Jan 2, 2018

Understanding differences between Okinawa and Japan

If you know some things about the history of Okinawa, you might have heard about how this southern part of Japan used to be its own kingdom called Ryukyu Kingdom. The kingdom consisted of a group of big and small islands, had strong relationships with the countries nearby: Japan, China and Korea, doing a lot of trade with them and thus taking in a lot of culture from various countries. As a result, although Ryukyu is now a part of Japan as "Okinawa" and a lot of cultures are now shared, Okinawa still contains a lot of uniqueness. In this post, I will examine some aspects of Okinawa that make the region and its people differ from the rest of Japan.

When I ask other Japanese people about Okinawa, they often mention how the people from this southern part of Japan have different personalities: they are more open and honest. This might be a projection of Japan’s impression of “southern countries” in general, but from my personal experiences, they are in fact different. It is generalizing, but the Okinawans I know show more emotions, more openly, and they are louder than average even during my first time meeting them.

Apparently Okinawans also look slightly different. Besides having “more yellow” skin than the typical Japanese shade, their facial features are also “strong”. I put these terms in quotes because those were words used by the Okinawans I know. The differences likely came from the relationship Ryukyu Kingdom had with other countries back then. Either way, the interesting thing is that Japanese people can often identify people from Okinawa just from how they look.

Of course, Okinawa is very different in its climate too. Being down south, Okinawa is much, much warmer than the rest of Japan. It NEVER snows there (Hi, Hokkaido!). Even in winter, the temperature in Okinawa can hit around 20 degrees while the rest of the country is experiencing single digit temperatures. Of course, in summer, Okinawa is hooooot. The tropical weather makes swimming a lovely activity in the summer, so you definitely should enjoy the beautiful ocean and beaches there in summer.

Speaking of the tropical weather, it also gifts the region very different fruits than the rest of Japan. Pineapples are extremely popular and delicious, but most important, the mangoes! Crowned by many as the king of tropical fruits (and personally, the ruler of all fruits), the red mangoes from Okinawa are amazingly sweet! Granted, they are also much more expensive than those you can get from other countries, as one single mango can reach thousands of yen, but if you ever get a chance to taste one, that lovely flavour is hard to forget.

These cultural differences are a great reason for anyone in Japan to visit Okinawa, to see something different. It is also why it is such a popular travelling location for many Japanese people, because they can experience a different culture without leaving their country or facing a different language. Therefore, if you have been in Japan for quite some time and you want to experience somewhere different without going far, consider Okinawa to be your next destination.