Karate is a Japanese budo that has spread widely around the world, and today there are said to be karate aficionados in more than 150 countries. Karate is highly popular not only as a sport but also as a means of self-defense and mental discipline.
While there are various theories on the origins of Karate in Okinawa, it is thought to have developed from the fusion of the traditional Okinawan self-defense art of te, learned by the samurai families of the ancient Kingdom of the Ryukyus, with Chinese budo and other techniques. It can be described as a one-of-a-kind budo born from the wisdom and culture of the islands of Okinawa, which long have been open to diverse cultural influences. Okinawa is home to about 400 karate dojo, and karate has deep roots as a highly familiar presence in the lives of the Okinawan people. The Okinawa Karate Kaikan opened in 2017, with the goals of conveying Okinawa Karate to the world while also preserving, passing along, and building on the budo. In addition to karate dojo, the Kaikan also includes a museum on the history of Okinawa Karate as well as a restaurant and other facilities, making it an enjoyable destination for not only karate practitioners from Japan and around the world but even visitors with no karate experience.
Okinawa karate includes numerous styles, of which four are the most important. These include the three major styles of Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, and Uechi-ryu.
Drawing on the traditional Okinawa karate style of Shuidei, Shorin-ryu was named by the karateka Chibana Choshin. It is distinguished by natural posture and breathing and training that stresses developing the destructive power of the blow.
The Goju-ryu style, originated by the Nafadei karateka Miyagi Chojun, emphasizes breathing in particular. Since it teaches that all offensive and defensive moves eventually boil down to breathing, it emphasizes forging body and mind while training in breathing methods from the basic kata.
Uechi-ryu builds on Chinese budo, based on the art of pangainun kung fu learned by its originator Uechi Kanbun from the Chinese warrior Zhōuzihé. First known as Pangainun karate, it later was renamed Uechi-ryu after its originator. It is characterized by difficult training that stresses the forging of physical toughness.
Many Okinawa karate programs are available for beginners and first-timers.
One of these is the Introduction to Karate held at the Okinawa Karate Kaikan. Focusing on standard kata common to all styles, this program features easy-to-follow instruction on topics including basic defensive and moves, blows, and kicks, by instructors affiliated with the Okinawa Dento Karatedo Shinkokai. It welcomes both individual and group participants, and training robes are available for rental, so that anybody can experience karate easily.
In addition, the Four Styles of Okinawa Karate Program provides an experience with the three leading styles of Okinawa karate (Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, and Uechi-ryu) as well as Kobudo, which involves use of weapons. Conducted in four sessions, this program provides guidance from high-ranking practitioners in each style, in a dojo used for actual training. If you submit a request in advance, you also can train using your weapon of choice. This is a valuable chance to experience the essence of Okinawa karate—self-improvement—through kata, while getting a feel for a real dojo.
While of course Okinawa is a special place to people interested in karate, it also is home to numerous attractive sightseeing spots.
One example is the Gourmet Bar cafe and lounge on the first floor of the Novotel Okinawa Naha Hotel in Naha. In addition to the hotel's popular handmade chinsuko cookies, this cafe's serves popular latte art you can have decorated with your own artwork. You can even transmit your image using the Coffee Ripples smartphone app. Enjoy latte art with calligraphic characters or kata related to karate, or even a photo from your karate experience.
Shuri Castle, a World Heritage Site, is a must-see destination symbolic of Okinawa. The Chinese and Japanese architectural influences seen here and there in the Shureimon Gate and other structures on this site, the political, diplomatic, and cultural center of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus that once thrived in Okinawa for nearly 450 years, provide a sense of Okinawa's history of cultural exchange.
Note: Although eight castle buildings, including the Seiden, burned on October 31, 2019, restoration and reconstruction work currently is underway.
Okinawa's beautiful beaches are another of its attractions. The highly clear water results in views of cobalt blue and emerald green seas that are among the most beautiful in Japan. In addition to swimming, visitors can enjoy relaxing strolls on the white-sand beaches.