Okinawa is located in Southernmost Japan, just an hour plane ride away from Taiwan- imagine how close it is to Singapore!
Jetstar is the first low-fares carrier to fly direct from Singapore to Okinawa (Naha Airport) and it’s honestly so convenient! If it’s your first time to Okinawa, here’s some helpful information for you.
Okinawa is divided into 3 main area- Naha (Main city), Miyakojima Islands and Yaeyama Islands.
This amazing prefecture has over 160 islands and is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and East China Sea – which makes for a superb beach holiday! To get to each area, you would need to take a domestic plane as its really far apart.
Unlike most parts of Japan that we are used to, Okinawa’s climate is actually sub-tropical. During winter, temperature ranges between 15 – 20 degrees and summer 26-32 degrees. If you ask me, that’s my kind of weather to travel in!
Okinawa was not originally part of Japan, it was an independent kingdom and tributary state to China called (Ryukyu Islands/琉球). If you see product or signage with this name around Okinawa, its because of that! They were only made to be a Japanese Prefecture in 1879! During World War II, U.S. attacked the islands of Okinawa, thus, they were also under U.S. administration until 1972.
That being said, Okinawa has a unique culture – influenced by the Chinese, Japanese and U.S. Till today, there are still U.S. military bases in Okinawa, and even an American Village which is primarily made up of Americans. It is also considered as a tourist attraction today!
Despite being a part of Japan today, Okinawa has their own charm, unlike the other parts which make it so interesting and attractive that you’ll definitely fall in love with!
Here’s a compiled of list of things that are worth your time to visit/do in Okinawa!
#1 VISIT KABIRA BAY
Kabira Bay is located in Ishigaki, one of the main island in Yaeyama Islands. To get to Ishigaki, you’ll need to take a domestic flight from Naha, which would only take about an hour.
This is one of the most popular scenic locations in Ishigaki and it’s no surprise why it won a three-star in Michelin tourist guide book! Just look at the view!! The waters were emerald green with SUPER clear waters and soft, white sand! This was our first stop in Okinawa with Dynasty Travel and we were all super tired from the red-eye flight but this view chased all our tiredness away!
It was raining when we were there thus explaining the heavy clouds, but even so, it looked great. Just imagine how unreal it’ll look when the weather is perfect!
Do note swimming is prohibited at Kabira Bay due to the strong current, but there are glass bottom boat services there to bring you out to the ocean. The ride takes about 20 mins or so and you’ll get to see corals, fishes and giant clams!
#2 ISLAND HOP AROUND OKINAWA
Yaeyama has a few main islands and each island has its own attraction.
We were arranged to do a one-day island hoping to Iriomote, Yubu and Taketomi island- one of the most popular tours among tourist. However, there are different tours catered to different needs like Kayaking, Hiking and snorkelling, which you’ll explore different parts of the island.
Iriomote Island (40 mins boat ride from Ishigaki port) is an island that is largely unexplored by tourists. Think dense forest, waterfall, rivers and mangroves- that would be Iriomote. During our tour, we explored the largest grove of mangroves in Japan. Here, you can find 6 of 7 kinds of mangrove in the whole of Japan. If you’re not a mangrove person, you might not appreciate this but there were tons of Japanese from other cities who were really excited over these mangroves!
We took one of these boats which fits about 50 people on it. There will be a local guide to explain and give the history of the island to you, however, the guide only speaks in Japanese. Thankfully we were with a tour guide and she translated everything for us!
Yubu Island is a 15 mins bus ride from the main port of Iriomote, and is known to be a flower paradise. Before reaching the main island, you’ll have to take a buffalo ride across a 400m river. Yubu used to be an island to grow Sugar Cane, with the help of these water Buffalos. They were brought over from Taiwan years ago for this purpose, however, with technology advancements, whose work has been replaced by machinery. Thus, these Water Buffalos has been re-purposed to transport people as part of tourist attraction. If you’ve never been on a water buffalo cart, this can be a great experience!
Fortunately, these animals are very well taken care of and they don’t look ‘sad’ like some other animal tourist attraction you see. I’ve also read somewhere that Water Buffalos that are used to work generally have longer lifespan compared to those in the wild!
The entire island is a subtropical garden and is only 2km around. It can be covered on foot in about 30-45 mins and showcases about 30 varieties of Hibiscus and 10 varieties of Palm Trees peculiar to subtropics. There are also Butterfly Garden and Shell house which you can have a look!
The restaurant offers Okinawan Cuisine and foods made with Ingredient grown on Iriomote Island.
We also passed this cute sight where all the Water Buffalos just chilling and drinking water. They, too, have ‘shift work’ and have to take a break between rides. We were told their ‘shift’ last shorter during summer when it’s hotter to prevent over-working as they don’t dissipate heat too well.
Taketomi Island is 6km (10-15mins boat ride) away from Ishigaki port and is known for its history and culture. The island was a traditional Ryukyu village and is preserved by the government today. Thanks to that, we get to have a glimpse of how they used to live back then. Taketomi is still filled with traditional style one-storied houses, which all has red roofs with shiza (lion-like) statues which they believed can ward off evil spirits- similar to the ones we see in some Chinese houses in Singapore today. This was influenced by Chinese culture and beliefs they used to have.
Fun fact- Okinawa has the most number of centenarian (people who live 100 years or more)! Taketomi today only have 350 people living on it- which 70% of them are above 70 years old!
Taketomi also has some famous beaches- Kaiji Beach and Kondoi Beach. Due to limited time and bad weather, we were not able to visit Kondoi Beach during our trip but was told it is one of the most beautiful beaches in Yaeyama Islands!
This is one of the beaches with gentle waves which means you get to swim or snorkel- even safe for children!
We did visit Kaiji Beach, or otherwise known as Star Sand Beach.
If you’re wondering why its named ‘star sand’, it’s because it’s really filled with star-shaped sand!
These “stars” are all along the beach but they are actually skeletons of small one-celled organisms that live among the seagrass. It was an interesting sight and it was my first time seeing it! Tip: they are actually more orange compared to actual sand, so pick those up else you’ll only find normal sand!
#3 GO SAKURA VIEWING (SEASONAL)
Since Okinawa is Sub-Tropical, Sakura Season is in End Jan – Mid Feb period. Kanhi Sakura- the type of cherry blossom, can only be seen in Okinawa. Here are some famous Sakura Viewing spots in Naha City for you enjoy!
Yogi Park is great for an afternoon picnic! There are stone benches which you can rest, so bring along some snacks and hot tea and have a relaxing afternoon here!
Mt Yaedake is not accessible by public transport, thus you’ll need to drive up, or follow a tour group. I personally find this spot nicer than Yogi park as it’s a larger area with a more scenic view.
There are no cafes or restaurant on this mountain, but there are little push carts that sell ice cream which you can try! We tried the Sakura flavoured ice cream and while it isn’t superb, it wasn’t too shabby. It’s not milky like those in Hokkaido, rather, it’s icier. No harm trying since you’re all the way up there!
Nakijin Castle is also a special place to view sakura but I’ll talk more about it below.
#4 VISIT NAKIJIN CASTLE
This castle is one of UNESCO World Heritage site and was built in the late 1200s. Today, it stands as the castle that is least ruined by World War II and tells the history of Ryukyu Kingdom.
In the 14th Century, the Ryukyu Kingdom was divided into three region- Hokuzan (North), Chuzan (Central) and Nanzan (South). Nakijin Castle was occupied by the Hokuzan King until unification happened between 1416 and 1422 by the Chuzan Region.
In the castle today you can find an old pathway, stone gates, stone wall and even shrine built.
The main attraction is actually the illumination during Sakura period- End Jan to Mid Feb. During the illumination period, the opening hours extend from the usual 6pm to 9pm (Last entry at 830pm) which allow visitors to view Sakura in the dark! It was really a different experience viewing these blossoms in the night than in the day! If you’re there during the period, its something not to be missed!
#5 TRY ISHIGAKI BEEF
How can one not have the beef when in Japan?! Needless to say, we tried the Ishigaki Beef, which is native to Ishigaki and it was really really nice! It has good marbling and amount of fat, and gives a sweet aftertaste! Some even say it’s the best type of Wagyu 😉
Many of these Ishigaki beef are transported to other parts of Japan, so why not give it a try fresh while you’re there! Promise you, you won’t regret it!
Pair this with a glass of Orion Beer – an Okinawan Beer, for the perfect dinner! Orion beer (draft) is more buttery than crisps and it was so so good!! It was so good I had to have one every night! If you love beer as much as me, you HAVE to try this!
#6 HOT SOBA NOODLES
When I was told we were going to have Soba in 10-degree weather (it was unusually cold when we were there in Feb), I did not expect a hot bowl of soup! Little did I know that Okinawa Soba is TOTALLY different from other Soba you have in Japan!
Okinawa Hot Soba is made of wheat flour unlike those made of Buckwheat. Which is why it’s also yellow/pale in colour, unlike the green/purple colour that we’re used to.
#7 EXPLORE BEACHES
When in Okinawa, you MUST head down to the beach! Words and pictures honestly aren’t sufficient to describe how incredible the beaches in Okinawa are!
Famous for their blue waters, colourful coral reef and vast marine life, it is a popular spot not just for a beach bum, but also for people who love diving!
We were there in Feb so we didn’t visit many beaches but here are 2 that I particularly love!
Needless to say, I’ll be back next time to explore more beaches & to do some chilling on the beach with an ice cold beer!
#8 GO WHALE WATCHING (SEASONAL)
When I first received the itinerary from Dynasty Travel, this was the activity I was looking forward most to! We almost cancelled this activity due to the weather- it has been rainy/cloudy for the past 3 days. Luckily for us, the weather cleared up the day before the scheduled day and we could make our way out into the ocean! I’d recommend planning this in the earlier part of your trip, in case you miss it due to bad weather, you’ll have some extra days to try your luck.
From Jan to March every year, it’s whale watching season in Okinawa as these whales travel all the way to Kerama Islands from the north. You’ll get to see Humpback whales, which are about 15m in length and around 30 tons in weight. They spend their fall and winter near Okinawa to give birth and raise their calves. YES, you might have a chance to spot the whales with their calves!
The speedboat has 2 decks, if you have motion sickness, it is recommended that you take the seasick pill and to take the lower deck. The boat does lots of sudden speeding up and sharp turns especially when a whale is spotted.
Here’s what you can expect to see
1) Blow – You’ll first spot a Blow as the whales come up to the surface to breathe.
2) Tail – We spot lots of tail as they dive back into the waters!
3. Body – Sadly we didn’t get to see any of their heads. However, you’ll get to see their body as they move around and back in the waters.
Here’s a shot of a Mother and its Calf!
Hopefully, this article has been useful to you!
Our itinerary was planned by Dynasty Travel, if you would like to know how’s our itinerary like, click here:
Some of the places we didn’t manage to visit due to various reason (time, weather, etc), but its really close to what we did on our trip and it was really enjoyable!
If you’ll like to find out more about Okinawa – attractions, experiences, travel tips, etc. The Okinawa Convention & Visitor Bureau’s (OCBV) website is very very helpful and I’m sure it’ll help in your planning!