Hang out, eat tempura with the cool cats on Okinawa’s Ojima island
By AYA ICHIHASHI | Stars and Stripes | Published: May 16, 2019
Every local on Okinawa has a “go-to” tempura place when a craving for Okinawa-style tempura strikes.
Where is my go-to shop? On Ojima island!
Ojima is about an hour drive from Camp Foster. It only takes about 45 minutes to walk the entire mile-wide island. Ojima is popular for scuba-diving beginners, dragon boat races and, most of all, tempura.
I usually park my car near the bridge or the athletic park to walk around the island, so I can eat a delicious snack while making more room for the next tempura stop.
There are three shops on Ojima: Nakamoto Tempura, Oshiro Tempura and Teruchan Tempura. I visit all three because each has its specialty.
My first stop is Teruchan Tempura across the street from the athletic field for fish tempura and squid tempura because their batter has garlic powder and black pepper. Other available items are mozuku seaweed, shrimp, sausage, green beans, sweet potato and mixed vegetables.
If you prefer orthodox Okinawa tempura, try Nakamoto and Oshiro tempura. By the way, each tempura is 60 yen, and I recommend sampling each kind to see which one is your most favorite.
Ojima is also famous for its cats. While waiting on my order, I am often surrounded by cute furballs, the local strays. Their clipped ears tell you that most of them have been spayed or neutered by the animal rescue group.
Most Ojima cats are people friendly and will come close for freshly fried tempura from my hand. Tempura is not healthy for cats, so I tend to give them a tiny piece of fish or squid without the batter.
My next stop is Nakamoto Tempura, right in front of the bridge. Nakamoto is always packed with tourists and locals. I usually get fried bread coated with brown sugar (125 yen, or $1.10) and hash browns (65 yen, or 55 cents) for my kids. The fish, squid, sweet potato and mozuku seaweed tempura are fantastic, too. Nakamoto sometimes uses tuna for its fish tempura, and it tastes much better than white fish.
My last stop is Oshiro Tempura on the east side of the island for sweet potato tempura because it is absolutely fantastic. The sweet potato is tender and steamy, and salty butter makes it even tastier. Oshiro is also quite popular with tourists and locals, so expect a long line.
Locals enjoy splashing in the water at Ou Beach next to the bridge during the summer season and cooling down by eating shaved ice from a nearby parlor for 200 yen or so.
On sunny days, I often spot a local woman hanging squid on rope to make squid jerky. I enjoy visiting in early May to see locals practicing for the dragon boat race held on May 4 in the lunar calendar (June 6 this year).
A glass-bottom boat ride is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from the port. It’s about a 30-minute ride, and the fare is 1,500 yen for adults and 750 yen for children.
DIRECTIONS: From Camp Foster, take expressway from Kitanakagusuku IC, then exit at Nishihara Junction (350 yen). Stay on the highway to the Haebaru Minami exit. After exiting, drive 1 mile, then turn left onto Route 507. Proceed to the Gushichan intersection, then turn left onto Route 331. Stay 331 to the Ou Entrance intersection.
TIMES: Nakamoto Tempura is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Oshiro Tempura is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Mondays; Teruchan Tempura is opens 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed on Mondays.
FOOD: Ojima is famous for fresh deep-fried Okinawa tempura and shaved ice.
INFORMATION: Yen only. Public restrooms are available.