Welcome to Okinawa, Japan!
For mainland Japanese, Okinawa is the place to go for sun, surf, and beautiful white sand beaches. Okinawa is made up of a few small islands in part of a chain located just South West of the Japanese main island of Kyushu. Okinawa might be a small island but it can trace its history back to the paleolithic era, and even had a separate kingdom from that of Japan during the feudal era.
Even today, Okinawa is a place that, although it is very Japanese, is also very different. Native Okinawans have their own language and culture, and some even still harbor resentment for their treatment under Japan in WWII (you may remember learning about the Battle of Okinawa). This city is a place that many westerners traveling to Japan often overlook, but if you can make it to this tropical island in the sea, you definitely should. Okinawa might be small, but it has a lot packed into it. This insider’s guide will uncover some of the hidden gems Okinawa has to offer.
Worldwide Local Tip: One of the best ways to get around town is by public bus. Although it might be a little pricey in comparison to other places around Japan, it is likely the most convenient, unless you plan on renting a vehicle. Bus stops are located throughout the island and have signs and messages in both English and Japanese.
Visit Shuri Castle
A worldwide local knows that the significant places in a city are significant for a reason. Shuri Castle is home to one of Okinawa’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is absolutely stunning. It was once the home of the ruler of the Ryukyu Kings for several centuries and was originally built in the 1300’s. Unfortunately, over time, fires, earthquakes, and world war, destroyed much of the original structure; so it has had to be painstakingly rebuilt, but it is one of the most important landmarks in Okinawa and shouldn’t be missed. The castle’s hilltop location allows you to overlook the city of Naha and a replica of the king’s throne that sits in the palace. Bring your walking shoes and camera because Shuri Castle is big and beautiful.
Worldwide Local Tip: Shuri Castle can be easily reached by public transport and there are a lot of options available. The number 7, 8, and 1 bus go to Shuri Castle. Guests can walk the grounds by themselves or book part of a tour to be guided around the grounds. Tours are generally offered in Japanese and English.
Eat Like a Local in Okinawa
Japanese food is some of the best, and almost every country in the world has some sort of take on Japanese cuisine. While there are great Okinawa sushi restaurants to be found, when you’re traveling through the city, you’ll notice that some essentials are familiar, but in true Okinawan fashion, it’s just a little bit different. As a worldwide local you’ll want to try the traditional stuff. Okinawan cuisine is almost more similar to Taiwanese dishes than Japanese. Pork is the most common meat eaten here (other than fish) and, because of its tropical climate, a lot of tropical fruits like papaya and dragon fruit tend to get incorporated into dishes.
Worldwide Local Tip: Some excellent traditional Okinawan dishes are Yaeyama Soba and Goya Champuru. Yaeyama Soba are noodles made with white wheat noodles, fish cakes, and served in a pork broth and Goya Champuru is a stir-fry dish sometimes served with melon. These are great dishes to sample at any Okinawa restaurant.
Plan Your Visit around Beach Season
Okinawa weather is pretty warm almost all year round (just make sure you’re not here for Typhoon season). Okinawa has a pretty amazing beach culture and they have some pretty amazing beaches to go along with that. Typically, beach season runs from early April through October. with the busiest season being July when locals are out of school. Manza Beach and Emerald Beach are two amazing beaches open to visitors and have a crystal clear blue water.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you’re looking to head to a more adventurous side of Okinawa take a trip to Iriomote Island. This secluded island is full of rich, dense jungle and is an amazing place to hike or kayak around. Bushwack your way through the thick brush and feel like an explorer.
Have an Amazing Time in Okinawa!
The islands of Okinawa may be generally small, but they are packed full of history, fun, delicious food, and friendly locals. A worldwide local knows that the size of a place has no bearing on how great it is, and once you visit Okinawa, you’ll know why so many take their vacations here.