Far away from the bustling, neon-lit streets of Tokyo, Okinawa offers a peaceful respite from the rest of the world. Idyllic stretches of pristine, white-sand beaches and glittering turquoise waters hiding a dazzling world of marine life below. Famed for its vast number of centenarians, the Okinawa archipelago is alive with natural wonders, historical sites and unique cultural and food experiences just waiting to be unearthed by avid adventurers. If it isn’t already, Okinawa should be on every traveller’s bucket list. Here are 11 great reasons why.
Watch this video and be inspired to explore Okinawa yourself…
1. Stunning cherry blossoms
Okinawa comes alive with brilliant shades of pink Sakura, offering the earliest Cherry Blossom. Hanami celebrations run from mid-January through to mid-February, providing avid adventures with the opportunity to take part in Cherry Blossom Festival celebrations all over Okinawa. Visit Mount Yaedake, Nakijin Castle Ruins, Nago Central Park and Yaese Park where you’ll spend hours soaking in the annual pink phenomenon, a travel bucket-list item for many travel lovers.
2. Locals who understand longevity
Discover the secrets of longevity from Okinawa’s elderly residents. Per head, Okinawa’s population is home to more centenarians than anywhere else in the world – five times more than the rest of Japan! Here, rates of depression, cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease are far lower than the average for advanced economies. Visit Ogimi Village and observe Okinawa’s oldest women working in vegetable gardens, practising Tai Chi and buzzing about on bicycles.
3. Incredible beaches
If you’re craving an escape to an idyllic beach, Okinawa offers pristine, white-sand stretches of shoreline, vibrant turquoise waters and the perfect climate. Head to Okuma Beach, Nirai Beach, Yonaha Maehama Beach, Kondoi Beach, Sunayama or Aragusku Beach. Comprising more than 150 islands in the East China Sea between Taiwan and mainland Japan, you’ll find no shortage of remote, hidden, tropical spots and your very own slice of paradise.
4. Fascinating historical sites
Step back in time and enter the ancient world of the Ryukyu Kingdom, exploring incredible historical and UNESCO world heritage sites. Start with Shuri Castle, once home to Kings it was destroyed during the war and has since been reconstructed, now playing backdrop to festivals, ceremonies and re-enactments. Discover the remains of the Katsuren and Sefa-Utaki castles, explore Nakagusuku and Nakijin castles then delve into Shikina-en, Tamaudun and Sonohyan-utaki Ishimon.
5. Delicious food
Japanese food is a fan favourite the world over and the Okinawan fare is no exception. Sink your teeth into purple beni-imo (sweet potato) ice cream or, for the more adventurous, sample surprisingly delicious umibudo (sea grapes). Take your taste buds on a tour of sashimi, soki soba, gurukan and sataandago doughnuts. Try chicken sashimi, test your luck at local vending machines adorned with bright colours or play it safe with a bowl of delicious ramen. Rise early and head to one of the fish markets to watch sales take place, followed by the freshest sushi and sashimi of your entire life.
6. Home to a huge aquarium
Visit one of the largest aquariums on the planet and stand in front of the huge Kuroshio Sea Tank, home to thousands of fish of all shapes and sizes and three whale sharks. It’s a unique opportunity to glimpse life below the surface with such abundance and will have you hypnotised. Okinawa’s Churaumi Aquarium allows visitors to get hands-on with marine life at the inoh (touch pool), explore the coral reef, marvel at migratory fish then journey into the deep sea. It’ll give visitors, especially little ones, a deeper appreciation for Okinawa and it’s unique marine system.
7. World class diving sites
The Okinawa archipelago is renowned for its exceptional diving with its warm blue waters home to an abundance of marine animals and bright coral. Experienced divers will love exploring the world below the surface, offering a tranquil oasis and aquatic adventure groud at spots like The Kerama, Miyako and Ishigaki Islands. Explore the underwater ruins of Yonaguni believed to be those of an 8,000-year-old temple. Home to hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, manta rays, various species of turtle and a myriad of vibrant coral, Okinawa offers world-class diving in an idyllic setting.
8. Incredible convenience stores
One of the great things about Japan is how the seemingly normal becomes a fun, bright and hilarious experience. Okinawa’s convenience stores are the perfect example of this. A far cry from the 7-11 experience we all know and love, an Okinawa convenience store dazzles the eye with colour and tempts your curiosity with a world of previously undiscovered treats. Roll up your sleeves and head inside to unearth tasty treats decorated with cute cartoon characters. Stock up on things to try then settle in for a feast! There’s a good chance you’ll find a whole bunch of things you never knew you desperately needed in your life.
9. Natural beauty
When you think of Japan your mind may automatically take you to the busy streets of Tokyo. A far cry from this, Okinawa is an incredible escape for lovers of the outdoors, providing a playground of natural wonders just waiting to be explored. Explore the mountainous Yanbaru region and head into pristine, subtropical rainforests. Spend your days on walking trails, hiking, bird watching and taking guided canoeing trips or head to Iriomote Island and discover the untamed. Home to waterfalls, jungle treks, rare wildlife and fun activities, Iriomote and Okinawa’s other 150-odd islands are waiting for you.
10. It’s the home of Karate
Wax on, wax off! The Karate Kid’s beloved Mr Miyage hailed from Okinawa which makes it an excellent spot to practice your Fumikomo, Mawashi Geri and Kumate. Japan is the birthplace of Karate and it originated in Okinawa after the Ryukyu King banned weapons, forming the locals to defend themselves with their hands. The practice spread to mainland Japan then the world and, to this day, Okinawa stands as the perfect place to learn authentic Karate. Head to the Murasakimura cultural village and join a beginners lesson, complete with crisp white Gi.
11. Vibrant, lively culture
If nothing else, you’ll fall in love with the distinct culture of Okinawa. Take part in the Naha Great Tug-of-War festival, held every October and officially recorded as the world’s largest. See the Eisa drum dances, dating back to the 17th century as a way to send one’s ancestors to the afterlife, which takes place from July through September. Spot Shisa, a traditional Ryukyuan cultural artefact and decoration resembling a cross between a lion and a dog, said to keep evil spirits away and always in twos. Drink the local drip by throwing back a few Awamori, made from distilled rice and black mould. Spend time sitting and soaking in Okinawa life and you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of tradition, culture and new-world wonder.
This video has been sponsored by Be.Okinawa. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.