It doesn’t take much convincing to get me to go out for Pizza. Put the words “brick oven” in front and I will race you to the car. Tell me about a garden walk with an ocean view while eating brick oven pizza, I’ll be pulling out of the driveway while you are still getting on your shoes!
Yama no Chaya Rakusui is a beautifully built teahouse restaurant hidden on a hill in large Nanjo district. What makes Yama no Chaya Rakusui so unique is its structure. Nobu, the owner and full time gardener, thoughtfully built this restaurant into the cliff itself. It was important to him and his family to preserve the environment they were building on. Walking in the door you can see how serious they took this task. You are greeted by a large limestone rock wall covered in plants. The hill is very much a part of this restaurant and this theme is carried throughout.
They offer typical okinawan meals but all are vegetarian and use local, organic products. I ordered the brick oven Sachibaru pizza. What is it you ask? Well it is a sauceless pizza topped with tomatoes, fresh basil, local “grasses” and Sukugarasu. Sukugarasu are tiny fish collected off the smaller islands of Okinawa that are cured in salt. Yea, I didn’t actually know that when I ordered it and it wasn’t bad but I think I’ll stick with the three cheese or Tomato Basil next time. A thick fudgy chocolate cake and coffee to round out my pallet and I was good.
I headed out to the garden and though the sun was setting on the other side of the island, the warm rays poured through the windows and the trees beautifully. The garden is traditional Okinawan style, natural and slightly untamed. Nobu selects a variety of florals and green subtropical plants to scatter along the winding pathways. There are plenty of benches and tables to stop and enjoy on your way to the top and I recommend you climb slowly. The plant life here is a mix of new and old including 150 year old Banyan tree and “rubble work” dating back to the Ryukyu Kingdom, 1429-1879). There is signage that tells more about the history as you go through. Take the time to read it, it explains how the land of Okinawa was cultivated and why it looks this way today.
I was able to sit and chat with Nobu after he was done with his gardening. We got to talking about the garden and he offered to take me sea kayaking but the tide was too low so we settled for some ice coffee and chatted about our lives. He is currently “retired”, meaning he is done with the typical 9-5 but Nobu is doing anything but relaxing. He owns two restaurants, Yama no Chaya Rakusui and its sister, Hamabe no Chaya (where we had coffee), and the full time gardener and landscape architect of the Sachiburu garden. He holds many events at all of his properties throughout the year, mostly focusing on health, wellness and art. His family is very involved with the business, both sons and his wife work along side him. He traveled to Hawaii a few times to study tropical gardening but says he does prefer the Okinawan style better. “Less formal, more nature”. We talked at length about gardening, art, music ( he plays the trumpet!). This guy is the jack of all trades.
Spending time with Nobu in his little corner of Okinawa really helped remind me why I love it here so much. Okinawa has so many unique places and people. Yama no Chaya Rakusui holds both! Please go and spend some time here. With Okinawa’s spring around the corner, this garden will be popping with color over the next few months and the view is never bad.