During the month of August, we are exploring the wide world of places military families are stationed. Meg describes her initial reaction to receiving orders to Okinawa, Japan and the things she’s learned to love most about her time there. Enjoy! ~Rebecca
“Honey, sit down.”
Uh-oh. When my husband starts a conversation with those words, it’s probably not going to be something good.
“We’ve got orders overseas.”
My mind started churning, imagining days spent exploring Germany or sipping tea in the UK. I could finally relearn French!
Okay, cool. Mount Fuji, Tokyo Disney. I can still totally handle this.
Nope. Hard pass. Okinawa has a love-it or hate–it reputation in the Marine Corps. I was firmly in the “I’m going to hate it” camp. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any other options.
When we stepped off the plane, the heat and humidity enveloped me. Once we passed through customs, we discovered a whole welcoming committee had trekked out to greet us! Almost everything about that night was, and still is, a total blur. The one thing that stood out was the promise that our new friends would help us get settled, and show us around the island a little.
They drove us around over the next few days, and we started to fall in love with our island. We found places, food, and experiences that we just had to try before we left.
If you’re headed to Okinawa for three years, or just on vacation, put these special items on your own bucket list!
You might have had soba before, but not like this! Okinawa soba is totally different from traditional buckwheat soba. First, the noodles are made of regular wheat flour. The broth is rich and savory. Okinawa soba is often topped with a few thick slices of pork belly or short ribs. You can find soba all over the island, at big restaurants and tiny cafes.
Blue Seal Ice Cream
It’s an Okinawan Tradition! Try Okinawan spins on traditional flavors, like chocolate and vanilla. Or be adventurous, trying Okinawan salt cookie or ube. The Blue Seal Factory even offers a unique ice cream pop making experience.
It’s Okinawa’s spirit and joie de vivre, captured in one single experience. The pounding drums, singing and exuberant dancing makes Eisa dancing an experience that everyone in Okinawa should have at least once.
Check out the 10,000 Eisa event in August, at the end of Obon. Or visit Ryukyu Mura for an Eisa experience on a smaller scale.
Before Okinawa was part of Japan, it was the main island of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Head to Naha to visit Shuri Castle, a UNESCO Heritage site and historic seat of the Ryukyu Shogun. Learn why Okinawa will never be truly Japanese. They are first, and foremost, Okinawan.
For a sense of how Okinawan and American culture has blended, check out this shopping and restaurant mecca outside of Kadena AFB and Camp Foster. Take a spin on the Ferris wheel, pick up some shisa dog souvenirs and enjoy a day of shopping.
Peace Memorial Park
The island was all but destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa. There were mass casualties, and much of the land was laid to waste. The Memorial commemorates the loss of life on both sides, with a moving museum that shows how Okinawa changed because of the war. This is a must-visit spot to get a sense of Okinawa’s past, present, and possible future.
Okinawa and all of Japan has a reputation for amazing playgrounds and parks. The best ones have rolling slides that zip young and old quickly from top to bottom. Many have unique play structures. One playground has a goya (bitter melon) theme, and another looks like a treehouse! You’ll never see slides and playgrounds like this in the States!
Churaumi Aquarium and Ocean Expo Park
Go face-to-face with a whale shark at the Churaumi Aquarium, one of the largest in the world! You’ll also be able to see many of the sea creatures that call Okinawan waters home.
Head outside to check out the free dolphin shows and look at sea turtles and manatees. Walking for a little bit will take you through a replica of a traditional Okinawan village. Just beyond, you’ll find the Tropical Dream Center. You can wander among gorgeous blossoms and plants in this botanical garden.
The Oceanic Culture Center sheds light on the history of seafaring people in this part of the world. Visit the planetarium for special shows, too.
Beaches and Snorkeling
You can’t leave Okinawa without dipping your toes in either the East China Sea or the Pacific Ocean! The white coral sand beaches beckon, with reefs teeming with fish just offshore. Find a hidden beach, or head to a resort hotel for a more luxurious experience. Whichever way you like to experience the beach, plan to hit the sand!
Meg Flanagan, founder of MilKids Ed, is a teacher, mom and military spouse. She is dedicated to making the K-12 education experience easier for military families. Meg holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. She is a certified teacher in both elementary and special education in Massachusetts and Virginia. Meg regularly writes for several military publications and you can find her, and MilKids, online on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.