What to Buy in Okinawa: Fun and Tasty Miyakojima Souvenirs
27 January 2017
Souvenir shop
When travelers visit exotic locales, they are seldom content to leave without a physical token by which to remember their journeys. While some are content with generic fare, most people search for items that reflect the cultural and historical uniqueness of the places they visit. When considering what to buy in Okinawa, remember that the richness of this island chain extends beyond the main one. Miyakojima, for example, has a rich heritage and thriving local crafts scene that provides travelers with a wide variety of choices. Here are some suggestions for souvenirs available on Miyakojima.


 

What to Buy in Okinawa and Miyakojima

 

Food and Drink

Keats Mango
Keats Mango

If easy shipping is not a concern, one of the most sought-after Miyakojima souvenirs is the Keats mango, a super-sweet fruit which is an emblem of summer on Miyakojima. If you want to send home a Keats mango, you’d be well advised to order online well in advance of the August harvest season. Distributors do ship internationally, so these delectable fruits can be sent just about anywhere, but be warned that August is typhoon season; since Miyakojima lays close to typhoon-alley, it is not uncommon for the entire harvest of Keats mango to fall victim to these frequent tropical storms. For this reason, along with their relative rarity, Keats mangos can be rather pricey (cost varies year by year depending on availability), but those who have tasted them agree, they are worth every penny.


 
Chinsuko
Chinsuko

For many people, souvenir hunting means searching for food items that represent local tastes and flavors, packaged in a way that permits easy shipping back home. When considering what to buy in Okinawa and Miyakojima, local foods--specifically, sweets--should be high on your list! One of the most popular edible Okinawa gifts is chinsuko, a sweet shortbread-like cookie that comes in all kinds of Okinawan flavors like beniimo (sweet potato) or yomogi (mugwort). While chinsuko is not unique to Miyakojima, it is beloved on the island and is often made with local ingredients such as Miyakojima bananas.


 
Yukishio
Yukishio

Visitors looking for an edible Miyakojima souvenir that is unique to the island should definitely try Yukishio, a soft, fine, moist type of refined sea salt that is so rich in natural minerals it actually holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Bursting with subtle flavors, it is manufactured in a facility at the northern tip of Miyakojima, where it can be purchased on its own in packages of varying sizes, or as part of confectionaries you can take back to family and friends. The factory is open all year and gives tours in which they reveal the manufacturing process (and even sell Yukishio flavored ice-cream).


 
Awamori
Awamori

Souvenir hunters in search of specialty alcoholic beverages will not be disappointed in the options available on the islands. Awamori, a distinctly Okinawan form of distilled alcohol made from indica rice fermented using thrus fungus that conveys its strong flavor, should be on everyone’s list of what to buy in Okinawa and Miyakojima. It is one of the most popular Okinawa gifts and can be purchased at souvenir and duty free shops all over the Ryukyu islands. There are many brands of Awamori, all of them unique to the regions in which they are produced. Miyakojima boasts several brands, including Ryukyu Ocho (Ryukyu Dynasty), known for its mellow flavor and Oki no Hikari (Light of Okinawa), which contains ‘kushu’ (literally ‘old alcohol’) aged for 10 years. Tours of distilleries can be arranged and awamori can be purchased right from the factories, often for less than ¥3,000 per bottle.


 
Orion Beer

Of course, awamori is not the only alcohol produced on Miyakojima; the island also has its very own beer microbrewery.  While there is no Okinawan cultural tradition associated with beer and the brewery was established quite recently, having been founded in 2010 by a migrant from Tokyo, it nonetheless makes for an excellent Miyakojima souvenir for connoisseurs of fine ales. Brewed with coral filtered Miyakojima groundwater, its high mineral content gives it a smooth, mellow taste locals describe as “relaxed.” Ask for Turiba Beer at supermarkets, convenience stores and specialty shops on the island and the staff will point you to a selection produced by this specialty brewer.



 

Homemade Okinawa Gifts

Shell Art
Shell Art

While salt, cookies, fruit and alcohol make for excellent gifts, not all of the best souvenirs are edible--in fact, some of them are not even ready-made! It may be worth asking yourself not only what to buy in Okinawa, but what you can make for yourself using local materials. Okinawa is renowned for its shell-based art and Miyakojima Seashell Hall boasts a facility where, if you can’t find what you want in the gift shop, you can purchase shells and produce your own designs.



 
Shisa
Shisa

Even more popular as self-made crafts are shisa dogs, Okinawa’s famous dog/lion statues that adorn the gates or roofs of just about every building in the Ryukyus. For a mere ¥3,500, visitors to Miyakojima City “Taiken Craft” Village can design their own shisas from scratch, or use one of many prefabricated molds to shape the clay. Just remember, when you make shisa dogs, you should make two - one for each side of your doorway - to invite good fortune and guard against evil spirits. But even if you don’t feel like making your own, they are a good choice when thinking about what to buy in Okinawa.


 

Miyako Jofu: A Truly Unique Miyakojima Souvenir


If you want to bring home a Miyakojima souvenir which is truly emblematic of that island’s history and culture, consider buying an Okinawan-style kimono cut from distinctive Miyakojma Jofu textiles. Using techniques dating back to the mid 1400s, Miyakojima Jofu is a high-quality cloth hand-woven from dyed ramie fiber into various repeating patterns.

Miyakojima Jofu holds a place of great importance in Okinawan and Japanese history, since it was one of the items which was used to pay imperial tribute to the Chinese emperor, then later collected as a tax by the Satsuma administration after conquest in 1609 (and distributed as ‘Satsuma Jofu’ around mainland Japan). It is said that to fulfill the unreasonable poll taxes imposed by the Satsuma regime under the Tokugawa shogunate, the most skilled weavers were forced to work from dawn to dusk.



 

Miyako Jofu Placemats and Coasters


While Miyakojima Jofu kimono are definitely among the most impressive Miyakojima souvenirs, they are also among the most expensive. And so they should be, since weaving enough cloth for a full kimono can take a full-time weaver several months. But not to worry, visitors who want to take home a piece of Okinawan history can purchase Miyakojima Jofu placemats, coasters and other small items available at many gift shops around the island for only a few hundred to a few thousand yen. Visitors who desire a souvenir with deeper traditional resonance can invest a bit more and purchase a tesaji, a kind of hand-towel historically woven by young women (originally in the Yaeyama Islands) and given to suitors as a symbol of their undying love.

Miyako Jofu: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/handcrft/miyakojofu.html

 

Treasure your Island Adventure with Miyakojima Souvenirs


The question of what to buy in Okinawa ultimately depends on which island you visit. But even among so many options, Miyakojima souvenirs--and the island they hail from--stand out. From the budget conscious to the extravagant, from edible wonders and artistic crafts to historical fabrics endowed with deep cultural meaning, Miyakojima provides the discerning traveler with untold riches, ensuring that there will always be a perfect way to take home a piece of island paradise.



 

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