What Okinawa souvenirs to take to friends overseas

Category: [ Living ]

By David Higgins

Okinawa is great. Okinawa is so great that you want to share it with friends and family. Unfortunately, this is not always possible so the best you can do is to send souvenirs that share a taste of Okinawan life and culture.

Nothing is more Okinawan than a pair of Shisa.
Nothing is more Okinawan than a pair of Shisa.

Over the years, I have put these souvenirs to the test. This is a list of my top favorite souvenirs from Okinawa and as an added bonus, some that I have discovered, just aren’t worth the sentiment.

My all time favorite souvenir on Okinawa has got to be the most readily available one. This would be a pair of Shisa. The Shisa represent Okinawa’s long standing connection to the Orient. Shisa didn’t actually originate from Japan and can actually only be found in Okinawa, not in the mainland, as they are a part of the islands’ Ryukyu culture. The Shisa are traditionally placed in front of the house to protect people in the house from evil and bad spirits. The fact that they are intriguing to look at with the added bonus of having the ability to ward off evil spirits, makes them a great gift for anyone who you want to protect and keep safe from lurking evil.

Orion beer is a perfect gift.
Orion beer is a perfect gift.

My second favorite souvenir has got to be a can of Orion Beer. It’s incredible that this beer is brewed right here on the island. What is even more amazing is that it actually tastes fantastic. Orion beer is packed full of all kinds of flavors, nutrients and goodness that are a perfect happiness combo for any lucky recipient. Orion Beer is so good that it’s already making a name for itself across Asia. It is now readily available in both Taiwan and Hong Kong. A visit to Okinawa no longer requires a long flight over the ocean when all you need to do is make your way to the closest convenient store, purchase a few cold ones, and crack open a can of Orion beer to taste the character and balance that is truly Okinawa.

My third favorite Okinawan Souvenir can, at times, be considered my favorite all time souvenir. It’s called ‘Chinsuko.’ These are the most delicious tasting cookies and readily available at any local super market. The secret to these bad boys is pig lard. Yup. It’s good ol’ pig’s lard that gives these treats the delicious buttery taste, which renders them highly additive. A package of these cookies can be consumed rapidly and enjoyably with a steaming cup of coffee to wash them down.

Chinsuko cookies are delicious and come in many variations.
Chinsuko cookies are delicious and come in many variations.

I have had a lot of experience with buying souvenirs for family or friends back at home. It can be a real disappointment to revisit the homeland and notice that the souvenir that you painstakingly wrapped with care and mailed overseas is yet to be consumed or enjoyed. Here are a few souvenirs that are better left sitting on the Okinawan store shelves rather than taking up guilty space in your loved ones cupboards at home.

Habu sake is truly exotic, but maybe not so much appreciated by westerners.
Habu sake is truly exotic, but maybe not so much appreciated by westerners.

The first gift that should be given a pass is Habu Sake, or any type of Okinawan sake for that matter. Habu sake contains an actual snake corpse inside of the bottle, and is pure poison that will most likely make someone very ill. It’s extremely expensive and tastes absolutely horrible. Any sake by itself isn’t something that is easily enjoyed by your average North American in the first place. Add a snake corpse and the deal is sealed.

The second gift that is not worth buying is Okinawan Salt. Although the salt is said to have many health benefits and might possibly contain magical ingredients that could be the secret to why there are so many centenarians on Okinawa but it is a really boring gift. No one ever gets excited about receiving salt.

Awamori in general does not often match a western recipient's taste.
Awamori in general does not often match a western recipient’s taste.

The last gift is a box of taco rice. This gift screams, ‘unhealthy preservatives packed inside of something that isn’t necessarily that tasty unless you are desperately hungry in the first place.’ Taco Rice might taste good eaten fresh at King Tacos restaurant, but what comes out of that box is not any kind of respectable substitute for the King Taco experience.

Oki suvenir Okinawa Salt
Okinawan salt may be good for your health, but it makes a really boring gift.

When living or traveling far from home, it is often expected that when you return to visit your friends and loved ones in the homeland, you will not come empty handed. Giving souvenirs is a great way to share a piece of your experience or life with them. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that although everyone loves receiving a gift, not everyone will love the gifts they receive. When I receive a gift of Japanese Sake, I find an empty spot on the shelf next to the other gifts that I don’t really enjoy. As I place that gift on the shelf where it will hold a permanent position, I often shake my head and wonder what the gift giver was possibly thinking about when they bought me expensive Sake, when clearly, I have always been a devout beer drinker.

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