Differences between Okinawa and Mainland Japan


Tokyo and Okinawa

Since moving to Okinawa just over a year ago I have noticed how different it is to the rest of Japan. Whenever people ask me about Okinawa, one of the first things I mention is how it is nothing like the mainland, and I think this is because I assume people think that when I say that I live in Japan i'm walking around in an Akira-like bustling neon wonderland. Okinawa is the complete opposite of this!

Ok, first up, it goes without saying that this is of course based on my own personal experiences of living both on the mainland and now in Okinawa, and I apologise in advance if some of this isn't correct.

  • You need a car in Okinawa: I'm sure there are some rural parts of mainland Japan that having a car is almost a necessity, however as there are no trains in Okinawa, and only a limited monorail system in Naha, the capital, and the rest of the island is serviced by infrequent buses, I wouldn't be able to survive without my car. Where I live, the nearest conbini (convenience store) is a 15 minute walk away, and the nearest supermarket a 15 minute drive. When I lived in Tochigi prefecture on the mainland, even though I was in a relatively rural (for Japan) area, I still had easy access to conbini, supermarkets and a short walk/bike ride to a train station that would take me directly to Tokyo.

  • Life is much more chilled out in Okinawa: My colleagues in Okinawa always refer to "Okinawa time" versus mainland time. Meaning that it's usual for people to arrive 10 minutes late to appointments in Okinawa, however people always show up exactly on time on the mainland. I also think there is a much better work-life balance in Okinawa. In Tochigi, everyday the train was crowded with people making long commutes to long work days in Tokyo. In Okinawa, especially my workplace, there is more emphasis on leaving on time.

  • Okinawan food is very different to mainland Japan: Anyone who knows me, knows that i LOVE Japanese food, however I have to say, that Okinawan food really hasn't captured my heart in the same way. Sure, Okinawa Soba is tasty, but it doesn't get me excited the way a good ramen or udon does. Okinawan tofu on the other hand is the best tofu i've ever had. It's so fresh you buy it warm from the supermarket where it is delivered multiple times a day!

  • More people seem to speak English in Okinawa: In my opinion, there is definitely more people that speak English in Okinawa than on the mainland. This can be a positive or a negative. On the one hand, I'm trying to improve my Japanese level, and this is kind of tricky when most people at restaurants and shops start to speak to me in English. On the other hand, this is awesome when i'm being lazy and just want someone to help me find what i'm looking for or explain to me what is in the food i'm ordering.
Okinawa house

  • The architecture is very different: Houses in Okinawa tend to be quite square, flat roofed and concrete. I think this is because of the number of typhoons we have every year and people are always going to choose safety over looks. Traditional Okinawan houses tend to be concrete with low tiles roofs, whereas houses on the mainland or traditionally wood to allow a free flow of air to combat the humidity. Okinawan houses also typically have a pair of Shisa (a cross between a dog and a lion) on their roof or flanking the gates to protect the houses from evil. I actually don't think I have ever seen a house without Shisas our the front!

  • Okinawa has it's own language: Although Japanese is the language heard everywhere on the island, the Okinawans have their own language, Uchinaguchi, which is in decline but can be heard in traditional songs and local theatre. Don't worry though, if you are coming to Okinawa and speak Japanese, you will be fine.
Are there any other differences you have noticed between Okinawa and mainland Japan?

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