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 The maps online may be out of date!).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!

New Year’s Soba Noodle on Oahu

On New Year’s day or eve it is traditional to eat soba noodles for health and long life! Luckily if you live in Hawaii there are a few local choices.

From https://www.facebook.com/kyouhanannnohi.midori Please be their FaceBook Friend!

For 2022 we decided to head back to i-naba, after going there in 2020, and Shingen in 2021. I think i-naba is one of the most traditional soba shops on Oahu. The tempura might be a little better at Shingen, but the noodles are the star here.

Close up of i-naba noodles.
Close up of i-naba soba noodles, with veg tempura in the background.

Due to the extreme popularity around New Years, we went on Dec 30th. Arriving around 10:50, ten minutes before opening, there was a line of around 5 groups. Everyone got a seat, but by 11:30 there was a waiting list, and this isn’t even the official date to eat the noodles! We both got Zaru (cold) noodles. Chris ordered Tempura-A set, which came with 2 shrimp and some veggies.

tempura “A Set”

They didn’t have a specific set for just vegetables, but they did offer veggi tempura as an option, so Carolyn ordered the veg tempura and regular zaru soba.

The noodles are made in house and are delicious. The tempura and pickles are good as well. If you are looking for New Years soba on Oahu, this is one of the best choices. There are a few parking spots out front, or if full there is street parking.

They have several locations and offer online ordering for take out.

i-naba Japanese restaurant on Oahu.

A little more Ono a little less Okinawa

Sadly we had to move back to Hawaii from Okinawa in the summer of 2020. I mean it’s not too sad, it’s not like we had to move to somewhere like North Dakota. (We both consider anything less than about 20C/68F to be frigid and require heating. ) We still have a bunch of Okinawa sites to add! We could never add them to the site as fast as we could enjoy visiting them! But in order to keep current we will also add some Hawaii sites. Now Hawaii sites have tons of English info, so it’s more to give our spin.

Otto, the Faithful OnoWienerDog enjoys a new tropical island.

Wait you say as you do a little mental math, you moved to Hawaii in the summer of 2020, wasn’t there something going on then, like a pandemic that means you probably shouldn’t have traveled half way around the world by plane, car, and well just planes and cars. YES! you are correct. Unfortunately our employer didn’t agree, and refused our requests for extensions. We were as careful as we could be, and as of December all our COVID-19 tests have come back negative. We will be soon posting an article about traveling during the pandemic. It was scary, and interesting. We had to travel to California, drive over 7 days from LA to SF, then fly to Hawaii due to canceled flights, and lack of space for our dog.

We have also moved hosting of onookinawa to the west coast of the United States. About 2/3rds of our visitors are from the US, and about 1/3 from Asia (mostly Japan, with Hong Kong and Singapore in there a lot, I assume because of the large English speaking populations. ) Still with Amazon Web Services, so it overall should be a smidge faster for those in the US, and a smidge slower for those in Japan, but not that different overall. Please let us know if you see anything broken!

AmForward , shipping things from the US to Okinawa

So if you want things from America in Okinawa, you have a few choices. Since you are reading this in English, it’s overwhelmingly possible that you have a US based FPO or APO address, but since you’re here, you probably want something from Amazon, Target, Walmart, or another American based retailed that won’t ship to said address! This is annoying, but there is a solution!

The cheapest (probably) way is to order from Amazon Japan, which will ship to off-base addresses. If you live on base, don’t despair! You can ship to any connivence store (Family Mart, Lawson, or 7-11). For more info see our page on ordering from Amazon Japan.

If none of these work, there is still hope. A company we have used several times with good luck is “AmForward”. This is a place in Oregon (no sales tax!) that will let you have an American address, suitable for USPS, UPS, FedEx, and ‘other’ delivery. They will then package up your items and ship them via USPS to your FPO/APO address.

We have had three separate shipments with them. As we don’t use it a lot, we have paid by the shipment. It’s free to register and get your address to give to the despicable online retailer who won’t ship to APO/FPO. Then they charge the actual USPS rate plus about US$9 per shipment (on the pay per use plan). We’ve done it happily 3 times. It sucks to pay $9 plus postage to get something that probably had free shipping in America, but it’s often the only choice. For one fee they do consolidate, so if you have a few small things you can only pay one $9 fee plus postage.

If you don’t have an FPO/APO address, they will ship to your physical address in Japan as well. Obviously this will cost a bit more for international shipping, but if there is that one American thing you have to have it may be worth it! The set fee (~US$9) will be the same, but the postage will be higher.

Corona Virus (COVID-19) in Okinawa

Let us start by saying we are not medical professionals. We’ve just seen a lot of people have questions about what is going on with COVID-19 on Okinawa. Also please leave a comment down below and let us know how COVID-19 is affecting you!

The following has the official total for Okinawa updated in real time. The left most number in the chart is the total number of cases.

Sept 26th: *final update for a long time* It’s been a while again, although I think now the commercial sites are more than capable of keeping up with the news. There are still ~20ish cases a day, less than a few months ago, but still requiring caution. Please continue to be safe, don’t take risks you don’t need to and enjoy life!

July 27th: It’s been a while since an update, but it’s not good. There were 18 cases with the local population and zero cases today on base, but the on-base total is close to 200 so far. The base cases seem to be largely isolated to a few barracks, but still a large number! The high number of local cases seem to indicate that COVID is spreading within the population at large.

July 11th: The US bases don’t release figures, but the local newspaper is reporting that “several sources” have told them the number of cases is over 60, including a 38 person cluster on Futenma. In addition there were two new confirmed cases by the Okinawa gov’t for a total of 4 active among Japanese. https://ryukyushimpo.jp/news/entry-1154634.html

July 9th: Sadly there was one new case today, in addition to “several” cases on the US bases as reported by MCIPAC’s official Facebook page. Stay safe everyone!

June 27th: Congrats everyone we are getting near 2 months! Keep up the good work! Here at OnoOkinawa we have been able to get out, and even add some new content on the new Ijas Aeon mall and DMM Aquarium!

June 5th: Over a month with no new cases! The military is relaxing it’s restrictions as well. Everyone should keep on being careful, as air travel from the mainland is opening back up as well.

May 26th: No new cases for over 20 days! Way to go Okinawa! The Japanese gov’t has lifted all states of emergency, although everyone is asked to continue wearing a mask and practice social distancing. Domestic travel is open, so keep in mind that folks may be traveling here from the mainland where there are still some (but declining) cases. Be smart, stay safe!

May 12th: Zero new cases for 12 days in a row! The local gov’t is looking to reopen a lot of thing on the 15th or 20th, depending on the item. Please continue to wear face coverings, wash your hands, and keep 2 meters away!

April 29th: Today there were zero new cases! We can all hope that this continues thru and after golden week.

April 20th: Today the Okinawa gov’t declared a state of emergency. This is in addition to the nationwide state of emergency the federal gov’t issued a few days ago. The Governor hopes to reduce the rate of infection to 1/5th of what it is currently. He has asked stores to limit the number of people allowed inside and for everyone who can telework to do so. Here is a Japanese article: https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/562334

Stay safe my friends!

April 17th: Another grim milestone of over 100 infected, I’m not sure that these daily updates are still needed. I’m working on a few comprehensive pages, the bottom line is COVID-19 is in Okinawa, and it’s spreading in the community.

April 16th: 8 cases, one death.

April 15th: 10 today! Total is now 87, not including any who may be infected on US bases.

April 14th: 4 new cases today, and the Okinawa Governor has asked people to avoid eating in restaurants. Lot of non-traditional places have started takeout this past week, even some Izakayas! Article about the governor request: https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/560049

April 13th: There are 7 new cases today, including the first in the Yaeyama islands (Ishigaki) . 5 new cases on Okinawa Honto (main island)

April 12th: 9 new cases today
April 11th (2nd): 8 more cases today.

April 11th: We wanted to let you know that we just keep updating this page is it’s listed in several search engines and we want you to have the most up to date info on the first click. There are more cases today but as of 1500 Japan time they haven’t listed the number, this is quite common as they want to confirm details and then they have a press conference. The below graph was posted to day on OkinawaTimes website, which shows the cases/person graph of several prefectures in Japan. The top green line is Tokyo, which has climbed to almost 10 cases per 100k people. The bottom most red line is Okinawa, which has climbed quickly to a little over 2 cases per 100k people.

A graph of the COVID-19 cases per 100k people in Japan. The top Green line is Tokyo, which has the most at almost 10 cases per 100k. The bottom most Red line is Okinawa now growing to a little over 2 cases per 100k people.

Update 10 April: 7 new cases today.

Update 9 April: Only 3 new cases today bringing the total to 43. Or 2.6 cases per 100,000 people. compared to around 9.5/100k in Tokyo.

Update 8 April: 5 new cases today. If this was 5 days ago 5 cases would seem a mountain, but it’s less than half yesterday….so yay!? Keep strong Okinawa!

Update 7 April: Today there are 12 new cases in Okinawa, more than double the highest daily number of cases seen before. (article here: https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/557092 )

Update 6 April: Another 6 new cases today in Okinawa, unknown number on the bases. Internet rumors say the mid-teens but no official numbers means they are just that, rumors.

Update 4 April: Six (6)! new local cases today and an unknown number of new cases on base. https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/556065

Update 3 April: 2 new local cases, both men, one in their 20s and one in their 30s. The US Military is no longer reporting cases, but they have started to screen people at the gates, so I think you can assume “a few”.

Update 2 April: No new local cases, the US Military is no longer reporting numbers.

Update 31 March: No new local cases, a 3rd case confirmed on Kadena. In addition the US Military said it would no longer release numbers of cases…so I guess now an unknown but probably more than 3 on Kadena.

Update 28 March, Three new cases today. Yesterday (the 27th there were no new cases.) Todays are a woman in her 20s, and one in her 30s, bringing the total number in Okinawa to 9, 3 in early Feb and 6 since 21 March. There was an additional case confirmed on Kadena Air Base, the American had been in quarantine since arrival and should not have caused spread:

Japanese Article on the locals: https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/552746

Facebook on the American:

Update 26 March: Today another new case, a man in his 30s.


Update 25 March: Today there are no new cases, all of the tests came back negative, a little good news!

Update 24 March 2020: A sad pattern, another new case today, this time a 40 year old male. A little lack of detail right now, but he was staying in a hotel in Okinawa for a few days.

Update 23 March 2020: A 20 year old male, unrelated to the lady from Spain has tested positive in Okinawa. He was a hotel worker at the Orion Royal hotel in Naha just of Kokasai street. Japanese article here: https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/550506

An updated article with more info, he was a hotel worker in Naha. https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/550590

Update 21 March 2020: A young woman returning from Spain thru Narita to Okinawa has test positive on the island. It’s unclear how much interaction she may have had with the Okinawa population, she came thru Narita on the 20th and continued to Okinawa.The Japanese story is here: https://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/articles/-/549888

Update 20 March 2020: Still no new cases. Rumors on island are running rampant about cases on the US bases, but as of 4:24pm local time there is nothing official. The local stores continue to be stocked with everything except masks and hand sanitizer, the on base shops have seen some runs on supplies but are generally mostly stocked. Please only consider official sources when deciding on your plans!

Update 16 March 2020: There have continued to be no new cases in Okinawa since Feb 20th, On Monday March 16th the main malls, the aquarium, and some local schools have resumed normal schedules (This week was scheduled to be the start of the spring semester break, but some schools have resumed classes to make up for the last 2 weeks of COVID related closures) . Of course it just takes one case getting on the island to cause trouble again, so keep on washing your hands, avoiding handshakes, and using best sanitation practices!

As of today, 16 March 2020: There have been 3 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Okinawa; however, there have been no new cases identified in the last 24 days, over 200 tests have come back negative. 2 of the 3 cases were related to the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked in Okinawa before heading towards the mainland. The last positive test was Feb 20th, 2020. Two of the three cases were older taxi drivers. The third case was a farmer from Tomigusuku. So as of 16 March, it does not appear that any COVID-19 is spreading thru the community of locals or the American bases.

The Japanese gov’t has requested that all public events nationwide be curtailed thru March, so many American and local events are canceled to adhere to the central government’s wishes, although after the 21 day period since the last infection some events are restarting.

Toilet Paper: There was a report out of Osaka that TP would run short; however this was mistaken, Japan gets 98% of it’s TP domestically, and although I saw every baa-san in San-A buying TP on Sunday the 1st, as of Sunday the 8th (Edit:16 March, still in stock everywhere I’ve seen! ) the commissary, San-A, and Cainz were fully stocked with TP and facial tissues. Masks and hand sanitizer though seems sold out everywhere.

TP ready to ship from Awate prefecture on March 4th

Where can I go for information?

The latest and most authoritative information for Japan is directly from the Gov’t of Japan’s Health, Labour, and Welfare office (roughly similar to the American CDC in this case). Their site shows number of cases, and has a link to cases by prefecture on a map. Their English information is here:

Gov’t of Japan Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare COVID-19 English Page

Of course the American Center for Disease Control is also an authoritative source of general best practices and the status of the outbreak.

America’s CDC COVID-19 Page

Okinawa media sites are also sometimes useful, but they are only in Japanese. Be aware that Google translate can sometimes mix words up.

The Okinawa Times has a page dedicated to Corona Virus: Okinawa Times COVID-19 page

The two main local newspapers are Okinawa Times and The Ryukyu Shimpo. They will both have current stories of COVID-19 in Okinawa.

As I’m sure you’re all aware things are in flux daily. So stay safe, wash your hands, and be good to your neighbors. Leave a comment below and let us know how you are doing!

The Cheese Guy

The Cheese Guy in Okinawa is John Davis, he is a UK native who makes all fresh cheese right here in Okinawa. It’s not cheap, but it is the best cheese you can get without hopping on a flight to France!

A Cheese plate at Wolfbrau
Cheese plate and sausages with sauerkraut at Wolfbrau

You can often find John at Food Fleas and other food festivals. His cheese is served in many fine places around Okinawa. If you are looking for awesome European style cheese in Okinawa, The Cheese guy is the place to go!

Cheese Guy Website

Google Maps link to their shop

Coffee: Saving some ¥en (and the Earth, too) in Okinawa

It has been awhile since I have made any updates (I keep meaning to) and I have visited dozens of new cafes and tried new local foods. But I will save those for a little later. Recently it was brought to my attention that some people were unaware of some little yen-saving (and eco-conscious) tricks for coffee lovers here in Okinawa. Hopefully you have read about “eco-bag” or “my bag” that I wrote about earlier in the Food Shopping in Japan. Now to talk takeout coffee.

Some people already know that Starbucks will give you a small discount (20yen? 30yen?) for using your own  tumbler. But did you know places like Lawson and Tully’s do, too?

At Lawson, bring your own tumbler and they give you a 10yen discount… they should automatically ring it up, it has it’s own barcode. So while 10yen might not be that much, it does add up. Plus you are reducing single-use plastics and cups. Unfortunately, their competitor FamilyMart does not offer a discount however you can still use your own tumbler! 7-11 is arriving soon to Okinawa, and hopefully they will start offering a discount (as of right now I do not think they offer any discount on the mainland).

Tully’s offers a 30yen discount when you bring in your own tumbler for takeout coffee. There are a few Tully’s locations in Okinawa, mostly in the Naha area.

Segafredo is a coffee chain, however there is only 1 in Okinawa; it is located in Yomitan  area. They offer a 20yen discount for bringing your own tumbler.

And lastly Cafe de Crie (another chain, only 1 in Okinawa so far located in Naha) offers a 20yen discount for using your own tumbler.

So, there you have it! Save money and the environment, too. Let’s try to keep Okinawa’s beaches clean and beautiful, free of single-use plastics and other debris.

If you visit the mainland of Japan, there are many more places that offer discounts for “my tumbler” use, so be sure to check for them.

By the way, the stainless steel tumbler in my photo is from MUJI 無印良品 and comes in 2 sizes, 300mL and 450mL (I have 450 mL) for a fairly reasonable price (range of 1500yen).

マイタンブラー  mai tanburaa  “my tumbler”  (alternatively 自分のタンブラー jibun no tanburaa, also meaning “my tumbler” but the English-borrowed version is just as acceptable, if not moreso!)

マイボトル mai botoru   “my bottle”

マイマッグ mai maggu  “my mug”  (see a pattern?)

Normally I keep it as simple as possible by saying “マイタンブラーOK?” Sure, this is not sophisticated speech, but why make things more difficult for yourself.

You can also use something like:

このタンブラー使えますか? kono tanburaa tsukaemasu ka?  Could you use this tumbler?

このタンブラーにお願いします  kono tanburaa ni onegaishimasu.  Please put it in this tumbler.

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.

link:  https://beauty.hotpepper.jp/

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.




Kotatsu こたつ: Heated table

こたつ kotatsu: a low table with an electric heater and a futon 布団 (blanket, cover)

For most people, winter (fuyu 冬) in Okinawa is mild. For me and my puppy, it is harsh and cold. So the first winter on island, I bought a kotatsu. It is really economical (keeps down whole house heating costs) and is really comfortable. Some mornings I never want to leave it; I just want to stay and drink my coffee under the warmth.

I purchased it at Nitori ニトリ (a cheap chain home goods store) for a really low price, as well as a set of matching futon, pillow, and floor mat. During warmer months, the futon blanket and heater is removed, leaving just regular table. I have a different cover for the floor mat during spring through fall that I use.

My little dog also loves snuggling under it with me. Maybe for people tolerant of cold weather, this type of thing is not needed in Okinawa, but for this island girl it is a necessity.

Ordering from Amazon Japan

While here in Okinawa( or anywhere in Japan for that matter), it is often convenient to order things online from Amazon, but using the US site is not so convenient (long time to ship, high shipping fees or not shipping overseas at all). So the answer is Amazon.co.jp.

You need to make a new account as your overseas Amazon account will not work (you cannot just switch countries). No problem. Some things will be in Japanese, but a lot of the shopping screens and menus can be shown in English (switch the language setting in the account to English, shown in the video), so it is actually quite easy! Below is video that shows how to set up an account and order your first item (pickup instructions for Family Mart below!) 

Setting up your Amazon.co.jp Account with an American Credit Card

For delivery options, you can have it sent to your address in Japan (sometimes you can even set the delivery date/time ahead, otherwise if they deliver when you aren’t at home, they leave a slip with a QR code, you will then need to scan QR code on the slip for re-delivery. You can then pick the day (including the same day! and a 2 hour window for delivery), but it is also possible from the start to have it sent to the nearest convenience store (such as Lawson or FamilyMart). This is the best option if you live on base or otherwise don’t have a regular Japanese address. Even if you have a Japanese address for delivery, sending it to the convince store means you don’t have to be home to sign (In Japan you almost always have to sign or stamp, rarely (like 15% of the time) the will leave a package)  You can not only pick up at the conbini, but you can also pay for it there if you don’t have a credit card or otherwise run into trouble verifying it. Talk about convenience. When your package arrives you will get an email with some codes to put into the kiosk at the store. The email will have a link to instructions, including screen shots of the kiosk so it’s not so hard to do. In the worst case, print out your email (or bring your phone)  and show it to the clerk, they will help you on the machine. Don’t feel too bad, I’ve seen many Japanese people get assistance from the clerks as well!

Picking up your Amazon.co.jp package from a Family Mart

As for payments, foreign credit cards are accepted (for everything except for Digital music). Video, regular items, books, and everything else except for Digital music can use foreign card! Otherwise, you can also utilize cash on delivery (to your house or at the convenience store). Yes, this works in Japan, I have done this before. It sort of amazes me. The drivers even carry change if you have it sent to your house or apartment. There is generally a small COD fee, around ¥1-200 per order.

As a student, I qualify for Student Prime membership, and it is only ¥1900 per year. There is also regular Prime membership for only ¥3900 per year, unlike the US which is ~10$ a month. You can access Prime video, Prime shipping, and special deals. The Amazon “brand” videos are worldwide, so you’ll be able to watch things like “The Expanse”; however, many videos are still region locked. To use Prime Music though you must have a Japanese credit card . So keep this in mind, as this is the only frustrating thing for me.

Amazon Video has many movies and TV shows in English (with Japanese subtitles). If your Japanese is good enough, you can watch the regular Japanese movies and TV as well (but then again, you probably are not reading this if your Japanese is so great). It has just about everything the US Amazon Video has, plus some. Titles in foreign languages generally only have the option to subtitle in Japanese not English, so you may miss out on some things. But (As of 2018) it does have all of the old season of X-Files, so that’s pretty awesome.

Oh, and I should mention… you earn points that turn directly into cash discounts when you order from Amazon.jp. Often you can get bonus points, just for signing up or certain items will have extra points attached. Really, it is a pretty great service, and when I realized how cheap the Student Prime membership was through Japan, it has definitely been worth it. I have purchased books, a camera, kimono accessories, and even liquor from Amazon.jp… often times it is cheaper and there is more variety than buying from the department stores.

Update Late 2020: Please leave a comment with questions or let us know how these instructions work! Our goal is to help out folks in Okinawa and Japan, so we are happy to make notes and change the video if someone has some trouble!

Dango: 団子

Dango 団子 can actually be used to describe a few different things, though typically it means the 3-5 rice cakes on a stick (串 kushi =skewer). Sometimes the the rice cake is flavored, sometimes there is a topping on them. Here are a few you might encounter:

Hanami dango 花見団子: flower-viewing dango, pink/white/green. Probably the quintessential dango and what most foreigners think of when they think of dango. It is called hanami because it was traditionally made in the sakura flower viewing season, but these days it is common year-round. The dango itself is usually not flavored (just food coloring), but sometimes you might get a some sakura essence in the pink or matcha in the green depending on the maker.

Mitarashi dango みたらし団子: plain dango with sweet shoyu sauce on top.

Kinako dango きな粉団子: dango with kinako (roasted soy bean powder) on top.

Goma dango ごま団子: dango with ground black sesame on top.

Anko dango あんこ団子: dango with red paste on top (can be plain or flavored dango).

Age dango 揚げ団子: fried dango… what’s not to like? Be careful those, these are a bit heavy on your stomach, so you can only eat a few.

Bocchan dango 坊ちゃん団子: the flavors of this famous 3-colored dango in Matsuyama are red beans, egg, and matcha… I took a trip to Matsuyama this past year and enjoyed myself enormously, consuming many of these (one of the places I ate Bocchan dango was at the Dogo Onsen). A new dango, called Madonna dango マドンナ団子 has been created… the flavors are actually really western! It is strawberry, vanilla and cafe ole; very girlish and actually really good. I think most westerners would absolutely love this combination of flavors. I only brought back a few as souvenirs and did not actually try any Madonna dango while I was there, so when I realized how good they were I was disappointed I did not buy more!

Meatballs are often called niku dango 肉団子 (meat dango).

Basically, anything round served on a stick qualifies as dango.


花より団子 hana yori dango is a popular saying. It translates to “dango (rice cakes) over flowers,” which means to prefer the substantial to the esthetic. It is also the name of a popular manga 漫画 that is a pun on this saying: 花より男子 Hana yori dango. Normally it would be “danshi” but the last kanji can also be pronounced “ko” or “go.” So the title translates to boys over flowers.

I will update this post with some better pictures (hopefully soon).

Types of Wagashi: 和菓子

A short introduction to “wagashi,” meaning Japanese sweets. There are many types, so let me review a few of the common ones. This focuses on Japanese sweets not Okinawan sweets, though it is possible to find most of these in Okinawa. Many of these are the perfect accompaniments to tea, especially matcha 抹茶. I will try to make posts about each of these individually at some point, but for now here is a brief description of each.


Nama-gashi 生菓子: these are fresh, delicate sweets, only lasting 1-2 days. The fillings, shapes and designs vary by the seasons and regions. If you click on the link, you can find out a little bit more about them in my previous blog post, and some places to find them.

ice cream daifuku

My stuffing my face with ichigo daifuku

daifuku 大福soft mochi wrapped around sweet bean paste or other fillings, covered with a light dusting of starch to keep them from sticking together. A popular type of daifuku type is strawberry (ichigo 苺). You can even find ice cream filled daifuku in the freezer of most conbini.

dorayaki filled w/matcha cream

dorayaki (top), ohagi w/sesame (bottom)

dorayaki どら焼き: 2 light, sweet “pancakes” typically with red bean paste in between. Do not mix these up with hotcakes ホットケーキ which are western and serve with syrup.

ohagi おはぎ: cooked glutinous rice with red bean paste (or sometimes other toppings such as sesame or kinako) on the outside. Typically served during Autumn. The Spring version is called botamochi.


dango 団子or だんご: small pieces of steamed mochi dumplings, often served on a stick. Hanami dango 花見団子 is a very popular type, with color of pink, white, and green. Sometimes served with toppings such as mitarashi dango (sweet shoyu), goma (black sesame seed), anko (red bean paste), etc.


manjuu 饅頭 or まんじゅうsmall “buns” that are either steamed or baked, filled with sweet bean paste or other sweet filling. Manjuu encompasses many different types of buns, so you will see a lot of variation. The one above is a stuffed pastry manjuu from an onsen town.


taiyaki たい焼き: fish-shaped pancake-like pastry with filling, traditionally red bean, but many flavors can be found such as custard, kinako, chocolate, and more.


youkan 羊羹: sort of sweet, firm, jelly-like confection made from sugar and agar (kanten かんてん). Travels well, so it is often a popular omiyage.

monaka 最中 or もなか: a wafer shell filled with sweet bean paste; the shells can come in different shapes and sizes. A popular modern variation of monaka is filled with ice cream, easy to find at the conbini! (I do not seem to have a picture of this one! mmm maybe that means it is time for a snack…)

sakura mochi among the sakura blooms.

sakura mochi (Kansai-style) 桜餅: mochi rice dyed pink and sweetened with red bean paste inside, wrapped with a sakura (cherry blossom) leaf. It is traditionally eaten in spring during sakura season and Girls’ Day (March 3rd). You can eat the leaf or not eat the leaf; from I have heard there is no actual rule regarding this, though the leaf is edible– don’t let anyone tell you are doing it wrong!

warabi mochi

warabi mochi わらび餅: jelly-like, similar to mochi, but made from warabi (bracken) starch. It is a little chewy and soft. It is usually covered in kinako or matcha powder.


higashi 干菓子: known as “dry sweets,” or sweets with little to no moisture content. Sometimes this is a glutinous rice flour, sugar and starch mixture or a wasanbon sugar pressed in molds to form dry sweets. Rakugan 落雁, used during ceremonies and obon, also fall under this category.

Other special types:

Mizu manjuu 水まんじゅう: “water” manjuu made with kuzu, popular in summer!

Hanabiramochi: specialty namagashi named flower petal mochi, often served during the first tea ceremony of the New year.

Akafuku Mochi: 赤福餅: a type of namagashi from Ise.

A few of the wagashi I came across in Kanazawa (there are so many more, but these are the ones I managed to capture pictures of before nomming):



Free Stuff at the Japanese Conbini

As I mentioned in another post, conbini (Japanese convenience stores) often have campaigns of various types (see Snoopy towel).

Sometimes, campaigns are as simple as a small gift attached to the bottled drinks (pet bottles, ペットボトル, or often just shortened to “petto” ペット), such as teas, coffees, or sodas. Over time I have collected a fair number of these, from pet bottle covers with designs of Rilakkuma and Sailor Moon to cell strap charms of various character, refrigerator magnets, Moomin sticky notes, and even plastic cell phone stands (okay, this one was a bit odd). Sadly, yes this does in fact sway me to purchase certain drinks over others, due to my penchant for ultra-kawaii things clouding my better judgement.

I will work on uploading the whole gallery of random pet bottle gifts… but here are a few to get started.

Sunflowers: ひまわり🌻

Himawari ひまわり means sunflower.

In Haebaru town, there is a place called Himawari-batake ひまわり畑 (sunflower field). Right now it is just past peak bloom, but it is still very cute to see so many sunflowers in one place. In May, they are planted by school children, and then in mid July they bloom in peak. Afterwards, the soil is then used to plant kabocha.

It is free to go see, and there is no real parking, just pull off to the side of the farm road and admire them. The field is in the midst of several other farm fields.

address: 〒901-1104 Okinawa Prefecture, Shimajiri District 南風原町宮平697


There is a second sunflower field in Kitanakagusuku that blooms much earlier in the year, ~March. Earlier this year we had bad weather and the flowers grew much smaller. I went 2 years ago and they were really nice. Hopefully next year they turn out well again.

Japanese conbini: point cards & promos

コンビニ conbini are Japanese convenience stores. On the mainland, there are several brands, but here in Okinawa we just have Lawson and FamilyMart (who just took over the local Okinawa Coco brand, so Coco is no more sadly), although 7-11 is poised to arrive in Okinawa in a year or two.

Anyway, each conbini has some sort of point card. FamilyMart is TPoint (which is part of the Tsutaya brand) and Lawson is Ponta. I will not go into a lengthy explanation of each; instead I will talk about some of the “promotions.”

Recently, Lawson has started a Snoopy campaign. I don’t particularly care much about Snoopy, however, one of the promotions was a free towel. Every time you purchase a pet bottle drink you get one stamp, and after 30 stamps, you go to the Loppi Machine (this is a magical machine where you can check points, purchase event tickets, use points towards special promotions, etc) in the store, print out your prize ticket, then redeem said ticket at the cash register. So I guess I drink a lot of tea and PET bottles are fairly convenient, so I just hit 30 stamps the other day. Yay! So I muddle through the machine, print my ticket, and luckily at the register they still had the limited edition summer blue towel. My choice was  between this and the regular red towel (which they have more in stock of). I thought the blue was pretty cute, and very summer-y.

A year ago, there was a Rilakkuma campaign; one of the promotions was to collect 40 seals on various packaged products (such as bread, pastries, packaged lunches) and redeem it for a Rilakkuma cute cats reusable tote. For this one, it is not tracked electronically like the PET bottles, so you need a paper that you attach the stickers to; once it is filled up, off to the register/Loppi machine to redeem! It was too cute to pass up, and I ended up completing this promotion as well. Probably this means I go to the conbini too often, but as a student with a Lawson outside the school gate… well, you understand.

FamilyMart also has a variety of campaigns; for instance it is the popular children’s Yokai Watch right now. I do not visit them as often, I guess my loyalty is with Lawson. Probably because they are right by my school… -_-;;

It seems a bit silly I guess, but I really enjoy these promotions sometimes. So if you are in Japan for any length of time, be sure to get a point card with one of the conbini and check out what sort of promotions they have.


Okinawa is not really the Hawai’i of Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ono Okinawa

English: Delicious.

Hawaiian: Ono.

Japanese: Oishii 美味しい.

Okinawan (uchinaaguchi): Maasanまーさん.

This blog is to introduce Okinawan food.  Maybe learn a little Japanese and Okinawa language as well. Many people do not know the unique foods that Okinawa has to offer, so hopefully I can explain them well as I learn.