Tokyo might be the first thing that comes to mind when tourists plot their Japan trip, but there really is so much more to the Land of the Rising Sun. A less popular but equally fascinating destination is Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture. It consists of several dozen small islands, including Okinawa Island, where Naha, the capital city of the prefecture, is located.
Looking to just make a quick stop while visiting Japan? If you’ve only got a weekend to spend in Okinawa, here’s how to cover the the top attractions and experiences over 2 days.
Okinawa Trip – Day 1 in Naha
Upon arrival, have your first taste of local Okinawan food at Naha Airport before heading out to explore Naha city. Okinawa is known for a few of its own tasty specialty dishes, and with only a weekend in the city take every chance you get to try them! Popular dishes include soba, orion beer, shoyu pork, muchi.
With its wide range of luxury brands all at duty-free prices, T Galleria Okinawa is a must if you’re looking to get some shopping done.
Now the fun begins! After freshening up at the hotel, visit the famous Shurijo Castle Park, where you can experience a little bit of Ryukyu culture by trying on traditional costumes, getting your photo taken, and spending an hour or two touring the historic landmark, which was designated a world heritage site in 2000.
Ladies who do decide to don the traditional Japanese attire might also like to spend an hour getting their hair and make-up professionally done to go with their costumes. Pretend you’re a member of the royal family from an old Ryukyu kingdom as you wander through the castle.
Next, head to the Makishi Public Market for some fresh local seafood. Known as “the kitchen of Okinawa”, here you can get all kinds of traditional Okinawan food items, including dried sea snake, vegetables that you can’t get on the mainland, and edible seaweed.
You can also take fresh fish from the first floor of the market to a restaurant on the second floor and have it cooked and served to you for a small fee.
While you’re in the area, it’s just a short stroll to explore all that Heiwa Street (great for crafts and souvenirs), Tsuboya Yachimun Street and Kokusai Street have to offer.
Finish up your first day in Okinawa at the Zizake Yokocho, an izakaya (an informal Japanese drinking establishment) on Kokusai Street that serves Okinawan cuisine with the local sake Awamori.
Enjoy traditional folk music as you eat and drink, and if you feel your feet starting to tap along, don’t be shy – get up and dance!
Address: 2-8-13,matsuo naha city, Okinawa Prefecture, 900-0014
Okinawa Trip – Day 2 Island-hopping
By now you’ll definitely be wishing you had more time, because this region boasts some of the most stunning seas in the world, rich in marine wildlife and breathtaking coral reefs. It’s no wonder ocean activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving are among Okinawa’s most popular attractions.
Scuba diving might be out of the question if you’re only in town for 48 hours, but you could still explore some of the islands around Okinawa.
Popular ones are the Kerama Islands, Miyako Island, Ishigaki Island and Iriomote Island. Ferries are great for day trips. Don’t forget to pack water, some food, sunscreen, a towel and a change of clothes.
Alternatively, you could keep things closer to home – or, in this case, your hotel – by visiting the Busena Marine Park on the west coast of Okinawa. Excellent even on rainy days because it’s indoors, this amazing offshore underwater observatory lets you get up close to colourful marine life without getting wet!
Move on to Kouri Island, also called “the love island”, by crossing the Kouri Bridge. Look out for the Heart Rock, a heart-shaped rock in the ocean, and the Kouri Ocean Tower, a white building with a triangular roof that sits on top of a hill.
Visit the museum, which has more than 10,000 shells on display, and grab a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant, which serves a special curry and pizza.
Next on your list should be the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, home to some 740 species of underwater wildlife and 21,000 animals, among them whale sharks and manta rays, which you can observe from one of the world’s largest acrylic tanks.
Last but not least, have dinner at the much-talked-about yakiniku (BBQ) restaurant Shimabuta Shichirin-yaki “Manmi” in Nago City. We hope you like pork, because that’s their speciality! Each part of the pork is cut differently so you get only the finest meat, and the restaurant also serves the rare parts of pork that you won’t get anywhere else.
Best Time to Visit Okinawa
The best time to visit Okinawa is in spring or autumn (March to early May, and late September to December).
Weather in Okinawa
Even though its subtropical climate ensures that the weather is pleasantly warm throughout the year, the rainy season (early May to early June) could put a dampener on things, and typhoons are a potential problem in July and August.