When planning your trip to Okinawa and you need to choose accommodation, the first thing you probably think of is a fancy resort near the sea. But while these hotels are a great relaxing option, they don’t offer an immersive travel experience. Have you ever heard of ‘minshuku’? Recently, minshuku, meaning homestay in Japanese, is becoming a popular accommodation option in Okinawa as travelers seek a more immersive experience. They also offer an opportunity to meet the local people and understand the unique culture of these heavenly islands.
What is minshuku?
You are probably wondering what a minshuku is. Minshuku are Japanese-style family accommodations. They offer something that a night in a hotel can’t — meeting local families and experiencing traditional Okinawan life in ways that are impossible otherwise, not to mention home-cooked food!
During a stay at a minshuku, travelers have their own room and participate in cultural activities as well as the normal daily routines of the family. For Okinawans, opening their homes to guests fits naturally with a culture that prides itself on hospitality.
Minshuku in Okinawa
Okinawa, in southern Japan, is a small paradise on earth and its cultural roots lie in the Ryukyu Kingdom, which lasted 450 years, beginning around 1429. During the Ryukyu era, Okinawa developed its own culture, very different from mainland Japan’s. Thanks to trade routes with mainland Japan, China, Korea, and other Southeast Asian countries, Okinawa’s unique culture and traditions reflect a dynamic blend of characteristics and influences from these countries and have since been passed down through history.
As I mentioned earlier, minshuku is a popular choice of accommodation in Okinawa to get to know and experience first-hand the unique Ryukyuan culture and learn about local customs and traditions, from food habits to family routines.
During your stay in a minshuku in Okinawa, you will be part of some of the local people’s daily activities: eating with them, sleeping near them, and learning from them. You will become part of their family for a few days. During my visits to Okinawa, I had the privilege to experience a homestay a couple of times; they have become the best memories of my trips.
What to expect from a minshuku experience in Okinawa?
My last minshuku experience in Okinawa was in Ogimi Village, located in the middle of the Yanbaru forest. Local women were waiting for me in a beautiful traditional house with cute decorations. One of them was a sanshin master, a Japanese three-stringed guitar that produces a warm and joyful sound and is considered the soul of Okinawan music. She taught me the basics, and after several failed attempts, I played the first chords of one of my favorite Okinawan songs.
Next, another woman taught me how to make Okinawa soba noodles. After she kneaded the mixture of freshly ground flour and salt water into an elastic dough, I cut the dough into thin noodles. Even this cutting process had its own rhythm: cut-tap-slide. Cut-tap-slide.
I arrived at the host family’s home in the evening. The place left me speechless. It was an impressive wooden house on top of a mountain surrounded by lush rainforest. In the middle of the spacious living room was an “irori,” a traditional Japanese sunken hearth fired with charcoal, used for heating the home and cooking food. We sat around the irori. While my host family grilled delicious fish, meats, and vegetables, we talked about the cultural differences between Japan and my country and regaled me with fascinating stories about Okinawa’s lifestyle in the past and present.
The next morning, after a homemade breakfast made with local ingredients, they took me to the beach, where they usually go fishing and relax, and showed me other places nearby. Although I had only met them the day before, my host family made me feel at home. So when it was time to say goodbye, I felt like I was leaving close friends behind.
Access to Ogimi Village
The best way to get to Ogimi Village is to rent a car at Naha Airport and drive about 90 km north (about 1.5 hrs). Alternatively, you can ride the Yanbaru Express Bus to Nago City (1,650 Yen, about 1 hr 40 min) and from there take a taxi to Ogimi Village (about 20 km).
When traveling, we usually only think about what to visit and where to stay. But we rarely wonder about the local people. Locals are the most important part of every trip. Thanks to them, every country or region is different and unique, and they are the best source of information about the local culture. Unlike hotels, which are often just a place to rest at night, the minshuku experience in Okinawa gives you an insight into local life that you would never otherwise encounter and can lead to travel plans, hidden places that only locals know about, and real, lasting friendships!
Sponsored by Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau