Whether selecting gifts for your loved ones or for yourself, typical gifts are ok, but why not find something unique? We will give you the most current gift information from the residents of Okinawa.
Okinawa is a treasure house for delicious cuisine lovers. The great taste and health benefits of traditional Ryukyuan cooking are nowadays famous worldwide. Sitting at an Okinawan table is an unforgettable experience with the many scents, tastes and colors that local chefs mix with an ancestral knowledge.
Although some people can recreate the delicacies enjoyed
on island in their kitchen, it might be difficult to achieve the same level of deliciousness as required ingredients are not always easy to find. However, many of the treats and dishes enjoy locally are available through local stores and the internet in form of already prepared side dish, boil-in-the-bag type food, or dried food.
Among the many popular treats are mimiga (vinegared pig's ear), tofuyo (Cheese of the East), and the bitter gourd goya chips. Rafte (stewed pork belly) can be found as is or assorted with white Japanese radish or other types of vegetables. The symbol food of Okinawa, soba is available as Okinawa soba and spareribs topped noodles, soki soba. Mozuku seaweed, umibudo sea grapes and abura-miso are also on sale as side dishes.
Many broths can be found in boil-in-the-bag style. The choice is large and goes from pig entrails soup, goat or beef meat soup, squid ink soup, spareribs soup, pig's feet soup to the delicious Inamuduchi or white miso pork soup. Finally, for a more complete dish, look for Okinawan style nitsuke, a dish of pork and vegetables boiled with soy sauce and sugar.
And then, there are the sweets. Mirror of the local society, with roots in China, Japan and America, they are numerous and delicious: sataandagi, the Okinawa-style doughnut, kuruzataa, a bite-size brown sugar treat, chinsuko cookies, which taste varies from plain to salt and chocolate, and rice crackers sembei. Sweet potato chips and tarts are another treats highly enjoyed by local and mainland Japanese.
Undeniably, the resources for a great meal are out there. They should help you remember a great stay in Okinawa or simply spend a good time around locally prepared delicacies. Whichever way, enjoy!
The wide variety of traditional textiles in Okinawa was inspired by elements of nature: the sun, wind, earth and plants, and many regions have their particular textiles. They developed under the influence of fabrics from Southeast Asia, China and mainland Japan.
Here, I pick up a style called 'minsa.' Minsa derives from the words 'min' (cotton) and 'sar' (narrow) in Chinese and is
generally considered as a narrow cotton sash. There are several kinds of minsa in Okinawa. Among them, the best known is Yaeyama minsa and is made in the Yaeyama Islands. The ikat is easily recognized by its unique alternating five-and-four square pattern on indigo-dyed material. The classical look is understated yet it has a long tradition and a hidden meaning.
The story is thus. A woman of Yaeyama in olden times wove the pattern, symbolizing "love forever," to give to her beloved, prospective husband as an engagement gift. "Forever" in Japanese is "itsu-no-yo." "Itsu" sounds like the word for "five" and "yo" sounds like the word for "four." It is still popularly chosen as a wedding gift.
My own friends, for their engagement or wedding gifts, have requested Yaeyama minsa from me. Even when there is no such a request, I often choose Yaeyama minsa items.
Today, the design is used on bags, neckties, handkerchiefs, placemats, business card holders and many other articles. How about choosing one for your sweetheart as a special gift from Okinawa?
Every year, Okinawa welcomes millions of tourist from Japan that will return home with their bags full of omiyage (souvenirs). In Japan, the culture of giving souvenirs after a trip somewhere is so instilled that at Tokyo's Haneda airport, busy and scatterbrained people will still be able to buy products from all over Japan.
In Okinawa, the choice of souvenirs is impressing.
Gift shops sometimes look like a jolly Ali Baba shamble where one can find all kinds of goods like foods, drinks, clothes, crafts, music instruments and any ornament that will match even the most peculiar tastes. They also sell all kinds of talismans like flat stones with the word Ishiganto in Chinese characters carved on them that are put on T-intersections to divert evil spirits. Giant clams called shako gai, to be put on stonewalls and entrances are also well liked. But among the numerous talismans that can be found in Okinawa, shisa, or lion dogs, are probably the most popular.
On the main island, they can be seen almost everywhere, in front of houses, restaurants, public offices, on roofs, etc. Some look scary and others, funny.
When in pairs, the shisa with the opened mouth often stands on the left and the one with closed mouth on the right. There are different versions about which is the male or the female and what it represents.
Souvenir shops sell them at different sizes and prices but many pottery studios offer workshops to create your own shisa. For people with enough time, it is a good opportunity to discover the pleasures of pottery by creating a nice object that will act as a talisman and certainly bring good memories.
Sugarcane is widely known around the world as a plant grown to make sugar. Ethanol, a biofuel alternative, is now becoming a primary product made from processing sugarcane. Here in Okinawa, sugarcane has been grown from long ago to produce brown sugar. But, who in the world would ever think of using the extract of sugarcanes
to create a beautiful craft? Here in Tomigusuku City, such products actually exist.
Sugarcane dyes, locally known as "Uji" dyes, are beautiful crafts made from sugarcane leaves. Creation of this gorgeous green craft starts from hard work in the fields by cutting down suitable sugarcane leaves. The leaves are then crushed and boiled for extracts. Subtle gradations of their main green color occur due to the season the leaves are cut. Some products may be dark green; some may be light in color or even golden yellow. A new addition to this craft is the sugarcane pink extracted from another part of the sugarcane. Nature surely works its wonders with this beautiful craft.
Uji products are made with fine craftsmanship. They are made by a group of craftswomen belonging to the Tomigusuku Uji-zome Kyodo Kumiai, an organization specializing in this craft. Products range from tapestries, scarves, bags, tablemats and to everyday business attire.
Craftswomen also hold a hands-on class (reservations required) at their studio in Tomigusuku City. The two-hour class includes a tour of the studio and an explanation of the dyeing and weaving process. At the end, participants can take home a handkerchief dyed with their own hands.
In seeking out a keepsake to give to friends and family, there are various options. In seeing various 'I Love Okinawa' keepsakes, one can't help but think of the 'I Love NY' and other ones. I had the chance to meet a shop sales manager named Yuka, who was stocking some products, and got to the learn about the original intent of the product.
The owner thought that since Okinawa was a place where a lot of Americans and Okinawans lived together, it could be used to show that both groups enjoyed calling the islands home. I would have never thought about it in that manner. I think all the pieces are great keepsakes, but the idea that the intent was for the residents to show their pride in Okinawa was a unique approach. To further show their sense of community, I also learned the company not only gives away a lot of promotional stickers, but they have also supported beach cleanups and visited children in hospitals, brightening up the days for the terminally ill with an I Love Okinawa bear. She said they also have plans do more outreach and possibly going to nursing homes or other places to brighten the lives of others. It was neat to learn the pride in what the product stood for and not just the different items for sale.
I like the keepsakes because there is a lot to choose from and at affordable prices. They have t-shirts, cell phone straps, small and larger teddy bears, mugs, stickers, and a couple of other things making it quick to shop for. I know a lot of people that have grown to love the islands, including me, so giving an I Love Okinawa item to them provides a way to keep the relationship going. There is a closeness and pride that comes with people living on islands and finding out the meaning of the company added value to the products in my eyes. The next time you see a car driving by with the sticker or someone drinking coffee out of the mug, you will know the true meaning of what I Love Okinawa means!
Sharing one's experience of Okinawa is often associated with photographs and narrations that depict a fond memory, a special encounter or a new found knowledge about the island's uniqueness. However, when photographs and narrations are simply not enough, one can always rely on souvenirs of sentimental value to capture the essence of time spent in Okinawa; or better yet, a souvenir that not
only tells a story but also serves as a good luck charm. One such souvenir that encompasses all of the above is the colorful and elegant coral imprinted keepsakes available at Shuri-Ryusen, located near the outer entrance gate to Shurijo Castle.
Shuri-Ryusen was established in Okinawa in 1973 by its founder Mr. Koto Yamaoka, an expert of plant dyeing whose vision was to create Okinawa-inspired souvenirs not only for visitors but also for the locals who appreciate the adornment of Okinawa's beauty. What makes Shuri-Ryusen's souvenirs a "must get" is the association it has with the inspirational meaning that corals posses and the attractiveness of its rainbow of colors which dye the waters. Like the magnificence of corals' egg laying for the prosperity of its descendants, the good luck charms that carry this message would make perfect keepsakes or gifts for those who could use a little help in the fertility area or whose wishes for the longevity of family members lives.
Further enhancing the value of these lovely souvenirs is the opportunity in making your own coral-inspired keepsake at Shuri-Ryusen. Whether or not you possess artistic talent, you are guaranteed to transform scarves, photo frames, key chains and other items into an inspirational artwork there. The imprint of Okinawa's beauty in one's memory will definitely be reflected in the souvenirs both purchased and created at Shuri-Ryusen.
If you like arts and crafts, then you'll love Kiboriya. Kiboriya is a family run business in Tamagusuku, Nanjo City that makes furniture, crafts, and accessories from wood produced in Okinawa.
In this digital age, it's very rare to come across artisans much less a family of them! This family of artisans started with the father. Even as a child, Mr. Morinaga was crafty.
He made bows and water guns out of wood. His hobby was carving. When he became an adult, he wanted to become a furniture craftsman. He applied to a crafts school to learn this skill, but unfortunately it was full. He ended up attending another crafts school where he learned to lacquer. He made accessories such as lacquered hair pins and clips. One day he asked his craftsman friend to let him carve a pattern into one of his tables, and his friend suggested that he make his own table and carve a pattern into it. This is how he got started making furniture. His works include chairs that have backs that are shaped like a leaf, chairs with backs that have stained glass built in, and dark wooden tables also with stained glass built in. His furniture gives any room class.
Mrs. Morinaga began assisting Mr. Morinaga with making his lacquered products. She soon developed an interest in making her own crafts, so she attended the same school as her husband. Her works include clocks with sun and moon motifs. As she loves flowers, one of her biggest creations is a clock that stands in the shape of a sunflower. She also makes beautiful wooden flower holders and flower-shaped lighting.
The daughter, Yaemi helped her father with making his crafts while she was growing up. One day it dawned on her to combine kokutan, a very hard wood, with lacquer to make accessories. With the desire to make her own crafts, she also decided to attend the same school as her father. Her works include lacquered earrings and hairpins with natural jewels such as pearls, turquoise, and coral. All of her works are crafted with nature as the motif. Some customers even bring her their own jewels to be created into their made-to-order accessories.
Whether you're looking for a local gift, wanting to give your room a new aura, or setting a new trend with fashionable wooden accessories, Kiboriya is sure to have something for you!
With its performing arts, crafts, textiles and other various arts, Okinawa continues to dazzle visitors and its residents with its rich culture. When I make a trip back to the west coast of Canada, I'm always looking for something new and interesting to take to my friends, and despite my numerous trips, I never run out of cool souvenirs to take.
One of the most popular souvenirs that I've presented so
far, are various Ryukyu glass pieces. There are so many great Ryukyu glass gifts to choose from, ranging from small pieces to place chopsticks to vases and even glass flowers, as well as a wide selection of figurines. I particularly enjoy the colorful drinking glasses with its unique beauty. In the world of glass art, air bubbles are considered to be imperfections and are deemed unsophisticated. But it's these air bubbles that I think are reminiscent of Okinawa's clear seas and raindrops on the leaves after a sudden, torrential downpour. Beer, Awamori, mugicha tea or even water seems to taste better when served in these delightful glasses.
It is believed that the art of glass-making was introduced to the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 1600s, however, it was only in 1998 that Ryukyu glass was recognized as a traditional craftwork of Okinawa Prefecture. Its popularity is not limited to being great souvenir items, as you will most definitely find them at every souvenir shop and almost every local household that I've visited in Okinawa has a set in their cupboards. These glasses are made individually by hand, and maybe it's because of that, they have a particular warmth to its character which beats your everyday, mass-produced glasses, hands down. With a shelf full of glasses to choose from, I always find myself reaching for the Ryukyu glass, with its perfect size, shape and color.
There are numerous Ryukyu glass studios and shops throughout the island, and some where you can actually make your own glass pieces. The Ryukyu Glass Village in Itoman is a great place to find a wide variety of merchandise. Ryukyu glass is another way to enjoy Okinawa's art and its drinks, colors and vibrant warmth.