Okinawa is a relatively small island, and a nice place for a vacation. Unlike the rest of Japan, there aren’t railway lines, except the monorail line. A road network connects the south with the north of the island. So if you have a valid driver’s license, you can rent a car. If not, you can contact a travel agency for a guided bus tour, or if you like “adventures,” you can use buses too. Starting from Naha bus terminal, you can reach just about anywhere in Okinawa.
As previously mentioned, using the monorail you can reach one of the symbols of Naha – Shurijo Castle. Probably built between the 13th and 14th centuries, after the unification of the Ryukyu Kingdom, it became the political and ceremonial center, with government officials and artisans residing in the surrounding area. It remained like that until 1879, when the Meiji emperor annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom, naming it Okinawa Prefecture.
During the battle of Okinawa, it was destroyed and rebuilt in 1992, becoming a national park. I’ve been here many times, and it’s always beautiful and impressive like the first time. You really see how the old lords of Okinawa lived. You can feel the atmosphere of that period and imagine yourself as a king.
Another beautiful spot is the Shikinaen Royal Garden in Naha. Originally built as a summer residence for the Ryukyuan royal family in 1799, it was restored in 1995. It was used to welcome Chinese envoys and diplomats. With a Chinese-style hexagonal pavilion and arched bridges, the garden’s trees and plants are arranged in such a way that blossoms can be enjoyed all year round. I remember when I went there for the first time. Even on a rainy day, it was a beautiful and peaceful place to see and walk around. Admission is 400 yen.
Another interesting spot in the southern area is Okinawa World. Here the main attraction is a 5-km-long underground cavern formed 300,000 years ago, of which 890 meters is open to the public. When I went here, I thought that it could be the perfect location for the next Batman movie. In this theme park old Okinawan houses have been reproduced. Eisa and other traditional dances are performed. You can learn how to make traditional arts and crafts too.
Not far from Naha you can relax and enjoy the seaside. In about 30 minutes by car or bus, you can reach Ginowan city, where you can find Tropical Beach: a well furnished and large beach. Here you can do partake in all beach activities like swimming, parties and barbecues, or just walking and waiting for the sunset. Crossing the street, you can do some shopping at the Ginowan Convention City, a shopping mall that also includes the famous Tokyu Hands store.
Another popular place for both tourists and locals is Chatan Town, one of the newer areas of Okinawa. Here the most famous place is Mihama American Village where you can find American-style shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and appreciate the ocean view. It’s a nice place for spending time with your friends.
For those who want to know more about traditional Okinawa, I suggest the Murasaki Mura (purple village) — a theme park where the Naha cityscape of the Ryukyu Kingdom era has been recreated. You can also learn how to create your personalized sheesa (lion), and taste Okinawan soba in ancient Okinawan houses.
The north of the island is different and wild. Here the main spot is the Ocean Expo Park and Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. Every year thousands of people come here to see whale sharks and watch dolphin shows. In the aquarium you can see myriad kinds of fish and marine creatures. From Naha by car or bus, it takes about 3 hours. In summer, there are many events such as concerts, festivals and fireworks.
Okinawa includes other little islands that can be reached by ferry or airplane. The nearest is Tokashiki island, of the Kerema islands, with white sandy beaches, coral reefs and clear water where divers can see 50 meters deep. It lies 32 km west of Naha, and can be reached in 35 minutes by express ferry from Naha Tomari port.
About 400 km to the west is the 3rd largest and most densely populated island – Miyako. Beautiful white beaches, blue water and breathtaking landscapes attract many tourists both from Japan and abroad. I went there last year; it’s really one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Miyako is also famous for the annual Miyako Triathlon.
There are other beautiful places waiting for you. For just 10,500 yen, ANA can bring you here.
By Carlo Fornari