Okinawa Travel Guide - Explore Japan's Hidden Gem Island Okinawa
Hello my name is Kengo. I'm introducing Japan travel information based in Tokyo. Today I'm at the southernmost island of Japan, Okinawa. Okinawa is a southern island of Japan that is known for beautiful beach resort. Okinawa has a unique culture and history that is different from mainland Japan. During your travel in Okinawa, you can enjoy the beach, resort hotel stay and also the deep island culture of Okinawa in sight seeing and cuisine. You find the castle ruins where you can get a glimpse of
the history of Ryukyu Kingdom that used to be here and various tropical attractions, amazing and unique Okinawan cuisine, Okinawa local liquor called awamori. Okinawa is for everyone who visits from budget traveler to who likes to enjoy the luxury resort. I visit Okinawa at least once a year and I know nobody wants to see me lying down by the poolside so today I'd like to drive around Okinawa's main island from the southern tip to the northern tip so that you can get a travel idea, what you can expect in Okinawa travel and how you can visit and get around Okinawa's main island.
Okinawa is a group of islands located in the south of Kyushu Island. The chain of numerous islands continue to south of Kagoshima Prefecture including iconic island Yakushima, the big island of Amami to the southernmost island of Kagoshima Yoron and continue to islands of Okinawa. Okinawa has 37 inhabited islands that actually people lives and there are three major island groups that are popular for tourists. One is Okinawa's main island called Okinawa Honto where I traveled in this video.
The island is separating East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. You can access to the several different small islands such as Kerama Islands either by airplane or ferries depend on the island. The second area that is popular is Miyakojima that are about 300 kilometers southwest of main island. Miyakojima island and the surrounding islands are connected by bridges. Miyakojima area has two airports that have direct flights from Tokyo. The island is famous for the white sandy beaches and a beautiful ocean color called
Miyako blue. The area was lacking the hotels for a long time but Hilton has just opened the resort. About 130 kilometers farther west is Ishigaki island. Ishigaki is the main island of Yaeyama Islands and it's a hub for island hopping around the area. You can take ferry to sounding Islands such as Iriomotejima that has precious species of animals. All of these three islands have direct flights from Tokyo and some other major cities in the main island of Japan, and there are shuttle flights between islands too. You might wonder which islands are better for you. You can choose the island based on several factors. Usually Okinawa's main island is easier to find
flights for reasonable prices. Also Okinawa's main island is full of budget hotel and luxury resort and it has a big Naha city so you can enjoy both beach and city. It also has a lot of fun attractions so if you are not the type of the person sitting by the pool or beach, or if you are visiting with small children I recommend Okinawa's main island. If you like to enjoy the small island
atmosphere with white sandy beach and convenient at the same time I recommend Miyankojima Island. When it come to the sandy beach Miyakojima is the winner. From here let's focus on Okinawa's main island that probably the biggest number of travelers visit. There are some international flights directly goes to Okinawa. Right now there are several flights from Taipei, Seoul, Hong Kong
and Bangkok. From Tokyo's Haneda airport there are about 50 flights every day to Okinawa's Naha International Airport. It's the third busiest route in Japan after Tokyo to Sapporo and Tokyo to Fukuoka. I took ANA this time and other major flights are Japan Airlines and Sky Mark Airline. From Narita Airport you can also use LCCs such as Peach and Jetstar Japan. All of these Airlines
do campaign sale time to time so you might want to check the price early if you put Okinawa into your itinerary. The flight from Tokyo is about 2 hours and 30 minutes. I got shumai bento box near the gate and it was my breakfast. The bento box for train's called Ekiben; for the airplane it's called Soraben. The flight was very smooth and I started to see the island of Okinawa. Now it's time to enjoy Okinawa. Okinawa doesn't have a train so you can either get a rental car or use the bus or taxi. If you are staying at the hotel and doesn't get
around that much you can take buses. Some hotels have bus service for the guests. The buses are not running that frequently so you might want to check the timetable when you plan the trip. Also you cannot use the IC card such as SUICA that are not issued in Okinawa. So this bus goes to Manza Beach, Moon Beach and American Village it says to and all the way to Nago bus terminal. The several bus route that going to the major resort area in the west coast of Okinawa. You can purchase a ticket online or at the counter of the airport. To get around many different places the best way is to rent a car. If you have a reservation for
the rental car you can take the shuttle bus of the rental company you have a reservation from the island outside the arrival gate. To drive in Japan you need international driver's license, and some countries have different conditions. I personally like to use a major rental car company. In Japan major companies are Times Car Rental, Toyota Rent-a-car and Nippon Rent-a-car and some more. Each of them has English site and also you can use the site like K-Look and Tabirai that you can compare the price for the date you like to get a car. One thing to note is you might want to make a reservation for rental car very early. Okinawa used to be one of the cheapest and easiest places to get a car, but after the pandemic it became one of the most competitive places to get a rental car. I couldn't find any rental car from the major company at the Naha Airport so I
got one in Naha City Center. So let's get into the city center of Naha by monorail called Yui Rail. You can take a monorail - the Yui Rail. It's the only public transportation in Okinawa that doesn't use a road. It connects the airport in the city center and a farther area such as Shuri. You
can use IC card such as SUICA and PASMO that you got in Tokyo, Osaka or any other major cities. If you stay in the resort and spend the most of your time in your hotel your hotel choice greatly influence your travel experience in Okinawa. Most of the resort hotels are in the west coast of the island, especially from Yomitan Village to Onna Village and Nago City. There are many major brands such as Hyatt, Hilton and Sheraton. Also luxury full service resorts such as Halekulani, Busena Terrace. If you like to stay budget there are some hotels and condominiums along the west coast too. In this trip I chose one budget hotel by the beach, one resort style hotel by the beach and one city hotel in Naha City.
The first hotel I chose was the Best Western Kouki Beach. They have two locations by the beach and this one is facing the beautiful long beach of Nago. I usually like to stay in the big resort but it was so convenient to stay in the small hotel and have a convenience store downstairs. The room is spacious definitely had a feeling of American motel chain, but they kept the typical Japanese amenities such as toothbrush and disposable slippers and all rooms have an amazing view of the beach Wow. And the biggest reason to come to Okinawa is the beautiful beaches. Numerous number of various beaches in different parts of the island. The beach was a little rough. I'm not sure if it's just now or it's usually like this. The beach and sand
quality is very different depends on where you go and it's hard to know until when you get there. Overall I like this convenience of the small size hotel of the Best Western Kouki Beach. I'd like to try another Best Western in the future. Sunset is also very nice On the second night I stayed at Okuma Private Resort. It's located in the far north of the island, but they run daily shuttle bus from Naha City Center. The hotel opened 45 years ago by Japan Airlines after the land of the Voice of America. The room is all cottage type and spread all over the property. Even though it has a long history as a resort hotel many rooms have been renovated and have modern style room. You cannot see the ocean from the room so that could be the only cons for this hotel.
It's nice and quiet environment away from the traffic or the city [Music] The hotel has a large private beach and a small pool and a public bath overlooking the beach. I stayed only one night here but it's a good place to stay for a few nights and enjoy the great environment and beaches. On the third night I stayed in Naha city. I found this hotel called Hotel Strata Naha right in front of Miebashi Station. As I don't need a car in the city, I dropped off
the car and walked to the hotel. It's a great location that you can access to the airport by Yui Rail quickly and you can also walk to the main streets of Naha, Kokusaidori. Other two things I liked about the hotel in addition to the great location was the balcony. The twin room is facing the city and has spacious balcony overlooking the city and the hotel pool. It was so nice to sit here in the warm breeze of Okinawa. Also the hotel had a small pool surrounded by nice green and it opened until 10 pm. Many hotels close the pool with sunset in Okinawa,
but this one opens until 10 pm with condition that you have to enjoy quietly after 8 pm. Now you know how to get around and where to stay in Okinawa. Let's get around the island now. There are lots of things to see Okinawa's main island and it's impossible to see everything in one trip so I'd like to visit some of them in this video as I quickly follow the history of Okinawa.
I hope you can pick up your favorite one when you visit and there are a lot more than what I show in this video. One thing good to know is Okinawa's main island is not that small. There's about 100 kilometers from north to south and attractions are spread out. It takes time to move from places to places so it's better to plan in advance. In this video I explain in four different areas Naha City, south of Naha ,middle of the island and north of the island.
Okinawa used to have a Ryukyu Kingdom and before the whole island was unified as a kingdom in 14th century there used to be three Kingdoms - North, Middle and South and where they used to rule the northern part of the island was the Nakijin Gusuku. I'm at Nakijin Gusuku. "Gusuku" means castle in Okinawan ward. This is World Heritage site that you can see the site of Nakijin Castle.
It's in Nakijin Village, not far from the major tourist destination of Okinawa, Churami Aquarium. From the castle you see the beautiful island shapes of Izena Island and Iheya Island. The castle was attacked by the famous warrior and professional of making castle, Gosamaru and finished its glory, but after that the castle stayed as a hub to monitor the northern part of Okinawa but it was burnt down by the attack of Satsuma which is current Kagoshima Prefecture in 1609. Gosamaru served to protect the king and the castle he built and lived until he killed himself is Nakagusuku. He was betrayed and both Gosamaru and Nakagusuku was burned down in 1458. Nakagusuku is another World Heritage Castle site that is closer to Naha City. You can see both Pacific Ocean and East China Sea from the top of the castle site.
The Ryukyu Kingdom continued 450 years until 19th century. Where the king of Ryukyu lived and rules the politics is Shuri Castle. You can walk from Shuri Station of Yui Rail. The castle that was built in Ryukyu Kingdom was burnt down during the World War II and the new castle that was rebuilt after that burned down again recently and now they are rebuilding again. The castle site is a registered as the World Heritage site but it's just site and not the building. Shuri Castle is now under construction so you can either wait until 2027 or you can come to see how they are reconstructing. Ryukyu Kingdom officially finished when its name was changed to Okinawa in 19th century.
During the World War II Okinawa became the main battleground between Japan and the United States. I'm at the Peace Memorial Park of Okinawa located in the southernmost tip of Okinawa's Main Island. Okinawa became is the main battlefield between United States and Japan and there was a lot of loss of lives in the local people and military people and this is a place to wish for world peace and also to remember the loss of the people.
And there are 250 000 people's name who lost their lives in Okinawa is here no matter they're Japanese or American who are known other nationalities their name is here together. And no matter what happened to the human history what is always there is a beautiful nature of Okinawa. Okinawa has beautiful beaches and islands is filled with warm island breeze. One of the place you can enjoy the beautiful color of Okinawa ocean starts from right next to the Naha Airport.
Between two runways of the Naha Airport there is a little island with hotel, shops and restaurants. It's called Umikaji Terrace in Senagajima Island, and you can see airplanes landing and taking off. There is a hotel with natural hot springs and from its room you can enjoy the view of the beach and runways.
Each room has a bath with view of runway and also a large public bath facilities that you can enjoy the natural hot springs. If you want some different experience in Okinawa, it's good place to visit. You can also just enjoy the public bath with day visit. Lots of beaches are in front of the resort hotels. If beach activities are important for you I recommend to stay by the beach. It's much easier and less stress than driving up to the beach. There are also some nice beaches that you can visit. Zanpa Beach has a white sandy beach that is hard to open eyes on sunny days without sunglasses. This is Zanpa Beach in Yomitan Village. This beach has a very white sand and very beautiful.
Right next to the beach is a Cape Zanpa that you can see the rough landscape with lighthouse. it's not a great place for marine leisure and water activities. I dropped by the cafeteria called Cape Zanpa Drive-In for a cake and coffee. It was a nice place to stop by.
I also visit the Cape Hedo, the northern tip of the Okinawa's main island. You see the dynamic view of Okinawa's northern mountain called Yambaru Forest and also the dynamic ocean wave. The view of the northern part of Okinawa looks a little bit different from the southern part of Okinawa which seems more tropical. We see
the southernmost island of Kagoshima Prefecture called Yoron Island which is 22 kilometers away. If you like more activities, a good place to visit is aquarium called the Churami Aquarium in the west edge of the Motobu peninsula. I arrived at Kaihohaku Park in the northern part of Okinawa island. And here there's a big aquarium which is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Okinawa's main island so let's go see how it is. Lots and lots of people from all over the world. It's known for a massive kuro shio sea tank which is one of the largest aquarium tanks in the world containing the diverse range of marine life including whale sharks and manta rays.
Also features similar other exhibits such as sea turtle and dolphins showcasing the unique marine ecosystems and species. If you like animals another place to visit is Neo Park in Nago. There are several different animals but the most notable ones are the birds. Not all Okinawa oriented birds, but it's a fun small zoo that you can enjoy walking through various themed areas and even feed the birds. It's a snack for the birds. Let's try.
Okay, this video is not about the animals so let's move on. Naha City is the prefectural capital of Okinawa and where more than 300,000 people live. The great thing about Okinawa's main island is that you can enjoy the city scenes too. You can drop the car and enjoy walking around the streets of Naha and enjoy shopping and dining . Naha's Main Street is this Kokusai Dori which means International
Avenue. It's continuing from Yui Rail's Kencho-mae Station to Makishi Station so you can access from both stations. It's a walkable area and you can see several side streets. Makishi Market and Yachimun Street that extend from the near Hyatt Regency Hotel. It's a street that you can find lots of pottery shops. The statue you see a lot everywhere in Okinawa is called shisa. Shisa is a guardian that protects the house from evils and it's a popular souvenir from Okinawa that you can see in almost all souvenir shops in Okinawa. There are a lot of souvenir shops and restaurants that you can enjoy steaks and Okinawan
cuisine. Now let's drop by one izakaya and try Okinawan cuisine and local liquor called our awamori. Okinawa cuisine is unique with local vegetables, tofu, seaweed and lots of pork. Goya Champru is a stir fry to enjoy the bitterness of goya. Umi budo which means sea grape is a seaweed to enjoy the texture small balls along the stem explode as you bite and it's interesting to eat.
Awamori is a traditionally distilled alcohol beverage from Okinawa that is made from rice. You can enjoy the different flavor of awamori. This is Okinawa's special spirit called awamori. The store person gave me two. This one is sweet and soft, and this is more fresh.
As usual, I turn red so quickly. On the way to the hotel, I dropped by the small shop to eat Okinawa soba it's a must eat food in Okinawa. There are plenty of soba shops in Okinawa that are different depending on the regions in Okinawa. It's raining today. There are some things to know when you visit Okinawa. Okinawa has warm weather year-round but it can be chilly in winter. The best time that you can swim
in the ocean is from late March to October, but it goes into rainy season from mid-May to June and it gets strong typhoon during summer so it's a little challenging to predict the weather for Okinawa. The popular souvenir is Ryukyu glass that has a beautiful color that looks like the scene you just saw at the beach. When I saw the Ryukyu glass for the first time during Okinawa trip, I was excited with the beautiful gradation of the colors that looks like it to pack the color of the ocean of Okinawa. It's a perfect gift
to bring home the fun travel memory of Okinawa. Recently some products are not made in Okinawa so make sure to check the label. It's your choice, but I don't want you to get sad when you arrive home. Even though Okinawa has a beautiful beaches some islands are not developed as a resort and there are tons of hidden gems and off the beaten pathways in Okinawa especially in small islands, but it doesn't mean you can swim everywhere. Even if it looks peaceful, it can be a dangerous
spot with fast current and some beaches can be sanctuary places for the island residents that you cannot swim so it might help to ask a hotel person before you go. I hope you could get a snapshot of Okinawa trip. You might not consider visiting Okinawa when you think of visiting Japan. There are tons of beautiful beach resort in the world and probably that is not what you expect to Japan. You are right. It's definitely not a place to visit instead of Tokyo or Kyoto for the first time visitor to Japan, but if you have been to Japan before or you have a few weeks or a month in Japan it's definitely worth putting in your itinerary. Okinawa is not just about the beautiful beaches. You can experience amazing local culture in foods, art crafts and there's
something about the island breeze of Okinawa that makes you a repeater of the island. Thank you for watching. Have a great trip to Japan. Have a great week until the next video.