Good Food and Finding Confidence in Okinawa

Naha Okinawa Skyline

The second floor of Makishi Market has an atmosphere akin to a S.E. Asian street food dining environment. Rows of outdated chairs and tables are packed together, and you sit elbow to elbow with strangers busily scarfing down food and competing for the waiter’s attention to get seconds or thirds.

My first bowl of Okinawan Soba satisfied a craving I didn’t know I had. Apparently, my body had been craving vegetables so I happily slurped my noodles soaked in a simple dashi broth with fresh cabbage, green onion, carrot, mushrooms, and pork slices. Upon finishing every last drop, I leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath, and felt refreshed and recharged. I had this moment of utter joy and said to myself, “I’m glad I came to Okinawa.”

The food is so healthy, fresh, and simple, all qualities I’ve really come to appreciate about Japanese cooking. Even sweets aren’t overloaded with sugar or post-consumption guilt. During my day at the beach, I ate an ice cream sandwich for dessert. AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH. I hadn’t had one in years, and it was the perfect light snack to cool off from the hot, humid weather.

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The Okinawan dialect is so different from standard Japanese that it sounds like its own language. As someone who is still new to Japanese, the dialect was hard to understand at times, but in regards to my speaking ability, something unexpected happened. Okinawa gave me confidence. All of the pressure I put on myself to try and speak perfectly in conversations, despite being a beginner, seemed to fall away and speaking came more naturally. After all, there wasn’t anybody to help me translate so it was simply up to me to use what I know. I really amazed myself for being able to ask and understand directions, read a menu, direct a taxi, and ride trains and buses with ease. And for the first time since moving to Japan, I didn’t feel like I was being judged for being a foreigner fumbling through sloppy Japanese. It was really encouraging and empowering.

What should my final words be about a place I’ve quickly come to adore? Okinawa is tropical, unpolished, and untouched by pretension. With the highest population of children under 14 as well as centenarians in Japan, there is a much more relaxed pace of life and a sort of youth about the place that made me not want to leave.

This trip felt like a proper vacation. Waking up at my leisure without alarms or an agenda for the day, coming and going as I pleased, and just living slowly, I felt like I could breathe again. When in need of a spiritual readjustment, Okinawa is surely one of the best places to go in Japan.

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Cooking Class

On my last day in Okinawa, I had a chance to take a truly authentic home cooking class. By authentic I mean in the kitchen of my guide’s home where I got to meet his newborn son and cook and share a meal with him and his lovely wife.

Recently, I’ve been in over my head with visa paperwork, challenges in learning the language, and doubts about my upcoming move to Tokyo. But every so often I have a heartwarming experience that reminds me why I came to Japan in the first place, why I want to stay, and motivates me to keep fighting for my future here. This home cooking class was one of those experiences. Actually, it doesn’t feel right to call this a class. It felt more like cooking and eating with new friends. Atsushi and Miyako are so welcoming, hospitable, and not to mention, great cooks. A meal is best judged not only by the food on the table but the company you share it with. As is the case, this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Together we made 3 different dishes all containing one of Okinawa’s super foods, goya. On the menu were goya salad, goya tempura, and goya chanpuru. Goya is known as the bitter melon closely resembling a bumpy cucumber and has an incredibly (you guessed it) bitter taste that may not be easily edible for many people. The aftertaste in particular takes some getting used to, but in the end, I quite liked it.

When you make it to Okinawa, I hope you get a chance to meet Atsushi, enjoy his family’s company, and learn how to cook some simple yet fabulous goya dishes. → https://www.govoyagin.com/…/cooking-experience-okinawa-…/273

Hiji Falls

Resting spot at Hiji Waterfall offers a great place to snack on onigiri

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