10 Best Places to Visit When Travelling in Okinawa, Japan
White-sand beaches, fantastic snorkeling and diving sites, great food, unique culture, and warm people all make Okinawa a top must-see place in Japan.
Okinawa, the southernmost group of islands in Japan, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country not only among foreign but also local Japanese travelers.
It is a place that is so unlike any other in the Land of the Rising Sun.
- One, its temperature is subtropical, meaning there is plenty of sunshine all year round and even in the cold months of winter. Okinawa's temperature is found nowhere else in Japan, where winter can be a bit harsh, particularly in the northern island called Hokkaido.
- Two, it is completely surrounded by water and in this water plenty of unique sea animals are found. It is arguably the best snorkeling and diving destination in the whole of Japan.
- Three, it is unique from the rest of the country. It has its own language, arts, and cuisine. It had been an autonomous kingdom for a long time before it was officially annexed to Japan in 1879. Life in Okinawa is much less hurried than most places in mainland Japan, which is very modern and quite busy.
- Four, it has a rich history. During World War II, it was a hostile battleground of Japanese and Americans, who all fought bravely until death.
Indeed, there are so many places to visit when travelling in Okinawa and below are just 10 of them.
1. Taketomi Island
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Japanese Living Treasure, Taketomi Island (or Taketomijima) preserves the slow-paced life Japanese people had in the ancient times.
Taketomijima is the place where a small and original Ryukyu village still stands well-preserved.
In this village, one can find traditional bungalow houses built with stone walls, covered with tiled roofs, and guarded with lion-resembling icons that are believed to ward off evil spirits.
Taketomijima can be traveled by foot, riding on bicycles, or riding in buffalo carts.
On the island, people can also swim in the unspoiled beaches, eat local foods, and stay in minshuku or Japanese-style bed and breakfast.
2. Iriomote Island
An island whose land area is mostly designated as protected national park is Iriomote, a place covered with mangrove forest and jungle.
Visitors to the island all enjoy cruising in the river, kayaking through the interiors of the place, fishing, sailing, and even diving.
A good number of manta rays and other beautiful sea animals swim in Iriomote during the seasons or spring and summer in Japan.
3. Churaumi Aquarium
A massive aquarium that gives visitors a peek of the rich marine life in Okinawa is the Churaumi Aquarium, one of Japan’s best and one of the biggest in the world.
The highlight of the Churaumi Aquarium is the Kuroshio Tank that contains large whale sharks, manta rays, and other sea animals that all live in the Kuroshio current, which helps give Okinawa its enviable marine riches.
Other attractions in the aquarium include a tank dedicated exclusively to sharks, another tank where bioluminescent fishes are put on display, and a show area that features dolphins, manatees, and turtles.
4. War Memorials
From April to June 1945, the tiny island of Okinawa became one of the bloodiest battlegrounds during World War II, with about 200,000 people dying and countless more committing suicide.
As a reminder of the past, the people of Okinawa created monuments and museums about World War II.
Included in the grim reminders of Okinawa's past are the island's preserved caves and tunnels, which Japanese people used as hospitals, military headquarters, and eventually as places for committing suicide during the war.
Many of the Japanese who worked under appalling conditions in the caves and tunnels did not survive the fighting.
5/6/7: Maehama Beach, Yoshino Beach, and Sunayama Beach
All found in Miyako Island (or Miyakojima) in Okinawa are Maehama, Yoshino, and Sunayama Beach, white-sand beaches of clear water that is ideal for swimming.
Many visitors to these three beaches also enjoy snorkeling and diving.
Sand dunes, coral reefs, and varied kinds of fish are found in these three popular Okinawan beaches.
8. Shuri Castle
Shuri Castle (or Shurijo) is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site called Castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Shurijo is located atop a hill, is pierced by several large gates, and has ornately decorated buildings mostly of the vermillion color.
It was the official residence of the Ryukyu monarchs until 1879.
9. Tamaudun Mausoleum
A traditional Okinawan mausoleum made of stones but built on a grand scale is the Tamaudun Mausoleum, still a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom and Related Sites.
The mausoleum was built in the 16th century but sustained damages during World War II.
Today, three surviving chambers can still be found: one for kings and queens, another for princes and princesses, and another one for housing bodies.
10. Sefa Utaki
A very important religious site for ancient Okinawans is the Sefa Utaki, a rather simple place with rock formations and located at a side of a hill that overlooks the ocean.
Sefa Utaki had been important not just to the ordinary people of Okinawa, but also the Ryukyu monarchs and their families.
It is yet another part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom and Related Sites.