Okinawa Prefecture is composed of the southernmost islands in Japan. Okinawa is the only prefecture that belongs to the subtropical zone in Japan and the sea and its beaches are of extreme beauty. Needless to say that there are a lot of tropical plants on the islands. If you want to enjoy the sea in Japan, Okinawa is by far the best spot to do so.
Other than the abundant nature, the culture of Okinawa is also very interesting. Its culture is quite different from other prefectures in Japan. As Okinawa is very close to Taiwan and China, the Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese cultures have mixed together here and have resulted in Okinawa’s unique culture. In this article, we introduce you some places you must visit in Okinawa. When visiting these places you will be able to enjoy the nature and Okinawa its unique culture!
Many souvenir shops, Okinawa traditional restaurants and bars are located on both sides of this 1,6 km long busy street in Naha, Okinawa’s capital. This street is a great place for buying souvenirs, whether you are on a budget or not, as you can find anything from expensive to cheap ones. Also, it is a great sport to experience Okinawa’s unique culture, as some big festivals are held here every year. For example, the Eisa festival that is held during the weekend after the Okinawan Obon holiday. Young people wear Okinawan traditional clothes and dance with traditional drums.
Visiting Iriomote island is probably the best option for those who want to really explore and enjoy nature in Okinawa. Most part of the island is covered by jungle and mangrove forests, that you can enjoy by trekking and kayaking. Scuba diving is also a good choice to explore the beautiful sea. You don’t need to have a scuba diving license as an instructor will be with you to support and guide you during your diving.
Okinawa Peace Memorial Park
At the end of the World War II, Operation Iceberg took place on Okinawa Island. It was one of the most cruel battles during World War Ⅱ. It was the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific theater of World War II. It resulted in the largest casualties with a few hundred thousands deaths and huge destruction. Okinawa Peace Memorial Park (沖縄県平和祈念資料館) is the memorial to the Battle of Okinawa which represents the history to remember.
Okinawa Peace Memorial park
Open 24 hrs
This tiny island is one of the Kerama islands. The length of the island is only 11 km and around 300 people live there. To explore it, you can just walk around or ride a bicycle. You will be able to see marine turtles in the sea or the beach. The sea surrounding the island is extremely beautiful. It only takes 50 min by ferry to get to the island from the capital of Okinawa, Naha, making a the perfect day trip!
If you are are interested in learning more about the the history of Okinawa’s culture, you may want to visit this island as the original Ryukyu culture is preserved well. You will feel like time traveling back to ancient times when you visit its traditional bungalow houses and go to traditional festivals there. It is also a rather small island, which means you can move around the island by bicycle or even ride on a water buffalo carriage. This islands also has beautiful beaches on the west side of the island.
Nagannu is another island belonging to the one of Kerama islands, located just 20 minutes away from Naha by high-speed ferry. The island is uninhabited but still there are some shops and restaurants. Since nobody lives there, its pristine and immaculate emerald beach and sea are strikingly beautiful. It also has become a famous diving spot. If you like exploring the ocean and want to learn more about the stunning tropical paradise that this island holds, we recommend you to try scuba diving.
There are exotic falls deep inside of Okinawa forest, on the northern part of Okinawa main island. You will notice that once you enter the forest, there are no proper walking tracks. On the way there you have to walk along a river and pass large rocks. It might be a hard spot to get to but it also means that you will get a chance to enjoy nature in its original form and explore the forest. Make sure to bring water shoes and a waterproof bag with you, because you will need to walk through water!
Katsuren Castle Ruins
Built in the 12th century, Katsuren Castle is the oldest castle in Okinawa and is registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site. This ancient fortress was built on a steep hill close to the coast, offering a stunning view which includes the Nakagusuku Bay. To visit the castle, you can take a bus from the Naha Bus Terminal at Naha Airport. It will take you around 1h20m from the bus terminal, or you can choose to take the Okinawa Expressway.
9am – 6pm
At the end of December and early April, you can see humpback whales in Okinawa. One of the most popular places for whale watching are the Kerema Islands. They are are made up of 36 beautiful islands, including Zamami and Tokashiki island. You can book a tour to go to Kerama islands by boat, departing near the airport.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Churaumi Aquarium is the biggest aquarium in Japan and the second biggest in the world. Here you can see animals living in and/or around the Okinawa sea. “Chura” derives from Okinawa’s dialect which means beautiful while “umi” means sea in Japanese. Thus, this aquarium is exhibiting the beautiful sea of Okinawa.
Animals that can be seen here include whale sharks and manta rays swim in a massive 7,500m3 water tank, the most popular and famous attraction in the aquarium. It is located in the Ocean Expo Park where you can also visit the Oceanic Culture Museum, a botanical garden (the Tropical Dream Center), the Native Okinawan Village and Omoro Arboretum as well as the Emerald Beach.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
8.30am – 7pm
Admission fee ¥1,310
Shurijo Castle – destroyed by fire in 2019
Another castle which we would have loved to include on the list is the Shuri Castle. This beautiful and ancient castle was selected as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Before Okinawa became part of Japan, the islands were governed by the Kingdom of Ryukyu, and Shurijo castle was the main castle of the kingdom. The main structure of the wooden castle was similar to Chinese castles. Unfortunately, however, a big fire in October 2019, destroyed the 500-year-old world heritage site. The castle was almost completely destroyed during World War II and rebuilt after. We hope that the same will be done this time.
Where to stay on Okinawa Islands?
- Palm Villa Ishigakijima igusa – Ishi Gaki Island, picture-perfect beaches and the best cuisine
- Hotel 385 – Miyakojima, paradise for scuba-divers
- Nagahama Beach Resort Kanon – Fascinating castle ruins and mango specialties
We highly recommend visiting the islands surrounding Okinawa main island as you can enjoy not only the nature but also Okinawa’s unique culture. Another good point is that Okinawa is not far from Tokyo: it takes only 3 hours to get to Okinawa airport from Tokyo, so it is worth planning a trip to Okinawa when you visit Japan. Will you include Okinawa on your bucket list?
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