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The 10 Best Places to Visit When Travelling in Okinawa, Japan

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This author is fascinated by Japan and loves sharing her observations about the country, from its regions to its food.

Cape Manza, Okinawa

Cape Manza, Okinawa

White-sand beaches, fantastic snorkeling and diving sites, great food, unique culture, and warm people all make Okinawa a must-see place in Japan. As the country's southernmost group of islands, Okinawa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country not only among foreign travelers, but Japanese locals as well.

This is a place that is unlike any other in the Land of the Rising Sun. For more about what makes Okinawa so unique, scroll to the bottom of this article!

10 Must-See Places in Okinawa

Indeed, there are many places to visit when travelling in Okinawa. I won't overwhelm you, though—below are just 10 must-see places on this gorgeous island.

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 lionlike 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 breakfasts.

Mangrove forest along the Urauchi River on Iriomote Island, Japan

Mangrove forest along the Urauchi River on Iriomote Island, Japan

2. Iriomote Island

Most of Iriomote is designated as a protected national park and covered with mangrove forests and jungles. Visitors can enjoy cruising in the river, kayaking through the island's interiors, fishing, sailing, and even diving.

A good number of manta rays and other beautiful sea animals swim in Iriomote during the spring and summer seasons.

3. Churaumi Aquarium

The massive Churaumi Aquarium gives visitors a peek at the rich marine life in Okinawa. It is one of Japan’s best aquariums and one of the biggest in the world.

The highlight of the Churaumi Aquarium is the Kuroshio Tank, which contains large whale sharks, manta rays, and other sea animals that all live in the Kuroshio current, helping to 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.

Okinawa Heiwakinen Memorial Park in Itoman and Yaese, Okinawa.

Okinawa Heiwakinen Memorial Park in Itoman and Yaese, Okinawa.

4. War Memorials

From April to June of 1945, the tiny island of Okinawa became one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of World War II, with about 200,000 war-related deaths and countless more suicides. As a reminder of the past, the people of Okinawa have 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, and 7: Maehama Beach, Yoshino Beach, and Sunayama Beach

Miyako Island (or Miyakojima) in Okinawa is home to three stunning beaches: Maehama, Yoshino, and Sunayama. These white-sand beaches have clear waters that are 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 at these three popular Okinawan beaches.

Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan

Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan

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 (most of which are vermillion).

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, also 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 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 located on the side of a hill that overlooks the ocean. Sefa Utaki has historically 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.

What Makes Okinawa Such a Special Place?

  • Its temperature is subtropical, meaning there is plenty of sunshine all year round, even in the cold months of winter. Okinawa's temperature is found nowhere else in Japan, where winter can otherwise be a bit harsh, particularly in the northern island of Hokkaido.
  • It is completely surrounded by pristine waters where plenty of unique sea animals are found. It is arguably the best snorkeling and diving destination in the whole of Japan.
  • It is unique from the rest of the country, with its own language, arts, and cuisine. It was 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.
  • It has a rich history. During World War II, it was a hostile battleground of Japanese and Americans, who all fought bravely until death.

Okinawa on the Map: 10 Must-See Sites

© 2012 kerlynb

Comments

Someone on October 04, 2017:

Thank you, the information is very useful. I went to Okinawa this year

richard beauchamp on March 28, 2016:

I was stationed there in the early 70s. At the time I didn't think much for the place as I was stationed there for 18 months. Took up diving towards the end of the tour. Sounds like it has really changed since I was there. Love to go back.

Dianna Mendez on May 23, 2012:

All the places sound like a wonderful place to visit. It would be nice to travel there to see some of the interesting sites, museums and to walk on the beach.

Life Under Construction from Neverland on May 22, 2012:

Okinawa..oh how I wished I could travel to Japan and see these beautiful places :) Love your hub!

xoxo,M.

Girish puri from NCR , INDIA on May 22, 2012:

An awesome share, beautifully written, thanks

traslochimilano from USA on May 21, 2012:

Beautiful place for visiting. Thanks sharing it

Joana e Bruno from Algarve, Portugal on May 21, 2012:

Hello, Kerlynb, it seems a wonderful place... Great tips, I would sure visit Okinawa if I could. Voted up, interesting and sharing! Have a great day!