Resting in the same latitude as beach havens such as Hawaii, Florida and the Bahamas, this island paradise is not as well known by travellers, making it a well-kept secret by those in the know.
Okinawa’s subtropical climate means the 150 islands which make up this southernmost prefecture (which is actually closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan) are home to an abundance of banyan, hibiscus, papaya, pineapple and other tropical flora. Natural wonders don’t stop there, however – the coral reefs which glisten beneath the surface of Okinawa’s clear waters teem with colourful fish – making diving here a must.
A separate kingdom for 400 years, right up until the mid 19th century, Okinawa is home to a culture, people and language which differs to the mainland. Expect flower-patterned shirts instead of suits, ukuleles, hybrid foods such as taco rice and plenty of island fever in this subtropical paradise.
What to do in Okinawa
If you’re visiting Okinawa you’re probably doing so for one of a handful of reasons: gorgeous weather, beautiful beaches, or to take on a black belt karate master in this martial art’s historic home. Okinawa’s main island (conveniently named Okinawa) is home to a brand new Karate Museum and dojo where visitors from overseas can learn all about the origins and uptake of this martial art. Karate will be part of the 2020 Olympic Games, so it’s a good time to get practising.
To get up and close to the islands’ nature, try kayaking through the lush mangrove forests of Iriomote Island. Or, in order to really ‘get away from it all’ visit Taketomi Island, where, in lieu of public transportation, the quickest way to travel is by water buffalo. It’s here that you’ll also be able to explore more of the Ryukyu Kingdom Okinawa belonged to pre-19th century, as the preserved townscapes show off the tell-tale Ryukan red roofs.
History buffs will delight in Naha City (Okinawa’s capital), where they’ll be able to explore the bright red, elaborately decorated Shuri Castle. This reconstruction of the stately palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom offers visitors examples of the various architectural influences that have been wielded over this island chain.
Okinawans enjoy a life expectancy among the highest in the world, making this island the place to be if you want to learn the secrets of a lengthy, happy life. The islanders will happily share their secrets with you – so try visiting a longevity café, where they’ll cook up a storm of healthy dishes using vegetables unique to this island chain, for a better understanding of what keeps them ticking.
How to get to Okinawa
Flights to Okinawa’s Naha airport run with ANA, JAL, Peach, Jetstar Japan, Skymark and Vanilla air, with extremely competitive prices (sale prices can be as little as 3,000 yen – around £20). From Tokyo Haneda airport expect the flight time to be around 2 hours 45 minutes, or 2 hours 15 minutes from Kansai International Airport (KIX).