When you visit Okinawa, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of souvenir options available both at commercialized tourist destinations in Naha like Kokusai-dori and more local tourist neighborhoods like Yachimun-dori. The souvenirs of Okinawa are as diverse and enchanting as the islands themselves, each telling a story of the region’s rich history, traditions, and natural beauty.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler seeking mementos to cherish or on the lookout for distinctive gifts to bring home to friends and family, you will find the perfect gift for anyone in Okinawa by following this guide on the top five popular Okinawa souvenirs.
1. Shisa Statues
Shisa are traditional Okinawan guardian lion-dog statues that are believed to ward off evil spirits. These ornate and colorful figurines come in various sizes and styles and they make for a meaningful and decorative souvenir. You can find them as keychains, magnets or larger decorative pieces. You can find them in a range of prices from 200 yen to 20,000 yen and more, depending on the size and craftsmanship of the piece.
If you want a truly original souvenir, you can even make your own shisa at workshops offered by Tsuboya Ikutouen, a pottery company with a history of six-generations operating in Naha.
A local favorite found in almost every convenience store, souvenir shop and grocery store, chinsuko is similar to a shortbread cookie, but it is made with lard instead of butter. It has been eaten since the period of the Ryukyu Kingdom, but instead of being steamed like it was back then, it is baked nowadays, giving it a light, crunchy texture. There are many variations of chinsuko flavors like kokutou (Okinawa black sugar), chocolate, beniimo (local purple potato) and even goya (bitter melon). Chinsuko come in pairs, so it is the perfect snack to share with a friend. You can buy a pack for yourself or a larger 24-pack to share with your colleagues, friends and family members when you return home.
3. Beniimo Tart
Beniimo tarts are another of Okinawa’s popular sweet treats. They are made using purple sweet potato and no additional coloring or preservatives. The filling consists of mashed purple sweet potato with sugar or condensed milk, creating a sweet and nutty flavor. The tart crust is the perfect crumbly, buttery texture that balances out the softness of the filling. It is a must-try dessert and souvenir that harkens back to Okinawa’s culinary heritage, since purple sweet potatoes have been eaten on the island since the 17th century during trade and cultural exchanges with China.
Awamori is Okinawa’s traditional distilled liquor. Unlike sake, awamori uses Thai long-grain indica rice nd multiple distillation phases, resulting in a higher alcohol content and distinct flavors. It is also aged in clay pots, often buried underground, giving it an even more distinct flavor profile. Depending on the aging process, which can vary from a few years to several decades, the character of the awamori changes. The final product can have flavors that include hints of tropical fruits, nuts and a mild spiciness. It is often enjoyed in Okinawa from family gatherings to formal ceremonies.
5. Ryukyuan Glassware
Ryukyu glassware is widely-known for its vibrant colors and delicate craftsmanship with a history dating back over a century. Artisans create the glass using sand from Okinawa’s pristine beaches and various minerals to create different hues. You can purchase cups, bases and ornaments both for decoration and functional purposes. This glasswork not only showcases Okinawa’s rich cultural heritage but also serves as a symbol of the islands’ natural beauty and artistic prowess, making it a great gift to remember your time in Okinawa.
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