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Banju-Tei: A Tempting Soba Rest Point for President Clinton

By: “Grand Chef” Keizo Nakasone

Date Posted: 1999-12-03

During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, Kina, Yomitan Village was positioned as the intermediate point known as "Kina Banju" between the southern and northern parts of the Ryukyu Island.

Besides its convenient location as a resting point, the Kina Bnaju played an important role, not only as the rest station, but also as a safe shelter because infamous bandits called "Fehreh" used to plague the nearby mountain, robbing passengers in the dark. Those were days of terror. Consequently, people stayed overnight at Kina Banju until daylight, before heading to their various destinations again at the break of day. During their stay at Kina Bansho, people rested and recharged their food supplies for the remainder of their long journey.

One Okinawa Soba and soup restaurant, known as the "Banju-tei," can be the today's "Kina Banju” for many islanders, tourists and passengers. The Soba eatery opened very recently in Kina, Yomitan Village. Although the restaurant stands modestly on a back street behind Route 58, some tourists have already found this rest spot on their way to explore the northern part of Okniawa.

The main menu of the restaurant is, of course, various Soba dishes, including plain Soba (500 yen), Vegetable Soba (550 yen), Soki Soba, or noodles with pork ribs (600 yen).

Everything that is served at the restaurant, from soup to noodles and the Soba soup, are prepared from scratch on the premises. As far as Soba concerned, noodles and soup mean everything.

"I’m taking charge of the noodles and my wife does the soup part”, Masao Kyuuna, who is owner and also one of the cooks of the restaurant told us. “We studied a lot about Soba and visited many Soba restaurants and tried a whole variety of Soba,” he continued looking back at their days of research. After twists and turns, they finally found tastes and flavors of their own.

"My principle on making soup is to use no artificial seasonings. Without those artificial seasonings, it takes more time and efforts for soup making; however, that’s one thing that I wouldn’t give up" the wife, Sue said.

Among those Soba soup entrees, "Fehreh" Soba, or Bandit Soba Soup (750 yen) is something should not be missed. In a big soup bowl, noodles are topped with a variety of vegetables, pork rib, sliced pork chunk, seasoned pig foot. The portion is more than enough, probably even for a male. The good thing about "Fehreh" Soba is that one can enjoy a bit of everything of Okinawa’s favorite tastes in it. Noodles are thick and the fish and chicken broth based soup tastes rich, yet not heavy.

After 5:00pm, a la carte dishes, including grilled dishes, fried dishes, Sashimi dishes are also offered at the restaurant.

In 1593, which was Japan's period of isolation and Okinawa's Ryukyu Kingdom period, Matthew Perry from the American Navy came to Japan to conclude a treaty of peace and amity. This led to the end of Japan’s isolation and opened its ports to trade ships from foreign countries with the Edo regime. During the period of negociatins, Perry visited Ryukyu Island five times.

On one of those five occasions, Perry’s delegation stopped by the Kina Banju on their way to Shuri (Naha City) to take a rest. According to an inscription from the expedition record, the group arrived the Kina rest station around 2:30pm on June 3rd, 1953.

"Over 100 village people gathered there staring at the guns which opened fire without setting fire. People brought two chickens, some eggs and cucumbers. “We were so exhausted and starving that we enjoyed the food very much," Perry registered their Kina Banju stop on the record.

Kyuuna has a dream that President Clinton will stop by his Banju-tei restaurant on the way to Nago City during the G-8 Summit in next July. "Perry stopped by Kina Banju about 500 years ago, and if President Clinton can stop by Kina Banju again, that would be wonderful. It's my dream.”

Kyuuna said that, pointing towards sketches of Perry’s visit on the wall.

The restaurant opens from 11:00am to 12:00 midnight daily. Orders are taken until 11:00pm. After 5:00pm. A la carte dishes, including grilled dishes, fried dishes, and Sashimi dishes are also offered. For parking, parking lots are available close to the restaurant. In case the parking is full, there is no problem parking cars on the street. Two little difficulties though: English is not spoken there, and only yen is accepted for the payments.

Directions: From KAB Main Gate, take Route 58 and head towards Nago. Pass Lawson and Family Mart convenience stores (on your left) on Route 58 in Yomitan Village. At the 2nd traffic light from Lawson, make a left turn (there’s a sign there for Zakimi Castle Ruins) Then, make a right turn at the first intersection. At the turn, "Banju-tei" is immediately located on the left.

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