Kokusai-Dori, also known as “the miracle mile,” is Naha’s shopping district for everything from electronics to crafts to confectionary. Here I nibble beni-imo tarts, sweet pastries of purple sweet potato paste; and the Ryukyu kokuto, black, nutrient-rich sugar made by simmering sugarcane juice. At Heki Kokusaidori-Matsuo restaurant I savour the renowned Ishigaki beef. Ishigaki cows graze on vast grasslands and mineral-rich feed from the ocean spray. Every morsel of this succulent beef is juicy and robust.
Entering the bustling Makishi Public Market I find everything from tropical fruits, sea grapes and local fish to tulip-shaped doughnuts—akin to Timbits—and a variety of pork products including “pig’s face.” On the first floor, I browse exotic coloured fish and select local sea bream. On the second floor, I have it cooked and served for me to eat.
Beyond the market I arrive at Yachimun Street, lined with local Tsuboya-style ceramics galleries and shops. In addition to the refined art of Ryukyu glassware, Okinawa is known for its pottery, so I purchase earthenware sake cups and head to nearby Zuisen Distillery.
Unlike traditional sake brewed from Japanese rice, Okinawa’s “island sake,” Awamori, is distilled liquor from Thai-style rice and is one of the island’s “longevity ingredients,” high in enzymes that clear blood vessels. I happily sample a range of aged and flavoured Awamori served as a half-and-half dilution with water. Mellow and smooth, with a fragrant aroma, it easily lends itself to cocktails—hence the biannual cocktail competitions held by Okinawa’s 48 distilleries.
A short walk from the distillery is the imperial seat of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom, Shuri-jo Castle. It provides a sense of history and grandeur of the dynasty era, while conveying both Chinese and Japanese influences. From the lookout, I survey the city of Naha below Japan’s setting sun.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.