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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in okinawa

Free Travel guide A free travel guide for holidays. Hotels in okinawa, Bed and Breakfast!

Asia : East Asia : Japan : Okinawa

Okinawa (??) is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan.

okinawa Travel Guide :



Map of Okinawa prefectureMap of Okinawa prefecture
Map of Okinawa prefecture

From the northern end of the chain near Kyushu to the southern end near Taiwan, Okinawa's major islands are:

  • Okinawa Island (Okinawa-hont?) — the largest island in both size and population, featuring administrative capital Naha
    • IeIe
    • IkeiIkei
    • HamahikaHamahika
    • KumeKume
    • Kerama IslandsKerama Islands — a cluster of tiny islands between Kume and Okinawa
  • Daito Islands — specks in the sea hundreds of kilometers to the east
    • Kitadaito — the easternmost island in the prefecture.
  • Miyako IslandsMiyako Islands — tourists are usually most interested in the natural monuments found here
    • IrabuIrabu — the "other island" of Miyako
    • Miyako (Okinawa)Miyako — by far the largest of the three main islands that make up the group
    • ShimojiShimoji — very close to Irabu, but not quite as large
    • Tarama — known for its August festival
  • Yaeyama Islands — closer to Taiwan than the mainland
    • Hateruma — the southernmost inhabited point of Japan
    • HatomaHatoma
    • Ishigaki — the hub of the Yaeyamas, with spectacular beaches and manta rays
    • Iriomote — jungles and the mysterious Iriomote wild cat
    • Taketomi — small island off Ishigaki, known for a carefully restored Ryukyu village
    • Yonaguni — the westernmost point of Japan, with mysterious ruins and hammerhead sharks
    • Kuro — tiny island mildly famous for having (way) more cows than people


Kondoi Beach, Kondoi Beach,
Kondoi Beach, Taketomi

The name Okinawa means "rope in the open sea", a fairly apt description of this long stretch of islands between mainland Japan and Taiwan. Consisting of 41 inhabited islands and 16 uninhabited islands, Okinawa has the only sub-tropical climate in Japan and as such is a major tourist destination for the Japanese, but not many foreign visitors make it to these shores.



Once the independent kingdom of Ry?ky? (??), the islands were annexed by Japan during the Meiji Restoration in 1879, who proceeded to impose punitive taxes and did their best to suppress indigenous culture, language and religion. Worse was to come during World War II, when heavy bombardment and suicidal Japanese tactics, including the use of civilians as human shields, decimated the islands. Post-war they remained under U.S. occupation until 1972, and the presence of several large American military bases on Okinawa Island remains a sore point.



Sh?sa guardian lion, Sh?sa guardian lion,
Sh?sa guardian lion, Ishigaki

With their own language and customs, Okinawans still regard themselves as different from the mainland Japanese and some still harbor a certain degree of resentment towards the mainland for the brutal way the islands were treated as colonies and during World War II. Okinawans proudly call themselves uminchu (??) or "sea people" in the local dialect and talk of the way things are done on the shima (?) or island(s), in contrast to the ways of the mainland, known as hond? (??) or the slightly derisive yamato (???).

Okinawa's most famous export worldwide is the martial art of karate. In recent years Okinawan culture has become quite popular throughout Japan thanks to popular musicians and local foods. Okinawan folk music is quite distinctive, and the twangy sound of the three-stringed Okinawan sanshin and pentatonic melodies are instantly recognizable. On the roof and at the gate of almost every house you will spot the ubiquitous Okinawan sh?sa or guardian lion.



Okinawa is subtropical and even in winter temperatures rarely drop below 15°C, making the area a popular winter getaway, although it's often cloudy and usually a little too cold for sunbathing. Spring, around March and April, is an excellent time to visit if you take care to avoid Golden Week at the end of April. The rainy season starts early in May and continues until June. Summer in Okinawa is hot and humid but still one of the peak visiting seasons, while September-October brings a succession of fierce typhoons. November and December are again good times to visit.



Er, excuse me?

One of the most distinctive features of modern Okinawan is appending the English ending -er for people who do, well, pretty much anything. The meaning of "boozer" (????) is fairly obvious, while a "shrimper" (??????) is just somebody who likes shrimp. However, the common semi-affectionate "beacher" (?????) does not refer to someone who enjoys healthy marine sports, it means an alcoholic drunk!

Okinawa has its own language group, known as Ryukyuan (??? ry?ky?go in Japanese), which it shares (along with much of its culture) with the Amami Islands in Kagoshima prefecture. These languages are related to Japanese (together, they form the "Japonic family"), but are generally incomprehensible to Japanese speakers. The largest of these languages, the Okinawan language (Okinawan ucin?guci, Japanese ??? okinawago), is spoken on the main island of Okinawa and the surrounding islands, and is not used much these days. Most people under 20 can't speak it, the most common exceptions being people who were raised by their grandparents and people who grew up in rural areas. To further complicate things, each of Okinawa's major islands has its own distinct dialect, some of which are different enough to be considered their own languages by some.

In the Daito Islands, the indigenous Ryukyuan language is all but extinct, replaced by the obscure Hachijo dialect of Japanese by immigrants from the Hachijo Islands. The Hachijo-Daito dialects are direct descendants of the Eastern dialect of Old Japanese, while all mainland dialects are descendants of the Western dialect.

All Okinawans speak standard Japanese, and not a few understand English as well, particularly on the main island which has several large US military bases.


Get in


By air

Most visitors arrive in Naha, the capital of Okinawa and the only airport that receives regular international flights. Domestic flights do connect major Japanese cities directly to some other Okinawan islands like Miyako (Okinawa)Miyako and Ishigaki, but prices can be steep; for example, the scheduled fare for Tokyo-Ishigaki is a whopping ¥50,000. Using an international airpass like Star Alliance's Visit Japan may allow considerable savings.


By ship

There are weekly ferries to Tokyo and some other Japanese cities, but prices are only marginally cheaper than flights. For example, the Tokyo-Naha service costs ¥22,000 in the cheapest class and takes no less than 44 hours. The only daily service is to Kagoshima on Kyushu, which costs from ¥13,000 one-way and takes 25 hours. The major operators are Arimura Sangy? (, Oshima Kaiun ( and Ry?ky? Kaiun ( Note that if you don't speak Japanese, you will find it easier to book through a travel agent.

One weekly ferry links Taiwan's Kaohsiung and Keelung to Ishigaki and Miyako (Okinawa)Miyako (16-19 hours), but note that the exact route changes weekly.


Get around

Ferry and air connections link the islands together, but many of them are simply so small in population that scheduled services may be infrequent and prices high.


By plane

Flights between the islands are mostly handled by Japan Transocean Air (JTA; 1 ( and its subsidiary Ryukyu Air Commuter (RAC), both owned by JAL. ANA's subsidiary Air Nippon (ANK) also has a limited network radiating out from Naha. If you plan on traveling extensively in the region by plane, consider JTA's Churashima Kippu, which gets you five JTA/RAC flights of your choice for ¥35,000.


By ferry

There are dense webs of ferry links between nearby islands, but only infrequent cargo boats ply lengthier routes like Naha-Ishigaki. If traveling by boat in late summer, note that the area around Okinawa is known as Typhoon Alley for a reason.



Traditional houses, Traditional houses,
Traditional houses, Taketomi

Most people comes to Okinawa for the sun and beaches. Even in midwinter, when mainland Japan teeters around the freezing point, temperatures rarely dip below 20°C in Okinawa. For more adventurous types, the vast yet almost uninhabited island of Iriomote is covered in dense jungle.

Cultural attractions are rather more limited — Japanese colonization and World War II did a regrettably thorough job of eliminating most traces — but two standouts are Shuri Castle in Naha on Okinawa Island, and the carefully preserved village of Taketomi in the southern Yaeyama Islands.



Diving glossary

Most Japanese diving terminology is imported straight from English (finzu, masuku, regyur?t?, etc), but the following terms are not:

  • ?? moguru — to dive; note that dives are counted with ?? (hon)
  • ?? kizai — equipment
  • ?? suich? — underwater
  • ?? suishin — depth
  • ??/?? asai/fukai — shallow/deep
  • ?? nagare — current
  • ???? anzen teishi — safety stop
  • ?? senk? — descent
  • ???fuj? — ascent
  • ?? sango — coral

"Coral reefs at Ishigaki">Coral reefs at Ishigaki

Scuba diving and other watersports are very popular in Okinawa. Prices are, however, very expensive compared to, say, South-East Asia — you'll usually be looking at around ¥12,000 for a day's diving off a boat plus an additional ¥5,000+ if you need gear rental. For a 3-day certification course you'll need to fork out a cool ¥70,000 or so. To top it off many shops don't accept cr cards, so you'll need to carry a thick wad of yen to pay for it all. The language barrier can also be an issue, with most shops only set up to cater to Japanese-speaking tourists, although Reef Encounters on Okinawa Island and Umic?za on Ishigaki are welcome exceptions.

If all this doesn't put you off, there is some world-class diving to look forward to: particular highlights include the manta rays of Miyako (Okinawa)Miyako and Ishigaki and the hammerhead sharks and underwater ruins of Yonaguni. The waters are generally divable all year, although water temperature fluctuates between 22°C in the winter to around 29°C in summer. Most Japanese divers wear a 5mm full-body wetsuit, and dive shops usually provide aluminum tanks with American-style fittings.

It should also be noted that a lot of the diving on Okinawa can be done from the shore (i.e. boats are not required). In that case, you can get full gear rental and tanks for around ¥5,000, or if you just need tanks then it will only be around ¥700 per tank.



Okinawan cuisine is distinctly different from that of mainland Japan and bears notable Taiwanese influences. Okinawans too proudly proclaim that they use every part of the pig except the squeal and pork makes an appearance in almost every dish, including bits like ears and trotters which are generally disdained by the Japanese. Even Spam has a distinct following, thanks to the US Army!

Other Okinawan ingredients include vegetables rarely seen on the Japanese mainland such as bitter gourd (???? g?y?) and purple yam (???murasaki-imo). Okinawan tropical fruits including mango, papaya, pineapple, dragonfruit and the sour lime-like calamansi (??????? sh?kw?s?) are delicious when in season. Dark cane sugar (??? kurosat?) is also a popular snack, eaten both as is and made into a vast variety of candies and pastries.

Some dishes worth trying:

  • G?y? champur? (??????????) is a stir-fried dish made from goya mixed with pork and tofu.
  • Gurukun (????) is no less than the official fish of Okinawa prefecture. Small but tasty and prepared in a variety of ways, even the bones are edible.
  • Raft? (?????) is a side dish consisting of very fatty cubes of stewed pork.
  • S?t?andag? (?????????) are deep-fried balls of dough also aptly known as Okinawan donuts.
  • Taco rice (?????) is a hybrid originating from the American presence in Okinawa — spiced Mexican-style taco meat with cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, but instead of being in a tortilla, it's on rice.

Aficionados of American fast food may find Okinawa to be a curious treat. Most prominent is the presence of A&W outlets serving hamburgers and root beer (with free refills, even), available practically nowhere else in Japan. Foremost ice cream (under the "Blue Seal" brand) is also common.



The local brew of choice is awamori (??), a notoriously strong rice liquor that can contain up to 60% alcohol. Unlike Japanese shochu, which is usually prepared from potatoes or barley, awamori is brewed using imported Thai jasmine rice since during the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, short-grain rice could not be brought in from the mainland.

Okinawa's beer label Orion is a safer alternative, at least in small quantities.



Broadly speaking, accommodation on Okinawa can be divided into two brackets: cheap basic lodges, and expensive fancy resorts. Another option is sleeping in campsites.



Okinawa has a multitude of cheap minshuku-type lodges geared towards poor surfers and divers, and unlike the mainland many offer or even specialize in bed-only (????sudomari) stays with no meals included. The very cheapest dorm-type places can go for less than ¥2000, although you'll usually be looking at a minimum of ¥3000 for your own room and around ¥5000 if you want two meals. Watch out for hidden charges for things like air-con, fridge rental or even using the shower.

In Naha you can easily find dirty-cheap places starting from ¥1000 per night.



There are many campsites around Okinawa, some on nice beaches. They offer cheap accommodation if you have your own tent and sleeping bag(&mat) for ¥500-1000/night. Their facilities are sometimes very poor, they have only cold shower for example (and they even charge you for using it!) and no cooking/cleaning facilities. However they often rent out BBQ sets (2-3000 yen) which can make the night unforgettable.



B&B-type pensions are the most common midrange option, although there are some city hotels also. Figure on around ¥10,000/person with two meals.



The other end of the spectrum is Okinawa's host of resorts, usually located on a private beach in some remote corner of the island — which means you'll be stuck eating at the resort's expensive restaurant and using their expensive watersports services. Rack rates for these places tend to be ludicrous (¥20,000+/head/night), but you can usually get steep discounts by buying flight and hotel packages, especially in the low season.


Stay safe

Okinawa is as safe as mainland Japan or more so. On the smaller islands it's not uncommon to leave front doors not merely unlocked, but open all day — everybody knows each other and potential criminals can't get very far if there won't be a boat out for another week.


Stay healthy

The number one health risk on Okinawa is sunburn, and it doesn't take long at all to get fried to a crisp when it's sunny outside. Slap on plenty of lotion.

Okinawa is also home to Japan's most fearsome array of poisonous critters, although quite frankly the odds of running into any are remote. The poor habu snake gets the most press, but jellyfish (??? kurage) and a variety of marine creatures that sting if stepped on present a more likely risk. Check out the posters (both in English and Japanese) on the beaches explaining the dangerous marine animals.


External links

  • Wonder Okinawa ( A multimedia archive covering a wide range of topics related to Okinawa, its history and culture. (Heavy use of Flash)

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