One Day in Naha, Okinawa

Ishigaki Beef

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.

Okinawa Sea GrapesBeyond 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.

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Shuri Castle, OkinawaA 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.

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