Churashima- Beautiful Islands
Nestled among a chain of islands between mainland Japan and Taiwan, is the picturesque island of Okinawa. Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands and the southernmost prefecture of Japan. The island takes on a lot of influence from Japan and Taiwan to create a unique culture that is well worth experiencing. With over 100 beaches and laid back atmosphere, make it a favorite destination for tourists.
Okinawa is truly different from any other place in the world. Not only do they have some of the longest life expectancies in the world, but you would have to search hard to find friendlier people. Just make sure to leave your stress at home because it doesn’t work here. Life is so laid back here that you can be driving on a two-lane road, the driver will in front of you stop his car, get out, go to the vending machine, get back in his car, give you a wave, and go on about his day. It may seem weird at first, but if you spend enough time there, you’ll find yourself doing it too.
Okinawa Things to Do and See
Okinawa is only 70 miles (110 km) long and 16 miles (25 km) at its widest point, but don’t let the size fool you. There’s a lot going on here. The island is home to some top-notch fishing, snorkeling, diving, and surfing. There’s a mix of old-world charm and relaxed surroundings that you don’t find in many places.
Naha is the capital of Okinawa Prefecture and the most urban area on the island. Here you’ll find tons of shopping, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. The monorail is an easy inexpensive way to get around here and there are many sites to catch. If you have a chance, stop by the Tomarii Yumachi fish market.
Koza (Gate 2 Street)
Koza is a popular area where you can find a lot of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. The area is often referred to as Gate 2 Street because of its proximity to Gate 2 of a nearby US military base. The area is frequented by Americans and locals alike and is a very popular place on the weekends.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is a must-visit. It is the largest aquarium in Japan and at one point the largest in the world. The biggest attractions at the aquarium (literally) are the huge whale sharks and manta rays. There are enough exhibits and daily shows to keep you busy for a while. You can also visit Ocean Expo Park which is nearby.
Nago sits in the northern part of the island. Known for its upscale resorts, beaches, and onsens (hot springs), Nago has long been a popular tourist destination. This is also where you’ll find the Pineapple Park. If you make it there, be sure to try the pineapple wine. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
You also find the Busena Marine Park in Nago. The park sits at the end of Northern Okinawa’s Busena Cape and is surrounded by crystal clear waters. The park features an underwater observatory 170 meters off-shore that you can go to and observe the sea life at 5 meters deep. They also have glass-bottom boat rides.
Okinawa has a legit nightlife scene with a ton of variety. From dive bars to jazz clubs to high-end nightclubs, Okinawa has something for everyone. The US military presence brought with it a strong American music influence, so it is common to hear in many places. Reggae has a big following as well. Add there are plenty of karaoke bars.
If you have a chance, try out a pachinko parlor. Pachinko is like slot machines, but with hundreds of tiny steel balls that you have to get into an opening or openings on the board. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t understand it and I have no idea what was going on, but I had a blast. When you’re done, if you win, you take all of the steel balls that you won to the counter. Gambling is illegal in Japan, so you win a prize. However, there is usually someone in close proximity that is willing to purchase your prize from you (wink, wink).
The food in Okinawa is nothing short of amazing. Along with traditional Japanese dishes, you will find that Okinawa adds it’s on twists to dishes that you won’t find anywhere else. They also have ingredients that you won’t find anywhere, like purple sweet potatoes. Okinawa also has a multitude of international options across the island as well. What is really awesome about dining in Okinawa is the number of small restaurants that aren’t chains.
One thing you will notice about Okinawa is the amazing customer service. While you may be tempted to, it isn’t customary to tip in Okinawa or most of Japan. There are some places around Koza, that accept tips because of the American presence, but this is not the norm. Some consider a tip an insult, so If you’re unsure, just ask.
The costs of things in Okinawa are a bit on the high side, but much lower than many places in Japan. Accommodations aren’t too expensive and you save by going to smaller local restaurants, which you should definitely do anyway (did I mention that the food in Okinawa is awesome). Because of the island’s location though, there aren’t a whole lot of options for getting there, so that is a price point that is hard to get around.
Japan as a whole is very safe and Okinawa is safer than many other parts of Japan. The very low crime rate and extremely friendly residents make it easy to focus on enjoying your trip. However, there is no place in the world that I would suggest completely letting your guard down. While crime is rare, it does happen. So, make sure that you use common sense precautions to save yourself from having to deal with a hassle.
One thing about Okinawa is that there is a lot of wildlife. The local snake is the habu, which doesn’t sound terrifying until you say the whole name, the Habu Pit Viper. You’re unlikely to run across them in the built-up areas, but be aware of them if you decide to go hiking or exploring in the jungle. There are also huge fruit bats. They are harmless but will make your heart skip a beat if they buzz you on a balcony. If diving is your thing (Okinawa has some phenomenal diving), make sure that you brush up on the local species. There are sea snakes, box jellyfish, rockfish, and a whole list of other animals that could ruin your trip, but luckily you shouldn’t have to worry about these at the beaches.