On the southernmost edge of Japan, this island prefecture makes for a tropical experience that is unique in this island nation.
Crystal blue seas, white sand beaches, colourful marine life, Japan has a lesser-known subtropical side to it. In the southernmost part of this island nation, Okinawa is a beach paradise. On its 160 islands, the temperature is warm year round. Besides the beaches, the Shuri Castle, home of the King of Ryukyu (a World Heritage Site) is a prime attraction here.
Being in a subtropical zone, Okinawa has a rich flora and fauna. Taiwan cherries, red Diego, colourful bougainvilleas, white Easter lilies, and yellow tabebuias decorate its streets and add a vibrancy to the tropical environs.
Animals, such as the Iriomote wildcats (a protected species) on Iriomote-jima Island, are some unique animals to look out for.
The Okinawa Prefecture is also known for its marine life and corals, which can be discovered on its three major island groups, the Okinawa Islands (Okinawa Shoto) around Okinawa Island (Okinawa Honto), the Miyako Islands (Miyako Retto) around Miyako Island and the Yaeyama Islands (Yaeyama Retto) around Ishigaki Island.
Below are the top places to see in Okinawa.
1. Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
In Okinawan dialect, Churaumi literally is a beautiful sea. Okinawa Commemorative National Government Park is home to facilities displaying Okinawa’s aqua beauty, natural environment, and history and culture. In one corner of the park is an aquarium counted in one of the largest in the world. The tank is 8.2 metres high and 22.5 metres wide, containing a diversity of sea creatures including whale sharks and reef manta rays that are some of the biggest in the world!
2. Taketomi Island and Miyako Island
Located in the west of the main island of Okinawa, Taketomi, which is also close to Ishigaki Island preserves one of Okinawa’s ancient villages. Red-roofed houses, roads covered with white sand and the leisurely pace of buffalo carts that circle the island, often charm the visitors.
Miyako Island, only 45 minutes by plane from the main island, boasts an ocean that is said to be particularity beautiful, known for its white sandy beaches and coral reef shallows. It is an ideal spot for diving and snorkelling.
3. Ishigaki Island and Iriomote Island
The Yaeyama Archipelago located to the west of the main island of Okinawa contains islands that have their own characteristic natural beauty. These include Ishigaki Island, which is famous for its picturesque scenery and white sandy beaches and Iriomote Island where one can see mangrove swamps and rare animals like the Irionmote mountain cat. Whether it’s diving, travelling in glass-bottomed boats, kayaking or trekking there is no shortage of opportunities to engage with the natural environment.
4. Yaeyama Islands
The Yaeyama Islands (Yaeyama Rettō) are both the southernmost and westernmost inhabited islands of Japan. Together with the Miyako Islands and the Okinawa Islands, they make up the three main island chains of Okinawa Prefecture.
With their tropical atmosphere and laid back, rural lifestyle clubbed with activities such as snorkelling and diving, the Yaeyama Islands are a popular getaway destination.
Off the Yaeyama Islands, Ishigaki Island is the most populated and serves as the region’s transportation hub. Other islands include the jungle-covered Iriomote Island and Taketomi Island, famous for its preserved, traditional Ryukyu village.
5. Okinawa Resorts
Emerald green oceans, white sandy beaches, and the beautiful Coral Sea are the highlights here. One of the greatest charms of Okinawa is its natural beauty and its high-quality resort ambience. It offers global brand hotels and a wealth of activities that include shopping in the capital city of Naha, which has a population of over 300,000. There are also resorts for those who want to indulge in some luxury.