This post was last updated on February 1st, 2020 at 06:21 pm
Are you fed up with the hustle and bustle in the ultra-modern cities? Then Okinawa is the place to unwind. Japan is not very famous for its tropical islands. For a beach holiday, people are more likely to go to Indonesia, Thailand or Malaysia. Yet you don’t have to leave Japan if you want to enjoy a wonderful week at the beach and go snorkeling in the turquoise water.
Okinawa is the Philippines of Japan
Okinawa is one of the five large islands in Japan and more than 1 million people live there. It lies in the East China Sea and is the main island of the famous Ryukyu Islands. Just like the islands in Indonesia, the waters here are very suitable for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Okinawa has beautiful and accessible beaches
Sometimes it looks like you’re in the Philippines, but the seas around Okinawa are labeled as one of the most beautiful in the world. And given the beautiful coral reefs and various fish that you encounter here, this is not unjustified.
This in combination with the beautiful white beaches and beautiful culture make this island the perfect “get-away” in Japan.
The islands of Okinawa
Okinawa covers an area of 1,200 square kilometers and consists of dozens of small islands. The islands extend over more than 1,000 kilometers. Okinawa is also known as the Ryukyu Islands, after the name of the kingdom that was once active there.
We will not name all the islands, but the following are the most important.
The main island of Okinawa is Okinawa (Main Island). To make it even more complicated, this island then again consists of Southern, Central and Northern Mail Island. A kind of province.
On this island, you will find a lot of pretty sights, but not the most beautiful beaches. More about that later.
2. Kume Island
Kume Island, or Kumejima, is located 100 kilometers west of the main island of Okinawa. It takes about 30 minutes to fly from Naha. Kume Island is one of the most beautiful islands around Okinawa. You will find white sandy beaches created by corals.
It is a great island for a few days of sun, sea, and beach. You will find quite a lot of (expensive) accommodations there. There is also a ferry route from Naha to Kumejima via the island of Tonaki.
TIP – A single ticket from Naha to Kume costs around $130 per person. You can check Skyscanner for up-to-date prices.
3. Kerama Islands
The Kerama islands consist of more than 20 islands some 30 to 40 kilometers west of Naha. The clear water and beautiful beaches are of world class. They even have a name for the clear sea water here: “Kerama blue”.
You will find colorful coral reefs with tropical fish. The underwater landscape is different from anywhere in the world. It comes as no surprise that it is a world famous destination for scuba divers.
It is not only beautiful under water. The landscape of the islands is magical. On islands such as Tokashiki Island, Zamami Island, Aka Island and Geruma Island you will find different viewpoints where you have a beautiful view of all the islands.
TIP – Want to know more? Check our page about the Kerama islands.
4. Miyako Island
This island is approximately 300 kilometers southwest of the main island of Okinawa. It takes about 50 minutes if you go by airplane from Naha. The island is also located in the center of the Miyako region, consisting of eight large and smaller islands.
Miyako Island, the largest island, is located in the center, along with Irabu and Ikema.
The islands are connected to each other via bridges. Nature, including the varied coastline and breathtaking beaches, is still untouched here because tourists are hardly there. You will also find many historic sights here.
A true off-the-beaten-track destination in Japan!
TIP – NO boat is sailing between Okinawa and Miyako so you will have to fly.
5. Yaeyama Islands
The Yaeyama Islands are among the most beautiful islands in Japan. It is an island group of different islands of which Iriomote Island is the largest. It is located approximately 450 kilometers southwest of the main island of Okinawa and is part of the Yaeyama archipelago. Other islands are Hateruma, Hatoma, Ishigaki and a number of small islands.
Iriomote Island and Yonaguni Island are best known. Iriomote is covered by an ancient jungle and is home to many rare animals. Yonaguni Island is known for mysterious “underwater ruins”.
In addition, there are traditional Okinawan-style houses on various other islands.
TIP – Want to know more about these islands? Check our page about the Yaeyama Islands.
All the islands and connections of Okinawa – Source
Looking for more beautiful islands? Check out our page about the most beautiful beaches and islands in Japan.
11 things to do in and around Okinawa
Okinawa is not an everyday destination in Japan. That does not mean that there is nothing to do. In fact, there is so much to do here and much more than just relaxing on the beach (although that’s not a bad idea!).
Below we have made a list of the best things to do in and around Okinawa.
1. Island Hopping
We have already mentioned the main islands (groups) of Okinawa above, but there are many more. It’s hard to choose when you can choose from so many islands. It doesn’t really matter much which of the islands you choose because they are all beautiful!
Again, Okinawa is the main island and (in our opinion) does NOT have the most beautiful beaches. If you want to visit the most beautiful beaches and/or islands, we recommend you go to one of these islands.
Kuefu and Kamiyama Island
Kuefu Island and Kamiyama are uninhabited islands. Both islands can only be reached with a 20-minute boat ride from Naha. If you can book a diving or snorkeling trip and come to these islands, you certainly won’t be disappointed.
The water around the islands is crystal clear making this a perfect place for diving or snorkeling.
Tokashiki Island is the largest of the Kerama Islands. It is an hour by boat from Naha. You can also choose to take the express ferry (35 minutes).
The Kerama Islands are considered to be one of the best diving locations in the world because the water here is incredibly clear. You will find clearer water almost nowhere else in the world. If you are looking for water sports and snorkeling and diving trips, you have to come here.
TIP – You can even spot whales depending on the time of year!
Gahi-Jima and Agenashiku-Jima
These uninhabited islands near Zamami Jima (not to be confused with Amami-Oshima) are part of the Kerama islands. However, you won’t feel like you are in Japan, but rather in the Maldives. They are islands that do justice to the words “tropical paradise”.
You won’t find anything at all, and that’s the best part about it!
TIP – You can easily reach these small islands with a day trip from Naha. There are three express ferries per day (¥3,140 | 50 minutes) and one normal ferry (¥2120 | two hours) from or to Naha harbor.
Ishigaki and Tokashiki
Ishigaki Island is part of Yaeyama and is often mentioned as one of the most beautiful islands in Japan, culminating in Kabira Bay and the beautiful beaches (especially Sukuji Beach). It is close to Naha and is therefore fairly easy to visit. You can also swim with manta rays here.
Tokashiki, part of the Kerama Islands, is a 35-minute ferry ride from Naha Harbor. With a population of 750, Tokashiki is the largest island in the Keramas. The island is known for scuba diving, snorkeling, and other water sports.
2. Visit the Tadake Falls
The Tadake Falls is located in the middle of the jungle in North Okinawa. You can reach these impressive waterfalls via a walk through the jungle. The falls are not only beautiful, there is also plenty to do such as river trekking, water slides, swimming, and rope climbing.
If you are in the area it is definitely worth a visit.
3. Whale Watching
Humpback whales meet in the seas around Okinawa to give birth between December and March. Several tour operators on the Kerama Islands offer excursions to spot whales on small boats.
Book a tour online through Top Marine, Marine House Seasir or Cerulean Blue. These are the most famous organizations.
TIP – A tour costs only around $35 per person.
4. Explore the Jungle of Iriomote
Iriomote is the largest of the Yaeyama Islands. The special thing about this island is that about 90 percent is covered with subtropical forests. Iriomote is an island full of natural beauty.
You can choose from a wide variety of tours that show you the wild environment.
Here you can hike through the jungle, go kayaking, and snorkeling. If you are lucky, you can even come across the rare wild cats from Iriomote.
5. Dive to the underwater ruins of Yonaguni
The island of Yonaguni became world famous in 1986 when mysterious, possibly man-made, ruins were discovered at the bottom of the ocean on the south side of the island.
Although no conclusion has been drawn yet as to whether it is a mysterious underwater ruin or a grand natural appearance, the site remains a popular spot for divers.
6. Go Scuba Diving Around the Okinawa Islands
Okinawa offers world-class diving opportunities with a wide range of marine life from manta rays and hammerhead sharks to sea turtles and octopuses. One of the best places to dive is the “dream hole”, where the water is super clear and you will find colorful coral and tropical fish everywhere.
“Blue Cave” is a great option for inexperienced divers.
TIP – A 3-Day Open Water Course will cost about ¥67,000 per person.
7. Explore the Traditional Houses on Taketomi
This island is around the corner from Ishigaki Island and is an unspoiled paradise. You will even find a traditional Ryukyu village there. The most beautiful beaches on this island are Kondoi Beach and Kaiji Beach. Both beaches are among the most beautiful in Japan.
8. Shopping at Makishi
Makishi is a bustling market in the center of Naha, the capital of Okinawa. You will find mostly fresh fish, herbs, and other food items on the ground floor and a food court on the second floor.
You also have an arcade full of sellers and of course the necessary souvenirs. Be sure to try a few of the local dishes. You might even learn the secret as to why people from Okinawa on average become the oldest in the world.
9. Visit the Shuri Castle and the Futenma Shrine
The Shuri Castle is a highlight of Okinawa. The palace/castle dates from the Ryukyu kingdom about 600 years ago. The Shuri castle was destroyed several times in the course of the centuries by wars and fires. Fortunately, it was restored in 1992.
The castle is beautifully decorated and totally different from other castles in Japan such as Himeji Castle or Matsumoto Castle. It is a huge castle.
TIP – Entrance is 820 yen per person ($7.50). Restorations were made at Shuri Castle from April 2017 until the end of 2018. The scaffolding should be gone by now.
The Futenma shrine is one of the majestic temples where locals come for happiness and to pray, and where the ordinary tourist seeks serenity.
Behind the sanctuary is an underground area. The temple serves as a place of worship, even before the shrine was built. According to legend, the cave was once the home of a lady of unparalleled beauty, who later transformed into a goddess.
10. Celebrate the Sakura Festival
Sakura may not tell you that much, but the well-known Japanese cherry blossoms probably will. Given the geographical location of Okinawa, it is the first place in Japan to welcome spring and therefore the cherry blossoms.
At the Sakura Festival, they celebrate the start of spring and Okinawa is far ahead of the rest of mainland Japan.
Unlike the white and pale pink “Somei Yoshino” cherry blossoms that bloom a lot on the mainland, the blossoms on Okinawa are bright pink. When it comes to Hanami (flower viewing), the Okinawa locals do their best with parades, traditional taiko drum performances, and parties. Nice to experience!
TIP – It is usually celebrated in January.
11. Go to the Peace Memorial Park
By the end of World War II, Okinawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the war. The US troops invaded the island and occupied it. An estimated 200,000 people, including more than 100,000 civilians and 12,500 Americans were killed in the fight, which lasted from April to June 1945.
The devastating effects of the war had a profound impact on the locals and there are a number of monuments and museums in Okinawa. The worst battles took place in the south, and that is where some of the larger monuments were built.
Peace Memorial Park
The most important monument for the “Battle of Okinawa” is the Peace Memorial Park, in the south of the island. It gives you a bizarre but impressive picture of how the war must have been here in Okinawa.
Other monuments in the park are the “Cornerstone of Peace”, a collection of large stone slabs with the names of all fallen soldiers and civilians, including Koreans, Taiwanese, Americans and British.
Culture on Okinawa
Although it belongs to Japan, it does not actually resemble the other islands of Japan. Not only nature here is different from their tropical look but also the culture on the island does not resemble that of the rest of Japan. You will notice that the inhabitants do not look like Japanese.
They dress differently, they eat different things and they have different traditions and religions in the sense of worshiping spirits and ancestors. It also has its own language; this indigenous language is called Uchinaguchi but is unfortunately spoken by fewer and fewer inhabitants. The residents don’t feel Japanese either. If you are looking for cultural attractions such as temples you should visit Nara or Kyoto.
How do I get to all the islands near Okinawa?
There are a lot of islands around Okinawa and it’s all the rage at the moment. The easiest way is to travel to the main island, to the capital Naha. From there you can take ferries to the surrounding islands.
Flying to Naha
The easiest way to get to Okinawa is to fly to Naha. This airport receives international flights from Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Domestic flights connect the island with Fukuoka, Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo, among others. You can actually fly here from any major city in Japan.
There was once a ferry service from Tokyo to Naha, but it closed down. So now the only way is to fly there. For an overview of ferries that connect the surrounding islands, you can take a look at this website.
TIP – You can book a single ticket from Tokyo to Naha in Okinawa at Skyscanner for about $100 (it depends on how far in advance you book the flight).
Best Time to Visit Okinawa
Okinawa has a subtropical climate so you are always assured of a nice temperature. The nice temperatures start in March and continue until August. The rainy season starts in May and continues in June. In the months that follow it rains, but a lot less.
The busiest months are July to October because it is the hottest. The winter months are also great. It is a bit cooler, but also drier and quieter.
TIP – From September there will be more rain and more storms.
Average temperatures and rainfall in Okinawa