NATURAL FORESTS, World Heritage sites, a unique food culture and great shopping. These are just some of the reasons to visit Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture comprising 160 islands in the East China Sea.
Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu chain of islands and had 9.3 million visitors in 2017 alone. But with so much to see and do, where do you start? Here are some suggestions.
On top of the world
When millions of travellers vote for you as the top destination on the rise in the world, you must have something special to offer.
The 2018 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice awards saw the Ishigaki Island take out the top slot in this prestigious category.
Surrounded by pristine blue water and white sandy beaches, Ishigaki is the perfect destination for relaxation or water sports, with snorkelling, diving and surfing particularly popular. Much of the island and surrounding waters including Mount Omoto and Kabira Bay are protected as part of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park.
Ishigaki has a very different cuisine from mainland Japan. Due to various cultural influences, the food here revolves around local meat and fish, with special mention to Ishigaki beef and other indigenous island’s vegetables.
In fact, Okinawa is home to many unique foods that are part of the secret to Okinawan longevity. As one of the world’s blue zones, Okinawans live longer than most people in the world. On average, women live until 90, and men live until 84.
Try the bitter melon or the purple sweet potato and taste what good health and flavour really mean. If you’re still curious, visit Ogimi village, supposedly the oldest demographic in Japan, and home to many centenarians.
Okinawa offers visitors the chance to see Japan’s iconic and vibrant pink cherry blossoms before everybody else. While the rest of Japan is still in winter, Okinawa rarely drops below 15C, making it conducive to floral abundance and wildlife.
Even in January, travellers can witness the colourful spectacle of sakura through the Mt. Yaedake in Motobu Town’s flower tunnel of 4,000 Kanhizakura, a specific type of cherry blossom that trails all the way to the mountaintop. The Kanhizakura are a darker, more vibrant pink compared to the trees commonly seen throughout the rest of Japan. There are numerous cherry blossom festivals timed to match the blooming of the flowers every year.
Okinawa is also a sports haven, even hosting a handful of world acclaimed events. An example of which is, ‘Tour de Okinawa’, held annually in November as part of the Union Cyclist Internationale (UCI) Asia Tour.
Yet you don’t have to be a Lycra-clad pro rider to enjoy Okinawa. Take a two- or three-day tour of the island and you’ll enjoy the best of Okinawa.
North side – day one
The north side of the island is ideal for those looking for action and nature packed adventures. Largely untouched, the Yanbaru mountains deliver a rugged course, with mountains full of endemic plant and animal species.
Visitors can enjoy trekking, canoeing and other aquatic activities. Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is also worth a stop as one of the largest aquariums in the world, currently hosting three whale sharks.
South side – day two
The south is the perfect complement to its northern neighbour. Rounding out the rest of Okinawa with more urbanised roads, the ride from Nago to Naha is much smoother and passes by many cultural and World Heritage sites.
From the Shurijo Castle, where the Ryukyu kingdom lived, to Gyokusendo Cave, one of the largest stalactite caves in the world, the south side is rich in experiences that combine culture and nature.
The whole Okinawa circuit stretches for 343 kilometres but depending on your time and mood, you can stop at any of the memorable beaches or local hot springs.
And if you’re still looking for activities to do, try golfing at courses where you hit over the ocean or yoga at the Katsuren Castle World Heritage Site.
Mind your business
With increased interest and inbound tourism from the rest of the world, Okinawa shows no signs of slowing down its global appeal. In fact, the number of overseas tourists visiting Okinawa grows at a consistent rate of 120% a year.
As part of an initiative to create further opportunities and connections, the Okinawa Tourism Business Matching website pairs businesses whose activities centre around Okinawa Prefecture with overseas agents considering expanding into this region.
This website aims to be a forum for better business encounters with three simple steps -searching by key words, browsing through profiles and contacting.
No other excuse
ANA offers a free side trip option when flying from Sydney to Tokyo. Enjoy FREE flights to Okinawa from Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.
Experience what VICE adventurers call, “the edge of Asia,” and reconnect with nature and yourself on a whole new level – from subtropical paradises, traditional cuisine, and other hidden treasures.
Subscription successful! Thank you for subscribing.