Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture is a chain of islands located at the South of Kyushu. Throughout the decades, these islands have been a favourite summer destination for tourists, both in and out of Japan.
Okinawa has so much to offer to the average tourist and thanks to its unique cultures, cuisine and natural beauty there is a lot to see and do in these islands. From Okinawa Island to Yonaguni Island, there is something for everyone and by the end of your stay, you won’t leave unsatisfied.
Here are some of the things that you might want to check out when planning your trip to this subtropical region.
Witness The Majesty of Shuri Castle
A visit to Okinawa Island is not complete without stopping by Shuri Castle. With its unique design and striking red colour, the castle is unlike any other in Japan.
Not only is it notable for its design but it also has a very unique history. The castle was once the royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, who ruled over the Ryukyu Islands until the 19th Century when they were annexed by Japan.
The original castle was unfortunately destroyed during World War II in the Battle of Okinawa. However, the castle has since been restored and it’s now opened to the public. Since then it has been a major tourist attraction in the capital, Naha City.
Visitors can explore the castle grounds at their leisure. Some notable features include the beautiful Shureimon Gate and the main hall, the Seiden.
Find Peace And Tranquility At Shikinaen Garden
A visit to Shikinaen Garden is perfect for any visitor looking for peace and tranquillity. Historically, it was the second residence of the Ryukyu royal family.
The gardens consist of several wooden buildings built in the Okinawan style. A Japanese style garden with two stone bridges also surrounds the buildings.
The main attraction of the gardens is the palace building. In the past, members of the royal family and their foreign dignitaries would go there for entertainment. Today, visitors can enter the palace and view the gardens from above while sitting on the tatami floors.
Shop Till You Drop At Kokusaidori Street
Naha’s main shopping and entertainment district, Kokusaidori is a must-visit for any visitor to Okinawa Island.
Visitors can find shops, boutiques, restaurants and department stores in this area. Traditional Okinawan music is also played live in many restaurants. You can also look for more shopping areas near Kokusaidori. These include the Heiwadori, Mutsumidori and Ichiba Hondori shopping arcades.
Also located in the vicinity is Daiichi Makishik, a wet market that sells fresh seafood and meats. The second floor of the market has a food hall that sells sashimi and local Okinawan cuisine.
Discover Okinawan Culture And History At The Okinawa Prefectural Museum
Located close to Shuri Castle, the Okinawa Prefectural Museum is a gateway to understanding Okinawa’s culture and history. The vicinity houses two museums, one dedicated to the history and other towards art.
The History Museum covers much of the history of the Okinawa Prefecture. It even has records that predate the Ryukyu Kingdom. It also houses artefacts, crafts and folklore from Okinawa’s past.
The Art Museum, on the other hand, features contemporary art from local artists including sculptures and paintings. The art pieces are placed in various galleries.
Unleash Your Inner Warrior At The Okinawa Karate Kaikan
As the birthplace of Karate, the artform holds significance to Okinawa. The Okinawa Karate Kaikan is a facility that aims to promote the art of Karate. It’s located in the South of Naha.
The facility consists of dojos and a museum dedicated to the history of Karate. The facility’s main dojo is used for big events and it’s designed like a traditional Karate dojo complete with a red-tiled roof.
The museum offers visitors a detailed history of Karate and it’s origins in Okinawa. Artefacts on display in the museum include uniforms and weapons. The museum’s main attraction, however, is the interactive exhibits where visitors can learn karate techniques in a safe environment.
The Karate Kaikan also includes a restaurant, a shop and showers.
Experience American Culture At The Mihama American Village
In the North of Naha City lies the Mihama American Village, an entertainment complex made to resemble a typical American town. A large Ferris wheel towers over the entire complex and it’s by far its most recognisable feature.
Visitors to the complex can experience the taste of Americana in a single setting from food to entertainment.
Shops selling American branded clothing are common and restaurants serve classic American favourites such as Hotdogs and Hamburgers. The movie theatre in the complex also plays both Hollywood and Japanese movies.
The complex is located next to several US Military Bases and for its residents, it serves as their home away from home. The complex also draws both local and foreign visitors who are looking for something different in mind.
Near the Mihama American Village lies Sunset Beach where the water is so shallow that children can play in it safely. It’s also a perfect place for visitors to set up picnics and barbecues.
Make A Wish At The Futenmagu Shrine And Cave
The 500-year-old Futenmagu Shrine, located in the city of Ginowan on Okinawa Island, has a set of caves for its centre.
Worshippers looking to be forgiven of their sins and be absolved of them will often visit this shrine. Visitors are welcome to make wishes by hanging up a wooden plaque in the shrine. The plaques can be bought at the shrine’s shop and they also sell Omamoori or lucky charms.
Visitors can enter the cave but are only allowed in for 30 minutes. Beautiful rock formations including several stalactites and stalagmites fill the cave’s interior.
The cave also features freshwater fishes living in the crystal clear water near the stalagmite. Visitors will be able to see a shrine dedicated to two Kamis or Gods once they reached the bottom.
The shrine is at its busiest and most lively during festive holidays such as New Year’s Eve.
Gaze At Whale Sharks At The Churaumi Aquarium
Located within the Ocean Expo Park, in the North of Okinawa Island, lies the Churaumi Aquarium, arguably Japan’s best aquarium. The main attraction in the aquarium is the Kuroshio Tank which contains a wide variety of marine life including whale sharks.
Visitors to the aquarium will also be treated to feeding sessions which are conducted twice a day. Next to the tank is a movie theatre which showcases films about Okinawa’s marine life to visitors.
The Aquarium also houses other tanks within its facility. One tank, for example, contains underwater predators such as Bull and Tiger Sharks while another contains Okinawa’s deep-sea life.
Outside of the aquarium, there are few outdoor pools where visitors can watch seals, turtles and dolphins perform in animal shows.
Go Cave Exploring At Okinawa World
Located in the Southern tip of Okinawa Island is Okinawa World, a theme park dedicated to Okinawan culture. The theme park’s main attraction is the 300,000-year-old Gyokusendo Cave, the longest in the south of Okinawa.
Giant stalagmites and stalactites fill the interior of the five-kilometre limestone cave. Visitors to the theme park are also able to walk through and see them as the cave’s path is clear and well lit.
Okinawa World also includes the Kingdom Village, a replica of a traditional Ryukyu village. The village includes workshops that show visitors how to create various Okinawan crafts such as pottery and musical instruments.
The last attraction is Huba Park. Named after the poisonous Huba snake, it consists of a snake museum and a snake show. Visitors in the park can also buy souvenirs at various shops and even try the local cuisine at the restaurant there.
Watch Turles Hatch At Nirai Beach
One of the most well-kept marine preserves in the world, Nirai Beach is home to several tropical fishes and sea turtles along the coral reefs near the shores.
The beach is perfect for families with children as the low tides allow them to play safely in the water. There are also a variety of activities that visitors can do such as parasailing, scuba diving and snorkelling.
However, the highlight of the beach is the turtle egg-hatching season which takes place between May and August. Visitors may find schools of sea turtle hatchlings heading towards the sea after hatching from their eggs.
Refresh Yourself At Nago Pineapple Park
Located in Nago City, North of Okinawa Island, is the Nago Pineapple Park, a theme park dedicated to pineapples and other tropical fruits. The park includes a tour that educates visitors on the history of pineapples and how it came to Japan.
After the tour, visitors have the option of walking or driving in a golf cart around the tropical garden consisting of pineapple and banana trees. Also located within the park is a museum that displays seashells.
The park has a shopping area where visitors can buy various pineapple souvenirs and products. Visitors can also try samples of pineapple slices, juices and cakes.
The park also houses the Palm Tree restaurant which serves a wide variety of food. The menu includes dishes such as Ginger Agu Pork and Goya Champuru as well as pineapple parfait for dessert.
Discover the Blue Cave At Cape Maeda
Located in the West Coast of Central Okinawa Island, Cape Maeda is the site of one of Okinawa’s best scuba diving sites. It has a coral plateau that is home to a variety of fish species including the flying fish, butterflyfish and clownfish.
However, Cape Maeda’s main attraction is the Blue Cave. Diving in the cave will transport you to a world of crystal blue waters. The reason for its bright blue colour is due to the sunlight shining on the white ocean floor.
The cape is also well known for its beautiful sunsets. Its picturesque beauty is often used in commercials and television shows. After the sun sets, a starfield sky will be revealed which is perfect for any stargazing traveller.
Watch Tropical Fishes Swim By At Miyakojima Kaichukoen Park
Also known as the Miyoko Island Sea Park, this underwater observatory is located in the North of Okinawa’s Miyoko Island.
Visitors to the park can watch tropical fishes in their natural habitat through one of 24 glass panels installed in the facility. It’s perfect for travellers who don’t like scuba diving or snorkelling. The park also provides sea kayak events for visitors to pet sea turtles swimming near the shore.
However, the park will be closed during bad weather or even a typhoon.
Visit Medieval Germany At Ueno German Culture Village
Situated in Miyako Island in the village of Ueno is one of Okinawa’s strangest attractions, the Ueno German Culture Village. With its castle-like towers and fairytale-like houses, the village looks like something out of Medieval Europe.
The site holds great historical significance. In the late 19th century, many locals braved through the seas to rescue German sailors whose ship crashed into a coral reef. German Emperor William I erected a monument to show gratitude to the local people and it has since become a symbol of Japanese-German friendship.
In 1987, the village was opened to the public and it is located near the monument.
In the centre of the village is a replica of Marksburg Castle from Braubach, Germany. The ground floor of the castle has a shop that sells beer and pretzels. A rental shop for medieval European attire for picture taking is also available. The upper floors include a museum whose main attraction is a piece of the Berlin Wall.
The village also includes a kinderhaus building which includes a playground for children to play in. The building also has a store that sells German-made toys.
Explore The Jungles Of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park
Located within Okinawa’s Yaeyama Islands, the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park is home to Japan’s only sub-tropical rainforest. The park consists of several islands and stretches of open water. It also includes mangrove forests and several coral reefs.
There are a variety of activities for visitors to do in the park. Land-based activities include trekking while sea-based ones include snorkelling and canoeing. Visitors may find several animal species in the park such as the Iriomote wild cat and Sakishima grass lizard.
The highlight of the park is arguably the starfield sky. It is the result of fewer lights being lit due to the islands having fewer people. It’s perfect for visitors who love stargazing.
Visitors could also take a stroll or a bicycle ride on the small coral island of Taketomi. The island is one of the few settlements located within the park. The houses on the island are built in a traditional Okinawan style complete with red roofs.
Dive and Discover the Mysterious Yonaguni Monument
Okinawa’s Yonaguni island is Japan’s westernmost island, located very close to Taiwan. The island’s Irizaki coast is a diver’s paradise. Scuba divers can witness schools of Hammerhead Sharks swimming nearby especially during the Winter season.
The biggest attraction in these waters, however, is the Yonaguni Monument. It has been referred to as Japan’s Atlantis due to its unknown origin. These ruins are made up of megaliths forming steps and stone pillars. Visitors can scuba dive and explore the ruins at their own pace.
The island’s western tip lies Cape Irizaki, Japan’s westernmost point. Visitors to the island come here to watch the final sunset in Japan. Also if they’re lucky, visitors can see Taiwan on a very clear day.