Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture in Japan. It is made up of over 300 islands and its prefectural capital is Naha city. Well-known for its beautiful beaches, it is one of the most famous resort destinations in Japan. Its distinctive characteristics separate Okinawa from other prefectures, for example, Okinawa has its own dialect and culture. Furthermore, some parts of Okinawa have a tropical rainforest climate, making the flora and fauna there stand out when compared to other Japan destinations.
Although it is recommended that you rent a car or participate in a tour if you want to explore the whole of Okinawa, public transport is sufficient for bringing you around the famous tourist destinations. As for the tourist spots within Naha city, the Okinawa Monorail, also known as Yui Rail, connects the various area. A trip lasting around 3 to 5 days will be just right to go around the sites. Island hopping and snorkelling are some popular activities, and here are 8 destinations that you would not want to miss in Okinawa:
1. Visit whale sharks at Churaumi Aquarium!
Located at Motobu, a city in the central area of Okinawa main island, Churaumi Aquarium is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan. Among the popular exhibits there is the tank named Kuroshio Sea, which aims to replicate the sea around Okinawa. Huge whale sharks and manta rays can be seen swimming in harmony with the other smaller fish. There are also performances, such as dolphin shows, and it is a fantastic place for a family trip. Churaumi Aquarium is about 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Naha city by car or about 2 hours via a direct bus.
Address: 4424 Ishikawa, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa
Access info: 2- hour drive from Naha International Airport
Opening hours: 8:30 – 19:00
Fixed holiday: 1st Wednesday and Thursday of December every year
Contact: +81 980-48-3748
Entrance fee: 1,850 JPY (16.80 USD)
2. The croissant island
Just 15 minutes away from Okinawa’s main island is Minna Island, also known as Croissant Island due to its shape. The almost transparent ocean is a great place for snorkeling, with beautiful fish swimming beneath you. Access to Minna Island is via a high-speed boat from Toguchi Port, found in the city of Motobu on the main island of Okinawa. It is about 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Naha city by car or about 2 hours via a direct bus. In fact, it is only 10 minutes away from Churaumi Aquarium by car, so it is recommended that you visit both places at once!
Minna Jima (Croissant island) and Toguchi Port ( where you can take the ferry from)
Ferry requence: 10 times a day
Ferry price (two way): 1,710 yen /adult, 860yen/child
Reservation call: 0980-47-5179
3. Okinawa’s very own noodle: Okinawa soba
There are lots of Okinawa soba (soba is a type of Japanese noodle) shops everywhere in Okinawa, and this dish is a must-try when visiting the prefecture. Among the hundreds of shops is Kishimoto eating house, a small Okinawa soba shop with more than 100 years of history. Also located in Motobu, the homemade Okinawa soba there has been covered by numerous television programmes and magazines, and is just a 10-minute drive from Churaumi Museum. Open from 11:00 to 17:30 daily except on Wednesdays, Kishimoto eating house is the perfect place to enjoy the true taste of Okinawa soba!
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4. One of the only two "salt rivers" in the world
Shio River, meaning “Salt River”, is a short river of 300 metres (984 feet) found along National Route 449 towards Churaumi Aquarium. About 100 litres (26.4 gallons) of a mixture of freshwater and seawater springs out every second to form Shio River. Although it looks just like an ordinary river, it has actually been selected as one of Japan’s natural monuments and is an extremely rare formation. As a matter of fact, it is still unknown why seawater springs out to form this river, as such a case is only seen in places with very low precipitation - a climate that Okinawa does not have.
5. Meet wild humpback whales - just in winter season!
Many associate a trip to Okinawa with summer, however, there are also experiences that you can only have in winter, including whale watching. Humpback whales visit the ocean around Okinawa between January and March every year to breed. These creatures can be up to 13 - 15 metres (43 to 49 feet) long and weigh about 30 - 50 tonnes (33 -55 tons). There are many companies in Okinawa that organise whale-watching tours so do check them out!
6. Learn about the Ryukyu Kingdom at Shuri Castle!
Found within the Shurijo Castle Park, just 15 minutes from the Okinawa Monorail Shuri Station in Naha city, Shuri Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that best represents Okinawa’s history. Okinawa used to be a kingdom on its own called the Ryukyu Kingdom before becoming part of Japan, and it had a culture and political system influenced by Japan, Korea, and China. Shuri Castle is said to have been built around the years 1527 to 1555, and it is now a museum that displays various artefacts from ancient Okinawa. The architecture found there is also stunning, with intricate designs and vibrant colours that will surely enchant you.
Address: 1 Chome-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa
Access info: 4-kilometre taxi ride from International Street
Opening hours: 8:00 -18:30
Fixed holiday: 1st Wednesday and Thursday of July every year
Contact: +81 98-886-2020
Entrance fee: 820 JPY (7.40 USD)
7. Kokusai Street - the biggest downtown in Okinawa
Be it on the first day or the last day, you definitely have to visit Kokusai Street. Located in Naha city, Kokusai Street is the biggest downtown in Okinawa, and it is lined by numerous eateries and souvenir shops. The 1.6-kilometre-long (1-mile-long) street can be accessed from Kencho-mae Station, Miebashi Station or Makishi Station of the Okinawa Monorail. One of the recommended places to visit is Kokusai Street Yatai Village, a food street that opened in June 2015, where you can enjoy numerous Japanese foods including sushi and teppanyaki (Japanese hot plate cuisine) at the yatai (portable stalls) there.
Located just 10 minutes from Naha Airport by car, Pacific Hotel Okinawa is the biggest city resort hotel in Naha. A total of 389 rooms are available and you will be able to view the beach from your window. Furthermore, Pacific Hotel Okinawa is only an 8-minute walk away from Beach Naminoue, Naha’s first beach meant for diving. It is also 5 minutes away from Kokusai Street by car, making it a convenient hotel for spending the last day before your flight home.
Oceans, unique culture, food, and history
From a unique history to a unique climate, you can explore a different side of Japan when visiting Okinawa; the climate and landscape there cannot be experienced elsewhere in the country. Warm even during the winter season, why not make your way to Okinawa to forge some memorable experiences?
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