- 3 min read

Finding a Cooking Class in Okinawa

Dive into a kaleidoscope of aromas and flavours

Since the Fifteenth Century, merchants and ambassadors have made their way to the shores of the Ryukyu Islands, lured by the magic potion for longevity.

It may take years to unravel the Champulu of philosophies and traditions that have made the Ryukyu kingdom a sanctuary for wellness, but now you can do that in a few hours with a cooking and culture class.

Many visitors have recommended it as a great way to spend your first day in Naha, drinking deep from the well of history, culture and the Okinawan way of life. With a number of cooking classes that have recently blossomed in Okinawa, the question is, which cooking class is best for me? Here are two of the best.

Taste of Okinawa

The bewitching strumming of the Okinawan banjo, calling you home with its timeless sounds of peace and thankfulness. The kaleidoscope of aromas from lands far and near, expertly combined, balancing yin and yang, playing tribute to Okinawa's ties to Eastern philosophies as a centre of culture and trading exchange on the maritime Silk Route. The metronome like rhythm of cutting dough into soba noodles, lulling me into state of meditation. Learning from Rina at this hands-on cooking class feels more like a wellness studio or a beer garden. Like other cooking schools featured in JapanTravel, all the ingredients are prepared in advance, leaving just enough for you to remember the key steps of each recipe.

Rina our teacher blends the best of her grandmother’s home truths, with formal training gained from Okinawan specialists. It is hard to summarise centuries of wisdom into a half day cooking class, but the Taste of Okinawa distils the best parts, without you having to go farm and experience the cycle of the seasons, let alone grinding the grain for soba.

Most participants are from the United States, Germany or Hong Kong, so you don’t need a word of Japanese to understand and participate in this class. Held in a commercial cooking studio which converts to a relaxed drinking hole at night, this cooking class caters for everyone making it suitable for honeymooners and corporate team building sessions alike.

You can select one of the two classes of 3 hours each, one on Soba, one on Champulu. At the end of the two hour cooking session, everyone is invited to gather around the large kitchen table to enjoy the banquet together. The beautiful hand made bowls from nearby Yachiman pottery kilns rounds out our primer into Okinawa culture.

Yonner’s Cooking Class

Like the Taste of Okinawa, Yonner's cooking class begins with a tour of Makishi Markets, a maze of family owned stalls with exotic ingredients like pig’s ears and 200 day fermented and smoked Skipjack Tuna fillets, the red lanterns calling you like an Aladdin’s cave of magic ingredients. After all, we are here to discover the secrets to long life, right? As a key port on the maritime silk route, the Ryukyu people have hand selected spices and produce from Persia to Peru, such was the extent of influences in their cooking repertoire.

Cooking with Yonner is like diving into the heart of a homestay. Her simple and yet practical home kitchen is host to small groups of two to five students, transforming strangers to friends by cooking and enjoying a meal together. It is also a great way to learn Japanese, with intermediate speakers of the language being able to converse deeply with Kazumi Kayo about life in Okinawa, and its changes through her life.

Getting there

Both cooking classes are a pleasant stroll from Makishi or Miebashi monorail stations in central Naha, close to Makishi Markets, the iconic Mahou cafe and Yachimun Pottery Street.

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Justin Velgus 2 years ago
I still yet to go to Okinawa--and we have a direct flight from Sendai. I am running out of excuses and adding more and more on my to do list!
Bonson Lam Author 2 years ago
It is fantastic that Sendai is the major and only airport in Tohoku to have direct flights to Okinawa. I feel the future of travel is about visiting these smaller locations as well as the big cities, people can really find the joys to nature and a unique culture here.
Elizabeth S 2 years ago
Champulu, or chamburu, is fascinating. From what I gather, it's a word that means synthesis. I found the Okinawa champulu culture and food so satisfying, so soothing! I'd go back in a heartbeat.
Elizabeth S 2 years ago
I think you just revealed a deep secret about the food culture that has endured in Naha City. My Okinawan resident friends say that the old culture is very much alive. A testament to that longevity!
Elena Lisina 2 years ago
Interesting experience, indeed!
Bonson Lam Author 2 years ago
There is interesting to learn how their relationship to their land and ocean influences their cuisine. In many ways everything we eat comes from the sun, earth, and sea, so it is symbolic that these are represented at their kitchen shrine.

Kim 2 years ago
A great way to connect with the food culture of a region, and get a tasty meal out of it, too!
Bonson Lam Author 2 years ago
The culture, philosophy and cuisine of Okinawa is so inextricably connected. Its shapes and colours , whether it is from their plants, animals, the sun and the moon, the tides and the ocean, the fish, and birds, are connected with the culture and thinking of the people in Okinawa. From ancient environmental practices, the idea that nature’s food is medicine for our body, there is so much for me to learn and understand from the ancient philosophies and thinking of the Okinawan people.

We may forget our connection with nature, being so deeply buried that only great deprivation can bring it to the surface (like the lockdowns that have separated us from each other). The need for us to connect with each other, and with our creator in this tropical garden of Eden that is Okinawa, is woven into the essence of our being.

At the same time, slowing down over a meal with the folk here, is a great way to learn how their culture and cuisine has evolved over time, giving an appeal to audiences from near and far.


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