Welcome to Japan's tropical island paradise

With enticing beaches, lush landscapes and all-round tropical charm, Okinawa lives up to its reputation as Japan’s Hawaii. Its cosmopolitan capital Naha is renowned for fabulous shopping, dining and nightlife, not to mention absorbing history and culture. Plus, of course, the lovely Naminoue Beach, complete with its own hilltop shrine!

Among the city’s key attractions is World Heritage site Shurijo Castle, epicentre of the powerful Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 until 1879, when Okinawa became part of Japan. It’s currently being rebuilt after a fire, but its grounds are open and well worth visiting. Wander the surrounding Shuri district for more heritage sites and gorgeous traditional architecture.

Day-tripping opportunities abound. Yanbaru is a natural paradise, boasting verdant forests, mangroves, jaw-dropping coastline and the easily accessible Ie Island. Speaking of islands, Okinawa is comprised of around 160! From laidback Kume to the coral-fringed Kerama Islands and the stunning, far-flung Yaeyama Islands, island-hopping is practically obligatory. Or – in the case of tiny Ojima, famed for its tempura and the many cats that call it home – you can simply stroll across a short bridge from the main island...

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Things to do: Okinawa (Naha)

  • An array of Okinawan cuisine waiting to be feasted on! Image credit: ©Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

    Eat your way around Okinawa

    Pack your appetite! Okinawa’s cuisine reflects the diversity of its culture, a melting pot of Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian and American influences. Try street-food favourites like burgers with distinctly Okinawan fillings and taco rice (exactly what its name suggests). Gorge on mangos, pineapples and acerola berries. Enjoy lip-smackingly fresh local ingredients in stir fries and soba dishes, and discover why the tempura is so legendary (it’s all in the batter). Some restaurants feature traditional music and dance performances as well as delicious food, while Makishi Public Market is your go-to for tasty Okinawan snacks.

    Image credit: © Okinawa Convention& Visitors Bureau

  • Popular shopping and dining strip Kokusaidori, in Naha, Okinawa. Image credit: Eric's library - stock.adobe.com

    Join the crowds on Kokusaidori

    Naha’s main drag Kokusaidori (‘International Road’) is awash with shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Popular with tourists and locals alike, it’s always buzzing. Find that perfect gift or souvenir, and keep an eye out for bars and eateries offering Okinawa’s popular ‘Senbero’ specials – set combos of drinks and snacks for just JPY ¥1000. While you’re there, be sure to explore the quirky covered shopping arcades just off Kokusaidori – the further you get from the main strip, the less touristy they become.

    Image credit: Eric’s library/stock.adobe.com

  • Okinawa’s Katsuren-jo Site (Katsuren castle ruins), perched on a grassy hill. Image credit: © Okinawa Convention& Visitors Bureau

    Take in some Cultural World Heritage

    You’re never far from a historic site in Okinawa. Designated UNESCO Cultural World Heritage in 2000, the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Ryukyu Kingdom provide a fascinating and unforgettable glimpse into Okinawa’s distant past. Spanning sacred sites like the enchanting Sefa Utaki, the restored 16th-century Tama-udun royal mausoleum, and a veritable bonanza of castle ruins, these evocative spots will stir your imagination and take your breath away.

    Image credit: © Okinawa Convention& Visitors Bureau

  • A female scuba diver observes a tropical fish floating above colourful coral in the water around Okinawa. Image credit: © Okinawa Convention& Visitors Bureau

    Dive into an aquatic wonderland

    Snorkellers and divers are in for a treat: Okinawa is just as beautiful underwater as it is on land. More than half the world’s coral species can be found in its clear, warm waters, along with a plethora of tropical fish, sea turtles and other marine critters. Try the beginner-friendly Gorilla Chop or the mystical Blue Cave on the main island, or head to the nearby Kerama Islands for incredible marine life (including humpback whales from January to April). Meanwhile, distant Yonaguni has mysterious underwater ruins and hammerhead sharks.

    Image credit: © Okinawa Convention& Visitors Bureau

  • Classic Okinawa pottery (yachimun) lion figurines stand guard in Tsuboya Yachimun Street, Okinawa. Image credit: © Okinawa Convention& Visitors Bureau

    Embrace tradition in Tsuboya

    Take a trip back in time to Tsuboya, one of the few parts of Naha that escaped unscathed after 1945’s Battle of Okinawa. A short walk from Kokusaidori, this charming area is centred around Tsuboya Yachimun Street, an olde-worlde road at the heart of Okinawa’s celebrated pottery (yachimun) tradition. Check out potters’ ateliers, browse quaint ceramics shops and score your own Okinawa work of art. Sip from exquisite cups in an artsy cafe, and put it all in context at the Tsuboya Pottery Museum.

    Image credit: © Okinawa Convention& Visitors Bureau

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Airport information

Naha Airport opens in new window (OKA)

Distance to city centre 5km

Taxi A taxi to the city centre takes around 15 minutes and costs about JPY ¥2,000. The taxi stand is directly outside the international arrivals area.

Monorail The airport monorail takes 27 minutes to Shuri Station and costs around JPY ¥340 for an adult and JPY ¥170 for a child.

Bus Take bus 111, 117 or 120 to Naha Bus Terminal to connect to other parts of the island; the journey takes about 20 minutes and costs around JPY ¥240. The bus stops are outside the domestic arrivals area.

Rideshare Didi-Rider and JapanTaxi operate in Okinawa but the apps are challenging to interact with unless you have some knowledge of Japanese.

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When to go

Okinawa’s sub-tropical climate means it’s quite warm year-round. Temperatures rarely dip below the mid-teens in winter (December–February), while summer (June–August) is downright hot (30°C and higher). Rainy season falls in May–June, with June–September bringing the chance of typhoons. Golden Week (end of April) is super-crowded.

Highlights of Naha’s lively festival calendar include the 10,000 Eisa Dancers Parade in early August – part of a summer-long celebration of Okinawa’s traditional dance – and the exciting Itoman Hare dragon boat races at Itoman Port (just south of Naha) in June. Dating back to the 15th century, October’s Great Tug-of-War is the world’s largest tug-of-war event.

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Getting around

The Okinawa Monorail, also called Yui Rail, connects travellers to most major tourist sites. One- and two-day passes offer unlimited rides and discounts on tickets to several popular attractions. The island’s bus system is extensive but may be tricky to navigate without some Japanese. Hiring a bike is a wonderful way to see Naha, and if you’re planning to island hop, the wide-reaching ferry network makes it easy.

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