WHERE TO STAY, EAT & SHOP IN OKINAWA
FOUNDER JISA OH SHARES HER FAVORITE PLACES AROUND OKINAWA
With 160 islands of varying sizes and habitations, it’s safe to say that the islands of Okinawa are as diverse as they are abundant. Located in the southernmost prefecture of Japan, the archipelago of Okinawa is situated between the East China Sea, Philippine Sea, and the Pacific Ocean and features a plethora of experiences for all types of travelers, including Wellness East founder Jisa Oh.
“Okinawa is a home away from home for me,” says Oh. “Mentally, I can really center myself and readjust my focus while I’m there.”
Due to Japan’s Covid restrictions—which only recently lifted—Oh has been visiting Okinawa every three months, taking the time to explore some of the places she holds dear like her beloved culinary destinations.
“Eating high-alkaline, nutritious food definitely helps my energy and digestive health, which also contributes to my well-being inside and out,” says Oh. “Each place offers one of several special experiences.”
Beyond dining, Oh treasures the local experiences that make Okinawa such a singular place. Here, she talks about the top six places she visits on the archipelago.
I have visited many different properties in Okinawa—ranging from large hotel groups such as the Ritz and Halekulani—to other well-known historical facilities. Hands down, One Suite Hotel & Resort Kouri Island really impressed me. It has amazing service with amazing views and a natural environment. You can also enjoy the artwork around the hotel and top-notch customer experiences. You can explore Kouri Island by bike, as it has beautiful beach spots to visit. At night, you can enjoy the starry sky. (People travel just to see the stars here.) La Bombance, the resort’s restaurant, uses locally sourced ingredients to create a seasonal menu of traditional Japanese cuisine with an Okinawan twist.
At this spot, the true vibe is that of visiting an Okinawan grandmother’s home because of the architecture and authentic taste, as one of the local staple foods is soba noodle. Nakijin Soba has been renovated in the real Okinawan “kominka” style, a traditional Okinawan house built using traditional architecture methods, so guests can enjoy true Okinawan noodles in an Okinawan house with Okinawan music. It’s very relaxing. It takes 48 hours to create their soup and homemade noodles, along with their original yakumi, which is dried fruit or vegetables that bring out the flavor of the dish. Their yakumi is made with ingredients like Okinawan pepper and shikuwasa lime skins. It is totally different from store-bought yakumi.
Located near Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Shuri Ryusen is part of the Okinawan sustainable development program. While here, you can visit and learn the history of Bingata, a traditional Okinawan stenciled resist dying technique. I took my girls a few years ago to experience the dyed coral and had a great time.
Two Michelin-starred chef Hiroyasu Kawate of Florilège in Tokyo, considered one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, is the consulting chef of this restaurant offering innovative cuisine that uses Okinawan ingredients such as yomogi mugwort and purple sweet potato. Guests can enjoy food that has a different perspective from the traditional one. It’s a very interesting experience.
Yachimun Village is the mecca for Okinawan pottery. This place has 19 artists actually living and creating artwork. Originally located north of the Shuri Castle area, Jiro Kinjo, the late pottery artist and living national treasure, relocated here with his furnace to begin the “Yachimun no Sato Project.” The most well-known architecture is Noborigama, or climbing kiln, created by four artists that included Jissei Omine. Currently, the artists in this village use this same kiln to create their pieces, and they fire it in the months of March, June, September, and December only. Visiting Yachimun no Sato means being able to feel and touch Okinawan culture by exploring pottery artists or visiting a pottery kiln.
For just relaxing and reading a book—or even a quick early morning meditation—the Banta Cafe offers a beachfront terrace with tatami carpets and interesting Okinawan beverages as refreshments.