Okinawa is the tropical paradise of Japan. Although a prefecture of mainland Japan, this collection of islands lies over 1,500km from Tokyo and has a culture and lifestyle all of its own. Okinawa is famous for its beaches, fantastic swimming and diving locations, karate and authentic food that people come from all over the world to sample.
If you’re in need of an island escape, we’ll convince you that Okinawa is the ultimate holiday destination. Here are 8 awesome reasons to book a flight to Okinawa in 2016:
1. Find your own private island
Okinawa is made up of around 160 islands, with only 49 of these inhabited, so it’s not hard to find your own personal paradise! The best way to island hop is by boat or ferry and there are dozens of spots worth visiting, all with their own distinct perks.
Aka Island is a quiet marine paradise while Tokashiki is a little more tourist friendly and good for swimming, snorkelling, hiking or riding the ‘Yellow Submarine’ glass-bottom boat. If you’re up for an adventure then Iriomote is an uninhabited island covered with thick jungle where the rare and endangered leopard-like Iriomote Cat lives!
2. Kick some butt with karate
If you’ve ever loved the Karate Kid movies you’re going to want to try your hand at the ancient Okinawan style of Karate. That’s where Mr Miyagi got his skills!
Karate actually originated in Okinawa in the 19th century, not on the mainland. It is a predominantly weaponless martial art that involves kicking, punching, holds, throws and joint locks. Many Okinawan karate dojos are open to showing visitors the art form, should you like to try.
3. Get a taste of Okinawan cuisine
Did you know Okinawa has the highest concentration of people over 100 years old in the world? Perhaps you could put it down to their active lifestyles, lots of sun and their plant-rich diet of stir fried vegetables, miso soup, sweet potato and tofu. Pork is also famous in Okinawa and it is said that Okinawan chefs will use everything from the pig, except its oink.
Keep in mind that Okinawan cuisine is not simply Japanese, as the island has had a lot of influence from Southeast Asia, especially Taiwan and China. You can pick up some of Okinawa’s unique food for yourself at the Makishi Market in the capital city of Naha.
4. Climb castles
Okinawa has a rich history and ancient castle ruins can be found all over the island, most of which are 100 years older than those found on mainland Japan. In the past, Okinawa had over 220 castles, some built as far back as the 15th century, when Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom. While many are just ruins now, they provide a fascinating history of the island and its struggles.
Shuri Castle is one of Okinawa’s nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and it has been restored to its full glory with high, sweeping rooftops, huge fortress walls and surrounding shrines. If you’re after something a little less flashy, seek out Nakijin Castle on the Motubu peninsula. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this castle lies in ruins that are being overtaken by nature. Come in January or February to see the cherry trees in bloom and take in the views of the East China Sea.
5. Dive into the underwater world
Okinawa is known to have some of the best coral reefs in the world, rivalling Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reefs are home to over 400 different types of coral and 5 types of sea turtles, along with many tropical fish, whale sharks, Manta rays and the odd hammerhead shark. The Kerama Islands, Miyako and Ishihaki are highly recommended for seeing marine life and stunning coral, whether you’re a snorkeller or scuba diver.
6. Drink like a local
One of the best ways to understand a culture is to drink with the locals.Orion beer is the most popular beer on Okinawa, although it can be hard to find outside of the islands. It’s a dry, refreshing beer perfect for sipping on the beach or at a rooftop bar.
However the most famous Okinawan drink is Awamori, a spirit made only in Okinawa. It is made from long grain Thai-style rice and black koji mold that is indigenous to the island. You can see for yourself how the spirit is made at Chuko Awamori Distillery, and of course try a few samples.
In fact, one unmissable attraction in Okinawa is to visit a local izakaya for food and drink together with live music and dance performance. Make sure you add this to your list!
7. Walk among fireflies
There is something magical about seeing hundreds of fireflies flicker around your feet. You can see this spectacular sight at Bios Hill, a botanical garden where you can observe beautiful plant and insect species, take a boat or canoe out on the water or try the Giant Swing. The fireflies are the main attraction and are best to see during the rainy season.
8. Get up close with whale sharks and Manta rays
Think you’ve seen some good aquariums? Think again! The Churaumi Aquarium is one of the largest in the world and boasts a few world-firsts such as homing whale sharks and breeding Manta rays. Find this world-class aquarium in Ocean Expo Park, located on the Motobu peninsula.
Okinawa can be the tropical paradise you’ve been looking for, where you can swim and dive to your heart’s content while experiencing a rich culture that is expressed through its food, drink and sports. Get into the Okinawan lifestyle and maybe you’ll be living until you’re 100 too!