TRY something new and different from the usual Japanese fare. Visit Okinawa Heat Cebu, a new restaurant in town which aims to serve a taste of Okinawa, a tropical island known for being a tourist spot in Japan.

Being the nearest Japanese prefecture from the Philippines, Okinawa, which used to be a Ryukyu Kingdom for 450 years in the past, shares many things in common with the Philippines.

For example, Okinawan culture is described as “Chanpuru culture” (chanpuru means “mix,” the same as in the chanpuru, stir-fried bitter gourd (ampalaya) and other vegetable dishes) for blending Asian culture and American culture.

Also, it is known that Filipinos follow “Filipino time.” Okinawans follow “Okinawan time” as well, being late and starting things late. One might be surprised to hear an Okinawan using an expression “Patay!” in same pronunciation and in the same situation.

Now with Okinawa Heat Cebu, Okinawa becomes even closer to the Philippines.

This year marks the 61st anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relationship between Japan and the Philippines. One of the prominent progresses in regard to ever stronger ties between the Philippines and Japan this year might be a strengthened partnership with Okinawa.

Mikio Shimoji, a member of the House of Representatives, officially paid a visit to the Philippines from July 11 to 13 aiming at making Okinawa, his home island, a gateway in areas of travel, human resource development, economic partnership and youth and educational exchange.

Okinawa Heat Cebu opened last July 28 in line with the Philippines-Japan Friendship month. The restaurant proudly introduces Japanese and Okinawan cuisine to Cebuanos. Its signature dish is Okinawan-style steak, tender juicy sizzling beef steak with special sauce. Okinawan Curry and Japanese dishes such as Soba noodle, Tempura, Gyudon and other dishes are also served. Okinawa Heat Cebu is the first branch outside of Japan under Ryukyu Heat, a popular restaurant brand among local Okinawans since 2006. Shimoji Naoki, chief executive officer of Itsuki Enterprise, has a keen interest in cultural and youth exchange among Okinawa and the Philippines. He chose Cebu to open a new restaurant because Cebu has a lot of similarities with Okinawa such as the size of the island, food, climate, friendly people and culture.

Naoki hopes Okinawa Heat Cebu can raise awareness of Okinawa through its dishes. He believes that this is the first step to create job opportunities and cultural exchange for both young Japanese and Cebuanos through franchising.

Aside from food, guests can also enjoy Japanese-style horigotatsu room with modern Okinawan music. Marino Koura, an external advisor from Okinawa, observed that Cebuanos love taking pictures. So she prepared a “display corner” decorated with DIY dried-flower ornaments that uses flowers from Carbon market so that guests can freely take a photo while dining, hoping this can lead to a lasting friendship with the Cebuanos.

Okinawa Heat Cebu is located at the Century Plaza Hotel and is open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. (Keiko Abe)