Japan has islands in several climate zones. Northernmost Hokkaido has very cold and snowy winters, main island Honshu has a temperate climate, and southernmost island group Okinawa has a mild subtropical climate. It is no wonder that many Japanese as well as international tourists love going to Okinawa for a nice vacation. Going to the beach is a very popular pastime in Okinawa, and there are certainly many places to enjoy the white sandy beaches of Okinawa, or island hopping is another popular activity, but there are other things to do as well. What are the best things to do in Okinawa Main Island?
1. Churaumi Aquarium
One of the most popular destinations on Okinawa Main Island is the Churaumi Aquarium (美ら海水族館). It is one of the best opportunities to see all that underwater Okinawa has to offer in one place. And that is a lot! With beautiful corals they recreated the natural environment in detail in the large tanks where many species of tropical fish are living. The most impressive tank is right in the middle of the aquarium, the Kuroshio tank. It is very large, one of the largest in the world, and it holds whale sharks, manta rays and many tropical fish. It’s mesmerizing to look at for a while!
There are specialty tanks such as jellyfish tanks, deepsea tanks containing all kinds of creepy sea life from the dark deep sea, a sea turtle pool, and a manatee pool. Of course, there is a dolphin show as well, and if the kids want to release their energy in a similar way there is a large outdoor playground that mimics the sea.
8.30am – 6.30pm
Admission fee ¥1,880
2. Okinawa War Memorial in Naha
There are several places in Okinawa where the terrible battles of WW2 that were fought on Okinawa between Japan and the US are remembered. One of the most poignant memorials is at the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. When you enter the site, you will first see a small museum where artefacts from the war are exhibited and where a movie is shown about the horrors of the war for the Okinawan people. As most texts are translated in English it is easy to understand what it is about.
Then, you will enter the underground tunnel system where the Japanese navy had their headquarters. In these claustrophobic tunnels, many men have met their untimely end. You will really get an idea of what it must have been like to live and hide in the tunnels for months, knowing that the end is near. This part of Okinawan history is not often talked about, but it is important to pass on the accounts of a war that should never happen again, and this place does a good job at that.
9am – 5pm
Admission fee Former Navy Underground Headquarters ¥600
3. Sefa Utaki
Okinawa has an indigenous religion that is similar to Shinto, and Sefa Utaki is one of the most important places for Okinawa’s spiritual repose since the early 16th century. Nature worship is central to Okinawa religion, so Sefa Utaki is situated in a beautiful natural area. Nowadays it serves as a Shinto spot, as Okinawa had to assimilate to Japan when it was annexed.
There are several walking trails, and the area is thickly forested with the ocean in view, and there are multiple interesting rock formations to see in this power spot.
4. Waterfalls in Okinawa
As Okinawa is hilly in most parts, there are several places where you can spot waterfalls. The roads leading up to the waterfalls are often rich in trees and other vegetation, and there are usually shallow rivers that can be followed. Hiking to get to a waterfall is a large part of the fun, and in some of the waterfalls you can take a refreshing dive once you get there!
One of our favorite waterfall hikes in Okinawa is the Ta-taki waterfall in Ogimi-son. The hike is challenging enough to be fun but not so difficult that you will give up halfway. Plus, there is a fun Tarzan rope hanging from the trees from where you can make a nice splash. If you like hidden natural spots, you can also try Fukugawa Falls in Nago. For those looking for an easy hike with a jungly vibe, the Todoroki Falls that are also in Nago are a great destination.
5. Kokusaidori in Naha
Kokusaidori, or International Street, in Naha is one of the largest and most varied shopping areas in Okinawa. The colorful boulevard is lined with tropical trees and a large variety of cool shops and eateries. If you are looking to do some souvenir shopping or if you just want to stroll in a lively place, Kokusaidori is the place to be. It is nearly 2 kilometers long and snakes right through the center of Naha.
You can find popular large chain stores such as Don Quijote (also known as Don Don Donki), many smaller and larger souvenir shops selling local wares like snacks, t-shirts, collector’s items and cosmetics, traditional fruit shops, and restaurants serving all kinds of cuisines. If you want to see authentic local shops you will also like it here, as the arcade shopping malls off the main road cater more toward the locals. There’s something interesting to see at every corner!
6. Orion Happy Park
Do you like beer? One of the local tipples is Orion Beer which is described as a light beer with a slightly dry, spicy flavor. Most people find it easy to drink, and it goes well with Okinawan cuisine. If just drinking Orion Beer isn’t enough for you, then a visit to Orion Happy Park should definitely be on your to-do list for your Okinawa trip!
In Orion Happy Park you can learn all about Orion Beer and how it is produced. There is a reproduction of a 1960s shop where you can get a feel about the brand’s history, and the highlight of your visit will be a free tour around the brewery. Of course, there is a souvenir shop as well, and the park boasts a nice on-site restaurant with delicious foods to go with your beer.
Orion Happy Park
Brewery tours are free of charge and are conducted multiple times between 10am and 3pm, except on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Advance reservations can be made online.
7. American Village
Okinawa’s culture is a mix of traditional Okinawan, Japanese, Chinese, and American influences. The American influences are mainly brought in by the American army that is still stationed in Japan. In American Village near a few of the bases, this international mix is all around, and it is a unique place in Japan. The entire oceanside village looks like it comes straight from the West Coast of the US and has a nice ambiance. The large ferris wheel is its most attention-grabbing feature.
Small fashion boutiques, specialty stores, and souvenir shops can be found in American Village, and it is also a great spot to grab some American food. There’s some great hot dogs, hamburgers, and Tex-mex here and many restaurants and cafes have nice outdoor seating with a sea view. In the summer, there is a mini firework show at 8pm from Sunset Beach that can be seen from the Deport island Boardwalk.
This is definitely a must-do when you go to Okinawa, whether you can swim or not. Okinawa has many diving companies that are happy to take you on a snorkeling tour, and if you’re experienced and bring your own gear you can also go snorkeling by yourself. Sea life is rich and varied here, and you will be able to spot colorful hard and soft corals, many kinds of tropical fish, squid, and starfish. In some areas you can also encounter sea turtles, small sharks, and manta rays. You can snorkel in Okinawa year-round, but between November and April you should wear a wetsuit as the water and air can get pretty chilly around the winter season.
Some of the best spots to go snorkeling are the Maeda Flats, the Blue Cave, Diamond Beach, and the beach that borders on Hoshino Resort’s Banta Cafe. At the last spot, you can also have nice specialty drinks with a great ocean view.
9. Okinawa World
Okinawa World is a theme park that aims to share traditional Okinawan culture with its visitors. In this cute park you can see traditional Eisa dance performances, drink foamy Bukubuku tea in an Okinawan-style home, try on the traditional costume of the region, and try your hands on several crafts such as ryukyu glass blowing and pottery. In the evening, they organize an exciting jungle tour which is especially fun for kids who like nature.
The main attraction of the park is the Gyokusendo Cave, a limestone cave with wonderful formations, underground wells, and fairytale-like illuminations. It is the largest cave in Japan, and the walk lasts around 30 minutes. Another attraction that is worth a visit is the Habu museum, an on-site museum that is dedicated to Okinawa’s most venomous snake, the Habu.
9am – 4pm
Admission fee ¥2,000
10. Bios no Oka (ビオスの丘)
If you are looking for a fun day out in Okinawa’s nature, Bios no Oka offers just that. The park’s mission is for its visitors to be educated about nature by playing in it. There are beautifully blooming flowers everywhere, free-range chickens walk around happily, and small pigs can be taken for a walk. Wooden climbing frames are fun for kids and adults to climb on, and there is a giant swing with a view on the lake. There is also old-fashioned play equipment that’s free to use.
You can join a short boat tour on the lake, or if you prefer to be active you can also canoe around the lake for 30 minutes. It is fun to see the subtropical forest up close from the water! They also organize short nature walks with a guide who will explain the forest environment to you.
Bios no Oka
9am – 5pm
Where to stay in Okinawa
Most tourists arrive in Naha where there are many hotels for all budgets, but if you want to enjoy Okinawa’s best attractions and the beach, staying in a more central area is your best bet. If you want to spend a lot of time on the beach, a hotel with a private beach would be a great option. Most attractions and nice beaches can be found on Okinawa’s western coast.
Onna is a great area for relaxing on the beach and visiting sights such as the Churaumi Aquarium, Bios no Oku, and all 3 waterfalls that were mentioned earlier. An example of a mid-range hotel with good amenities is the Rizzan Hotel, and if you’re looking to stay in a higher-end hotel then the ANA InterContinental Manza Beach Resort is a good choice. For low-budget travelers there are many minshuku (simple Japanese-style B&B) in the area as well.
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
If you are planning a trip to Japan and are looking for an in-depth experience in a major city in Japan, check out our private tours. Doing one of these fun tours led by experienced local guides will be a definite highlight of your trip!
As you can see, there are a variety of things to do and see in Okinawa. We are sure that if you go there once, you will definitely be back for more! In fact, many people who have visited Japan before, have expressed the wish to go back some day. If you become one of the many Japan-repeaters, you can visit different areas including you can visit one of the Okinawa Islands. There is always more to discover!
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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.
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