Claiming a place is “authentic” has become a cliche. This classification marginalizes what a place has become by comparing it to what it was or what other places are. At times, not favorably so. Although in some context this may be valid, in the case of Okinawa, authenticity isn’t quantifiable. Instead, Okinawa can only be defined by the people who live there. Through their strength, versatility, and compassion, the Okinawan people have created a unique culture which promotes long life and community. Truly novel ideas to this westerner. These are only a few of the wonderful people I met during my time in Okinawa Japan.
We met this woman near Ogimi, Long Life Village. This area has long been touted as a bastion for centenarians. She’s close at 94 years old. It’s really not hard to see why Okinawan people live so long. Their diets are heavy on tofu and fresh fruits and vegetables. Not to mention they live very active lives. This woman still tends her garden and cycles her produce in for sale. Here she’s cleaning some.
We ran into these little guys in the Naha Makishi Market. Their grandmother was pushing them around in a box on a cart. Reminded me of how great it was to be a kid when your only job was to ride around and be cute.
Often confused with Kabuki, RyuKyu is a specific performance originating in Okinawa. It’s a type of classical drama comparable to opera. The Ryukyu Kingdom had a unique geographical position between Japan,China, and Southeast Asia. Each of these cultures impacted RyuKyu and it’s reflected in their art forms.
I wasn’t aware but Okinawa has a decent street food market. Several in fact. Although not comparable to Thailand or South Korea, you can find everything from American Hot Dogs to Tofu. I fell in love with Okinawan Donuts. Don’t judge me.
This is Mr.Sohji. Truly one of the best guides I’ve had anywhere. What made is so good is his obvious desire to learn. He was as interested in learning about our culture as we were about his. This made for interesting conversations during meals and travel which made the time flash by. It wasn’t uncommon to see him scribble in his notebook things we had told him to research later. He’s also the first English certified tour guide in Okinawa and is pushing a much needed English certification course. Changing the tourism landscape.
The Shuri Castle Festival was a unique experience. The event held at the renovated Shuri Castle, recreates the crowning/acknowledgment of the RyuKyu rulers by the Chinese Investiture Envoys. Held mostly in Chinese, it’s a very cool recreation with dedicated performers througout.
Okinawa is the birthplace of martial arts. From Bruce Lee to Ronda Rousey, all martial artist today owe Okinawa a debt of gratitude. We had a Karate class which taught us the basics of this traditional art form and it’s historical evolution from peasants to legends. In this photo, you’ll see a student who came from France to learn at the birthplace of Karate.
I went on my first diving trip at Aka Island. A stunningly beautiful island chain in Okinawa. What made this trip even cooler was the average age of our fellow divers. Easily 60+. Maybe older. And these people were in great shape. It definitely inspired me to live a more active lifestyle because I want that kind of energy into my 60s.
You may have seen Okinawan glass before and didn’t even know it. Okinawan glassmaking was all but destroyed during WWII. But through ingenuity, it recovered by melting down glass from the US soldiers and selling it back to them as art. We were able to blow our own glass and created some glasses. Mine looks terrible.
The Okinawan people were nothing short of amazing. Young and old, they treated us with great respect and openness. Freely sharing their history and culture with us. You won’t find massive skyscrapers to marvel at or any world wonders to behold. But you will find people that care about people. And that’s becoming are far more rare commodity these days.