Japan may seem small but when you add the 160 islands of Okinawa it becomes a tropical paradise. The far southern archipelago of Okinawa is a relatively recent addition to Japan proper and was its own kingdom and trading epicenter until 1879 known as the Ryukus. Feeling more like Hawaii than Honshu, the Ryukus is where flip flops replace business shoes, sugar cane grows like weeds, and the laid-back vibe is as far from Tokyo as it gets.
On the big island of Okinawa, lies Naha City–the beating heart of Ryuku culture and the gateway to the Japanese tropics. Okinawa island will captivate couples for days from cultural excursions like the Shurijo Castle to the laid-back beaches Nago Bay (stay at the Ritz if you can!). Then let the island hopping begin with their impressive network of ferries and puddle-jumper planes.
Go back in time with a trip to the coral village of Taketomi island or delve into the mountainous jungle of the wild Iriomote island…no matter which isles you choose you’ll fall in love with Okinawa!
- SHURIJO CASTLE: Castle Visit the the epicenter of Ryuku culture with a trip to the UNESCO-heritage site, Shurijo Castle Park. Ryuku is the name of the kingdom that united the archipelago in 1429, and Shurijo was the king’s residence and epicenter of power. Take a tour of the gorgeous grounds and learn about Okinawa’s diverse roots.
- RYUKU CRAFTS: Having established trade with Korea, Japan, and most of Southeast Asia, Okinawan style is influenced by the diversity of people and things that passed through its shores. And when it comes to Ryuku arts and crafts, it's the best of all worlds. Look out for the Bashofu weaving, bingata painted fabrics, and unglazed earthenware in the charming boutiques of Naha or try your hand at the arts with a class at the [link] Kukusai Dori hands-on Workshop.
- HIKING IRIOMOTE: This far-flung island is pure as nature gets. Waterfalls pour from the mountains, the jungles are rich with flora and fauna (including the endemic Iriomote cat!), and the beaches are jaw-dropping with dramatic islets just offshore...no matter where you hike, it is sure to be an adventure.
- AWAMORI DISTILLERY TOUR: With history dating back 600 years, Awamori is a liquor made from Thai rice distilled in copper tanks and aged in oak barrels for anywhere from 1 to 150 years. This stuff is potent but quite tasty on the rocks. Learn about its storied production and have a dram at distilleries like Helios or Choko for a taste of pure Okinawan culture.
- CATCH A FESTIVAL: Okinawa embraces their unique culture and host events year-round to celebrate. Check the Okinawa Tourism Board's Calendar of Events to see how you can join in on the fun from May's Dragon Boat Festival to the Naha Great Tug of War.
Tips and Advice
- WHEN TO VISIT: Okinawa's sub-tropical climate means it's never too hot or cold and its rich cultural calendar means there is always something to enjoy. From winter's cherry blossoms and whale watching to the other nine months of beach days, you'll find it's always the right time to go to Okinawa.
- GETTING THERE: Naha City is the gatweay to the Okinawa Islands. Regular flights from major Japanese airports such as the Narita International Airport and Haneda Airport connect daily to Naha Airport on the big island of Okinawa. In addition, there are direct flights to Naha from Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Seoul.
- GETTING AROUND: Boats and airplanes can be used from the Okinawa Main Island to outlying islands. Ishigaki Island and Miyako Island are convenient starting points for visiting the azure blue and white sand beaches of the Miyako and Yaeyama regions.
- LANGUAGE: Japanese and Ryukuan. Most people who work in hospitality and larger towns understand and speak English.
- CLIMATE: Okinawa has an incredibly temperate and comfortable climate with the average winter temperature in the 60s and a hot summer days in the 90s.
- CURRENCY: Japanese yen. Current exchange rates can be found here.
- ELECTRICITY: The voltage in Japan is 100 Volt, which is different from North America (120V), Central Europe (220V) and most other regions of the world. It's best to bring an adapte.
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