If you picture Japan as the home of dazzling neon, peculiar pod hotels and preternaturally superior public transport… you’d be right.
However, there’s a whole side to the country that exists away from the penchant for quirky light fixtures and a zen approach to congestion.
A cluster of tropical islands where life is lived slow, with a reverence for eating, drinking and relaxing.
Where nature and traditional culture live in symbiosis. And a world away from the rush and fever of a night in Tokyo.
Yes, we’re talking about Okinawa. Home to the arguably the world’s happiest and certifiably oldest humans around (more on that soon).
Our friends from VICE recently dug deep on what it’s like to escape to Okinawa and now we feel like it’d be bad for our health if we didn’t get there at least once in our lives.
x Meg & Dom
Adrian and I have always shared a deep passion for Japanese culture. Adrian is from Berlin, Germany. His obsession with Japan is evident throughout his curated Instagram accounts and dedicated food, travel, fashion and lifestyle blog, Biancissimo.
Throughout his various travels to Tokyo, Adrian has become an aficionado in the customs of Japanese dining. For me, I’m an explorer from Sydney, Australia with a particular affinity for Japanese tradition. I have a fascination with the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi. It acknowledges that the beauty of things can be imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.
This sentiment teaches us that our surroundings are there to respect, celebrate and embody, no matter their physical appearance.
This is something Adrian and I wanted to connect with on our trip by exploring a side of Japan we had never seen before. We directed our itinerary away from the mainland, and planned to head south towards the tropical prefectures of Okinawa.
Okinawa is a group of islands situated off mainland Japan. Amongst these islands lie secrets to a long, healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. Okinawa has the highest concentration of centenarians worldwide.
This has been largely credited to their lifestyle and diet.
Seaweed, sashimi, soba, sake and sunshine are rumoured to be the elixir to long life amongst Southern Japanese Islands.
Adrian and I were determined to discover this for ourselves.
Following a short layover in Tokyo, we made our way to Naha, a coastal city situated in the main province of Okinawa. Throughout the day and early evening, we sampled the local cuisine, most to our delight (Soba Ramen and Awamori Sake specific to the region of Okinawa), and others to my personal dismay (Oysters and I do not agree with each other).
Well versed in Japan’s culinary scene, Adrian taught me a lesson or two on how to dine in polite pleasure.
Some of the customs were easier to grasp such as placing your chopsticks parallel across the side of your dish to signal that you were finished.
Others such as slurping your ramen noodles to show the chef that you were enjoying your meal took some getting used to. But the restaurants we visited were also homes to the families who served us, so I made sure I was on my best behaviour.
The hybrid between hospitality and home became a running theme throughout our visit to Naha. There was something beautiful and bespoke about this tradition.
Small quaint homes guarded by Shisa statues (small dog-like figures placed on rooftops of Okinawan homes) made for a much more personal experience than the Izakaya’s (gastro pubs) of Tokyo.
Naha left an impression of serenity on Adrian and I, and we couldn’t wait to continue our Okinawan adventure further.
Over the following days, we ventured down and through Iriomote Island, one of the most southern island of Okinawa. It’s a small tropical paradise where a peaceful harmony exists between the exotic wildlife and its citizens.
The Iriomote Cat is particularly iconic, yet it tragically faces near extinction. As a result, many residents of the island are devoted to protecting this rare species.
Such residents include Morimoto, the watching figure of Iriomote Island and our personal guide. Throughout our journey, Morimoto welcomed us to his island and guided us through its plentiful beauty.
Despite the language barrier, we connected with him on a resonating level. We called him Sensei (teacher) as he taught us so much about the island by showing instead of just telling.
Together we kayaked across the rivers, journeyed through the jungle, scaled up waterfalls and descended into the caves off the island. Morimoto was 60 plus, yet he commandeered the island like an absolute boss, never stopping for breath, determined to show his new friends the hidden treasures of his island.
Spurred on by Morimoto’s spirit for adventure, Adrian and I took to the sea on our own where we spent time snorkeling amongst the island’s lucious reefs. Here we hoped to catch a glimpse of the whale shark, an intimidatingly large but peaceful creature that appears amongst the Okinawan seas.
While we didn’t see the whale shark we caught a glimpse of the rich Okinawan sea life, leaving us in a state of awe.
Overall, the beauty of Iriomote truly transported us to a state of connectivity with nature that neither of us had experienced before.