The world is bigger than we could ever possibly imagine, and it’s scary to think we will never even scratch the surface in this lifetime. Even if we do travel to the same places, we see the world through different eyes, creating a unique experience. As I dive head first into travel, I am inspired by each of your adventures and am starting Sonderlust Secrets as a series showcasing this. Interested in being featured?When most people think of Japan, they imagine temples, geisha, technology and the bright lights of Tokyo. I’m currently living in a part of Japan that is unlike the Japan you think you know – Okinawa.
Okinawa is a small island a 3 hour flight south of Tokyo. It is actually closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan and is a bit of a tropical paradise. It is surrounded by gorgeous turquoise waters and has a much more laidback vibe than the mainland. Here are a few reasons that you should add Okinawa to your Japan travel itinerary:
The beaches are amazing!Wherever you are in Okinawa, you are only a short drive away from some of the most beautiful water in the world. Because Okinawa is subtropical, the ocean is warm and beautiful to swim in from May-November every year (and even more if you don’t mind it a bit chilly, or have a wetsuit!)
It has some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world!Okinawa boasts some of the best snorkeling in the world, and I have become addicted since moving here over a year ago. The most popular spot on the mainland is at Cape Maeda, about 1 hour north of Naha airport and you can see why. As soon as you put your face in the water you will realize you are swimming in your own giant personal aquarium surrounded by gorgeous tropical fish!
Cherry Blossoms!Okinawa is lucky enough to have Japan’s earliest blooming cherry blossoms. They bloom in late January/Early February and look very different to the pale pink blossoms on the mainland. Okinawa cherry blossoms are a vibrant pink color and the most popular spots to view the blossoms in Okinawa are Mt Yaedake, Nakijin Castle Ruins, Nago Central Park (all in northern Okinawa) as well as a couple of viewing spots in the capital city, Naha.
The food of Okinawa, is quite different to what you are used to in Japan. Okinawans are renowned for their long life spans, which many people attribute to their diet. Some of the most popular dishes you will see include Okinawa Soba (a noodle soup with slow cooked pork ribs), umi budo, or sea grapes, which are a kind of seaweed with a caviar like texture, chanpuru (a varied stir fry dish that mostly contains vegetables, but also things like shima tofu and pork). My favourite Okinawan food though is their shima tofu (island tofu). This tofu is so fresh that it is brought to the supermarkets and markets a few times a day and is still warm when you buy it! You will never taste tofu so fresh and delicious anywhere else!
World Heritage Sites
There are 9 world heritage sites scattered over the main island of Okinawa. If you’re a bit of a history and culture buff, then I’m sure you will love exploring the castle ruins and gardens that make up many of these. 5 of them are within easy driving distance from Naha airport, so even if you are only staying in the city area you won’t miss out!
If you are planning on including Okinawa on your Japan itinerary (and I think you should!) I highly recommend renting a car. The public transport system is not widespread or efficient like the mainland, and if you want to make the most of your trip, get a car. The roads are very easy to navigate and all signed in English. Most rental car companies will also include a GPS with English instruction to help make it even easier.
Okinawa is easy and cheap to get to from both mainland Japan and other nearby Asian countries (such as Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong) and with all the discount airlines like Peach Air, Jetstar and Vanilla Air, it’s really affordable.
Rachael is an Australian expat currently based in Okinawa, Japan. When not at work, she loves grabbing her snorkel and heading to the nearest beach. She loves writing about her travel, food adventures and life with her family in Okinawa, mainland Japan and the rest of the world. Follow along on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook!