Spend any amount of time in Japan and you’ll soon realize that Okinawa is a name synonymous with vacationing, and there’s good reason. Beautiful, relaxed and home to stunning beaches, visiting Okinawa is like visiting a tropical paradise. The island chain that makes up Okinawa prefecture is a popular destination for locals and international visitors. Thanks to its position at the southernmost end of Japan and its subtropical climate, temperatures barely fall below 15 degrees even in winter. The seas that surround the islands are regarded internationally as home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs and marine wildlife in the world. Steeped in richly unique culture and natural beauty, no matter your interests, a visit to Okinawa is an unforgettable experience.
Technically Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa is a string of islands that stretch along more than one thousand kilometers east to west from Kyushu to Taiwan. Comprising of 49 inhabited and 110 uninhabited islands the spread of the island also reach 400km from north to south. The island is located within a 1,500km radius of the major cities of Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila and Tokyo making it an incredibly culturally diverse hub. The Okinawa Prefecture itself is divided into three major island groups. First there’s the Okinawa Islands also known as Okinawa Shoto, the Miyako Islands, ‘Miyako Retto’ and the Yaeyama Islands ‘Yaeyama Retto’ around Ishigaki Island. Each island brings with it it’s own distinct culture and history. The islands that make up Okinawa are known as the Ryukyu Islands, named after the native culture of the area.
Given its proximity to a number of central Asian cities, one of the most fascinating aspects of Okinawa is its history. For several centuries the prefecture was an independent kingdom known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, with ties to China. The island remained governed by the royal family all the way up until 1879, when the kingdom was officially abolished and came under control of the Satsuma feudal fief known as today's Kagoshima Prefecture. Though there were attempts to assimilate the native population of Okinawa with the rest of Japan, many of these efforts failed. Thankfully Ryukyuan culture survived, because it’s this culture that’s one of the prefecture’s main attractions.
In more modern times Okinawa became the stage of one of World War Two’s most devastating and bloody battles. Towards the end of the war, American troops invaded the islands in an attempt to capture Okinawa, to utilize it as the major base for the planned invasion of the rest of Japan. During this battle, which spanned 82 days, about 95,000 Imperial Japanese Army troops and 12,510 Americans were killed. The island remained under US administration until 1972. Today there are still more than 30 U.S. military bases positioned on Okinawa, occupying 25% of the island's area.
It’s impossible to talk about Okinawa without mentioning its incredible beaches and marine beauty, so of course snorkeling, swimming, scuba diving and any other water sport imaginable is an attraction. Each island has its own individual flavor and area of specialty, so no matter what you’re looking for in a vacation getaway, there’s no doubt Okinawa has it. Beyond the beach there are numerous mountain ranges and hiking opportunities including Mt. Omoto-dake located in Ishigaki. Mt. Omoto-dake rises 526 meters above sea level, making it the highest mountain in Okinawa and the best place to truly soak in the breathtaking surroundings of the island.
If history is more your thing, you cannot miss Shurijo Castle Park. Magnificent in both architecture and history the Castle is an Okinawa icon. Built in the late 1300s, as home to the royal family and the heart of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the castle has survived numerous wars and fires. The most recent attack on the building was during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. To get a in-depth and immersive understanding of Okinawa, you can’t go past Ryukyu Mura, a small theme park located Okinawa Honto, about 30 kilometers north of Naha. It’s a reconstructed village based around the life and times of people under the rule of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
As its islands are spread over a 1000km radius across the ocean, getting to Okinawa really depends on where you want to base yourself. Airplane and ferry are of course the only methods of accessing Okinawa’s many island. There’s an airport and ferry terminals in the capital city of Naha, located on the southwest side of the island. Flights to Okinawa arrive at Naha Airport regularly and ferries dock at several ports throughout the city. Including Naha there are actually 13 airports in Okinawa making it an incredibly accessible place to visit. The cost of flights fluctuates greatly depending on the season, with holiday periods being the most expensive time of year.