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Okinawa

Bourdain’s Field Notes

I ate delicious yakisoba. And fluffy egg salad sandwiches from my favorite convenience store. I watched old school karate close-up. Maybe too close. I found out I am not completely horrible at tegumi, a relatively fat-free version of sumo (though I won’t be making a career of it).

Okinawa is the largest island in the Ryukyu archipelago, a kingdom, a culture and a people that was, until 1879, separate from Japan. You feel that difference immediately. It feels, relative to mainland Japan, like Southern California or Florida; balmy, tropical. Where the mainland feels frenetic, tightly wound, neurotic, Okinawa is decidedly laid back.

They have, since World War II, endured the mixed blessing of a disproportionate number of U.S. military bases, a proximity that has influenced the cuisine—the most famous (or notorious) example being taco rice—and have always been, like their Chinese neighbors, more pork-centric when it comes to protein of choice.

The island may be laid back, but it has a strong and steady tradition of activism. Okinawa paid an awful price in the final months of the war, losing up to a quarter of its population. It was sacrifice many feel bitter about still, as Okinawans then—and now—feel as if they are treated as second class citizens by the central government.

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“What does it mean to be strong? It implies hardness and flexibility. Okinawa is a place with a fighting tradition—a history of ferocious resistance, but it’s nothing like what you might think. Not at all.”

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