5 (Awesome) Reasons to Include Okinawa in Your Trip to Japan - Japanspecialist

5 (Awesome) Reasons to Include Okinawa in Your Trip to Japan

06 Dec 2022

Filled with picture-perfect beaches, historic places, and yummy food, Okinawa is a must when touring Japan. Pack your bathing suit and let us convince you to spare some days in this dreamy archipelago.

When living in Japan, Okinawa is the first location that comes to mind when thinking about taking a very big break from your stressful life: sky blue sea, white beaches, but also ruins to visit and mesmerizing wildlife to encounter. It couldn’t be more opposite to the urban life of mainland Japan, but also to the life lived in most of Japan, to be honest.

Okinawa is the name of the main island, but also this prefecture formed by a chain of Japanese islands found between Kyushu and Taiwan. Located south of “mainland Japan”, Okinawa benefits from tropical weather: the temperature ranges from 15 to 35 degrees Celsius, making it the perfect destination almost all year round – however be careful not to go during the rainy seasons!

Avoid June and September, and try to book your trip for Spring or Autumn if you’re not good with really hot and steamy summers. Not sure when is the best time to visit? Get in touch with one of our consultants to design the best possible itinerary! [include map - Scott will provide later] The Okinawan islands are unique in many ways, and there is something for everyone. Keep reading to discover which one is perfect for you!

1. Naha Is as Beautiful as It Is Interesting

Naha will most likely be your landing airport when going to Okinawa. This city is the biggest in the archipelago – 60% of Okinawans live there! – and most of the famous places to visit when touring the islands are gathered nearby. It’s your gateway to all the other islands, or other places on the main island, by plane, ferry, or boat!

If you’re short on time and only have a few days to spare: Naha is your best choice. You will be able to enjoy all there is to see in Okinawa – minus the deserted beaches.

Shuri Castle

Red Shureimon Gate in Shuri castle in Okinawa, Japan with blue sky

Recently renovated, Shuri Castle used to be the capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, once the vassal of the Chinese Ming Dynasty. The design of the precinct is a sight to see and a perfect entryway into Okinawa’s cultural heritage. Use this visit to immerse yourself in the past of Okinawa – even though the buildings are recent, they still convey a deep century’s old feeling. On-site, you will find the castle and a museum, along with various exhibits. On October 31, 2019, a large fire at Shurijo Castle destroyed nine structures, including the Seiden (Main Hall). You can learn more about the Restoration work here. Visitors are welcome to see the progress of restoring Shurijo Castle.

Kokusai Dori

Colourful Okinawan glasses

In English, Kokusai Dori means international street, a residue from its history, and now encompasses all the never-ending day and nightlife of the city. Nicknamed the street that never sleeps, the 2 kilometres of various shops and restaurants will keep you entertained for a few hours while feeding your curiosity for the local folklore and lifestyle. It’s the perfect place to shop for souvenirs and enjoy your last drink before leaving Naha.

Naminoue Shrine

Naminoue Shrine at night, Okinawa

10 mins from central Naha, the Naminoue Shrine – or Naminouegu – is a sacred place revered for protection of boats going in and out of the city port. Since it is associated with business, it’s also a good place to pray when wishing upon prosperity or a good harvest. The shrine bears many national or local titles, making it a must-see location in Okinawa prefecture.

Another reason it is an important sight to see is the gods to whom the shrine is attached. The shrine is dedicated to two separate entities: Nirai Kanai, the mythical source of life, and the sea – both powerful and more likely to grant your wishes! The complex is also located on top of a cliff, which makes it an impressive viewpoint.

2. But There Is So Much More than Naha to Okinawa!

Miyako Island in summer, aerial view of beautiful landscape, tourism boats

Island-hopping is an option in this archipelago! Okinawa has many natural wonders to offer and the best way to see as much as you can is to plan a tour through the different islands. Among the most famous islands to visit, you can find Miyako Island – a popular diving site with many grottos, tunnels, and critters to discover.

Ishigaki Island is the place to head for hiking fans! Part of the Yaeyama islands, Ishigaki will be a fit for anyone who would like to take long hikes in lush forests on the look for waterfalls and palm trees.

For those looking to dive into history, try Taketomi: the island is covered with historical habitations recognizable by specific red tiles and shisa – a type of mystical lion – statues (a perfect souvenir by the way!).

Lastly, to embrace the local wildlife, you would have to go to Zamami Island. The place is reputed for whale-watching! Although you would have to be careful regarding your timing as you can spot them only during migration.

Kabira Bay, Okinawa in summer, aerial view of beautiful landscape, tourism boats

Those islands are only a small portion of the places you can explore in Okinawa: Iriomote, Ie, Kerama, or Kume... don’t get us started on this list! Picking would be a really difficult task and we recommend you seek advice from our team to make this island-hopping trip the best of your life.

3. A Strong and Unique Cultural Heritage

Traditional Kimono from Okinawa

You will notice it right away when setting foot on Okinawa: this place is different. It was once an independent country and you can still feel it when visiting the islands. Its remote location, as well as its long history, created a unique and surprisingly different way of life.

A lot of historical or cultural places still bear this heritage and visiting them will allow you to take a glimpse at another layer of Japan. It’s often recommended for tourists to get outside the capital as the city itself won’t represent the culture of an entire country and it’s even truer with Okinawa – and on the other end of the spectrum Hokkaido.

While touring Okinawa, don’t forget to book some local art performances, exhibits, or even craft experiences to embrace this peculiar culture as much as you can.

4. The Magnificent Gastronomy

Are you still there? If our 3 first reasons were not enough to convince you – or if you are already in love with Okinawa, we’ve got some more arguments for you!

Food is often high in the list of reasons why someone might come to Japan. Gastronomy is big here and even if sushi tends to cast a shadow on other Japanese culinary treats, it is well known that you cannot be disappointed when it comes to food in Japan. Every region of the country has its specialties and it is even a sport when developing tourism to find a unique and delicious dish or snack to offer visitors… let’s have a look at Okinawa’s best dishes.

Okinawa Soba

Okinawan cuisine, Okinawa soba

Every prefecture has its take on soba – buckwheat noodles – and Okinawa doesn’t disappoint. Their interpretation of this noodle dish includes thick wheat noodles, fish and pork broth, and some stewed pork belly to top it off. Simple, but delicious.

Chinsuko

4 Okinawan biscuits on a black plate, a Japanese Okinawan snack

Japan is a country of foodie souvenirs – and this one might be the star of Okinawan specialties. Coming from a rather simple shortbread cookie recipe, the snack will often be available in plain, black sugar, or salt flavours. A treat for your sweet tooth!

Goya Champuru

Goya Chanpuru, bitter melon stir-fried with pork, tofu and egg

Goya is a – really – bitter gourd often used in Okinawan cuisine. Even though you can find goya all over Japan, it will always evoke this Okinawan stir fry made of goya, scrambled eggs, tofu, and pork meat. The taste is quite special but if you’re one for culinary adventures or bitter dishes, knock yourself out!

Awamori

Awamori,Ice drink,Okinawa wine

Awamori is a very strong type of alcohol mainly consumed in Okinawa. This product comes from the distillation of rice, showing some honest 30 to 40% alcohol label and well-known for its viper’s variety – yes, the snake: habushu. Let’s just say this is not a type of alcohol for the faint-hearted, but it still has a nice taste if you survive.

Local Beer: Orion Beer

Beer on the beach

Orion beer is proudly advertising its origins: Okinawa. Although it will taste similar to the regular Yebisu or Sapporo to anyone who is not a specialist in beers, you are supposed to taste the aroma of lemon peel, ripe banana, and dried flowers in a can of Orion beer. Nonetheless, it’s quite common to have a pint when going to Okinawa!

Blue Seal Ice Cream

close-up of two hands holding two ice-cream cones

Blue Seal has made a name of its own all over Japan and you can even find some Blue Seal shops or retailers in Tokyo now, but the brand is originated in Okinawa and offers pretty Okinawan flavours such as shikuwasa (local kind of citrus), satsuma imo (purple sweet potato) or salty chinsuko. Definitely unique!

5. The Best Resorts in Japan Are in Okinawa

Okinawa resort hotel

We told you in the introduction that Okinawa is often seen as a perfect resort location. Couples, groups of friends often pick the islands when looking for a resting holiday in a high-end resort with direct access to the sea. A simple “Okinawa resort hotel” research will give you a sample of all the wonderful places you could stay in, from very affordable to the biggest holiday splurge of your life!

Are You Excited Yet?

This is the magic of Okinawan islands, that can provide a little everything for everyone. Of course, you will have to be careful about location as most destinations outside of Naha will need a car ride to get to. But once you’re settled in, facing the sea, resting on a pristine white sand beach, believe us: you will start loving Okinawa as much as we do.

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