Now that I’m a week away from departing Okinawa, my home for the last two years, I’m reflecting on my time here and my experiences and adventures. (Missed Part 1? Catch up here.) I’ve been thinking about all the things I will miss about Okinawa and there are so many things I will miss. And so here are my top 8 things I will miss.
1. Lawson/Family Mart
Convenience stores in Japan are on a whole ‘nother level. Instead of shady places with questionable food, Lawson and Family Mart have delicious fresh food with a variety of drinks, candy, packaged foods, and other treats. And Onigiri (also known as omusubi, nigirimeshi, or just rice ball). Also coffee. Their coffee is really good. Plus, you can purchase an entire meal (chicken, rice ball, coffee) for less than $5.
2. Public Toilets
I know this sounds weird, but hear me out. Public toilets in Japan are immaculately clean. I mean eat-off-the-floor clean. Not that you would do that because it’s still a toilet. But you get my point.
Also, most of the toilets are fancy and include a bidet with multiple options, heated seats, and even music/sound options. Who doesn’t love some light music to help the privacy?
And did I mention clean? Your home toilet is not as clean as the toilet in any Lawson or train station. Seriously.
I almost said sushi but you can get good sushi in the United States. Of course, good sushi is ridiculously expensive in the U.S., whereas good sushi here is ridiculously cheap. But still, I pick soba. Particulaly Okinawan soba.
On mainland Japan, soba (そば or 蕎麦, “buckwheat”) are thin buckwheat noodles. Soba originates from the Tokugawa period, also called the Edo period, from 1603 to 1868. Served hot or cold, soba is found in a variety of dishes.
Okinawa soba, in comparison, are thick wheat noodles more closely resemble the texture of udon, and when served in soup, the broth is more similar to that of ramen. The noodles tend to have a circular cross-section in the Yaeyama Islands and tend to be slightly flat in the rest of Okinawa Prefecture.
It was actually a big deal that Okinawa soba is still called soba. Japan standardized soba under the fair competition regulations that the noodles must contain at least 30% of buckwheat. In 1976, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission tried to make Okinawa, which was returned to Japan in 1972, drop the name “soba” because Okinawa’s soba did not conform to the regulation. The Okinawa Noodle Manufacturing Co-op negotiated with the Fair Trade Commission, and as a result, it was accepted as one of several exceptions under the name of Okinawa soba.
Either way, both kinds of soba are delicious. As is ramen, and udon, and beni imo (purple sweet potatoes), and SPAM and egg onigiri, and Chinsuko (famous Okinawa oval-shaped cookies), and shikuwasa (a small green citrus fruit native to Okinawa and Taiwan), and Blue Seal ice cream. I could keep going, but I think you get my point.
4. Politeness and Attention to Detail
This could actually be two items but mostly I find it goes hand-in-hand. Everyone, from the person at the McDonald’s drive-thru window to the person behind the counter at the airlines, is polite and bows with a .ありがとうございました (arigato gozaimashita = thank you). On top of that, even the Lawson store clerk will carefully bags your items. Each item in its place. Paper bags, like the McDonald’s bag or the Mister Donut bag, are carefully folded over and a piece of tape is placed on one side to hold the fold down.
At this cute gemstone and jewelry story, the proprietor took at least 30 minutes polishing and carefully wrapping the ring, bracelet, and necklace I bought. He even polished the moonstone and tiger’s eye stones. This attention to detail, on top of the uber politeness, is incredible and so thorough, something you rarely get in the States.
5. Island Time
And that attention to detail leads to the next thing I’ll miss. Island Time.
Anyone who’s ever vacationed on an Island, whether the Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, or some other island, has probably experienced Island Time. When you’re on an island, life just moves at its own pace. I don’t know if it’s because there’s only so far you can go (Okinawa is only 67 miles long and varies from 2-17 miles wide). Or if it’s because everyone just knows that there’s more to life than frantically rushing here to there. Whatever the reason, island time becomes a part of you. And I’ve found that I’ve slowed down. I have more patience (like waiting patiently for my jewelry to be polished and warpped). I stop to marvel at the incredible world around me. And I appreciate that this attention to detail combined with island time makes thing that much more special.
6. Vending Machines
Vending machines are everywhere. Going for a walk and forgot your water bottle? No worries because you’ll come across at least one, if not more vending machine. And if for some unlikely reason you don’t come across a vending maching, there will be a Lawson or Family Mart.
Not only does my airbnb have a vending machine, I found 3 other vending machines on one side of this block.
7. No Tipping
No tipping in Japan. No tipping in restaurants or in cabs. No tipping at hotels or spas. There a few, rare exceptions, like tipping a private guide or interpreter. But those situations are few. Basically, tipping is not customary in Japan. It actually can be considered rude and insulting in many situations. Most Japanese restaurants require customers to pay for their meals at the front register, rather than leave money with the waiter. It’s been really refreshing not to have to figure out a tip while living here.
8. Gorgeous Ocean Views
Last but not least, I will miss my gorgeous ocean view.
So many things I’ve enjoyed over the last 2 years. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to experience the Japanese and Okinawan cultures in such depth. But I’m also ready for the next chapter. So stay tuned for Part 3!