- Okinawa Travel Guide – How to visit Okinawa from Tokyo
- Activities and What to See in Okinawa Main Island
Okinawa Travel Guide – How to visit Okinawa from Tokyo
You can also watch the same contents on YouTube.
Okinawa is southern island of Japan that is known for the 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 the Ryukyu Kingdom that used to be here, and various tropical attractions, amazing and unique Okinawan cuisine, Okinawa’s local liquor called Awamori. Okinawa is for everyone who visit from budget travelers to who likes to enjoy the luxury resort stay.
I visit Okinawa at least once a year, and I know nobody want to see me lying down by the pool side,
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.
Location of Okinawa and How to get there
Where is Okinawa?
Okinawa is a group of islands located in the south of Kyushu island. The chains of numerous islands continues to south of Kagoshima including iconic island if world heritage Yakushima, the big island of Amami to the southern most island of Kagoshima prefecture, Yoron. and continues to the islands of Okinawa.
Which islands should I go?
Okinawa has 37 inhabitant islands that actually people lives, and there are 3 major islands groups that are popular for tourist.
Okinawa Main Island
One is Okinawa’s main island called Okinawa Honto, where I travel in this video. The island is separating East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. You can access to several different small islands such as Kerama islands, either by airplane or ferries depends on the island.
Miyakojima Island (Miyako Island)
The 2nd area that are popular is Miyakojima that are about 300km southwest of Okinawa main isand. Miyakojima and surrounding islands are coneected by bridges. Miyakojima area has two airports that has direct flights from Tokyo. The island is famouns for 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.
Ishigakijima Island (Ishigaki Island)
About 130 km further west is Ishigaki island. Ishigaki is the main island of Yaeyama islands, and a hub for island hopping around the area. You can take ferry to surrounding island such as Iriomotejima, that has jungle forest with precious spieces of animals.
Which island is better?
All of these 3 islands have direct flights from Tokyo and some other major cities in the main islands of Japan. And there are shuttle flights between islands too.
You can choose the island based on several factors. Usually Okinawa’s main island is easier to find flights for reasonable price. Also, Okinawa main island is full of budget hotels and luxury resorts, and it has Naha city, so you can enjoy both beach and city. It also has lots of fun attractinos, so if you are not a type of person sitting by the pool or beach, or if visiting with small children, I recommend Okinawa mainisland.
If you like to enjoy the small island atomosphere with white sandy beach, and conveneince at the same time, I recommend Miyakojima island. When it comes to the sandy beaches, Miyakojima is the winner. If you have like 3 days during your trip in Okinawa, it might be good to choose Okinawa mainiland or Miyakojima. If you have like more than 5 days and like to enjoy island hopping, Ishigaki islnad is also great.
How to Get to Okinawa
From here let’s focus on Okinawa mainisland that probably the biggest number of travelers visit.
International Flights to Okinawa Airportjapan
There are some International flights directly goes into Okinawa. Right now there are several flights from Taipei, Seoul, Hongkong and Bangkok.
Tokyo to Okinawa
From Tokyo’s Haneda airport, there are about 50 flights everyday to Okinawa’s Naha international airport. It’s the 3rd busiest route in Japan after Tokyo to Sapporo and Tokyo to Fukuoka.
I took ANA this time, and other major flights are Japan Airline, and Skymark airline. From Narita airport, you can also use LCCs such as Peach and JetStar Japan.
All of these airline 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.
Getting around the Okinawa’s main island
Okinawa doesn’t have train, so you can either get 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.
To get around many different places, The best way is to rent a car. If you have the reservation for the reantal car, you can take your rental car companies bus from the island outside the arrival gate.
To drive in Japan, you need international dirvers license, and some other countries has different condition. I personally like to use the major rental car company, and in Japan, major comapnies are, Times Car rental, Toyota rent a car, and Nippon rent a car. Each of them has English site, and also you can use site like Klook 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 reservatoin for rental car very early. Okinawa used to be one of the cheapest and easiest place to get a car, but after the pandemic, it became one of the most competitive place to get a rental car. I couldn’t find any rental car from major company at 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 use IC cards such as Suica and Pasmo, that you got in Tokyo, Osaka or any other major cities.
Yui rail is the only public transportatoin in Okinawa that doesn’t use the load, it connects the airport and city center, and further area such as Shuri.
In case you like to use public transportation but still want to get around the island, there is some tours that you can take from Naha.
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 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 resort such as Haleklani, and Busena Terrace. If you like to stay budget, there are some hotels and condominiums along the west coast.
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.
Best Western Kouki Beach
The first hotel I chose was the Best Western Koki Beach, they have two locations by the beach and this one is facing the beautiful long beach of Nago. I usually liked to stay in a big resort, but it was so convenient to have convenience store in downstair. The room is spacious for the reasonable price.
The beach was a little lough and not powderly sand, so it wasn’t a kind that I want run the beach and jump on the water. The beach and sand quality is very different and it’s hard to know until when you get there.
Around here, the most beautiful beach was probably the Hotel Nikko Alivila’s beach that I visited in previous trip. It was sandy natural beach, and there was plenty of fish right in front the hotel.
Overall, I liked this convenience of the small sized hotel. I’d like to try the other Best Western in the future.
Okuma Private Resort
On the 2nd night, I stayed at Okuma private resort. It’s located far north of the island, but they run daily free shuttle bus from Naha city center. The hotel has private cottagea.
The hotel opened 45 years ago by Japan Airline after the land of Voice of America, the room is all cottage type and spread on the land. Even though it has a long history as a resort hotel, many rooms are renovated and have modern style room. You cannot see the ocean from the room, so that could be the only cons for this hotel.
Right next to the hotel is still the property of the US army and airforce. It’s nice and quiet environment away from the traffic or cities.
The hotel has a large private beach, and small pool and public bath overlooking the beach. It was even better if pool could be updated to bigger one. I stayed only one night here, but it’s a good place to stay for a few nights and enjoy the great environment.
Hotel Strata Naha
On the 3rd night, I stayed in Naha city, and I found this hotel called “Hotel Strata Naha” right in front of Mieibashi 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 quicky, and you can also walk to the main street of Naha.
Other 2 things I liked about the hotel in addition to the great location was the balcony. The twiin room facing the city has spacious balcony overlooking the city and the hotel pool, and it was so nice to sit here in the evening. Also the hotel has the small pool surrounded by nice green, and it opens until 10pm. Many hotels close pool with sunset in Okinawa, but this one opens until 10pm with condition that you have to enjoy quietly after 8pm. The hotel people are friendly and probably this air of Naha opens up the mind, so I ended up talking to 2 other guests from Japan and other country by the pool.
Find other hotels in Okinawa.
Activities and What to See in Okinawa Main Island
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 your favorite one when you visit, and there are a lot more than what I’ve visited.
One thing good to know is Okinawa’s main island is not that small. There is about 100 kilometers from north to south, and attraction 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 4 different aras, Naha city, and south of the Naha, middle of the island, and north of island.
Sites of Ryukyu Kingdom
Nakijin Castle site
Okinawa used to have Ryukyu kingdom. And before the whole island was unified as a kingdom in 14th century, there used to be 3 kingdoms, north, middle and south. And where they used to rule the northern part of the island was this Nakjin Gusuku. Gusuku menas castle in Okinawa word.
This is the world heritage site, that you can see the site of Nakijin castle. It’s in a Nakijin village, not far from the major tourist destinations of Churaumi aqualium. From the castle, you see the beautiful island shape of Izena island and Iheya island, which is the most northen island of Okinawa pfefecture.
The castle was attacked by the famous warrior and professional of making castle – Gosamaru. Nakijin castle stayed as a hub to monitor the northern part of Okinawa, but it was burned down by the attack of Satsuma, which is current Kagoshima prefecture in 1609.
Nakagusuku Castle site
Gosamaru served to the king, and built another castle called Nakagusuku, to protect the king. 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.
Where the king of Ryukyu kingdome lived and ruled the polics for 450 years are Shuri castle located in Naha city.
You can walk from Shuri station of Yuirail.
The castle that was built in Ryukyu kingdom was burned down during the world war 2, and the new castle that was rebuilt after that burned down again recently, and now they are rebuilding again. The castle site is registered as the World Heritage site, but it’s the site and not the building.
Ryukyu kingdom was absorbed by Japan and changed its name to Okinawa in late 19th cenury.
War Memorials of Okinawa
During the world war 2, Okinawa became the main battle ground between Japan and the United States.
(Okinawa became the main battle ground between Japan and the United States, and there were lots of loss of lives for local people.
One of the people who had to lost life are the group of female student and teachers, that served as nurce, but more than 100 of them had to loose life.)
Different position, we hear different opinion and story that covers the truth, so I don’t go into details as it’s travel channel, but what we know commonly is.. many people lost life for the war.)
My first visit to Okinawa was a tour guide with my parents that local tour guide person was upset to both the US and Japan, so it was a bit traumatic so avoided to visit the southern part of the island, but probably i’m getting older, I thought it’s good to have some time to think of them, now that we can enjoy the peaceful and fun beach resort of Okinawa of today.
Peace Memorial Park
The peace memorial park is located in the southern tip of Okinawa’s main island. 250,000 people’s name, who died in the war in Okinawa is written here. Majority is Okinawa’s local people but also every Japanese and American, and other nationalities. No matter they are in the military or non-military, as one who died because of war.
And no matter what happens to human history, what is always there is the beautiful nature of Okinawa. Okinawa has beautiful beaches and the island is filled with warm island breeze.
One of the place you can enjoy the beautiful color of ocean starts from right next to the Naha airport. There is an island called Senagajima, and this island has runway of the airport in both side, and you can see airplanes landing and taking off. There is a hotel with natural hotsprings, and from its room, you can enjoy the view of the beach and runway. 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 a 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.
Sesoko Beach and Kouri Island
Two of the most beautiful beaches on the Okinawa main island can be seen in Sesoko Island and Kouri Island, that you can see from bridge connected with main island. You can park the car and enjoy the swimming or just enjoy the view of the ocean.
Zampa Beach and Cape Zampa.
One is… Zamap beach in Yomitan village. It was a little crowdy on this day, but Zampa has white sandy beach.
Right next to the beach is the cape Zampa. That you can see the rough geography with lighthouse. I dropped by the cafeteria, called Cape Zampa Drive Inn for a cake and coffee. It was a nice place to stop by.
During my stay at Okuma resort, I also visited the Cape Hedo. The northern tip of the Okinawa main island. You see the dynamic view of Okinawa’s northern mountain called Yanmbaru forest, and also the dynamic ocean wave. The view of northern part of Okinawa looked definitely different from that of southern part of Okinawa which seems more tropical.
We see the southern most island of Kagoshima prefecture, called Yoron island which is 22km away.
If you like more activities, a good place to visit is the aqualium called Churaumi Aqualium in the west edge of Motobu peninsula.
It’s known for a massive Kuroshio Sea tank, which is one of the largest aquarium tanks in the world, containing a diverse range of marine life, including whale sharks and manta rays. The aquarium also features several other exhibits such as sea turtle, and dolphins, showcasing the unique marine ecosystems and species found in the oceans surrounding Okinawa.
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 are Okinawa oriented birds, but it’s a fun small zoo that you can enjoy walking through various themed areas and even feed the bird.
Naha City is the prefecture capital of Okinawa, and where more than 300 thaudands people lives.
The great thing about Okinawa 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 lots of different Izakaya dinings.
Naha’s main street is this Kokusai dori, which means internatinoal avenue. It’s continuing from Yui rails 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, the market place. Yachimun street that extends from near the Hyatt Regency hotel is the street that you can find lots of pottery shops. The statue you see alost everywhere in Okinawa, is called Sisa. It’s a guardian that protects the house from evils, and it’s a popular souvenier from Okinawa, that you can see in almost all souvenir shops in Okinawa.
There are lots of souvenir shops and restaurants, that you can enjoy steaks and Okinawa cuisine.
Now let’s drop by one Izakaya and try Okinawa cuisine and local liqure called Awamori.
Foods and Souveniors
Okinawa cuisine is unique with local vegetable, tofu, seawheed and lots of pork.
Goya champuru is a dish to enjoy the bitterness of Goya. It seems it’s called Bitter Melon in English.
Umibudo is a seaweed to enjoy the texture.
Sada Andagi is like a donut, and many are made with black sugar from Okinawa. They are simple, but are a really good snack.
On the way home, I dropped by the small shop to eat the Okinawa Soba. It’s a must eat foods in Okinawa.
Mimi ga (pork ear), jimami dofu (peanut tofu) and rafte (pork belly) are also other unique Okinawa cuisine. Some things might be a challenge for you, but they can be a good memory of your dining experience in Okinawa.
Awamori is a traditional distilled alcoholic beverage from Okinawa that is made from rice. You can enjoy the different flavor.
The popular souvenir from Okinawa is the Ryukyu Glass that has beautiful colors looks like the scene you just saw at the beach. Recently, some products are not made in Okinawa, and not even made in Japan, so make sure to check the label. When I saw the Ryukyu glass for the first time during Okinawa trip, I was excited to see the beautiful gradation of the color, that looks like it packed the color of the ocean of Okinawa. It’s a perfect gift to bring home the fun travel memory of Okinawa.
What to know before going to Okinawa:
Weather and tip :
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.
Even though Okinawa has beautiful beaches, some islands are not developed as a resort, and there are tons of hidden gems and off the beaten paths, especially in small islands. But it doesn’t mean you can swim everywhere. Even if it looks peaceful it can be a dangerous spots with fast current, and some beaches can be sanctuary places for island residents that you cannot swim. So it might help to ask your hotel person before you go.
I hope you got snapshot of Okinawa trip. You might not consider visiting Okinawa when you think of the Japan Trip. 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 visit 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 cultures in foods, articrafts … and there is something about the island breeze of Okinawa that makes you a repeater of the island.