Wednesday 3 April 2013

20 reasons to visit Okinawa

Thinking of 20 reasons to visit a place isn't always easy. (Why 20, you ask? When that's what an editor asks for, that's what she must have.)

I thought I'd top out at about 10 when I had to write about Okinawa, the "Hawaii of Japan", recently for The Sun-Herald. I mean, it's pretty and tropical and there's great diving and it gets cherry blossoms in January and ... before I knew it, I'd reached #20. Here are my three favourites and a link to the full story.

Rocky islands off Miyako Island
1. Islands. Okinawa is made up of more than 160 islands, 49 of them inhabited, stretching 1000 kilometres south-west from Kyushu to Taiwan. Twenty-five of the islands are accessible by plane (see JAL's Okinawa Island Pass) or ferry: the 14 Kerama islands (which include Okinawa Island), the four Miyako Islands and, only 120 kilometres from Taiwan, the seven Yaeyama Islands, which include the jungle-clad Iriomote Island, often called the "Galapagos of Japan".

The Karate Kevin,
and me
2. Karate. Remember The Karate Kid back in (gulp) 1984? It was no Hollywood screenwriter's whim that Mr Miyagi came from Okinawa. Karate originated in Okinawa - known as the Ryukyu Kingdom until it became part of Japan in 1879 - when the Ryukyu king banned weapons, forcing locals to defend themselves with their bare hands. It spread to mainland Japan in the early 1900s, then to the rest of the world, but Okinawa remains the best place to learn authentic karate-do (literally "way of the open hand").

I had a brief lesson myself, at Murasakimura cultural village which has English-speaking instructors - like Kevin Chaplin, from the UK, pictured here - and a one-hour lesson costs $26 including a stiff white outfit and novice's black belt.

92-year-old Yoheina Shigu,
from Mibaru village
3. Old ladies. Talk about the wisdom of the ages. Okinawan women have the longest life expectancy in the world (86 years; Okinawan men live to about 78) and they live longest in Ogimi.

This village in northern Okinawa Island has 139 women (and 33 men) over the age of 90. The oldest woman to live here was 114 when she died a few years ago. Want whatever they're having? Order a Longevity Lunch at Emi no mise (literally "Emi's shop"), a restaurant in Ogimi that specialises in set meals of life-prolonging local foods such as seaweed, goya (a cucumber-like vegetable), tofu and tumeric. Oh, and Okinawa's old people don't drink coffee or alcohol, or smoke. I'm just saying...

Read the full story here.

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