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Okinawa Island

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Okinawa Island (沖縄本島 Okinawa-hontō) is the main and largest island of the Okinawa Prefecture in Japan. The island has the largest population in the prefecture.


Generally speaking, areas on the main island are placed in three categories: Southern Part (南部 Nanbu), Middle Part (中部 Chubu), and Northern Part (北部 Hokubu). The northern part is also referred to as Yanbaru.


  • Naha — the capital city of the prefecture and by far the largest city
  • Nago — former Expo site known for its aquarium
  • Okinawa City - East of Chatan, largest populated city, besides Naha.

Other destinations[edit]

  • Buckner Bay
  • Chatan - Home of the Mihama, American Village, and the Ferris Wheel.
  • Okuma - an Air Force Resort, great for weekend trips to the beach.



All Okinawans speak Japanese but many, especially older citizens, also speak Ryukyuan, a separate language, pejoratively referred to as Okinawan dialect by mainland Japanese.

Get in[edit]

Naha International Airport [2] is the primary way to get into Okinawa Island, and is only 2 km from downtown Naha. The easiest way to Okinawa is from elsewhere in Japan: Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways fly widebodies in every hour from Tokyo Haneda and other major domestic airports. There is only one daily flight from Narita, the main international airport in Tokyo, operated by ANA. Direct international service to Okinawa is currently limited to flights from Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Jetstar Asia also flies into Naha International Airport from both Osaka Kansai and Tokyo Narita.

Get around[edit]

Most travel is by car, bus or taxi, although there is a monorail in Naha that runs from the Airport to the city centre and Shuri Castle. The main road is Route 58 which runs from southern Okinawa to Nago in northern Okinawa. Route 58 is on the East China Sea side of the island. During the summer months, the volume of rental cars can make traffic very heavy on Route 58. Another good option is to rent a motorcycle. There are several companies around the island offering motorcycle rental services under the same brand [3]

Cycling around Okinawa island is possible but not very practical. The island is very densely populated and car traffic is heavy almost everywhere. In Japan it's customary to ride your bike on the sidewalk instead of the actual road (supposedly due to the unsafety of doing the latter), but the sidewalk has the disadvantage of having to evade other pedestrians, overgrowth, the occasional antisocially parked car, and cars pulling out of driveways. Japanese drivers are polite and not aggressive, but have a habit of often not looking where they are going when pulling out of driveways or taking corners. The terrain itself is very hilly and becomes more challenging the further you move away from the coast. If you find yourself on the east side of the island and want to go to the west side or vice versa, you will have to cross the range of steep hills that runs along the length of Okinawa. A moped or motorcycle helps to overcome this, but it's still very important to stay alert and avoid obstacles or cars.

Several buses travel routes around the island. Map

About the easiest way to get around the island though is by taking public transport. There is a large bus terminal in Naha right near Kokusai-dori which can get you to any part of the island without too much hassle. There are no signs in English however if you do your research on which busses you need to take you should be fine. Even in the busy summer months you'll usually be one of 2-3 people riding the busses.

A word of warning though, some of the farther-travelling busses tend to be fewer and further between with waits up to 2 hours for the next bus not uncommon and is particularly the case when going to the aquarium or Peace Museum. However these busses tend to be more common on the weekends (as opposed to their mainland counterparts).

Lastly, there is a monorail system within Naha starting from the airport leading all the way to Shuri Castle. Tickets are cheap and the ride is comfortable. May be crowded during rush hour though.

See[edit][add listing]

  • Mihama American Village. An Americanized shopping and dining complex made to resemble an American beach such as Venice Beach, Santa Monica, etc. Popular among U.S. military members due to its close proximity to many U.S. Marine bases. The area is home to the only ferris wheel in Okinawa, a few hotels, many clothing and souvenir stores and restaurants of various cuisine, and Sunset Beach. Plus there is live entertainment almost nightly.  edit
  • Seifa-utaki. In Nanjo, rock formations including a natural corridor through a giant boulder leading to a point overlooking Kudaku Island, was once worshipped as the "island of the gods".  edit
  • Peace Memorial Park and Himeyuri Monument. Where the Battle of Okinawa ended in World War II. The Peace Memorial Park includes the Peace Memorial Hall and the Cornerstone of Peace.  edit
  • Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. This aquarium has a 7,500 m3 water tank with whale sharks and manta rays and is home to the world's largest living coral exhibit.  edit
  • Cape Zanpa. Peninsula on the western side of the island near Yomitan Village. Has a lighthouse and a beautiful beach. Also is where the famous sweet potato flavored cookies are made.  edit
  • Cape Kyan. The southern most point of Okinawa Island.  edit
  • Cape Hedo. Northern most point of Okinawa Island, beautiful views from high cliffs.  edit
  • Nago Bay. Mid-island on the Western side.  edit
  • Haneji Inland Seas. Enclosed by Yayagi Island and the western peninsula. Beautiful especially at sunset.  edit
  • Hamahiga Island. East of Okinawa Island accessible by the Sea Road (a sight in itself). Hamahiga Island has many rock formations, many shaped like mushrooms.  edit
  • Hiji Falls. In the northern part of the island, a 45 minute hike from the visitors center taking you by a river dam, over a suspension bridge, and finally to the falls itself.  edit
  • Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, 236 Aza Tomishiro, Tomishiro-City (25 min (¥220) from the Naha Bus Terminal taking bus lines 33, 46, or 101. Get off at the bus stop in front of Tomigusuku Castle Park and walk for 10 min. It's 20 min. from Naha Airport by taxi.), 098-850-4055 (fax: 098-850-9342). 8:30-17:00 year-round. Members of the Japanese Navy Corps of Engineers dug a 450 meter tunnel complex in 1944 to serve as an underground headquarters to endure the American bombardment and long drawn out fighting for 4,000 soldiers. The remains of about 2,400 people have been collected from this site. You can walk the majority of this tunnel complex and visit the accompanying museum. ¥420 for adults, ¥210 for children, discounts for groups of 30+.  edit
  • Okinawa World (おきなわワールド), 1336, Tamagusuku Maekawa,Nanjo-city (30 minute drive from Naha Airport; 8 minute drive from Okinawa Expressway, Haebaru Minami Interchange; 1 minute walk from Gyokusendo-mae (玉泉洞前) bus stop on bus routes 51, 54, 81, 82 & 83), 098-949-7421, [1]. 09:00-18:00. Theme park based on Okinawa wildlife and culture, built alongside a stunning natural cavern. Walk for nearly 1 km underground and gape at the limestone formations; see snake handlers abusing habu (the local poisonous reptile) for your amusement; admire the skill and energy of the folk dancers and musicians; try your hand at folk craft; enjoy the local beer and liquor; and a few other fun attractions. ¥1100-¥1600 for adults, ½ price for children. (26.1400,127.7500) edit


  • Kokusaidori Street. The name literally means International Street. This is Naha's main street. It is 1.6km (1 mile) long filled with shops, bakeries, souvenirs, restaurants and nightlife.  edit
  • Shuri Castle Park. Castle of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Also nearby is the Shinkina Gardens.  edit


Being an island, there are plenty of beaches to choose from. The most highly recommended include:

  • Emerald Beach, (A short walk from Churaumi Aquarium).  edit
  • Zanpa Beach. Zanpa Beach is the beach which there are not so many people located in the west part of the Okinawan Main Island. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to go there from the Naha Airport by the limousine bus. It takes about 20 minutes to walk around the Zanpa Beach. It is registered as the Okinawa Kaigan Quasi-National Park. It is hidden by the bush and rocks and filled with sugar cane. The Beach has the cliff which has about the 30 kilometer in depth and lasts about 2 kilometers and around the beach it is surrounded by the marine shorelines as natural. Zanpa Beach is famous for the place to diving and beach fishing of the bonitoes. If it is sunny, one can see the Kerama islands. Also, from the lighthouse of which the height is about 31 meters, one can see the East China Sea clearly. In addition, since the Zanpa beach is the western point, the sunset is beautiful. Around the Zanpa beach there are a lot of statues which has a lot of history. Especially, there is the statues of the schiesser, which is the largest one in Japan. Around the Zanpa beach not only the beautiful and wide sea but also there are the lighthouse, the BBQ places and resort hotels. The beach is not crowded. Although the road which leads to the lighthouse is flat, the road around the lighthouse is very rough so people should not walk the road by heel or sandals.  edit
  • Renaissance Beach.  edit
  • Manzamo Beach.  edit

Castle Ruins[edit]

With the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom which once ruled Okinawa, there were many castles located throughout the island.

  • Shuri Castle, (An icon of Naha and home to Shureimon. Accessible by monorail within the city.).  edit
  • Katsuren, (On the eastern side near the Sea Road.).  edit
  • Zakimi, 708-6 Aza Zakimi, Yomitan Village (On the western side in Yomitan Village.), 098-958-3141. Open 24 Hours. Zakimi Castle is located on the highest peak in the Yomitan Valley. The castle was originally constructed between 1420 and 1426 during the campaign of King Sho Hashi against the Hokuzan Kingdom of the North. Prior to this time Okinawa was divided into three kingdoms; Hokuzan in the North, Nanzan in the South, and King Sho Hashi's Chuzan in the middle. Free.  edit
  • Nakijin, (On the western side in Nakijin Village on the large peninsula.).  edit
  • Nakagusuku, (On the Eastern side in Nakagusuku Village.).  edit

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Go to the island's many beaches.
  • Scuba diving is one of the most popular activities on the island with an abundance of dive shops across the island. Chatan and Kadena have ports leaving for the Kerama Islands. Bluefield [4] and Reef Encounters [5] offer diving service in English. In Onna Village you can scuba dive with Piranha Divers, operating in English and German language [6], or with Onna Sensui Diving Shop [7], where the staff speak English, French, German, and Japanese.
  • Visit the Ocean Expo Park and the Churaumi Aquarium [8] to gain a better understanding of the creatures native to the waters surrounding Okinawa Island.
  • Take a glass bottom boat tour, offering views of corals and fishes.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Kokusaidori Street in Naha and Mihama American Village have plenty of shops. One of the popular items to buy is an Okinawan shirt, similar to Hawaiian shirts, at the Mango House, which have various locations throughout the island, but most of them in Naha.

Eat[edit][add listing]

In Okinawa, wagyu (和牛) beef is found everywhere. The very best variety is the irresistible Ishigaki wagyu (石垣和牛) that almost melts in the mouth. It is usually served as steak or sushi or sometimes even sashimi.

Pork is also very popular. In particular, the Okinawan Agu pork (アグー豚肉) is a must try. A must eat is the tebichi soba, which is pig's feet with noodles. Various other Okinawan pork products are popular there.

For sushi, Yoshi's is an excellent restaurant. It is located in Chatan off Hwy 22. The Yoshi Roll is definitely worth a try! CoCo Curry House is a great cheap alternative. Try it with cheese, it's great. Although it should be noted that Yoshi's sushi is geared more to American's tastes than traditional Japanese sushi. For more traditional Okinawan sushi, Fenutin in the Mihama American Village is an excellent choice. Try the sea grapes there. They also play traditional Okinawan music there which is worth listening to, and CD's are available for purchase.

Another must visit for sushi and sashimi lovers is Tomarii Yumachi (泊いゆまち) fish market in Naha, albeit a bit off the hectic town. Toro (fatty tuna belly) and Chilean Uni (sea urchin roe) are not to be missed. They're just gorgeous. Chilean Uni is arguably the very best sea urchin roe that I've ever tasted anywhere. The fish market is about 30 minute's walk from Naha's Miebashi (美栄橋) Monorail Station but there is no bus access. So the best way to get there, other than walking, is by car or taxi. Car park is available.

American style fast-foods and diners are popular in Okinawa. One particular chain that can be found is A&W.

For dessert, have Blue Seal ice cream. Many flavors are available, including sweet potato (beni-imo), the local flavor in Okinawa. Also, sweet potato flavored cookies are popular and can be found just about anywhere.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Orion Beer is brewed locally in Okinawa. Available in just about all stores, restaurants, bars, and many vending machines. Aside from beer, a local favorite is awamori, or aged rice wine, similar to Japanese sake. Awamori differs from sake in that the former is brewed using rice from Thailand and black yeast, while the latter typically uses locally produced rice and white yeast. Most available awamori is aged at least five years, with more expensive brews being aged fifteen. Locals consume awamori with ice and water.

Get out[edit]

Check out other Okinawan islands, such as Ishigaki, Taketomi, Kume, and Iriomote.

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