The ISLAND OF OKINAWA, some 685 km away from the south-western tip of Kyushu, is the largest of a string of 70-odd islands and islets of the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawa itself has a subtropical climate boasting plants and flowers all year round. Coral reefs, emerald seas and sunny skies attract sea and sunbathers all year round. Okinawa also abounds in sites of historical interest. Its rich cultural heritage differs markedly from that found in mainland Japan.
Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, is the gateway to and from Okinawa for both seaborne and airborne visitors. Naha was damaged in battle during World War ll but, has since become a heady mix of refined civilization and neon glitz. Art galleries and teahouses stand alongside red-light bars, snake restaurants, and karaoke cabins. Ceramic shisa lions, topping the red-tiled roofs of traditional Okinawan houses, add to the eclectic mix of war memorials, sacred groves, flower-covered coral walls, craft shops, luxury hotels, and discos.
Kokusai Street is surely the most crowded place in Naha. This approximately 1.6-kilometer-long street is lined with department stores, restaurants, coffee shops, general shops, clothing shops, travel agencies, banks, and of course souvenir shops which account for about 40% of the businesses and facilities on the high traffic street. Fukushu-en Garden is a 10-min. walk from Kencho-mae Monorail Sta. This authentic Chinese garden has 8,500 m2 of grass area. All buildings are made of wood. Entrance and exit gate towards the four points of the compass. Each gate has a different style and traditional Chinese structure.
Shurijo Castle Park, 15-min. walk from Shuri Monorail Sta., is a national park as well as a world heritage. In an old section of Naha City overlooking the downtown district, the park was once the seat of the Ryukyu Dynasty which reigned from 1429 to 1879. It abounds in historical relics including Shurijo Castle. The Castle is a unique architecture of the mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Okinawan styles. Located in Shuri Castle Park, Shureimon is an historic site dating back to the Ryukyu Kingdom that prospered in what is now Okinawa. Shureimon Gate at the entrance of Shuri Castle Park is often used as the symbol of Okinawa. This gate was build during the reign on King Sho Shin in the 16th century.
Okinawa was a major battleground during World War II. The southern part of Okinawa abounds in relics and monuments associated with the tragic war. Himeyuri Monument, 60 min. by bus was erected to console the memories of 219 high-school girls (trainee nurses) and their teachers who committed mass suicide to prevent their capture by the Allied Forces. The Mabuni Hill, 60 min. by bus from Naha, commands a beautiful and peaceful view of the southern part of Okinawa. On the hill stand the Okinawa Peace Memorial Hall and many monuments for the war dead constructed by the prefectures of Japan. Okinawa World is a leisure land re-creating an ancient Okinawa village including Gyokusendo, the longest limestone cave in the Orient.
In the middle and northern parts of Okinawa, there are innumerable natural sites, national parks and theme parks. Ryukyu-mura Village is a leisure center developed at the foot of Tokayama Hill. There are 7 different types of tropical Ryukyu (Old Okinawa) style houses and exhibits of Okinawa handicrafts. Manzamo is a grass plateau jutting into Nago Bay. The scenic view available here is said to be one of the best in Okinawa. Cobalt blue waters constantly spray the sheer coral cliffs. Nearby are many fine bathing beaches including Manza Beach.
Ocean EXPO Park (Okinawa Commemorative National Park), about 3 hrs. by bus from Naha, is a national park. Originally constructed for the 1975 Ocean EXPO, this is the largest theme park in Okinawa. The Y-shaped coral sand Emerald Beach is located at the northernmost end of the park. This is the only beach in Japan located within a lagoon and the water is rated "AA", making this a beautiful clean bathing spot. Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is the world's first aquarium designed to raise multiple whale sharks and mantas.
Kerama Islands, approximately 30 km (20 miles) west of Naha City, the Kerama Islands consist of more than 20 islands of various sizes. The Keramas are famous among scuba-divers for having some of the most transparent, beautiful water in the world, which are filled with coral reefs and colourful tropical reef fish, and there are also many fun beach activities to enjoy. Whales migrate to the islands in winter and visitors can experience exciting whale-watching tours.
Miyako Island, about 300 km southwest of Okinawa Island, is a haven for skin and scuba divers. The whole island, planted with sugar cane, is surrounded by white sandy beaches washed by the emerald green sea. The island lacks any major hills or mountains and is mostly covered by sugar cane fields and a few towns, among which Hirara is the largest with a moderate range of restaurants and bars.
Ishigaki Island, about 14 hrs. by ship (3-4 runs in a week) from Naha Shinko (Naha new port), 60 min. by plane from Naha Airport, about 120 km further southwest of Miyako Island, is also noted for its emerald green water and white sandy beaches. The island is also well-known for its pineapples and black pearls which are unique to this island. Ishigaki Island is also the gateway for visits to other Yaeyama Islands further in the south.
With their tropical atmosphere and laid back, rural lifestyle, the Yaeyama Islands are a popular getaway destination for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of Japan's metropolises. This island paradise offers beaches, snorkelling, diving and relaxation.
Of the Yaeyama Islands, Ishigaki Island is the most populated and serves as the region's transportation hub. Other islands include the jungle covered Iriomote Island and Taketomi Island, famous for its beautifully preserved, traditional Ryukyu village. Five additional islands comprise the rest of the island chain and offer beaches, snorkelling and diving.
Kumejima Island located 100 km (60 miles) west of Okinawa Island, Kumejima Island is reached in 30 min. by plane from Naha. Regarded by many as the most beautiful island in Okinawa, Kumejima offers unforgettable sights such as Eef Beach, Hate-no Hama Beach and Tatami-ishi.