Okinawan Time - A Joy to the Heart and Soul - Experienced Through Yoga
Starting the day in a natural rhythm as the day breaks
"It might be because people can start the day off feeling good, but the overwhelming majority of people reserve a morning session."
We are at 21 Seiki-no-Mori Beach, a vast seaside park in Nago City, just as the night is faintly breaking into dawn. Our Okinawa beach yoga instructor Uechi-sensei is telling us about how to enjoy yoga outdoors.
Not losing any time, we move to the water's edge and roll out our yoga mats. The cool sand feels good on our feet.
"Okay, close your eyes. Bend over in one smooth motion as you notice your deep breaths."
I close my eyes and listen carefully to our instructor's words. I can feel my body, which is still half asleep, waking up in tune with the comfortable rhythm of the sound of the waves. My back slowly warms up. The sun has surely started to rise by now.
This is a glorious time to experience Okinawan nature throughout my entire body and with my five senses. About the time we finish the one-hour yoga session, sunlight has brightly lit up the area. My mind and body both are refreshed!
"One of the good things about morning yoga is that you can make the most of the time before breakfast. If you rise when nature is waking up, the day is still early even though you've already enjoyed yoga. Enjoy Okinawa to the fullest all day today," Uechi-sensei tells us.
"We will!" Today looks like it's going to be a superb day too.
Enjoying a carefree morning at an out-of-the-way restaurant
After exercising early in the morning, we want to eat something that is good for us.
After taking our time strolling through the park and walking around town in the morning, we head to Niceness for brunch.
This restaurant, situated along the river, is in a place that you wouldn't think to look unless you knew it was there. It's an out-of-the-way location where we can enjoy a quiet and peaceful brunch. Originally located in Naha, the proprietors moved their establishment here in search of a quieter environment.
Inside, the restaurant has the air of having stepped into a friend's house. The husband-and-wife proprietors renovated it themselves.
Taking a seat on the garden terrace surrounded by lush greenery, we enjoy a delicious vegan brunch. The Okinawan vegetables used in preparing the cuisine were grown by a friend of the owners. Okinawan ingredients and Nepalese cuisine really do go well with each other.
"Did you guys do yoga at 21 Seiki-no-Mori Beach? It really feels good, doesn't it? You can also try it at some other spots around here...."
His wife really loves yoga too. Time slips away as we chat about yoga. Colorful butterflies flutter around the tropical flowers decorating the garden, and they appear to be enjoying the conversation with us.
Checking out sweets offered by local purveyors
Without realizing it, we had stayed at Niceness longer than we planned to and decided to squeeze in a visit to another place high on our list of must-visit foodie destinations. The perfect place for an early snack!
We headed to Shima Donuts, a cute shop painted a beautiful sky blue and renowned for its freshly-baked donuts. There is an endless stream of customers coming into a shop that is filled with the aroma of freshly baked donuts.
"We are very particular about our donuts, especially the ingredients we select so that you can even let your children enjoy them." The donuts, made from soymilk and island tofu pulp, have a mild and pleasant flavor, and are laid out for customers to select. Our eyes move back and forth as we try to decide which flavor we want. While we're trying to decide, another customer comes in and buys 20.
In Okinawa, people often gather at a relative's or friend's house. The owner never even imagined it when the shop initially opened, but many customers come and buy some donuts to take to these gatherings.
Moreover, piping-hot fried foods are amongst Okinawans' soul food, so it was inevitable that these donuts would turn out to be popular, since they are healthier than fried foods, and, of course, children love them, too.
Because no additives are used, the donuts will not keep for long. Quantities are limited at this popular shop, so, once they're sold out, that's it for the day. Today too, while we were enjoying tea, the shop sold out its donuts for the day. They're good for you, and we were right to have an early snack and get here before they sold out.
Bringing home tastes of the Okinawan seasons
While enjoying all this different Okinawan cuisine, we began to take an interest in Okinawan ingredients.
A lot of Okinawan people are very good at using seasonal ingredients grown here on the island in their cooking. Our yoga instructor Uechi-sensei has island bananas and papaya trees in the garden at her house. We were wondering what sort of Okinawan ingredients are in season now?
So, we made our way to the JA Farmers Haisai! Yanbaru Market. There, we saw everything from fruits to island vegetables and even pre-cooked dishes. There's a treasure trove of Okinawan ingredients. Lots of fresh ingredients picked right from the fields are all lined up and reasonably priced. Before we knew it, our shopping basket was full. We were also pleasantly surprised that we could also ship home our purchases from here.
This is what a trip should be like. By the time we get home, our delicious Okinawan ingredients should have arrived. I wonder what I will make with them. I'm going to keep doing yoga at home too.
If I wake up to the feel of nature's power in the morning and get my full of delicious Okinawan foods, then, perhaps, I will continue to feel Okinawa in my heart and soul for a little while longer.
Be sure to try the Nepalese curry that brings out the delicious taste of vegetables and has a pleasant taste, which slowly is absorbed throughout your body. They also have a good variety of organic drinks, so guests are welcome even for tea. Be sure to get some of the homemade bread as a gift for your friends.
Address: 1635-1 Umusa, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture
Open Hours: 11:00 - 17:00
Fixed Holidays: Mondays and Tuesdays
In addition to the basic flavors, Shima Donuts also has a full selection of Okinawan flavors, including purple yam and jimami (peanut). There are also special daily selections to look forward to each time you step into the shop. Often the day's selection is sold out before 15:00, so be sure to go early.
Address: 270 Isagawa, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture
Open Hours: 11:00 - 15:00
Fixed Holidays: National Holidays
JA Farmers Haisai! Yanbaru Market
In this market, you'll find all sorts of fruits and vegetables grown in Yanbaru, including shikuwasa citrus, pineapples and tankan citrus. Many local customers also frequent the market. It is very interesting to see what sort of foods end up on the table at homes in Okinawa.
Address: 4-6-37 Miyazato, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture
Open Hours: 9:00 - 19:00
Closed for the three-day New Year's holiday, first day of the Bon Festival, and producers' meetings