Nuchigafu: Afternoon Bukubuku tea set

Another bukubuku-cha post! Sorry, I cannot help myself, I love tea culture.

So one afternoon I set out on a mission, and asked if my husband would join me. We headed for the Tsuboya yachimun (pottery) district of Naha. Specifically to the popular Ryukyu-style restaurant, Nuchigafu ぬちがふう(命果報).

This place gained much popularity after the Jimami Tofu movie came out; the owner collaborated with the movie showing and prepared a special lunch set that included all the foods that were found in the movie. Many of my friends raved about it (I forgo due to the copious amounts of pork in most Okinawan cuisine). However, recently, they started offering an afternoon tea set with bukubuku cha, so… of course I most check it out.

The restaurant is located off a quiet back street, but it is easy to find. The architecture is beautiful, and one of the resident cats greeted us. The atmosphere inside is quite nice and relaxing. We ordered one “simple tea set” which included 8 treats (savory and sweet), 3 traditional cookies, and bukubuku tea, and one bukubuku tea set (which comes with 3 traditional cookies). The bukubuku cha was prepared at the table so you could watch the magic happen. Everything on the plate was delicious of course. Overall I highly recommend this place for an afternoon stopover while you are visited the pottery district!



Wauke Juugoya Matsuri: 和宇慶十五夜祭

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

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

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

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

Pictures coming soon.

Chiirunkou: ちいるんこう (鶏卵糕)

ちいるんこう(鶏卵糕) chiirunkou is another type of traditional Ryukyuan sweet. It is like a steamed sponge cake, similar to castella カステラ. It is moist, fluffy, and delicious with that perfect hint of candied orange flavor and nuttiness from island peanuts called jimami ジーマーミ (the reddish dots are island peanuts dyed red with an orange peel sugar syrup). Like most Ryukyu sweets, this sponge cake was only consumed by nobility and royals; since eggs are a main ingredient and were scarce during the Ryukyu Kingdom era this cake was especially valued as a luxurious high-class sweet.

My husband and I both preferred the “regular” flavor to the brown sugar flavor. The brown sugar flavor was a bit heavier with a strong molasses taste, which for me did not quite fit with the sponginess of the cake. We served it with some Chinese green tea, perfect for the rainy season in Okinawa. It would also go well with bukubuku-cha, or even just plain sanpin-cha!

This particular chiirunkou came from Arakaki Kashiten 新垣菓子店 in Shuri, where I have purchased some Ryukyu sweets previously. It was sold as a half-and-half set with both cakes inside. Of course, as always, I was given ample free chinsukou cookies with my purchase. This makes a nice omiyage, as well.



Gusuku (Castle) Ruins

グスク (katakana) or 城 (kanji): “gusuku” is the Okinawan word for “castle,” rather than the more conventional Japanese pronunciation of “shiro” (by itself, or used in family names) or “-jo” (used with the name of the castle, such as Shuri-jo).

Major Gusuku Sites: These are the major sites, the ones that are UNESCO world heritage sites. These are not to be missed when you visit Okinawa. In addition there are some other UNESCO related sites in Okinawa, which I will save for another post.

Shuri-jo, reconstructed: This is the main castle site as it is the only one that is completely reconstructed, so this is a must-see for everyone. There is a large free area to walk around, but inside where they have artifacts displayed you must pay admission (adults 820yen). Parking is not free in this area, and can occasionally be difficult; I usually park in the lot in front by the lake and the art school. There are also several great events hosted here throughout the year, and often they will have traditional music and dance performances.

Shuri-jo at Night

Nakagusuku-jo, partially reconstructed: There is an entrance fee (adults 400yen). There is plenty of free parking. Amazing views. There are often events held here during the year. Since this gusuku is closest to me, I come here often (and sometimes I walk from my house to here).

Katsuren-jo, partially reconstructed: Free entrance and plenty of parking. The views here are also spectacular on a clear day.


Zakimi-jo, partially reconstructed: Free admission. Views during the day are okay, sunset would be ideal.


Nakijin-jo, partially reconstructed: Entrance fee (adults 400yen), there is not much in the closest parking area so you may have to walk on a busy day. Some good views and a very popular spot for sakura-viewing (hanami).


*Places with entrance fees have reduced rates for children, seniors, and groups.

Minor Gusuku Sites: I cannot actually list all these, as there are a lot of these former gusuku sites (and many really have nothing to see, just an empty field). I will try to list the ones that at least have something “nice” to see and worth a visit if you have a lot of time in Okinawa. Many of these sites are just partial stone walls, small shrines or worship areas, etc. Also since minor gusuku sites are not as much maintained, they are all free and generally very quiet.


Gushikawa (in Itoman): Nice spot at the very southern area of the main island.

Tamagusuku: There are some walls remaining, but this is actually a nice site with some picturesque elements.


Chinen: Again, some walls remaining. Okay spot to stop at if you are in the area.

Itokazu: Walls remaining, a nice stop down south.


Ozato: Small, but again, good views.


Urasoe: Also near “Hacksaw Ridge,” Battle of Okinawa site. This site also is nearby MANY other important Ryukyu area historical sites, so be sure to explore! I am meaning to make a post about the historical trail in the area…

Goeku: Discussed a bit in another post; not much to see though.

Chibana: Not much to see here, and in a bit of disrepair. But there are some structures to see…


Agena: Some interesting things to explore.

Iha: Not too much of interest, but there are some structures.

Yamada (in Onna): I finally made it here, but there is honestly not much to see as far as castle ruins… the trail and surrounding area however is great!

Nago: Interesting park to walk around. Also a popular sakura-viewing spot.


**I will add more pictures soon!


More on Ryukyu Sweets

Today I went to Arakaki Chinsukou Honpo 新垣ちんすこう本舗, an omiyage sweets shop in Shuri which has been in business since 1908. There are also 2 locations in Naha, near Kokusai-dori. An interesting note, there are also 2 more shops called Arakaki Honke 新垣本家 and Arakaki Kami 新垣カミ which are from the same ancestors that make chinsukou and other traditional sweets. Obviously, they are most famous for their chinsukou, however today I went for something a little different; some lesser-known traditional Ryukyu sweets:

千寿こう(せんじゅこう) senjukou (also romanized as senjuko): peanut butter, sesame seeds, and kippan (citrus peels that are boiled with sugar), then wrapped in lard-based pie dough with rainbow colors. Its shape is similar to the image of a lotus flower. It was re-introduced after a long time after being featured in a popular period drama called “Tempest.” This is the only shop in Okinawa which sells senjukou, and quantities are limited every day since it is made by hand.

闘鶏餃(たうちいちゃう)tauchiichau: traditional treat fried in lard, a sesame bean paste wrapped in a stiff pie crust with red and green dots added. It is named as such since it resembles a cockscomb (rooster comb).

花ぼうる hanabouru: ryukyu cookie with a hard texture and intricate decoration that is carefully shaped like a wisteria flower.

Clockwise, starting on the left: senjukou, tauchiichau, chinsukou, and hanabouru

These sweets are perfect for tea-time, especially if you choose sanpin-cha (jasmine tea). Or if you want to be fancy, try recreating bukubuku-cha. Today though I decided on hibiscus tea.

At this shop, you can also find many varieties of chinsukou, as well as a few other traditional sweets only found in Okinawa. The staff was very friendly and had some samples out. If you make a purchase, they will give you a free chinsukou cookie to take with you. My husband liked the chinsukou best of the four items, but for me I think it was definitely the senjukou with its nutty taste with a hint of citrus (plus it is so cute looking!). The hanabouru would have actually gone better with coffee in our (westernized) opinion. As a reminder, these are not for strict vegetarians or others who don’t eat pork since all of these contain pork lard.

I am quite fascinated by all the various traditional Ryukyuan sweets and their differences from traditional Japanese wagashi; they developed independently, with influence from both China and Japan. The names of more than 200 sweets are found in literature, but almost all of the recipes were lost with the overthrow of the dynasty and then the mass destruction during World War II.

address for Shuri location; free parking (3 spaces) next door:

Hamauri, 浜下り

The third day of the third month in the lunar calendar is Okinawa’s tradition that occurs on hinamatsuri in the lunar calendar (March 3rd). It is called 浜下り, pronounced hama uri ハマウリ (in Japanese these would be hama ori). 浜 hama means “beach,” and 下り uri is “to descend.” Some people may observe it on the western calendar date, but more often it is observed on lunar calendar date. **In 2017 this day will be on March 30th.

This is also associated with the event on Henza-jima, called Sangwacha (a fisherman festival). Sangwachi-gwashi (translation: March sweets) is commonly eaten by the beach.

On March 3rd of the lunar calendar, families take their girls down to the beach and get in the water to “purify” or “cleanse” them, and to pray for good health. The seawater is supposed to get rid of any bad spirits, curses, etc. Sometimes families will collect shells, harvest asa アーサー (type of seaweed) or small clams in the tidal areas, and often have a beach-side picnic. One of the ladies in my class reminisced about when she was a child, how on Hama uri her mother took her down to the beach, they would go digging for clams and then have a picnic. She explained that on this day, the tides are low, so it is easy to harvest the clams and asa.

The Legend behind Hamauri:

Long ago, a young man visited a young girl of marriageable age one evening. He was obviously a nobleman, but he didn’t speak much about himself. He spoke sweetly to the young woman and they were became lovers. When the parents found out their daughter had become pregnant, they decided to discover more about who the mysterious nobleman was since he never said where he was from. The parents told the girl to stick a needle with a long thread to the bottom of the nobleman’s kimono when he next visited.

That night as he slept, the girl did as her parents told her. The next morning they followed the thread deep into the woods, into a cave, and inside the cave a huge snake was coiled up that spoke to them. The snake said if the girl did not enter the sea to purify her body, she would bear his children– they realized he was not a man at all, but a magical snake.

When the parents returned home, they immediately took their daughter down to the ocean to purify her body in the salt water– dead baby snakes flowed out of her body! The evil snake’ magic spell was broken and the young nobleman was never to be seen again.

Henza-jima, many people have picnics and are playing in the tide pools. Some of the older folks are collecting asa to use in Okinawa dishes later.

Shiimii: しーみー

清明祭, シーミー or しーみー: shiimii (also Romanized as “shimi”) in Okinawan language. In Japanese it is pronounced Seimei-sai. 

Shiimii season is will come to Okinawa around April (in the third lunar month). Even though I think you are supposed to hold the ritual around the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, most Okinawan people are on “island time” and just do it any time during the month that it is convenient for everybody to meet up or whenever the weather is good. I don’t know that there are many clear rules as to when, but generally these gathering start April 4th. I remember one of my students last year said that she was so busy during the month and was barely able to organize a small gathering at the family grave on the very last weekend of April. 

It is an event to worship the ancestors, originating from China. The tombs are cleaned up and family members come together to kneel in front of the tomb, providing offerings to the ancestors and bringing along food dishes to have a small gathering/party in front of the tomb. This is one of the major observances in Ryukyuan customs, though it is mostly observed in the the central and southern areas.

Featured in the stores you will see lots of materials for packing family bento boxes, packages of mochi, fruits, items for the graves (including uchikabi, paper money, that is burned so ancestors have money in the afterlife), cleaning items, and other things necessary for a family picnic. The ads will be up soon to pre-order Okinawan-style hors d’oeuvre platters. They will look similar to the platters during New Years and Obon, with many of the same foods. These boxes are called usanmi ウサンミ.

During the month of April, you will see cars parked all along the road in Okinawa, and lots of people picnicking by the ancestor graves. I can usually tell when the season is in full swing, due to the slow traffic and the number of not-quite-legally-parked cars spilling into the main road. It is a time to remind yourself as an “outsider” to be patient, and to appreciate the preservation of culture. Usually weekends (Sundays) are the busiest days to hold these gatherings.

16th day of the Lunar New Year

旧十六日祭(ジュールクニチー) “Juurukunichii”  is January 16th of the Lunar calendar, which is “gusou” 後生(グソー/ グソウ) or あの世、の正月, New Years celebration for the afterlife (the dead). This means another celebration/prayer day for ancestors.

All of the stores have various small snacks for grave offerings, as well alcohol and flowers. Uchikabi (money for the dead in the afterlife) and incense is also burned on this day; the rituals are similar to that of Obon. This morning I saw some people heading out to the graves for this purpose. I suspect mostly only elder people or very traditional families still observe this old custom. I also heard from one of my Okinawan friends that it is usually families who had a death the previous year observe this custom, so perhaps not every family observes it every year.IMG_8483.JPG

旧 kyuu: this kanji in front of the date indicates it is a lunar calendar (old calendar) date.

十 juu: ten, 六 roku (ruku in Okinawan): 6 –> so 十六 is 16.

日 nichi: day

あの世 anoyo: afterlife, the “other” world

正月 shougatsu: New Years

Makabe Chinaa: 茶処 真壁ちなー

茶処 真壁ちなー Makabe Chinaa is located in Itoman, in an old traditional Okinawan house. It is in a small, quiet neighborhood. When you drive there, you wonder if you are going the correct way… but not to worry, it is not too difficult to find and has ample parking.

When you enter, remove your shoes. Most of the seating is tatami seating. The menu is in both Japanese and English. It is mostly typical shokudo food– champuru, suba, and some others. The price is a little higher than some typical shokudo, but it is also a nicer setting.

The atmosphere is very relaxing, taking you back in time when life was a slower pace. There is no A/C or central heating, truly an old traditional building.

The food was pretty good; we ordered tofu chanpuru, fu chanpuru teishoku (came with mini soba and a choice of purple rice or juushii), and hirayachi. Overall a very nice experience.

address: 沖縄市糸満市真壁223番地

Machikaji: まちかじ (松風)

In Okinawan language it is pronounced machikaji まちかじ (松風). The 2 kanji that make up the name are “matsu” 松 meaning pine and “kaze” 風 meaning wind.

Machikaji is a type of senbei せんべい (cracker or cookie) that is colored red (well, more like pink), tied in knot. A red knot is an auspicious symbols, usually used for marriage, so it is commonly eaten at engagement or marriage ceremonies. Machikaji does not have to be limited to just engagements, so it is also eaten for other big celebratory occasions as well.

Today I purchased a machikaji at a shop called Zaha kashiten 座波菓子店 (菓子店 kashiten means “sweets shop”). I brought it home and ate it with tea; it was very delicious. A little sweet but not too much, with a little sesame flavor and crispy.

As a side note: I recently received a photo of my friend’s “engagement” (actually, official entry into her husband’s family registry) and there was a large plate of traditional treats including machikaji~~ I was amused.



address for Zaha kashiten: 沖縄県那覇市首里石嶺町3-6-1

Machikaji can also be found at Nakamura Confectionary 中村製菓 in Shuri:

I have also spotted Machikaji in the Makishi Market~~ see if you can find it with a few other traditional Okinawan treats!

Interested in more traditional Okinawan and Ryukuan sweets? Read more:

Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬

Kippan: きっぱん (橘餅)

Okinawa Sweets: 沖縄のお菓子

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

Chiirunkou: ちいるんこう (鶏卵糕)

Kunpen: くんぺん

More on Ryukyu Sweets

Chinsukou: ちんすこう

Koza Crossing Mural: コザ十字路絵巻

In Okinawa City 沖縄市, Gintengai shopping arcade 銀天街 at Koza Crossing コザ十字路 is home to a set of large wall murals spanning about 180 meters, depicting the past, present, and future of Koza Crossing; the history of a thousand years in Okinawa City is depicted. It is painted on the walls of the arcade street in a Japanese scroll painting style.

There is a large dragon, a mythical beast symbolizing the ability to fly through time and space, used in the central theme. The dragon is a symbol of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, watching over since the Goeku gusuku era, and guiding the city into the future. It was believed in Ryukuan mythology that dragons were powerful beings that lived in their own underwater kingdoms. Ryugu-jo 竜宮城 (or 龍宮城), the dragon king’s palace, is said to be at the bottom of the ocean near the Ryukyu islands (Okinawa) and belongs to Ryujin 龍神 (the name of the dragon king/god in Japanese). The palace is made of red and white corals, guarded by dragons, and full of treasure. As it represents a symbol of sea power, the king adopted the dragon as his symbol, and therefore Shuri-jo is covered in dragon decorations. Around Okinawa you will also see dragon symbols and decorations, particularly by ports or harbors.

It is divided into 4 main sections, beginning with the Ryukyu Kingdom era (specifically Goeku Gusuku era, 15th century), then to the war-time era of Koza (1945-50s), continuing into Vietnam war era (1960-70s), and into the present/future.

(1) 15th century: These illustrations are related mostly to the history of Goeku gusuku, showing thriving eisa and other traditional culture.

Sho Taikyu 尚泰久: sixth of the line of the first Sho Dynasty and named Prince of Goeku (part of Okinawa city). His reign of the Ryukyu kingdom was from 1454–1460.

Sho Seni  尚宣威: reign during 1477 (for only 6 months). Also a Prince of Goeku, after he abdicated his throne (inherited from the death of his older brother) to his nephew.

Uni-Ufugushiku鬼大城: (uni is oni 鬼 in Japanese, meaning “demon”). He was a Ryukyuan scholar, aristocrat, master fencer, and attendant to royal princess Momoto Fumiagari, who he later married (a long, complicated story involving Lord Amawari of Katsuren gusuku and Lord Gosamaru of Nakagusuku).

(2) Post WW2 era: 1945-50

Shows the influence of the American military rebuilding after the Battle of Okinawa and WWII, and the destruction of the Goeku gusuku with a picture of General MacArthur. There is also the term “champuru culture,” チャンプルー文化, to describe this section, meaning that due to the American military influence, a mixed and unique culture was born.

(3) Vietnam war era: 1960’s-70s. Frenzy of the Vietnam war.

The district was known as a black district, so it had a unique atmosphere; it was called Teruya kokujin machi 照屋黒人街, literally: Teruya black (person) city/street as it was primarily set up for African-American GIs. After the return to Japan, the development of the shopping arcade and the bustle of economy was booming.

(4) Present and future: This final sections shows the head of the dragon ushering the city into the future.

As part of the mural, there is also a bench that looks like machikaji マチカジ(松風, a local traditional snack that is tied like a ribbon, you can also spot it in the mural itself), as well as some tempura motif benches. The mascot of the street 天ぷらのぷーらくん Tempura no Puura-kun is painted into the mural as well; try to look for him in each section as he transcends time and space.

**There is PARKING at the Goeku park across the street; to get there, go BEHIND the Kanehide, then to the side towards the “river” (drainage ditch) and there will be a small lot, enough for about 4 cars.


Location of the mural is at Rt 329 and 330 crossing, approximately here:

The Goeku gusuku (also known as Chibana castle) ruins 越来グスク跡 are nearby:

Bizarre Foods in Okinawa?

So it has come to my attention that some “famous” western TV cooking channel hosts have visited Okinawa in the past and tried local delicacies. I think many people have the questions: Is what they ate actually common among locals? Do people eat this stuff every day? And lastly, where can I try these in Okinawa?

The is not too easy to answer, but I will try… while some of these showcased “delicacies” can be found here, some them have declined in popularity particularly among the younger crowd. So that is to say not everything is as common as they may have led you to believe…

Since I do not watch these shows (though maybe I should try to find these particular episodes just for this instance), I cannot answer all the “bizarre” questions, but I will highlight some actual unusual Okinawan foods I know about and where you can find them. I will attempt to get some pictures of these, but as some are difficult to find, this may not be so easy.

Sea snake, イラブー irabu: not many people actually eat this, but it can be found in the occasional restaurant; there is a small place that specializes in this. It is most typical as a soup, イラブー汁 irabu-jiru. It has its origin in the traditional Ryukyu Kingdom royal court cuisine. If you search, it is possible to find it at the Itoman fish market (or maybe Makishi market in Naha) and make it yourself, otherwise check out restaurant Kana in Kitanakagusuku, or Hamachinchou in Nanjo (Hamachinchou also serves some more “normal” dishes as well, not just sea snake).
This leads me to further discuss habu sake (technically, habushu, but you hear English speakers calling it habu sake) ハブ酒, which is awamori (local Okinawa liquor) with a habu (Okinawan snake) in it– this is only for tourists, locals will probably laugh at you for even suggesting this! That being said, all the tourist locations along Kokusaidori will have this overpriced awamori for sale if you really want to try it (just keep in mind it is usually low quality awamori with a high price tag). This literally for the “thrill factor” of foreigners and tourists, rather than something commonly drunk.

*address for Irabu-ryouri Kana イラブー料理カナ: 〒901-2304沖縄県中頭郡北中城村屋宜原515-5

*address for Hamachinchou 浜珍丁: 〒901-1414沖縄県南城市佐敷津波古375-2

Tuna eyeballs, マグロの目玉 maguro no medama: Seriously… not common. Probably only available in a nicer izakaya (one with lots of sushi and seafood offerings). Though I have never sought them out, I have also never seen anyone order them. While it is common to eat every part of the fish including the eyeballs, ordering them separately in this kind dish is not all that common, at least not in Okinawa. Though I will say this: you can buy the fish heads (yeah, JUST the head) in all the grocery stores (eyes still intact). So… as I said, just eating the eyes… maybe not so much, but definitely the whole fish including the head and various parts, sure. Some fish shops do sell the eyeballs cheap, though, if you really wanna go for it and try making it at home. Eating the whole fish including weird bits… yes, definitely. After all waste not, want not.

Pufferfish, フグ fugu: Not common here in Okinawa, though I have heard that a few sushi places offer it. If you want to try this, it is better to go to mainland Japan, it will be easier to find. Okinawa is not known for its sushi and sashimi, despite being an island. Most Japanese mainlanders I know complain about that low-quality sashimi offerings here in Okinawa.

Goat, ヒージャー hiijaa (kanji: 山羊): goat is definitely eaten here, and is practically a common shokudo food, especially goat soup hiijaa jiru ヒージャー汁 (you may also see 山羊汁). Not difficult to find. Usually the type of thing only ojiisans eat because of the smell, but you see all types of people chowing down on it. You can find goat sashimi (raw thin slices of goat meat) as well, if you are so bold.

Horse sashimi, 馬刺し basashi: this is actually a mainland dish, but not hard to find in some of the izakaya here. Many butchers also sell this, as well as horse meat in general. So, as a warning, always read your meat labels carefully to know what you are getting.

Intestine soup (pork), 中身汁 nakami-jiru: pork intestines are common, you can even find them in the grocery stores here. Nearly every shokudo serves this soup, and it is traditional to eat it on New Years. Incredibly easy to find.

Pig (豚 or あぐー) face, ears, feet… etc: In Okinawa there is a saying that Okinawans eat “everything but the squeal.” Meaning, no part of the pig goes to waste. So … yup, you can find all kinds of parts of the pig served in dishes and for sale in stores. When you go to yakiniku you can order all manner of innards and types of cuts. Many women consider pigs feet てびち full of collagen and good for beauty; it is very much considered a delicacy and good for your skin. Many stores and izakaya sell dried pig ear snacks called mimigaa ミミガー. The pig face チラガー chiragaa is more for tourists, and you will see them for sale along Kokusaidori.

『豚は鳴き声以外全て食べる』 Buta wa nakigoe igai subete taberu. Translation: to eat every part of the pig except for the squeal.

Sea grapes, 海ぶどう umibudou: This is a special kind of seaweed that grows in the waters of Okinawa and is really common to eat. Little tiny salty bubbles that pop in your mouth. Find these in grocery stores and izakaya all over island. I would personally not consider this “bizarre” but it might be considered pretty unique since they are very few places you can try these outside of Okinawa (and I know many westerners don’t really eat seaweed so there is that).

Tofuyou 豆腐よう: Again, I don’t actually consider this a bizarre food, however I heard someone say that this was on the show, so I will list it here for the sake of those who are searching for it as a result. It is tofu fermented in awamori and quite tasty. You can literally buy this in every store, in the refrigerated section near tofu and pickles. The brand in the show has a store in Naha which I have visited, and there is also the cave the host visited near Kin Kannon-ji (temple), though there are 2 entrances to the cave but separated from each other, 1 for the temple (free), and 1 for the awamori/tofuyo storage (small admission fee); you want this one: 金武鍾乳洞, but you need to meet for the tour at the store here. I visited the cave and took the tour, read about here: Kin Kannonji (temple) & Awamori Cave.

Lastly, I noticed some strange searches originated from the US using keywords like “Okinawa dish tuna and peanut butter.” I assume this must be a combination discussed on one of these types of travel food shows. For you doubters, doubt no more: this is not an unusual combination, and I have previously posted a very common side dish recipe that uses these ingredients, as well as tofu and miso (it has gotten an unusually high number of hits, but I am not sure if it is what most people are actually searching for). Please check it out here: Yonaguni-jima recipe: Sakuna shiraae サクナの白和え.

Hopefully this post covers a majority of the “bizarre” foods. Please feel free to comment if there are any that I have missed and you are curious about.

Tougatsuke: 冬瓜漬

冬瓜漬: tougatsuke, tougadzuke. The first 2 kanji are 冬瓜 tougan, which is “winter melon” in English. The last kanji is 漬 (usually ‘tsuke’) meaning “pickle” or “preserve.” So the meaning of this term is something like pickled/preserved winter melon.

Tougan is also known as shibui しぶい in Okinawan language. It is a very hearty and cheap vegetable here in Okinawa. The word winter melon is sort of funny, because it is actually harvested in summer, but it is easy to store these and they will last all winter, so hence winter melon.

Anyway,  I recently visited the Jahana Kippan Shop 謝花きっぱん店 in Naha. These shop is the only shop that still makes 2 very famous Ryukuan sweets called kippan and tougatsuke. During the Ryukyu kingdom era, these sweets were enjoyed by the emperor and high ranking nobles as delicacies, one of the 16 types of special fruits and desserts served in the Royal Court. This shop has amazing quality sweets, everything I sampled was so good; since I am a student, my budget was the “imperfect” pieces that they sold in small bags instead of the beautiful perfectly shaped ones.

To make tougatsuke, the juiciest flesh from tougan is used, as well as Okinawan sugarcane. There are no preservatives or artificial flavors here, just natural food made in the same style as the Ryukyu kingdom era. It is amazing that a simple tougan is turned into this sweet concoction! They recommend keeping it chilled, slicing thin pieces, and serving with tea or dessert wine. It is hard to describe the exact flavor– it was very sweet, and a little juicy, sort of melts in your mouth. An excellent pairing with some green tea.

Update: I later purchased the shiqwasa flavored tougatsuke and it is also delicious. I sampled the Okinawan sugarcane rum flavor in the store as well, and it was nice with a hint of rummy flavor.

Address:Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo 1-5-14

Tofuyo: 豆腐よう

豆腐よう: Tofuyo (toufuyou).

This is a fermented specialty food of the Ryukyu kingdom, enjoyed only by emperor’s family and few privileged nobles during the Ryukyu kingdom era.

It is intense and delicate, all at the same time. Creamy, and a bit pungent, sort of like a fancy European cheese, this is not to be missed while in Okinawa! Tofuyo is dried shima-doufu, marinated and fermented in red kouji and awamori (Okinawa liquor).

Perhaps to a westerner, it does not sound appetizing, but I promise it is! When I first heard about it, I actually pictured something closer to “stinky tofu” of Taiwan, and felt a little timid about trying it, but it is much different! The smell is quite pleasant, a little bit alcoholic, and the texture really is reminiscent of a creamy cheese. The taste can be a bit intense, but it is not overwhelming.

These days tofuyo can be purchased in just about any grocery store in Okinawa. Recently I visited one of the fancier producers in Naha, Tatsu-no-kura 龍の蔵. I was able to sample a bit of everything… and it was amazing. A delicacy indeed, though a bit expensive… this is a special occasion food.

It has come to my attention that Tatsu-no-kura has a store and awamori/fermentation limestone cave up North near Kin kannon-ji (temple). There are 2 parts of the cave system, one for the temple (free) and one for the shop (entrance fee), so don’t get then confused! Go to the store in Kin to pay and join a tour… it is fun!


Naha address for Tatsu-no-kura 龍の蔵: 〒900-0014 Okinawa-ken, Naha-shi, Matsuo, 1 Chome 1-9-47

address for Kin Limestone Cave 金武鍾乳洞:

Kin address for Tatsu-no-kura (to visit cave):

Sueyoshi Park & Shrine: 末吉公園&宮跡

On a rainy day, I headed out to Sueyoshi shrine located within the Sueyoshi park 末吉公園 in Naha near the Shuri area.

There are a few parking areas; I parked in the larger parking area, off of rt 82 here. There is also another parking lot by the Mori-no-ie MinMin 森の家みんみん community center, but it is also located next to a nice open area where the elder people play bocce ball or gateball so it might be crowded. These parking spots are at the OPPOSITE end of the park from the shrine, so if you only want to visit the shrine, drive to just north of the park, where there is a small area you can park in. However, I decided to enjoy a nice walk through the park today.

Despite the drizzle, it was a nice day to walk around. There are many inner paths weaving through the forested area and crossing the stream. Most of the paths are easy to follow, but some are a bit slippery. There are a few historical markers to check out along the way too, in both Japanese and English. This park is especially known for the fireflies (hotaru 蛍, ホタル) during May-July! Well, right now it is autumn, so obviously, none for me today. There were also plenty of places to have a nice picnic or rest; tables and benches seemed to pop up all over the park. And there were trash bins and toilets convenient in a few areas. I also noticed (despite the rain) a guy and his kid with bug-catching nets, so the wildlife is plentiful considering it is in the city.

At the community center, I picked up a paper map, though it was not terribly useful but combined with my phone GPS I was able to get around okay, just matching the “park sites” to google maps (the walking paths nor park sites are not labelled in google maps). The paper map got sufficiently crumpled by the end of my “hike.”

I made my way to the shrine; warning it was a descent into the park and then a decent slope upwards, some stairs, etc, so it was not exactly a leisurely stroll. It was not terribly strenuous, but I did burn some calories. Up at the shrine, there was an old man manning the booth for omamori and fortunes (and bottled drinks), and another old man sweeping. Then inside the shrine there was another older man assisting with prayer. Honestly, this was much busier than I expected! It was peaceful and quiet though small, and had gorgeous views over Naha (I climbed higher than I realized getting up there). The original shrine was destroyed in WWII during the Battle of Okinawa, and was restored in the 1970s.

Afterwards, I walked around all the small areas for worshipping various local gods, and over to the Ginowan-Udun grave, the Ginowan-Udun mural, and eventually making my way through the wooded paths back to the parking area.

Some tips:
1. Don’t wear slippahs, wear real shoes with good grip. I fell on my okole after slipping on some slimey, mossy rocks.
2. Depending on the season, bring bug spray (maybe in winter you will not need it). It is usually a damp forest, a few mosquitoes are around, though it is not so bad compared to other places.

*A great place to stop afterwards for croissants is nearby! Kouign Croissant Bakery: クロワッサンの屋クイニー

photos on imgur link below (if you go to the site itself you can also see some of my commentary):

Sueyoshi Park & Shrine

address for parking area:

address for Mori-no-ie Minmin community center:

address for Sueyoshi Shrine:

Ryukyuan Cuisine: 琉球料理

琉球料理 ryuukyuu ryouri means Ryukyuan cuisine.

The other day, I was idling away some time at the university library, when I came upon the “Okinawa Section.” Most books were in Japanese, but one in English caught my eye. It was simply titled, “Ryukyuan Cuisine.” So out of curiosity I flipped it open, and read about some of the more traditional dishes (some pictures below). While there were no actual recipes, there were several descriptions of the foods and the types of local ingredients– it was really quite informative. This book was published in the 90s by the Okinawa Tourism and Cultural Promotion organization. I would like to find a copy for myself, but it has turned out difficult to find. It further inspired me to check out the local bookstore, and peruse some magazines and books on Ryukyuan cuisine (in Japanese, so I am a bit slower to read). Reading through these books really reminded me how Ryukyuan cuisine is quite different than traditional Japanese cuisine; it is definitely influenced quite a bit from Chinese cuisine, but still very unique.

I made a quick guide to Okinawa dishes here and a guide to some traditional sweets here and here.

Here is some info on Okinawa produce here.



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

8th Lunar month in Okinawa: ハチグヮチ (八月)

ハチグヮチ hachi-gwachi in Okinawan language (八月 hachigatsu in Japanese) means 8th month. This refers to the 8th month in the lunar calendar, so more around September time frame than August. Several days throughout the lunar year there are umachi ウマチー days (Okinawan for festival day, or matsuri まつり in Japanese), in which special traditional observances are held. The 7th and 8th lunar months are particularly busy, first with Obon and then with Autumn Equinox week.

Besides Juugoya, or juuguyaa in Okinawan (Tsukimi 月見 moon-viewing), on the 15th of the 8th lunar month, there are some other traditional days in the Ryukuan calendar.

On 8/8 (double numbers are always considered lucky), is the celebration of Okinawa longevity called Toukachi (tokachi, tookachi) トーカチ. This is similar to 米寿 beiju celebration (88th birthday year) on mainland Japan. Those who turned 88 in the current lunar new year are celebrated; these days, it is now a small family affair with traditional foods (pork of course, some fried foods, kelp knots, and such), a bamboo decoration called toukaki 斗掻 (とうかき) in Japanese and tokachi トーカチ in Okinawan (hence, the name of the day), and perhaps a ceremonial bingata kimono in the Ryukyuan style. The mall displayed the longevity celebration parade car.


Another one of these special days is on 8/10, called Kashichi カチシー; this day is to pray for health offering to the buddhist altar (butsudan) and the family fire-god (Hinukan).

Kashichi カシチー is called 強飯 kowameshi in Japanese. Kashichi is glutinous rice mixed with red beans and is offered at the butsudan (altar) and the hinukan. See the recipe below.

A Shibasashi シバサシ (柴差し) is attached to the pillars of a house from the 9th to the 11th days of the 8th lunar month (most calendars mark it officially as the 10th); it is pampas grass (susuki ススキ) and mulberry branches bundled into an amulet, then placed at the four corners of the house and/or the gate (also the well, the barn, and any food storage buildings traditionally) in order to ward off evil, specifically majimun マジムン which are Okinawan ogres/demons/evil spirits. The amulet is made into a shape called サン san, like a sangwa サングァー.

Around this time are also 豊年祭 hounen-matsuri, or harvest festivals, in English. During these, you will see tug-of-war (Tsunahiki) and lion dances (shishimai), among other traditional songs and dance. Many of these will occur on the 15th day (same as juugoya), though in my surrounding neighborhoods they wait until the Friday or Saturday after juugoya.

Kowameshi (kashichi) 強飯 (カシチー) recipe: This is mochi rice (mixed with regular non-glutinous rice) with red beans. It translates to “strong rice” because made with mochi-gome もち米 (glutinous rice, which is a firmer mouth-feel). Traditionally, this type of rice was only used for special occasions.


red beans (azuki beans), 1 1/4 cup
Glutinous rice (mochi rice), 260 g
Non-glutinous rice (such as koshihikari, or some other short grain rice), 75 g
salt, 1 teaspoon
leftover boiled water of red beans, ~360mL

Wash beans, put in pot over stove with 1.5 cups of water (add more water if needed). Once it is boiled and soft, strain in a colander, keeping the boiled water for later.
Wash the rice for 30 minutes before the cooking. I use a rice cooker.
In a pot, add boiled bean water , mix with salt, rice, and cooked red beans. Pretty simple to prepare. 

Fuchagi: フチャギ (more Okinawa mochi!)

フチャギ (or ふちゃぎ) fuchagi is a special Okinawa mochi; it is rice cake covered in azuki beans (小豆). This is a little different than muuchii. As I mentioned in other posts, beans are believed to ward off evil or demons. One of the main times of year to eat fuchagi is during Mid-Autumn Festival, around Autumn equinox and Tsukimi moon-viewing (occurs on the 15th of the 8th lunar month). They are also put on the altar and hinukan as an offering to give thanks for the current good harvest and to pray for future good harvests.

I was told the story behind the origin of fuchagi thanks to one of my older students. It is a kind of ghost story, really, but it has a happy ending.

Story of the origins of Fuchagi:

One day a man was kidnapped by a demon called a Majimun マジムン (a type of Ryukuan devil/monster) and entrapped in the tomb of an Aji 按司 (a type Ryukuan samurai, or feudal lord, high ranking person), located in a deserted area. He could not move and he could carely speak; only his hand could fit through a small opening to the outside of the tomb. He would cry for help in a husky voice, “Help me, help me…” but he received no replies.

After a few days, one night 2 men were walking near the tomb to take shelter from the rain. Suddenly, they noticed a hand emerge from the hole! They were terrified as they saw the human hand coming from the tomb, but they heard a husky voice pleading for help. The prisoner in the tomb told them his name and the village he was from, so the 2 men rescued him from the tomb, then bringing him back to his village via horseback.

However, 49 days had already passed since the man’s disappearance, so his family and the village held a funeral (one of the traditional number of days to hold a type of Buddhist funeral service), even without a body. Everyone was so surprised to see him approach as they were holding his funeral, but shed tears of joy at his return. The plain mochi used in the funeral was changed to celebratory mochi by adding beans to the surface (beans are used in celebrations and for warding off evil). Everyone ate the mochi covered in beans, and from then forward, fuchagi mochi is eaten to protect against evil every August 15th according to the lunar calendar.

Don’t live in Okinawa but want to make it at home? Here is the recipe at the bottom of this blog post (just scroll down); you can find all the ingredients pretty easily, but depending on where you live you may need to find an Asian market if these are not common in your regular grocery stores.



Shisa: シーサー

Shisa (or shiisaa) シーサー are the guardian lion dogs in Okinawa and Ryukyu culture. They always come in pairs (a male with open mouth on the right, a female with closed mouth on the left); the open mouth wards off evil spirits, and the closed mouth keeps good spirits in. A second mythology is reversed, saying that the male has his mouth closed to keep evil out of the home and the open-mouthed female is to share goodness with others.

There are many, many styles that you will see around… and they are everywhere, from rooftops, gates, schools, houses, stores.

A famous shisa statue in Okinawa is located in Yaese (south), the Tomori Stone Shisa. It has significance in Okinawa history, and has even survived with visible scarring the Battle of Okinawa.


April 3rd is Shisa-no-hi シーサーの日, Shisa day. “Shi” is 4 in Japanese, and “san” is 3, together sounds similar to the word “shisa.” Tsuboya yachimun (pottery) district in Naha has some small events on this day.

I have an assortment of pictures of shisa from around the islands:

Shisa シーサー

Address for Tomori Stone Shisa:


Sangwacha: サングヮチャー

Henza-jima celebrates a small fisherman’s festival called “Sangwacha” held from March 3rd to 5th in the LUNAR calendar (this coincides with Girls Day in the lunar calendar, called Hamauri 浜下り in Okinawan). The 2nd day of the festival, the 4th, is especially interesting! While the tide ebbs, you can watch (or join!) the parade of people who wade into the sea over to the rocks about 300 meters from the beach. Prayers to the sea gods for safety at sea and good harvests are offered on the rock for a prosperous year, then everyone returns to the beach. Afterwards, there is traditional entertainment in front of the Henza hall.

Before the parade begins, many people of the town dress up in costumes, especially with scary/creepy masks. Some were just silly (and maybe a little strange). Some of the boys painted themselves with black ink, and another in orange ink. They had fun high-fiving people and spreading ink. There is a fish palanquin (not sure what to actually call it… portable shrine? mikoshi?) that gets carried from the hall down and first down the road to the tent where the fish-spearing ceremony (prayer?) is performed– crazy stuff. They have drums and sanshin, plenty of awamori of course, and the fishermen place a fish on a board where one of the ladies dances, then spears it. Quite unique.

Next everyone heads down, en masse, to the beach. The fish palanquin is carried out to the rock offshore (everyone wades out) and a prayer ceremony is held and offerings given; the rock is known as the Nanza Rock. When everyone returns from the rock, the party continues. It is quite an interesting experience, and I was fortunate as a gaijin to be able to enjoy it. I met and talked to several local people, who were surprised (yet excited) to see gaijin for this small matsuri since there were a total of 4 of us (the other 3 were together as a photography group, I was by myself). Anyhow, a great time was had by all and I felt very happy to experience such a fun small town event that really showcased the spirit of the Okinawan people. Personally, I enjoy these types of events so much more than the big festivals, and it helps me appreciate the traditional culture and rituals.

Unfortunately my pictures are from my cellphone and not so great. Maybe next year I will take a real camera.

Bukubuku-cha: ぶくぶく茶

Bukubuku cha ぶくぶく茶 is a type of tea in Okinawa that is frothed. You use a bamboo whisk and froth the tea, creating foamy bubbles.

At this particular location, for the tea, I chose the traditional sanpin-cha さんぴん茶 (Jasmine tea) as the base, but there are several other flavors you can try at Kariisanfan in Shuri (I have tried ucchin/turmeric and hibiscus flavors previously as well). The tea for foaming is typically jasmine tea roasted with rice, making it a type of genmai-cha 玄米茶, one of the secrets to its foamy-ness. In addition, the minerals in the hard water found in the southern part of Okinawa help make it foam.

The set came with various little snacks, some traditional Ryukyu sweets (such as kunpen and chinsuko), some just general Japanese sweets. It is sort of the Okinawan equivalent to mainland Japan tea ceremony, as it was used during the Ryukyu era to entertain accredited Chinese envoys when they visited. This set also came with brown sugar and crushed island peanuts to sprinkle on top.

There are a few locations to experience a nice tea set, which usually comes with some traditional cookies as well. Some places you whisk/froth your own and others it is brought out to you all ready to go. There is even one place where they will dress you in kimono/yukata and have a small tea ceremony (again, another place located in Shuri area); I have not tried this place yet though it looks like a really nice experience.

The culture center on Kokusai-dori also offers it at certain times, so stop by there and check their schedule.

You can even buy a little (but expensive… 400yen for just 1 serving!) package at some omiyage shops on Kokusai-dori. It works! You need to make sure to use “hard water” such as mineral water. Read about how to make bukubuku-cha at home here; there is a “recipe” attached so you can skip buying the package and just collect the materials yourself, or if you purchase the package but do not read Japanese, you can follow my translated instructions. For a tea-lover, this is a must!


Some other places offer it on the menu, but not very many come with  nice set like this. Some will even make it with a coffee base.

Uchinaa chaya Bukubukuうちなー茶屋ぶくぶく: Tsuboya yachimun (pottery) street, they make it for you.

Kariisanfan 嘉例山房: near Shuri-jo, you whisk it yourself for the full experience.

Cafe Okinawa Shiki カフェ沖縄式: near Naminoue Shrine, serves bukubuku coffee.

Nuchigafu 琉球料理ぬちがふう(命果報): Along Tsuboya district’s Yachimun Street.

During the Nanmin festival at Naminoue Shrine in May, you can try FREE bukubuku-cha made by some expert ladies!