Okinawa… what a paradise!
Last summer, after we realized we probably wouldn’t be leaving Japan in the near future, we decided to visit a place we hadn’t been before: Okinawa.
For those of you who are not familiar with the place, Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan and is made of a group of islands. It used to be an autonomous kingdom until it officially became a part of Japan in 1879. Not only is there a physical separation between Japan’s mainland and the Okinawan islands, there is also a distinctive culture which can only be found here. As well as many other things you won’t see anywhere else in Japan!
So although it took us five years of living in Japan before we visited this amazing place – please don’t repeat our mistake! Be sure to add it to your itinerary if you travel to Japan!
If you’re still not sure, here are 8 reasons that will convince you to go:
1. Ryukyu culture
I know it might seem like all of Japan shares the same culture. But actually – that’s not exactly true. There are some unique cultures in Japan. The most well-known are the Ainu and Okinawan cultures. The Ainu are people native to Hokkaido, while the Okinawan culture originates in the Ryukyu Kingdom – the kingdom used to exist in Okinawa until the late 19th century.
So although it might seem like the Okinawan people share exactly the same culture with other parts of Japan, it’s actually a distinguished culture. You can see it everywhere when you come here. For example, the architecture is different and the roofs have a unique shape. The pottery even has its own style. Okinawa also has its own music and the Sanshin – an Okinawan musical instrument which can be found locally and is special to these islands.
Sanshin – Okinawan musical instrument
2. Okinawa-Islands atmosphere
I think that anyone who spends a lot of time living on islands, like myself, will agree that there is such a thing as “island atmosphere”. That’s why in Okinawa I immediately felt at home. I guess it’s something about the way people talk, the warm communication, the looser treatment of time, and general chilled vibes.
At first I couldn’t put my finger on what makes me feel that way, but after the third bus we waited for was late, and another bus made a sudden stop (in a random place, because we forgot to get off at our station) – then I got the feeling of “this isn’t Japan, not really”.
Maybe it’s something related to living by the ocean and being so dependent on nature’s will that makes people a lot calmer about what they do every day. And maybe not! But if you want to expose yourselves to a slightly ‘different Japan’ – Okinawa is your place.
3. Breathtaking nature
The sub-tropical weather and location of Okinawa makes a great setting for the most beautiful natural phenomena. The Okinawan mountains, lagoons, forests, beaches, and many other incredible landscapes are something you won’t find anywhere else in Japan.
Not only the vegetation is astonishing, the wildlife on the islands are no less incredible! Sea turtles, deers, strange-looking crabs, Iriomote cats, and so many species of vibrant fish all live here and you can see some on land or while snorkeling or diving. Between January and March, you may even see whales swimming around the islands – it’s never boring here!
4. Local food
If you’ve been following the blog for a while you’ll know it’s kind of strange that I only started talking about the food in the fourth section 😉
Okinawan cuisine is influenced by Japanese and Chinese cuisines, but it also has some of its own unique dishes. In general, many dishes found here are spicier than in mainland Japan, and there are many local fruits and vegetables. The vegetable most associated with Okinawa must be the goya (bitter melon). It looks like a cucumber with bumps on it and it’s very bitter – but if cooked well it’s extremely delicious!
Tropical fruit lovers, like myself, are expected to find themselves constantly snacking on all the delicious fruits available.
I guess my favorite local cuisine has to be Taco-rice. The dish contains rice, salad, taco-flavored beef (or soy-meat in the vegan option), and salsa. Highly recommend!
5. Fascinating history
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Okinawa was not a part of Japan until the late 19th century, so it doesn’t share the same history. The Ryukyu Kingdom has a very interesting history of its own, which you can learn about in various museums and historical sites around the islands.
In fact, the modern history of the islands is also a little different. Okinawa was suffering heavily in World War II, where the largest amphibian battle in the Pacific War occurred. It is estimated that tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives. There is a lot to say about Okinawa during and after the war ended, where the American occupation lasted until 1972 (20 years after it ended in the rest of Japan), but I will not go into more detail here. Still, I do encourage you to search for it if you find this topic interesting. For any history-lovers, I would say: Okinawa is a must-visit!
The trunk of this palm tree has ten bullet holes, remnants from WWII.
6. A quiet place to rest
Tropical vacation lovers? Well, you can enjoy a sub-tropical one when you’re here!
Let’s be honest: a trip to Japan is definitely not a vacation. There are so many things to see and do, and when you come for a long time, it might be very intensive. You DO deserve a vacation after such a trip.
So Okinawa offers you this relaxation without traveling to another country. Here you can lay on the beach, drink a smoothie, and just rest.
Although I wouldn’t recommend you only do that while you’re here, taking one day to just admire your surroundings is a nice way to spend your time.
7. The ocean!
The turquoise-blue color, the coral reefs, the sound of the waves – it just makes the ocean the best place to be.
I think everyone deserves to see the ocean in Okinawa at least once in their lives. Maybe it’s because I have a tremendous weakness for any water resource, or maybe it’s because the ocean in Okinawa is just gorgeous.
Although there are many beaches in Japan, not all of them are for swimming. Also, there are so many other things to do that it’s not a common thing to visit the beach on a trip to Japan.
But no worries – in Okinawa, it’s one of the main attractions. You’ll probably find yourselves around the ocean most of the time. You really can’t miss it!
If you’re surfing – prepare your boards! I mean, if you come in the right season and have a nice swell. There are many surf points in Okinawa too.
8. Why not?
If I tell you there’s a really beautiful place in Japan, and you’re already planning to travel to this country – why not visit there too?
Indeed, it’s not written in most “must-visit in Japan” lists, but who cares?! One flight and you’ll be in an amazing paradise!
Okinawa will be the jewel you were happy you added to your itinerary.
Trust me – you won’t regret it!
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