OKINAWA
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Photos by Shoji Kudaka ()

In case you have not noticed, karaage (Japanese-style fried food) is big in this country, especially chicken karaage. From an appetizer at izakaya to a side dish for a dinner at home, it is consumed in many ways. There is even an organization called “Japan ‘Karaage’ Association” and a competition titled “Karaage Grand Prix,” attesting to the food’s huge popularity in this country.

While karaage is commonly available at supermarkets’ deli sections or at convenience stores across Japan, you’ll also find that it can be served as a special dish.

Kariju is a food store franchise dedicated to this beloved Japanese dish. Among its 89 branches across the country, seven of them are here on Okinawa. One of Kariju’s branches is in the Sunabe Seawall area near Kadena Air Base.

This food-stall-style store has been on my radar for a while. Their banners that say Nipponichi (The No. 1 in Japan)” and “Saiko kinsho (The best golden award)” are hard to miss whenever I drive on my way to the seawall.

Though I’d passed by many times, karaage for a seaside lunch didn’t seem right because I usually go for a taco or burrito near Sunabe Seawall. Finally, the Nipponichi banner did its job and drew me in to try this award-winning karaage for myself.

During the pandemic, I tried several bags of frozen karaage and was surprised how tasty they were once they were microwaved. I wanted to find out how the best Karaage in the country would stack up against those ready-made ones.

Once I was at the counter to order, I was overwhelmed by the variety of their menu items. Ranging from chicken cut and flavor, guests at Kariju have about 10 varieties to choose from, including chicken breast, chicken wing to citrus pepper flavoring.

Since it was my first time, I went with the first one on the list, which is “Honenashi karaage (boneless fried chicken, five pieces, plain flavor)” for 500 yen. I also ordered a sweet chili sauce (100 yen) in case I wanted to spice it up.

When I opened its paper package, I was surprised. The size of each piece was almost twice as big as the regular ones I’d bought at the grocery freezer aisle. With one bite, the crispy coating easily broke, letting a lot of juice come out of the soft chicken meat. Unlike those sold at supermarkets, this chicken meat was not heavily saturated with garlic, so it was easy to devour despite its exceptional size.

Within 30 seconds, the first piece was gone. With the second piece, I tried the sweet chili sauce, which turned the food into an exotic treat. Since I liked it with or without the sauce, I ate the remaining pieces switching back and forth between the plain flavor and the sweet chili taste.

If you are familiar with karaage sold at supermarkets or convenience stores, 500 yen for five pieces may sound a little pricey, but the size and flavor of this karaage was worth the money.

Next time you go to Sunabe, why not make a stop at Kariju and bring some Japanese fried chicken to the beach?

Trivia According to Japan Karaage Association, the term “karaage” refers to a recipe of frying with oil or food cooked as a result of that. Flour or dogtooth violet starch should be sprinkled on the food before frying. In addition to chicken, fish, vegetables, and non-chicken meat can be ingredients for karaage.

The term “karaage” can be traced back to as far as a Buddhist vegetation cooking which was imported from China during the early Edo period (1600 – 1868). But this original karaage meant small slices of tofu, which were fried and simmered with soy sauce and sake. Back then, fried seafood and vegetables, which were similar to karaage as we know it today, were called “iridashi” or “koromokake.”

Karaage (chicken) came to be commonly consumed under the Japanese government’s policy of installing many chicken farms to prepare against a lack of food after World War II. It has been over the last three or four decades that the recipe became a common part of home-cooked meals, notes the association. The northern part of Oita Prefecture is recognized as the holy ground of karaage as the area had many chicken farms and shops dedicated to this food.

Kariju in Chatan GPS Coordinates: N 26.32395, E 127.74991 Hours: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Closed on an irregular basis) *Take out only. no parking is available. Website

The best stories from the Pacific, in your inbox

Sign up for our weekly newsletter of articles from Japan, Korea, Guam, and Okinawa with travel tips, restaurant reviews, recipes, community and event news, and more.

Sign Up Now