The islands of the Churaumi sea, each having their own history and culture
Okinawa Prefecture, which has a warm climate throughout the year, has a sea area that extends approx. 1,000km (approx. 621 miles) from east to west and 400km (approx. 248 miles) from north to south. The length from east to west is comparable to about 1/3 of the distance between Hokkaido and Kyushu. This vast sea has 160 islands, including 49 inhabited islands.
The common feature of the islands of Okinawa is the beautiful sea and nature. The Churaumi sea ( its meaning is Beautiful sea in Okinawa language) of Okinawa is even more delightful when seen from the islands.
The islands of Okinawa are generally classified into the four areas of the islands surrounding the main island of Okinawa, including the Kerama Islands, the Kume Island, the Miyako Islands, and the Yaeyama Islands. Each area has its own culture, and there are individual personalities to each island. That diversity is one of the attractions of the islands of Okinawa.
Kume Island, the Island of Kumi, where the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom coexists with cutting-edge science
From Naha Airport, it takes approx. 30 minutes by propeller aircraft to reach Kume Island, which appears to be undulating when seen from the sky. The area between the center of the island and the north of the island is dotted with mountains at a height of 200 to 300m (approx. 656-984ft), with gentle slopes leading from the mountains to the coast, which converges in the white sands and glittering blue sea. The beauty of this scenery is the reason why it is called “the island of Kumi” in Okinawan, meaning “most beautiful”.
Kume Island in the Ryukyu Dynasty, which was the unique kingdom of Okinawa (1492-1879) prospered as a base of Chinese trade, and it was also wealthy due to the abundant rice crop that was watered by the fine quality water coming from the mountains. Today, on Kume Island, where the traces of history still remain, a new initiative is underway that uses deep waters from under the sea.
Deep waters under the sea are at a depth of 200ｍ (approx. 656ft) or more and have circulated around the earth for approx. 2000 years. As the sunlight cannot reach here, the water temperature is permanently low and stable, at around 10℃ (50 fahrenheit). It is also pure as there is little risk of contamination from land or atmospheric pollutants and germs, so it includes a wealth of minerals and nutrient salt. At Kume Island, this feature is being used to cultivate special varieties of sea grapes, a kind of seaweed, and to farm Japanese tiger prawns in deep water taken from seas at a depth of 612ｍ (approx. 2007ft).
On Kume Island, the eggs of parent prawns and the growth of infant prawns takes place in deep waters from under the sea in order to produce delicious tiger prawns. Tiger prawns and sea grapes are served in restaurants on the island, so try them if you visit Kume Island!
The deep waters from under the sea of Kume Island are also known for the their beautifying and healthy properties. Cosmetics that combine deep waters from under the sea with natural Okinawan ingredients such as cuccia* and citrus depressa have become popular as souvenirs through word of mouth.
*A type of mineral-rich clay that has been at the bed of the Okinawa sea for millions of years that risen to the surface due to uplift
On Bade Haus Kume Island on Ojima on the east side of Kume Island is Bade Pool, which is the world’s first pool with warm water and water pressure massages where you can do underwater exercise in 100% deep waters from under the sea. The facility, which combines underwater massages, traditional German hot bath remedies and deep waters from under the sea, is popular with people on the island. It can also be easily used by tourists as no reservation is required and bathing suits can be rented.
The beautiful sea is obviously an attraction of Kume Island. Hatenohama which is reached by boat, Eef beach which was selected as one of the top 100 beaches in Japan, and Shinrihama where fresh waters gush out are all highly individual beaches. If you go to the beach on nights of the full moon, you might be invited to a party by local islanders where you can enjoy island songs and the sanshin (an Okinawan string instruments).
Access to Kume Island
By air: Naha Airport―Kumejima Airport (approx. 30 mins.)
By sea: Naha/Tomari Port－Kume Island/Kanegusuku Port (approx. 3-4 hrs. by ferry)
Yaeyama Islands – 11 islands where the whole sky sparkles with stars
The sea of Okinawa that sparkles emerald green includes transparent seas, shallow seas and white sands. The Yaeyama Islands that include 11 inhabited islands centering on Ishigaki Island as well as other uninhabited islands will make you feel like this. Among the islands, Kabira Bay on Ishigaki Island looks different every hour depending on the light and ebb and flow of the tide, and you cannot get tired of looking at it. Swimming is not possible as the tidal current is quick, but you can enjoy looking into the sea on a glass-bottom boat that circulates the bay (a boat where you can observe the sea bed from through the clear glass at the bottom of the boat).
People who visit Ishigaki Island are surprised by the number and clearness of the stars visible with the naked eye. From Ishigaki Island, which has clear air and few atmospheric fluctuations, 84 of the 88 constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union and 21 first magnitude stars can be seen. From December to June, the Southern Cross is also visible if the conditions are right, such as no clouds on the near horizon.
The Yaeyama Islands include characteristic islands such as Yubu Island, where you can cross the sea on an oxcart, Taketomi Island, where you can walk the traditional streets of Okinawa, and Iriomote Island where you can experience subtropical nature. If you want to have an adventure, visit Iriomote Island. Jungle cruises and kayaking can be enjoyed all year round.
Access to Ishigaki Island
By air: Naha Airport―New Ishigaki Airport (approx. 1 hr.)
*Direct flights available from Tokyo/Nagoya/Osaka/Fukuoka. Tokyo―New Ishigaki (approx. 3 hrs. 35 mins.), Nagoya―New Ishigaki (approx. 3 hrs.), Osaka―New Ishigaki (approx. 2 hrs. 50 mins.), Fukuoka－New Ishigaki (summer service, 2 hrs. 5 mins.)
Enjoy a refined vacation on Miyako Island with picturesque beaches and Japan’s southernmost hot springs
If you want to enjoy a refined vacation on the southern islands, we recommend Miyako Island. The beauty of the beaches is undisputed, and this island has three of the top 10 beaches on the “Japan’s Best Beaches 2016” list on the travel advice website TripAdvisor. Another feature of Miyako Island is that you can use luxury accommodation facilities, such as the hotel right in front of the popular Yonahamaehama beach, villa-type hotels with private pools, and more.
Okinawa has a strong image of marine sports, but you can enjoy playing golf at Miyako Island. There are three long courses, and the refreshment of playing while looking at the sea will be impossible to give up once you have tried it.
Miyako Island also has hot springs. “Shigira Ougon no Yu” – which is Japan’s southernmost and westernmost hot spring – is famous for golden-colored hot springs. You can also use the exclusive open air baths as a private room for a day trip.
Access to Miyako Island
By air: Naha Airport―Miyako Airport (approx. 50 mins.)
*Tokyo―Miyako Airport (approx. 2 hrs. 50 mins.), Kansai International Airport―Miyako Airport (summer service; approx. 2 hrs. 20 mins.)
Kerama Islands – dyed in the “Kerama Blue” sea
The Kerema Islands located in the East China Sea 40km (approx. 24.8 miles) west of Naha City are made up of 20 islands of different sizes.
The population of the four inhabited islands of Tokashiki, Zamami, Aka and Geruma is a total of approximately 1,500. The Kerama Islands have no large stores or major accommodation facilities, and the villages have a simple look that hasn’t changed for a long time. Such tranquil scenery is another attraction of the Kerama Islands.
The entirety of the Kerama Islands is a designated National Park. The sea is among the clearest in the world, and the beauty of the sea is known as “Kerama Blue”. There are 248 kinds of coral in this sea, and the coral reef is the home of colorful tropical fish and sea turtles. In Okinawa, the islanders cull shellfish that eat starfish and the coral, and spend much time and effort to protect the coral.
The Kerama Islands are inhabited by Kerama deer, which is national monument, and they could be seen in morning and evening on Aka and Geruma. Deer are wary but they are not afraid of humans, since people observe from a distance. The same applies to sea turtles and tropical fish. Beautiful nature and ecosystems are carefully protected, which is another way to enjoy sightseeing. Accommodation, diving and other activities must be booked in advance, so make a reservation ahead of time by referring to the website when visiting Kerama Islands.
Access to Kerama Islands
Tokashiki Island:Naha/ Tomari Port―Tokashiki Port (approx. 35 mins. by high speed boat, or approx. 1 hr. 10 mins. by ferry)
Zamami and Aka Islands: Naha/Tomari Port―Zamami Port/Aka Port (approx. 50 mins. by high speed boat, or approx. 2 hrs. by ferry)
Time really seems to move more slowly in the islands of Okinawa. Experience the bright light, glittering sea, nature and climate of Okinawa, and get the most out of the slow pace of life!