Okinawa: The Hawaii of Japan
by Nat Clark.
Stretching over a thousand kilometres, Okinawa offers more to visitors than just great weather! Home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, this subtropical archipelago destination boasts an abundance of marine wildlife - making snorkelling and scuba diving an absolute must when you visit this southernmost prefecture of Japan.
Something For Everyone
Okinawa has a wide variety of activities on offer - for families, adventurous explorers or folk who simply want to soak up some sun and sea. Churaumi Aquarium, one of the finest in Japan, is a must-see for anyone with an interest in aquatic wildlife, with whale sharks, manta rays and an abundance of other marine species all residing in Churaumi's giant tanks.
Dedicated beach bums should head straight to Miyako Island, where you'll find some of Japan's best stretches of sand. Top of the list here are Maehama Beach, Yoshino Beach and Sunayama Beach, all of which offer picture-perfect scenes.
If you prefer something a little more active and have a good head for heights, then a hike up to Hiji Waterfall guarantees a healthy dose of the great outdoors. One of the highlights of this 40-minute walk is crossing a suspension bridge that spans a valley that's a dizzying 17 metres below! The picturesque trail comes to an end at the falls, which make for a truly impressive sight.
Typically for Japan, Okinawa's dining scene doesn't disappoint, with Okinawa soba being a must-try dish. A completely different dish to mainland Japan's soba noodles, the Okinawan variety is made from wheat rather than buckwheat, and bears a far greater resemblance to chewy udon.
The continued presence of U.S. military installations on the island has certainly influenced Okinawa's food culture. One example of this is taco rice; consisting of ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa served over rice with optional cheese or onions, this unique dish is popular for being both filling and inexpensive.
If you're interested in modern history, make your way to Okinawa's War Memorials. Towards the end of World War II, Okinawa Honto became the site of one of the war's bloodiest battles when U.S. forces invaded and occupied the island. Although the experience can feel quite confronting and sombre, understanding a little more of the island's history gives real insight into how modern-day Okinawa came about, plus a greater understanding of how people lived through those infamous events.
If you happen to be heading to Okinawa for the October holidays, then be sure to check your dates to coincide with the world's biggest tug-of-war event. The Naha Great Tug of War Festival plays host to over 15,000 participants who descend on Okinawa once a year to pull on a 200m long rope. This eccentric - and uniquely Japanese - addition to Okinawa's events calendar is great fun and visitors are more than welcome to join!