Okinawa is the southernmost island in Japan, consisting of the main Okinawa Island, Miyako Islands, and Yaeyama Islands. It is closer to Taiwan than it is to the Japan mainland.
Unlike Tokyo and Osaka, Okinawa is not known for its developed economy, nor is it like Hokkaido and Kyoto which are popular among the younger generations for its unique charm. Nevertheless, the small island of Okinawa still received almost ten million tourists in 2015 alone.
Also known as “Ryukyu,” Okinawa has distinctive dialect, architecture, and food due to its close relations with China and Southeast Asian countries since the ancient times. Visiting tourists must try dishes representative of Okinawa, such as Goya chanpuru, Rafute (Shoyu pork) and Umibudo. After World War II, Okinawa had been governed by the U.S. until the 1970s, and it is for this reason that American culture has been deeply rooted here. Thanks to multicultural influences, today’s Okinawa exhibits a natural and distinguishing appeal that differentiates it from mainland Japan.
Touring in Okinawa entails sightseeing and shopping at numerous must-visit spots, particularly in the capital of Naha. These destinations include Shuri Castle, Naminoue Shrine, and the bustling Kokusai Street called “Miracle Mile.” When traveling to the other areas of the main Okinawa Island, the express bus from Naha is a convenient option for transportation. Destinations worth visiting include the popular Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Okinawa World, Cape Manzamo, and the Mihama American Village. If you’re looking to shop, DFS Galleria and Ashibina Outlets near the airport can provide you with an extensive assortment of merchandise.
For divers, Okinawa is also an ocean paradise worth visiting again and again. Since the Kuroshio current—the world’s largest warm current—goes through it, Okinawa boasts of a larger number of marine species compared to other sea areas. The most popular dive site in Okinawa is Blue Cave, which has waters 18 meters deep. Surrounding offshore islands are also perfect places for diving, namely Kerama Islands, Miyako Islands, and Ishigaki Island.
Diving into the bluest ocean deep is an ideal way of visiting Okinawa
As a subtropical county of Japan surrounded by many islands, Okinawa is undoubtedly an ideal place to enjoy sunshine and the ocean. The sea areas here are characterized by high visibility and a great variety of marine life. Thanks to multilingual and knowledgeable diving coaches, there is sure to be a perfect dive site for you in the main Okinawa Island and offshore islands, whether you are a new diver or a veteran.
If you’re looking to do some whale watching, the best time to visit Okinawa is from January to April, when the weather is relatively cooler. Apart from Alaska in the U.S., Okinawa is the only other sea area where it is highly possible to see humpback whales. If you’re lucky enough, you can see mother and baby whales leaping out of the sea!
Visiting Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium also allows you to experience some form of diving deep into the sea. Located in Okinawa Ocean Expo Park, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is home to the world’s largest main aquarium “Sea of the Kuroshio,” with three 7-meter-long giant whale sharks leisurely swimming in it. You can find almost all sea creatures here, making it an ideal destination for families with children.
Having long been governed by the U.S., Okinawa demonstrates the perfect integration of rigorous and introverted Japanese culture and ebullient American culture. In south central Okinawa, there is an American Village. With no sign at the entrance, the American Village is more like a big community where people can experience the American lifestyle. Seeing drive-in hotdog and hamburger stands and American soldiers wearing sunglasses walking their dogs will make you feel as if you were in a completely different country. When visiting American Village, remember to ride on the giant sky wheel at dusk and watch the sea, feast on a hotdog and potato chips in the moving dining car, then take a stroll along the long graffiti bank. Take your time and enjoy the sunset, food, and American culture—Okinawa-style.
Okinawa delicacies hidden in humble streets
TheMakishi Public Market to Okinawa is how Tsukiji Fish Market is to Tokyo. It is the largest market in Naha, and here you can find all of Okinawa’s specialties. Tasting the local seafood is also one thing you can do in Makishi Public Market. Buy fresh seafood on the first floor, hand it to chefs on the second floor, and just enjoy and savor every bite of these delicious dishes!
If you want to try local authentic seafood without going to the crowded Makishi Market, you can opt to go to the Tomarin seafood market, a medium-sized seafood market only frequented by locals. The seafood restaurants there are run by fishermen, and provide seafood donburi—a bowl of rice covered with seafood—at only 500 yen. Tasty and cheap! Who could ask for more?
In Japan, delicious food is often unexpectedly hidden in the plainest restaurants. Miyara Buckwheat in Okinawa is one such restaurant, serving authentic Okinawa buckwheat noodles at only 500 or 600 yen.
Shopping in Okinawa!
Kokusai Street in Naha is a favorite spot to visit, often crowded with both domestic and foreign tourists. You can find all kinds of stores along this two-kilometer road, particularly the specialties that Okinawa is known for. Take a ride on the monorail train to the new urban center, which is full of large department stores. Kokusai Street is also home to DFS Galleria—the largest duty-free shop in Japan.
If you have the time to spare, also visit Ashibinaa Outlet near the airport. Ashibinaa Outlet hosts many European and Japanese brands. This area is not very crowded, providing you with a pleasant and leisurely shopping experience.