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Exploring Okinawa — Japan’s Southernmost Island

Exploring Okinawa — Japan’s Southernmost Island
Okinawa, the  southernmost of Japan’s major islands, is known for its beauty, culture, and cuisine. It is the only sub-tropical island in Japan.

Okinawa, the  southernmost of Japan’s major islands, is known for its beauty, culture, and cuisine. It is the only sub-tropical island in Japan, so expect vistas that remind you of Bali or Philippines, only this time everything comes with the famed Japanese perfection and a first-world setting.

From picturesque beaches to historical ruins, Okinawa offers an insight into Japan’s past while embracing its distinctive character. 

Here’s a quick lowdown on what you can expect to see in Okinawa, and the best places to visit.

1. Exploring Okinawan Beaches

Okinawa is known for its beautiful beaches that also offer plenty of potential for adventure sports such as snorkeling and scuba diving.

Here’s a list of the best beaches on Okinawa that should be on your must-visit list:

  1. Emerald Beach: Located within Ocean Expo Park, the Emerald Beach is known for its crystal-clear waters, powdery white sands, and family-friendly amenities. Visitors can engage in a range of water-based activities, such as snorkeling among amazing coral reefs or relaxing on the soft beaches and taking in stunning views.
  2. Miyako Island: Miyako has some of Okinawa’s most scenic beaches, including the famous Maehama Beach. With its white sand and translucent waters, it is a popular destination for both sunbathers and water sports lovers. Yonaha Maehama Beach on Miyako Island is another must-see spot, with incredible views and calm seas perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
  3. Sesoko Island: Connected to the mainland by a striking bridge, Sesoko attracts visitors with its peaceful ambience and panoramic views. This crescent-shaped beach is ideal for sunbathing and leisurely strolls, while the clear waters attract swimmers and snorkelers to discover a diverse array of marine life.
  4. Aharen Beach: Located on Tokashiki Island, Aharen enchants visitors with its white sands and serene blue seas. Snorkelers can marvel at the brilliant coral gardens just offshore, while sunbathers can relax in the shade of swaying palm trees.

A great way to hit most, if not all the great beaches in Okinawa is to do an Okinawa bike tour. Okinawa is not a very big place and cycling here, as in the rest of Japan, is fun and easy. 

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2. Exploring Okinawan Culture

Okinawa’s culture is a vibrant mix of traditions, rituals, and arts that reflect its long history and multiple influences. Okinawa offers a variety of experiences for visitors, including traditional Ryukyuan customs of the Ryukyuan people indigenous to Okinawa. 

Okinawa is also renowned for being the birthplace of Karate, and there are several places where you can study it, whether you are a beginner or an expert practitioner.

Ryukyuan Heritage

Okinawa’s cultural appeal can be seen through a variety of intriguing activities, all rooted in the indigenous Ryukyu Kingdom’s legacy. 

Admire the complex designs and brilliant colors of Bingata textiles, which are a symbol of Okinawan creativity and highlight the island’s vibrant existence. Immerse yourself in the soulful rhythms of Sanshin-backed folk songs and the lively Eisa Dance, two traditional performances that reflect Okinawa’s colorful past.

Historical Sites

Experience the grandeur of the 14th century Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site steeped in royal splendor and an iconic symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s legacy, before strolling through the serene beauty of Shikina-en Garden. 

Admire the architectural marvels of the Nakagusuku Castle ruins, which sit atop a hill overlooking the ocean, and learn about Okinawa’s ancient past.

Exploring Okinawa — Japan’s Southernmost Island
Okinawa’s culture is a vibrant mix of traditions, rituals, and arts that reflect its long history and multiple influences.

Festivals and Celebrations

Some of the major Okinawan festivals include::

  • Naha Dragon Boat Race: Witness the thrilling action of the Naha Dragon Boat Race, in which wonderfully crafted boats race over the waters of Naha Port. Locally known as Haarii, the Naha Haarii is held during the first week of May to mark the start of the fishing season, and to pray for the safe voyage of fishermen into the sea.
  • Eisa Festival: Immerse yourself in the mystical rhythms of the Eisa Festival, which celebrates traditional reverence with drumming and dancing. A traditional Bon or indigenous festival, Eisa dances are held weekly around Okinawan cities from June to August and see participation by thousands of dancers.
  • Shurijo Castle Festival: The Shurijo Castle Festival is held towards the end of October and the beginning of November to celebrate the traditions of the indigenous Ryukyu kingdom of Okinawa.

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out Nippon Nostalgia: Exploring Japan’s Soulful Traditions.

3. Exploring Okinawan Cuisine

No trip to Okinawa is complete without trying its delicious cuisine. Indulge your taste buds in a delicious journey across Okinawa’s unique culinary environment, where each dish tells a tale about tradition, creativity, and local ingredients.

  1. Okinawa Soba: Enjoy the soothing warmth of Okinawa Soba, a noodle soup prepared with wheat noodles and a flavourful broth. Unlike its mainland counterpart, Okinawa Soba noodles are thicker and served with juicy slices of pork, green onions, and pickled ginger, resulting in a symphony of flavors that pleases the senses.
  2. Goya Champuru: Experience the distinct tastes of Goya Champuru, a stir-fried meal that symbolizes Okinawan cuisine’s blend of influences. Goya Champuru, created with bitter melon, tofu, thinly sliced pork, and eggs, is a delicious combination of bitterness, sweetness, and umami that demonstrates the island’s culinary creativity.
  3. Rafute: Rafute is a slow-cooked pig belly dish that demonstrates Okinawa’s respect for traditional culinary techniques. Rafute, glazed with a sweet-savory soy-based sauce, showcases the island’s love of pork, offering a melt-in-your-mouth sensation that will leave a lasting impact.

Those with a sweet tooth can indulge in a refreshing scoop of purple sweet potato ice cream, a popular dish that captures Okinawa’s tropical produce. 


Don’t forget to get travel insurance for your trip—get coverage for:
• Medical emergencies
• Stolen or lost goods
• Canceled flights and more
I’ve been using VISITORS COVERAGE for years and highly recommend it!

If You Loved Okinawa, You Will Also Love

Shikoku, Japan’s fourth-largest island is located between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is known for its natural beauty and spiritual value. Set out on a pilgrimage along the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage Trail, following in the footsteps of Buddhist monks through lush mountains and charming villages. 

Shikoku is also famous for the Shimanami Kaido, a 60-km highway passing over the Seto Inland sea with a dedicated bike path that is considered one of the best cycling routes in the world. You could ride this highway as part of a dedicated Shikoku bike tour, or you could plan a longer Japan cycling holiday and include Shikoku, especially the Shimanami Kaido in the itinerary.

Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission for any purchases made through the links. Your trust is important to us, and we ensure that all products or services we recommend meet or exceed our editorial standards.

Last Updated on June 3, 2024

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