Welcome to Gateway to Okinawa.
Gateway to Okinawa (GTO) is a L.L.C service company that seeks to maximize your training and exploration on the beautiful islands of Okinawa. All of us here at Gateway are karate practitioners and hence our site is generally geared towards karate enthusiasts. However, Okinawa has so much more to offer than the best karate training in the world. It is a great place for all sorts of marine activities such as diving, snorkelling, sailing, and deep sea fishing. As well, it boasts of several UNESCO World Heritage sites, and offers visitors a chance to participate in cultural and leisure activities like pottery, traditional crafts, art galleries, restaurants. Due to its key location in East Asia, Okinawa has incorporated a large number of influences making it a unique place. From a long history as a seafaring nation engaged in trade, Okinawa developed close ties to China, as well as ties to countries in South-east Asia. Later influence came from the arrival of the Japanese, and the last several decades have seen a strong American influence here. So coming to Okinawa is a unique experience.
We at GTO think Okinawa is a wonderful place that isn’t widely known outside of Japan, and we would like to change that. We do recognize that there are some hurdles in coming here, such as the lack of services in English or other languages, cultural differences, infrastructure (a road system more like a maze than anything else), and logistics. Finding solutions to and ways around these problems was the impetus for us to start GTO. Our group started out performing these services as individuals for friends that came to train, but in forming GTO we have pooled our resources and made our services more streamlined and systematic to better assist visitors to Okinawa.
When you ask people who know about Okinawa what it is most famous for, the majority of them will say it is the birthplace of karate. This is true, however many people who do styles of karate that are not based on Okinawa are unaware of this fundamental fact. It is hard for them to understand how much higher the technical and practical expression of karate is here as compared even to the mainland of Japan, and even more so the farther you travel away from Okinawa and Japan. This poorly disseminated fact is the reason why every serious karate person, regardless of style, should make at least one trip here to experience first-hand the level of karate here.
The biggest problems with training in Okinawa are that you are spoiled for choice and the “introduction problem”. Having the greatest density of high ranking karate teachers in the world, you could spend all your time going from dojo to dojo on Okinawa and never find a teacher. The second problem is a cultural one. Okinawans prefer to meet strangers through introductions via a trusted third party. This custom is slowly being relaxed, but some dojo still have this introduction requirement, and that is where GTO comes in to help. The introduction can be from anyone who is known to the teacher, and after living and training here for a combined total of 50 years we at GTO have met most of the teachers here, and we attend regular gatherings at the various karate associations where we are able to meet just about anyone else in the karate sphere on Okinawa. We don’t recommend just showing up at a dojo. It’s poor manners in any culture, but Okinawan has a long custom of welcoming visitors, so although they might accept you into the dojo it will start your relationship off on the wrong foot. Also many of the teachers here are gone for some time during the year teaching in other countries. With the Internet it is easier to avoid this now, but we have met people who flew around the world just to see that the teacher they wanted to meet was not on Okinawa at that time. Planning is the key for avoiding these problems.
The most immediate service most visitors worry about is accommodations. Okinawa offers a range of accommodations from dormitory style to presidential suites. The biggest difficulty is usually the English ability of the hotel staff. GTO has two fluent Japanese/English speakers to deal with any problems and whenever possible we try to reserve rooms at places where we feel that the staff’s English ability is sufficient to deal with problems or offer advice.
Accommodations in Japan in the mid-range are excellent, in our opinion; a little smaller than in the West but also a little less expensive. High-end is always good regardless of country, and the low-end here tends to be slightly worse than the Western equivalent. GTO has all ranges of accommodations, but we feel the best deals are in the mid-range. We have dormitory rooms, Japanese-style rooms, hotels (low/mid/high range), and apartments. For karate tourists and the budget-minded person we usually recommend the apartments based on room size and cost. If you use our contact page we can have a better idea of the type of accommodations you require.
Leisure activities are a great way to get the most out of your investment when to coming to Okinawa. While there is something for everyone, it can be difficult to find out about and arrange all the various options. The geography and society of Okinawa can be rather confusing to the visitor, but it is small and has a real sense of community, so that as long-term residents we at GTO are able to meet many of the people working in travel and tourism and get to know them as people and eventually as partners in offering visitors the best possible experience. This means we are able to arrange all sorts of activities and services for you. We organize tours, BBQs, carousing, sailing, fishing, shopping, spas, arts and crafts, and cultural activities such as Ryukyu dance and drumming. So please feel free and look around our web-page for articles and more information on Okinawan. We also have a Facebook group you can join and and a fan page you can “like” if you are interested. All of these sites and groups are geared to make the most of your time here in Okinawa and to avoid most of the problems and pitfalls.