Your first trip to Okinawa
For your first trip to Okinawa, it is a good idea to start by renting a car and reserving a resort hotel room. Okinawa does not have a railway system, and Okinawa Island itself is 150 kilometers from the north tip to the south. It has a highway system, so it is perfect for travel by car. International resort hotels spot the entire area. The west coast near the center of Okinawa is particularly bursting with resort hotels. The sea is nearby, facilities are luxurious, and the gourmet food leaves nothing to be desired. Gazing out leisurely at the sea from an ocean view hotel room veranda is great, and so is swimming in the hotel pool. Let the ticking of the clock slip away and enjoy a resort atmosphere. If you plan to stay for a while, exploring the south with a visit to the city of Naha or the World Heritage site Shuri Castle is also a great plan, as is heading north to see the Churaumi Aquarium. This is all within a 50 kilometer area. If you have a rental car, it is all very conveniently laid out. Ok, let’s take off from the hotel and experience Okinawa.
Experience the thrill of beautiful waters
Okinawa has an absolutely incredible ocean. You’ll want to enjoy the unique Okinawa ocean experience and carry home special memories to cherish forever. An activity-tour of the popular “Blue Cave” in the southern part of Onna Village is highly recommended. This is a blue cave with a wide opening on the ocean surface. The cave interior is filled with a shimmering blue illumination — a beautiful world of expansive blue opens up to visitors. Tours include diving and snorkeling. Beginners can participate. You can enjoy other experiences as well, like sea kayaking, playing with dolphins, air walking above the water, and parasailing. Incredibly thrilling experiences in the Okinawa waters also await, like the marine jet that speeds over the ocean water. Or go on one of the special beach tours that take visitors on a boat to uninhabited islands. Minna Island, Nagannu Island, and Komaka Island are particularly popular. Ask at your hotel or the sightseeing bureau for more information.
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is a water wonderland
The popular Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is located on the tip of the Motobu Peninsula. This is a large scale aquarium packed with awesome sights to see, including lots of “world’s biggest” and “world’s first” attractions. You’ll definitely want a whole day to work your way leisurely through. In the giant water tank called the “Kuroshio Sea Tank,” see whale sharks (the largest living fish species) and mantas swim by slowly. Enjoy a rest at Cafe Ocean Blue with a wonderfully close view of the fish swimming in the Kuroshio Sea Tank. In the aquarium, the displays are arranged for strolling through starting on the 4th floor.
The fun starts with the “Invitation to the Great Sea,” where visitors enter the aquarium while enjoying a view of the whale shark monument. The 3rd floor features a “Journey to the Coral Reef” with the world’s first large scale coral reef in captivity, the 2nd floor features a “Journey to the Kuroshio” with huge sharks and rays that live in the Kuroshio current and migrant fish, and the 1st floor features a “Journey to the Deep Sea” that takes you into the mysterious realm of the deep ocean. Spend a whole day in awe at the kingdom of the deep.
The north side of Motobu Peninsula, the same peninsula that is home to Churaumi Aquarium, features the Kouri Ohashi Bridge linking island to island. Driving straight across ocean waters sparkling a brilliant emerald green is the absolute essence of exhilaration.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Address: 424, Ishikawa, Motobu-cho, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa
Hours: March – September: 8:30 a.m. -8:00 p.m. (Last admission 7:00 p.m.)
October – February: 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. (Last admission 5:30 p.m.)
Closed: First Wednesday of December and the day after that will be closed
Admission Fee: Adult: 1800 yen, Highschool students: 1200yen, Elevator and Jr high students: 600yen, Children under 6: Free
About 2 hours 35 min from Haneda Airport to Naha Airport, about 2 hours 30 min by taxi or about 3 hours by Bus from Naha Airport
Meet “Ojii” and “Obaa”
The average life span of women in Okinawa is 86.9, the longest in Japan. The population of people over 100 years old is 922 (as of September 2010). The “Ojii” (old men) and “Obaa” (old women) in Okinawa are doing very, very well. Why is this? 20 kilometers north of Motobu Peninsula, home to the Churaumi Aquarium, is the village with the longest life span in all of Japan: Ogimi Village. Out of a village population of 3,500 people, 80 people are over 90 years old. It could be that the lush greenery, clear air, pure water, and delicious and low salt food blessed by the bounty of the ocean and mountains and an environment blessed with untouched nature has contributed to a people that “live unhurriedly.” When you go to Motobu Peninsula, taking a moment to stop by and meet the “Ojii” and “Obaa” of Okinawa while sipping on Shequasar juice (a type of orange produced locally in Okinawa) is sure to be a fun experience.
Food and shopping in Naha, the face of Okinawa
The fun in the city of Naha starts on Kokusai Dori (International Street). This 1.6 kilometer long street is so famous for being a symbol for restoration in the war torn Okinawa after World War II, it was called the “Miracle Mile.” Today it is a shopping spot bustling with souvenir shops and Okinawa food restaurants. And of course, the fun of travel is trying different types of food. Eating food made with special local ingredients in the heart of a foreign culture is the best! First, go ahead and try “Okinawa soba.” Soup made from a blend of pork and bonito broths with noodles, sanmainiku (pork belly), Okinawa-style kamaboko (fish cake), konegi (small green onion), and pickled ginger for spice is the standard fare. And if you want to try Okinawa alcohol, have some awamori. A type of shochu (distilled liquor), this beverage came to Okinawa from Thailand around the 15th century. That is why, unlike Japanese rice wine, it mainly uses Thai rice.
Awamori has a very distinct flavor and fragrance. When it is aged for over three years, it is called “kusu” (which means “old liquor”). Kusu has a very mellow flavor and goes down very smooth. Drinking it in a glass made from Ryukyu glass is very cool. Awamori is a very strong alcohol, so be careful when drinking it. Other attractions in Kokusai Dori are numerous restaurants that serve local Okinawa cuisine.
You should definitely give this a try. A popular spot for souvenirs is “DFS Galleria Okinawa” in the area called “Shintoshin” (the new CBD), a comparatively new commercial center in the Naha City area. There is a type of special Okinawa duty-free shops here, which are famous for letting even domestic travelers shop duty-free and offering world famous brands at up to 30% off the domestic retail price. It is located right near Omoromachi Station on Yui Rail, the city monorail.
*Buses are also available. A one-day bus pass with free transfers within Naha City is available for 600 yen.
A must see: World Heritage site Shuri Castle
If you come to Okinawa, you simply must see the World Heritage site Shuri Castle. This castle prospered for approximately 450 years from the birth of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1429. It was registered as a World Heritage site in 2000.
Shuri Castle is 15 minutes by car from Kokusai Dori in the Naha CBD. It is also a 15 minute walk from the Shuri stop on Yui Rail, the city monorail. Go through the Shureimon Gate, decorated with the beautiful red roof tiles which are a famous symbol of Okinawa and ascend upwards for about 10 minutes, and you will reach the Hoshinmon Gate. Paying the entrance fee and stepping inside, a large vermillion colored building called the Seiden appears on the other side of the courtyard. Chinese, Japanese, and unique Okinawa architectural formats are blended beautifully. The main attractions of this building are the bright face-like wooden sculpture on the karahafu gable adorning the middle of the front side and the large dragon pillars on both sides of the front. These pillars with dragon sculptures are a rare format worldwide.
Address: 1-2, Shuri-Kinjo-cho, Naha-shi, Okinawa
Admission Fee: 800 yen
Closed: First Wednesday of July and the next day
Naha Airport/Bus/30 min./Shurijo-koen-mae Bus Stop/On foot/10 min.
Naha Airport/Yui rail (Mono rail)/30 min./Shuri Station/On foot/15min.
Encounter the supernatural at Okinawa’s most potent power spot: Sefa Utaki
Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site along with the remains of Shuri Castle, Nanjo City to the east of Naha is home to Sefa Utaki, the most powerful sacred land in Okinawa. “Utaki” is a place where the gods descended to earth, and the entire shrine was completely off limits to males in ages past. In fact, it was so sacred that even the King had to wear female garb when stepping past the front gate. Today everyone is welcome, of course, so you should definitely drop by. Who knows, you might just feel a presence between the large stones.
Blue ocean waters are visible from between the stones. In the blue ocean, you can see a long, thin island. This is Kudaka Island, the “Isle of the Gods.” The Okinawa people believed that gods came here from Nirai Kanai (paradise on the other side of the ocean). Let’s head out to this island also. 6 small boats per day set out from Azama Port on the coast located a 2 to 3 minute drive from Sefa Utaki. It is a very mystic spot. Take a walk along the ocean, you just might meet an Okinawan god.
Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau
Ogimi Village, Okinawa
NAHA NAVITour operator
“Blue Cave” experience program, Jet ski
Nature tour, Sea kayaking course etc.
Wellness Village Motobu
Dolphin program etc.
Special beach tour etc.
Tourism in the Yaeyama Islands
Nature tour, Sea kayaking course etc.
HOSHINOYA, now running luxurious flagship resorts in Karuizawa and Kyoto, is opening another one in Taketomi, a remote island in Okinawa, in January 2012. First-class resort life is promising in the midst of beautiful nature of Taketomi with the scenery of traditional Okinawan village.