650 yen; everything else was actually much cheaper and reasonably priced, but I really wanted the mango. It is a mango and condensed milk kakigouri. Anyway, it was really huge and quite good, but next time I would stick with a cheaper item.

address: https://goo.gl/maps/oEP4fsPS4gD2

Ramen Chocolate Bar: Ikeman Thunder イケ麺サンダー

イケメン ikemen: “cool guy”

麺 men: noodle

イケ麺 ikemen: a play on words of “cool guy” and noodles.

ブラックサンダー burakku sandaa: Black Thunder, a popular (and cheap) chocolate bar in Japan

So who doesn’t love ramen and chocolate? Well, actually I am not a huge fan of chocolate, and do not eat a lot of ramen since it is typically meaty. But I digress.

I couldn’t help but feel a little curious when I saw these candy bars sitting in the conbini. It was cheap, only 40 yen.

Snack ramen スナック麺 is a popular crunchy treat (well maybe among students)… basically just dried and seasoned ramen noodles. So a popular candy bar, Black Thunder, created a new treat “Ikemen Thunder” イケ麺サンダー. It has a cheesy looking “ikemen/cool guy” on it, and is similar to regular Black Thunder with the addition of snack noodles inside instead of cookie.

Well… it’s kinda good. It is sort of salty combined with sweet. Though after just the one I felt a little sickly sweet. I enjoyed the crunch of the noodles, though there was kind of a weird “ramen soup flavoring” aftertaste that lingered. By the way, not actually suitable for vegetarians due to the snack ramen being flavored with chicken and pork extracts. To be honest, I tend to ignore many of these things otherwise I would never get to try new things.

In Okinawa, this ikemen thunder candy bar is only available at FamilyMart. There are 3 different packages with “cool guys” on them (all the same inside).

Taimo (taro) Pie: 田いもパイ

田芋 or 田いも taimo: type of taro

パイ pai: “pie” in romaji

In Nakagusuku village there is a small shop called Nakatomi Kashi-ten なかとみ菓子店  (Nakatomi sweets shop) that specializes in taimo pie. You can often find them selling their small fried pies at food events on the island or visit their shop.

The shop is on a small road off of Rt. 29 in Nakagusuku; at the turn their are purplish colored flags with the words 田いもパイ on them. Following the small signs down the road you will end up at their small shop where you can purchase the pies. Sometimes they have some seasonal sweets as well, but mostly it is just the taimo pies which are 100yen each.

The pies have a crispy fried outside and are stuffed with taimo filling. Very delicious. I recommend taking them home and reheating them, maybe adding a side of ice cream. This is one of the many unique sweets you can find in Okinawa!

address: https://goo.gl/maps/yUiSWqSwQqB2

Interested in more unique Okinawa Sweets? Check out these previous posts:

Kunpen: くんぺん

Chinsukou: ちんすこう

More on Ryukyu Sweets

Machikaji: まちかじ (松風)

Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬

Okinawa Sweets: 沖縄のお菓子

Famous “No” Manjuu in Shuri: のー饅頭

Fuchagi: フチャギ (more Okinawa mochi!)

Okinawa mochi, pt.3: Nantou ナントゥー餅

Sangwachi gwashi: 三月菓子

Muuchii: ムーチー

Okinawa Zenzai: 沖縄ぜんざい

Kunpen: くんぺん

くんぺん kunpen (in hiragana) is also sometimes seen as クンペン in katakana or as コンペン konpen. The representative kanji (which you probably will rarely see is 薫餅). It is another type of Okinawa sweet, one of the representative sweets from the Ryukyu Kingdom era (more Ryukyu sweets). It was often served to visiting Chinese envoys or during feast days. It is also a popular grave or shrine offering during Shiimii シーミー.

Kunpen looks plain and rustic on the outside, just a round little brown bun, but inside is full of an island peanut taste! I think this is a food that westerners can appreciate, since it kind of reminds me of peanut butter. The outside bun is a little dry and the peanut paste is sweet and rich so make sure to have some tea to drink while you eat this tasty treat. Personally I would recommend an unsweetened drink as you will get plenty of sweetness in the kunpen itself. Many bukubuku-cha cafes will serve a small piece of kunpen with the tea set.

You can find kunpen in supermarkets and some Okinawa sweets shops; it is very easy to find if you are interested in trying one. I bought the one in the picture from Zaha Kashiten in Shuri 座波菓子店. Some kunpen have sesame added in (or even other flavors as well), but this one does not– I think I prefer it that way.

Taiyaki & Dorayaki: たい焼き&どら焼き

If you have read any previous posts, you are probably aware of my love (obsession?) with Japanese-style sweets. So this will be yet another entry dedicated to the wonderful world of Japanese sweets.

Today is about taiyaki たい焼き and dorayaki どら焼き. Neither of these are especially popular in Okinawa, and are probably a little more common on the mainland, however there are some places in Okinawa to find these tasty treats.

Taiyaki is a fish-shaped pastry with a filling inside, usually sweet bean paste (an). There is the traditional type, with many different filling choices, at a small stall in the basement food (depachika デパ地下) floor of Ryubo department store in Naha (also known as Palette Kumoji). My favorite is probably the kinako きな粉 (toasted soy bean); it is creamy kind of like peanut butter inside. There is also a new fad of “croissant taiyaki,” (クロワッサンたい焼) which is a flaky twist on the traditional favorite. This is actually easier to find in Okinawa since it is sold by the chain takoyaki store, Gindaco 銀だこ. I prefer the traditional style, but the croissant taiyaki is okay, too. Whenever the Kyoto products fair comes through the stores, there is almost always the Le Mans booth which sells many flavors of this croissant-style taiyaki– I like this better than the Gindaco ones, personally.

**Recently, I have had an incredibly delicious taiyaki at Amane 天音 near Kichijoji station in Tokyo! I 100% recommend stopping by and trying it if you are ever in that area!


Dorayaki is like 2 little tasty pancakes with a filling between them, again, usually sweet bean paste. But they are not quite pancakes or hotcakes… they usually have more pockets of air creating a nice fluffy texture, and the batter is usually sweetened with honey. These are ALL over, you can even find these in the convenience stores (like Lawson)! Some are even “Okinawa-style” since they use Okinawan kokutou 黒糖 (brown sugar). I will have to think about where my favorites are located… probably just the small booth that sets up outside the local grocery store once a month since there are always so fresh!

You can also find some small dorayaki at a specialty shop that also sells ohagi: here.

Culture note: Some people say how you eat taiyaki tells about your personality:

The person who eats the head first is an optimist.

The person who eats the tail first is a romantic and detail-oriented.

The person who eats the fin first is sensitive.

The person who eats by tearing it in half is a man of action.

A majority of people seem to eat the head first, but funny enough I usually eat the tail first.

Bakery Lulu

Yes, yet another post about a bakery here in Okinawa.

This time it is about Bakery Lulu in Nakagusuku. They are a fairly recent bakery, but they have some really good stuff. This pan-ya is really close to Nakagusuku Minami Farmers Market.

Today they had hanami dango pan 花見団子パン– flower-viewing “dango” bread. It was a stick with three types of small buns with bean paste fillings to resemble the 3-colored hanami dango! So cute, and so delicious. The pink was, of course, sakura bean paste, the middle was I think sweet potato bean paste (honestly in this context I could not tell for sure), and the last was a sweet green bean paste.

I have had many good things from this bakery, and I feel like some of their items are unique, so if you are near Nakagusuku, check them out!

address: https://goo.gl/maps/be3RKsHB76t

Jacaranda Blue: Gourmet Chocolatier in Okinawa

One day I set out to look for some fancy chocolates for my husband. I saw about this small chocolate shop located in Ginowan, so I set off on the hunt.

It was surprisingly close to the university, just off a back neighborhood. I went up the narrow alley roads, uncertain that this was the right way, when all of a sudden there it was, modest and barely visible in the shadow on the first floor of a building: Jacaranda Blue.

As soon as I stepped inside, it was bright and cheerful with many chocolate displays. The chocolatiers are professional crafters, and the quality was exquisite, like something you would see in a western chocolate shop. They studied abroad and brought their skills back home to this small, quiet neighborhood in Okinawa. The chocolates take 2 or 3 days to make into perfection.

What drew my attention was the fact that they incorporated local ingredients into the chocolates, which they call “uchinaa chocolate.” They have 9 types of bon-bon chocolates: turmeric (ukon in Japanese, ucchin in Okinawan), mugwort (yomogi in Japanese, fuchiba in Okinawan), miso from Miyako, sea salt (shima masu), island chili pepper (shima tougarashi), orange (tankan), peanuts (jimami), brown cane sugar (kokutou), and island peppercorn (pipaachi). Each chocolate is a different scent and taste of Okinawa!

The price was not cheap, but my husband was very delighted when I came home with these! He was very impressed with the shine on it and commented on how professional the tempering was (he knows wayyyy more about chocolate than I do). So for a special occasion, these chocolates are worth it, you will not be disappointed.

address: 沖縄県宜野湾市長田1-8-7

Girls’ Day, Hinamatsuri: 雛祭り

ひな祭り(or 雛祭り) hina-matsuri is translated to Girls’ Day or Doll Festival.

Hinamatsuri is on March 3rd. In Okinawa, there is a special tradition on hinamatsuri of the lunar calendar, but that will be for a different post: 浜下りhamauri.

Traditional treats and not-so-traditional treats are being sold in stores. Community centers (and maybe some homes in Okinawa) have hina doll displays. Everyone prays for the good health of girls. These doll displays are rather costly and not actually traditional in Okinawa (just mainland Japan), so not very many people here have them. But any community center, library, or department store will have a nice display to check out.

Sakura mochi 桜餅 and hishimochi 菱餅 are 2 traditional wagashi for hinamatsuri. Sakura mochi is a pink mochi wrapped in a sakura (cherry blossom leaf). Hishimochi is a 3-layered ricecake, pink, white, and green, in a diamond shape. These days, you may see other wagashi designed especially for the day, as well as cakes and western-style desserts, with cute pink designs.

Another common snack you will see is hina-arare ひなあられ, (usually pink) rice crackers.

Hina-arare. With Hello Kitty theme of course.

Tohato caramel corn puff snacks with hinamatsuri doll theme. Left is momo (peach) flavor, right is regular flavor.

In Hawaii, Girls’ day is somewhat observed although on a much smaller scale than Japan.

Be sure to look for all these treats the next time you are in the store in Okinawa around late February and early March!

Kinako, roasted soybean powder: きな粉

きな粉 kinako is one of my favorite flavors. It is roasted soybean powder, so it has a sort of nutty flavor to it. Several treats come in kinako flavors, either as the powder or turned into a paste or cream.

One of my favorites is the taiyaki たい焼き (warm fish-shaped pastry) stall in the basement level of the Ryubo department store in Naha; they sell a kinako cream taiyaki.

picture of taiyaki

There are also these containers of tasty kinako-covered (dried) soy beans (大豆 daizu) sold at SanA grocery store for ~100yen. They are soooo addicting. And not healthy.

While in Hokkaido I got some kinako-flavored chocolate covered beans… insanely delicious as well.

There is also a type of wagashi called warabi mochi, which is like an soft braken starch confection topped with kinako (bottom right of the dish shown in the photo below).

warabi mochi and matcha tea set in Kyoto

You can buy kinako (powder) and even kinako cream in pretty much every grocery store in Okinawa. Kinako treats are also fairly common to see around most stores; Kitkat just released a new spring flavor of sakura+kinako kitkats.

Aim for Success! Exam Students Choco & Snacks: めざせ合格

Around this time in stores you will see a variety of snacks and chocolates with cute ema boards 絵馬 (the message boards like you see in a shrine or temple) or omamori お守り (good luck amulets) and places to write messages on them. Why is this? What does it mean? Well, this is for people to write messages of encouragement to exam students! School exams to get into high school and college are notoriously difficult in Japan, and students will go to cram schools, spending many hours studying. What better when you are tired and stressed from studying than snacks and messages from family or friends?

You may see phrases such as:

めざせ合格 mezase goukaku: Aim for success!

ガンバレ or がんばれ or 頑張れ ganbare: Do your best/Good luck

祈願 kigan: prayer

合格祈願 goukaku kigan: prayer for success

受験生 jukensei: test-taking student

試験 shiken: exam(s)

Especially popular are kitkats キットカット because it sounds like “you will surely win!” which has been a popular campaign for them in Japan. Many packages will also have sakura (cherry blossoms) decorating them as well; sakura bloom in April, when students will (passed their exams) be entering new institutions of learning, so it is sort of a symbol of hope and success.

Some packages will even be a little funny, with images of strength or someone studying hard. The picture below has Gari勉Zap, 勉 ben is the character for endeavor or to make a great effort (also seen in the word 勉強 benkyou meaning study); this candy bar playfully means to increase your study ability. I bought this for my friend working on her thesis back in the US. The bread I bought from my university conbini, it has the kanji 単位 “tan’i” for “credit” or “unit,” as in to pass semester exams and earn credits towards graduation. Students eat it to feel encouraged to study for end of the year exams and gain school credit towards graduation.

So if you know someone taking exams, why don’t you buy one of these snacks and write them an encouraging message?

This year I found these adorable daruma だるま designed baby-star ramen snacks (chicken flavor with sakura bits in them):


Hanabiramochi: 花びらもち

Hanabiramochi 花びらもち is a type of wagashi, specifically a type of namagashi (click here for more info on types of wagashi). It is eaten during the New Year, especially at the first tea ceremony of the year. The meaning of 花びら hanabira is “flower petals,” so it is flower petal mochi. How can anyone resist something called flower petal mochi?

I purchased this sweet little mochi while traveling in Kyushu right before the New Year. I have never tried hanabiramochi before now, but it looked delicate and pretty that it seemed like I must. The shop counter in the department store I purchased from was full of various Japanese sweets to complement the New Year, and honestly I wanted all of them, but settled for just the hanabiramochi.

So what is inside? The white colored mochi outside is flat and round then folded in half, The pink color shows through in the center then fades to white at the edges. There is a piece of long, thin, sweetened gobou ごぼう (burdock root) in the middle which sticks out both sides of the mochi. The sweet bean filling is made from the pale mung beans (the pink is usually just food coloring). 

Overall? Pretty good, but I admit the gobou is a bit strange in there.



Boulangerie a Tete: ブーランジェリー・ア・テット

In Okinawa, there are so many パン屋 pan-ya (bakeries)… and I have found another nice one, this time located in Urasoe called Boulangerie a tete.

The reason why I mention this one is the coconut tart. So good. Flakey tart, baked coconut custard filling, topped with extra coconut. I got a few things to sample, but this was definitely number one.

They had a few of the standards for a Japanese bakery, but some more unique items to the shop. They also labelled many things as to what country of origin the recipe was from (so there was a mix of German, French, Italian). Also another bonus for many people is that one of the bakers spoke English, and even offered assistance right away as everything was labelled in Japanese. While not an issue for me, I can see that this would be very useful for many people.

There are 2 parking spaces on the side of the store in a large parking area.

address: 沖縄県浦添市伊祖2-30-11


Miso chiffon cake, Yume Koubou: 菊みそ加工所夢工房

Today was full of adventure. One reason was Kiku Miso Dream Factory 菊みそ夢工房 in Yaese. This place makes homemade miso… and chiffon cakes!

I read about this place on a Japanese-Okinawa news site. It talked about tasty fluffy chiffon cakes, and the number one seller was made with miso. Well, who can pass that up?! Not me! So I made plan to explore some places nearby and drag my husband there (and it worked!). After a nice veggie lunch, we made it to Kiku Miso Yume Koubou. It was in a pretty quiet area, nice rural surroundings. Inside was clean and cute. There were many types of chiffon cakes (whole and sliced), but my objective was miso flavor. My husband chose coffee flavor. They also sold homemade miso (among some other products) for a very reasonable price, and since we were almost out at home, we decided to pick some up as well.

Anyway, we went to a nearby park and devoured our cakes with some tea. So fluffy and delicious! Seriously, so fluffy! Success.

address: 菊みそ加工所夢工房

254 Tōme, Yaese-chō, Shimajiri-gun, Okinawa-ken 901-0414


Okinawa Sweets: 沖縄のお菓子

沖縄 is Okinawa, and お菓子 okashi means “sweets.”

I have posted many times on sweets found in Okinawa and Japan, but this is an interesting little paper I picked up at the COOP grocery store (the one with the apple logo, not the JA’s ACoop) that described a few of the most popular and easy to make at home. I will try to adjust these recipes with more “accurate” measurements and add some personal pictures, since knowing the “right proportion of water and mochi flour to make mochi cake” is not necessarily well-known to most English speakers, as well as the fact that most people do not have easy access to the pre-mixed ingredients you can buy in local grocery stores.


First up, we have sata andagi サーターアンダギー. These are like fried donuts. Sata andagi were used for celebrations like weddings and babies being born.

6-8 eggs (in Okinawa, eggs are a bit smaller than American versions, so 6 medium-large or 8 small-medium eggs)
brown sugar, 700 grams
flour, 1 kg
baking soda, 15 grams
vinegar, 2 tbsp
oil for frying

Mix eggs and sugar, than mix in flour, baking soda, and vinegar. Making spoonfuls of dough, drop into frying oil (deep fry) at 150-160 C, rotating until golden brown.

Next up is chinpin チンピン and popo ポーポー. These are very similar; they are fried crepe-like pancakes using flour and eggs, rolled up. These were traditionally made on the 5th month 4th day of the lunar year, a day known as yukkanuhi ユッカヌヒー (to pray for good luck in fishing and maritime activities, a celebration day with traditional haarii boat races), and the 5th day, known as gungwachigunichi グングヮチグニチ (this day is known as Boy’s Day, or Children’s Day, in the Japanese calendar). On Henza-jima, popo is also traditional on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month.

80 g brown sugar
100 g flour
1 c of water (some people will also replace part of the regular water with carbonated water to increase the number of bubbles in the pancake!)
1/2 tsp baking powder
small amount of veg oil for frying
small amount of andansu (Okinawa pork miso)

Make a thin pancake with flour and water, grilled in a fry pan with a bit of oil. Add a bit of andansu (Okinawa miso) to the middle and roll up. Traditionally, the sugar would be omitted from the pancake and added to the andansu filling instead, so that the pancake would be white. Some people would even just add white sugar to the pancake batter instead of brown sugar to the pancake to keep it white. These days, as tastes have changed, I notice most people add sugar to the pancakes which tend to give them a brown appearance similar to chinpin. Also, depending on your tastes, you could use milk instead of water in the batter. One place I bought popo actually replaced the andansu completely with a brown sugar mochi instead; so, anyway to each their own.

Chinpin: mix flour, brown sugar, egg whites, and water (again, often carbonated water in hopes for more bubbles in the pancake). Make a thin pancake and grill in fry pan, you should see many small bubbly holes on the surface. Roll up and serve. No filling in this one! *Note: many people refer to chinpin as brown sugar popo 黒糖ぽーぽー, and sometimes even just popo. Technically they are different, but it seems many people do not distinguish between the two.

Also, for those of you living in Okinawa, it is quite easy to find “chinpin” mix  in the local grocery stores as well.

Agarasaa アガラサー (also romanized as “agarasa”) is a steamed sponge cake, similar to castella. This was also made for special occasions. It has a mochi-mochi texture (chewy) and is very enjoyable. Many grocery stores will sell the mix for this, so all you need to do is add water and using a steamer basket, add batter into small aluminum tins and steam over high for ~10 minutes. (I will post a “from scratch” recipe later). Traditionally it is made with brown sugar, though you will see other “flavors,” and it would probably be steamed in sannin サンニン/月桃 (shell ginger leaves). Most people at home do not bother with the sannin leaves these days, and likely most grocery stores selling these prepackaged do not either.

Kuzu muchi クズムチ, also called kuji muchi クジムチ, is a type of mochi made with a sweet potato starch (imokuzu):

芋くず imokuzu, 1.5 cups
water, 6 cups
sugar, 200 grams

Mix imokuzu with 3 cups of water, and dissolve sugar in remaining 3 cups of water; mix together. Heat mixture for 3 minutes on 600 watts in microwave range and remix, 5-6 times. Pour into containers, sprinkle with kinako and let chill until gelled/solidified (it won’t get firm per se, but should hold together).

Last is fuchagi フチャギ, which I wrote about in another post. The recipe is very simple, mix 1 1/4 cups of water and 300 g of mochiko (mochi flour), form into rectangular shapes, steam for 15 minutes, and cover immediately with softened/boiled azuki beans.

Interested in more Okinawa sweets? Check out these posts on sweets that are special to Okinawa:

Muuchii: ムーチー (part 1)

Muuchii ムーチー: Folklore and Recipe (part 2)

Okinawa mochi, pt.3: Nantou ナントゥー餅

Machikaji: まちかじ (松風)

Kippan: きっぱん (橘餅)

Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬

Sangwachi gwashi: 三月菓子

Kunpen: くんぺん

Chiirunkou: ちいるんこう (鶏卵糕)

Ryukyu Traditional Sweets

Okinawa Zenzai: 沖縄ぜんざい

Miyabi Chaya Nakamoto: みやび茶屋仲元

茶屋 chaya: tea house

Miyabi Teahouse Nakamoto みやび茶屋仲元 is a small tea house located in Okinawa city, off a back alley from Rt. 330 past the Rycom mall. You might not realize it exists, unless you recognize the hiragana for dorayaki どらやき on a purple flag in the alley and then think to follow it down an even more narrow alley to a parking lot leading to what appears to be an unmarked house except for the Okinawa City Omotenashi (おもてなし “hospitality”) flag outside the door.

Anyhow, it is a teahouse, leave your shoes at the door and enter the tatami room; during lunch they have some light meals, and during tea time you can order tea, coffee, ohagi, dorayaki, hot zenzai, and Okinawa ice zenzai. My quest in coming here was mainly to try the ohagi おはぎ.

Ohagi is named for the autumn flower, hagi (bush clover). In spring, this same dessert is called botamochi ぼたもち which is named after the spring flower, botan (peony). It is most commonly eaten during the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes.

Ohagi is sweet mochi rice with an azuki bean paste around the outside, although there are variations. This place had kinako (roasted soy flour) outside with anko (red azuki bean paste) inside, sesame outside with anko inside, as well as the typical anko outside and anko inside kinds. My husband and I ordered an ohagi set and a dorayaki set to share between us, so we ended up with 1 of each type, plus 2 dorayaki, and 2 matchas. What a nice experience. The owners were surprised to see Americans (at least by themselves and not accompanied by Japanese), and asked us how we found out about it and where we were from, etc. I explained about the Okinawa cafe book I purchased awhile back from the bookstore. The menu is in Japanese, but it seemed like the wife spoke some English, so I would not worry about trying this place out if you have trouble with Japanese language.



open 11-6 Wed-Sat (closed Sun, Mon, and Tues)


Mizu manjuu: 水まんじゅう

水まんじゅう mizu manjuu literally translates to “water dumpling.” Sometimes they are also called “kuzu manjuu” くずまんじゅう.

Mizu manjuu are a popular summer time treat because they are served chilled. The outside is made from kuzu starch (arrowroot 葛) which gives it the translucent effect. The inside filling which you can see through the outer layer is either azuki paste or a fruit-jelly paste with white bean. The taste is so refreshing, perfect to balance the hot summer days. And the outer appearance is so cute and delicate.

The ones in my first picture are matcha 抹茶 and raspberry ラズベリー. The second picture is shikwasa シークワーサー flavor. The third picture is a really creamy and tangy sour cream flavor, no bean paste used.

In Okinawa, you can find these at Shirobara confectionary (白バラ洋菓子) which has a few locations throughout Okinawan main island. Just copy and paste into Google Maps to find the closest to you. I have also seen a few at SanA grocery store during summer.