Skip the hustle and bustle of the city and everything else touristy for a very different Japanese holiday.
Tropical flowers in year-round bloom, crystal-clear oceans bursting with life and a rich culture of kings and castles, Okinawa has to top your list of must-visit places in Japan.
This Japanese prefecture, which is made up of 160 islands, has plenty to offer travellers – you can even get a jump on the famous cherry blossom season starting from the end of January, as the Taiwan cherries grown in Okinawa bloom earlier here than anywhere else in the country.
Okinawa can show you a very different side of Japan, a world of islands surrounded by colourful coral reefs, soaring tropical jungles but all with the culture and cuisine that you love.
Here are four reasons to make sure you get to Okinawa this year:
4. The aquatic life
When you think of Japanese sea life, it is usually wrapped in seaweed on the end of your chopsticks, but in Okinawa you can snorkel with some of the most fascinating sea life on the planet.
The islands are surrounded by seas full of tricky species to spot on any diver’s hit list, like manta rays in Ishigaki or hammerhead sharks in Yonaguni. But there are also beautiful coral reefs, sea turtles and even humpback whales. The water is warm, too, so you can enjoy your dip!
3. The natural beauty
In their 2018 Traveller’s Choice survey, Tripadvisor said that the number one “Destination on the Rise” was Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island. The island took the top spot for the ethereally blue colours of the seas beautifully contrasted with the blindingly white sandy beaches along the shore. The beaches are considered the finest in all of Japan and Ishigaki’s Kabira Bay is the top pick on the whole island. You can get a look at the bay and its surrounding beauty with a hike to the peak of Mt Nosoko.
2. The rich history
Shurijo Castle in Okinawa, an ornate palace set in the lush foliage of the Shurijo Castle Park, is World Heritage-listed site due to its significance as the centre of a kingdom that reigned for over four centuries. Explore the network of palace buildings, study the colourful wall carvings or imagine the castle in its heyday in feudal Japan.
Okinawa’s other cultural sites include Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum, which holds the graves of past kings. Or check out the annual Naha Great Tug of War held each October pulling in huge crowds. The giant Rope of Okinawa harks back to the custom of having tug-of-war competitions in the kingdom to bring good harvests and tell the future.
1. The island hopping
There are so many islands in Okinawa that one of the best ways to explore is by hopping from one to the other. Take day trips from Ishigaki to the other islands in the Yaeyama archipelago or take sail from Okinawa Main Island to the unrivalled beauty of the Kerama Islands, with only five of the islands inhabited by people.
Okinawa is Japan, but not as you are used to seeing it. This is a decidedly different and refreshingly new side to Japanese culture, one that will have you telling friends that they simply have to visit to believe it.
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