Okinawa Travel Guide   沖縄

Date of publication :
The palace of the Ryukyu kings is an Okinawa symbol.

The palace of the Ryukyu kings is an Okinawa symbol.

The Shureimon gate, another local symbol, has clear Chinese influences in its design.

The beaches of Miyako Island are a dream come true!

The jungle of Iriomote is protected, as it's the home of several unique animal species.

The villages of Taketomi island with their stone walls and tiled roofs are havens of peace.

Japan of the South Sea

Okinawa is often overlooked by tourists although it is only a two and a half hour flight from Tokyo. The islands maintain the image of a world apart, different from the main islands of Japan, with their own dialect, history, and that little something else that is reminiscent of the the South Sea Islands.

Historically the people of the Ryukyu archipelago became Japanese rather late in the game. The various kingdoms of Ryukyu were at war for a long time, hence the numerous castles present on the islands, before being unified in the sixteenth century and then conquered by the Satsuma clan in 1609. It was not until the nineteenth century that the archipelago was annexed by Japan. Okinawa was also the seat of fierce fighting against the Allied forces during the Second World War. There is still a major US military base on the main island today.

This very dispersed group of islands is a true natural treasure, with numerous UNESCO listed sites. The islands are classified in three groups: Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama, all with their specific charms.

Okinawa, the mini Hawaii

The main island of Okinawa Honto and its capital, Naha, offer visitors a wide variety of attractions. It proudly displays its typical relaxed lifestyle, like in the Tsuboya District and in Naha itself. The American presence is strongly felt around the base in the American village. You will find all the entertainment of a small Hawaii, including cocktails. The island shares the souvenirs of its history, such as Shuri Palace of the Ryukyu kings, the ruins of Nakagusuku Castle and the former underground headquarters of the Imperial Navy.

Miyako, white sandy beaches

The small islands of Miyako, in the center of the archipelago, are known for their white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. They're true Pacific beaches with their coral reefs. It is a good place for scuba diving and relaxing in the sun. Maehama and Yoshino beaches are the best-known.

Yaeyama, wild beauty and Ryukyu culture

The most remote islands form the Yaeyama group, which interests visitors who enjoy nature and traditional culture. The large island of Iriomote, which is fully protected, is famous throughout Japan for its jungle and wild cats. Similarly, the island of Taketomi has the best-preserved traditional villages in Okinawa. Visits are made in carts pulled by water buffalo.

The food on Okinawa is varied and delicious: a mixture of several influences reflected in its most famous dish, champuru, a dish based on sauteed local vegetables. Okinawa is like its cuisine, halfway between Japan and the culture of the Pacific islands.

Visiting Okinawa

There are 3-8 direct flights per day to Naha from the main cities of Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka...). Flights take between two and two and a half hours.

Direct flights connect Miyako and Ishigaki island to Tokyo and Osaka (a three to three and a half hour flight).

Journeys on the islands are made by bus or by bike. It may be worthwhile to rent a car on the main island.

Ferries connect the small islands of the same group together, but the plane is the main means of transport between Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama. Flights between the islands take about thirty minutes.