Meal time at the Hoshinoya Okinawa
Robert Michael Poole
With tiny stars clustered in hand, I search for sustenance. Luckily for me, I’m a dab hand with chopsticks. Soba (buckwheat noodles) comes with simmered pork belly and eggs in a crock of hot broth at Cafe Te-dun Shidame-kan, where the menu is painted on red roof tiles teetering on hand-packed stone walls and overlooked by Taketomi’s Shisa protectorates. Shisa, resembling a lion-and-dog hybrid, are found sitting in pairs, chests puffed proudly, atop roofs and flanking entrance gates across Okinawa — one openmouthed, one closemouthed, to ward off evil spirits and keep the good ones in. The ramshackle edifice of the restaurant belies the skillful flair present in a dish handed down through generations, and it is me, not the iconic Shisa, who is filled with good spirit.

Striding back into the blazing rays of the sun, the urge to chill my skin with a dip into Okinawan waters soon overwhelms. The Yaeyamas can sear year-round and are never less than balmy, ranging from the 70s in winter to the 90s in summer. So I ride to Kondoi Beach, a mellow haven in which I can soak up the warmth and bathe in a translucent rippling sea. The white sands approach the beach here like the undulating flow of a Saharan dunescape, creating tiny temporary islands that elegantly breach the surface. I settle in a patch that’s dipped a shade below the waterline like a natural, ocean-water Jacuzzi. By now, the tumult of Tokyo’s ultramodern metropolis seems as real and as tangible as an oasis — even if I’m now lying face to the skies within one.

A Shisa on a rooftop on Taketomi Island
MIXATaketomi, more than any other island in the group, circumvents the eyesores of modern architecture with strict rules banning any two-story structures, to ensure local style is preserved. The island’s first full-service resort, the luxurious Hoshinoya Okinawa, sticks to this principle, creating a mini-village retreat of 48 wood-structure villas, each self-contained to mimic traditional family houses.

The sound of the three-stringed shamisen, coming from a live lobby performance, alerts my ears. It has always evoked the smells and tastes of Okinawa for me, especially chanpuru, the region’s unique egg stir-fry dish heavy with the bitterness of goya and the healthfulness of tofu. But I am instead served an extraordinary concoction of French-Okinawan dishes at the Hoshinoya’s on-site restaurant. Nine courses of distinctive scrumptiousness include a piperade of Ishigaki black chicken eggs and salt-cured pork with vegetables, papaya soup and goat navarin, ending with a Shikuwasa-lemon-and-pineapple sorbet. The blend of Taketomi ingredients with French finesse lives up to what head chef Tatsuo Nakasu calls “imagination food.”

Afterward, I while away the last few moments of a silent island night floating in the central oval pool of the villa village, resolving to ramp up my “another Japan” mission the ensuing morning from exotic to truly wild.