Okinawa, the tropics of Japan

In this throwback to memorable trips of 2018, I will be reminiscing about my trip to Okinawa with my family back in late June 2018.

Everyone knows about Japan and its distinctive culture, nature landscapes, friendly and considerate people, great food and the fact that it is a relatively safe country in terms of crime rate. Cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara come to mind immediately whenever Japan is mentioned. But how much do you know of Okinawa?

Okinawa Prefecture is situated close to Taiwan on the map, and the most popular island is unsurprisingly Okinawa Island. The main city in Okinawa is Naha. Okinawa Prefecture is made up of a number of island groups which are spread far apart. Miyakojima and Ishigaki Islands are well-known tourist spots in Okinawa too, but you can’t visit them if you don’t take a plane from Okinawa Island.

Okinawa has a sub-tropical climate and is a beach paradise, something that you don’t hear about in mainland Japan. The US military also has a significant presence in Okinawa post World War 2, and you will see a number of military bases particularly in the south of Okinawa.

Okinawa is also the perfect place for a road trip. Naha is a relatively modern city just like many cities in mainland Japan, and has a well-established public transport system within the city. But this does not apply to other cities in Okinawa. It will be cumbersome to travel around Okinawa without renting a car. You can choose to take public buses to get to other cities, but you will certainly lose out on the joy of exploring the beauty of the island at your leisure.

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Car was rented from OTS car rental agency in Naha

In my trip last June, we stayed in 3 different cities: Naha, Chatan and Motobu. These 3 cities are popular places for tourists to stay. From these cities, we drove around Okinawa Island except for the northernmost area. Driving in Okinawa is relatively simple and safe, and vehicles are right-hand drive just like in Singapore and UK. Route 58 is the most notable highway in Okinawa as it takes you from Naha all the way to the north of the island, which should take slightly more than 2 hours.

Okinawa map

Okinawa is not just about going on the road and exploring the nature and seaside. There are popular attractions like Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Motobu, Sefa-Utaki (Sacred site) in Nanjo and Shurijo Castle in Naha. But the most joy you can get from visiting Okinawa is from driving around the island. So what should you be exploring?

Capes

Capes are pieces of land that extend into the sea from the coast. Capes in Okinawa are among the best nature attractions you can find here. If you like to try scuba diving, some diving centres are located near these capes.

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Beaches

Okinawa is the tropical getaway of Japan, so it is no surprise that there are lots of beaches here.

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Small islands

Not all islands are accessible by driving. Kerama islands, popular for diving and snorkeling, are only accessible by ferry. Some of the other small islands are linked to the main island by bridges. Kouri island is a popular one and is famous for it’s “Heart Rock” landmark. Sesoko island is another favourite island for beaches.

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“Heart Rock” on Tinu beach, Kouri Island

Perhaps you could go on the road less traveled? Ou Island in Nanjo is a quiet fishing village known for its tempura shops and sun-drying of squids in the open. Or visit the relatively uninhabited Yokatsu islands (Henza, Miyagi, Ikei and Hamahiga islands) in Uruma and look out for sugar cane plantations and lesser known beaches.

Food

Travel for food? Definitely not unheard of in Japan. Cuisine in Okinawa is different from mainland Japan. Purple sweet potatoes are highly acclaimed here for the long lifespans of Okinawans. I also noticed less sushi and a lot more pork dishes in Okinawa. There are some Western influence in the dishes here such as taco rice. And if you really miss Western cuisine, there is always American Village (which is an attraction itself) in Chatan.

Food markets are one of my favourite places to visit when travelling to other countries. Naha is a good place for visiting Japanese food markets. Makishi public market is the most popular one, but Tomari Iyumachi fish market is also another good one to visit.

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