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Okinawa (Naha), Japan

Okinawa (Japanese: 沖縄 Okinawa, Okinawan: 沖縄 Uchinaa) is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, an island chain to the southwest of the Home Islands.

The name Okinawa means "rope in the open sea", a fairly apt description of this long stretch of islands between the main islands of Japan and Taiwan. Consisting of 49 inhabited islands and 111 uninhabited islands, Okinawa has a subtropical to tropical climate and is a popular beach holiday destination for Japanese, with frequent flights from all the major cities of Japan. While visitors from nearby countries are increasingly discovering Okinawa's charms, the number still remains low compared to the tourist destinations on mainland Japan.

Most of Okinawa is subtropical, with the southern extremities (Yaeyama and the outlying islands) fully tropical. Even in January and February, the average high temperature... Read more

Okinawa (Naha), Japan


Okinawa (Japanese: 沖縄 Okinawa, Okinawan: 沖縄 Uchinaa) is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan, an island chain to the southwest of the Home Islands.

The name Okinawa means "rope in the open sea", a fairly apt description of this long stretch of islands between the main islands of Japan and Taiwan. Consisting of 49 inhabited islands and 111 uninhabited islands, Okinawa has a subtropical to tropical climate and is a popular beach holiday destination for Japanese, with frequent flights from all the major cities of Japan. While visitors from nearby countries are increasingly discovering Okinawa's charms, the number still remains low compared to the tourist destinations on mainland Japan.

Most of Okinawa is subtropical, with the southern extremities (Yaeyama and the outlying islands) fully tropical. Even in January and February, the average high temperature is around 20°C (68°F), making the area a popular winter getaway, although it's often cloudy and usually a little too cold for sunbathing due to the winter monsoon. Spring, around late March and April, is an excellent time to visit if you take care to avoid Golden Week (a succession of national holidays from the end of April), however, it does not get busy at all on the small islands even during Golden Week. The rainy season starts early in May and continues until June. Unlike the rainy season in mainland Japan, it rains neither every day nor all day long during the rainy season in Okinawa. Summer in Okinawa is hot and humid but still one of the peak visiting seasons, while September brings a succession of fierce typhoons. October and November are again good times to visit.

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Okinawa (Naha), Japan: Port Information

Cruise ships dock at the Naha Port – at Berth 8. It takes about 20 minutes to get to downtown on foot.
Usually, shuttle service to downtown is provided.
Besides, you can get to the nearest monorail station on foot. It takes about 15 minutes.
It is planned to build the second cruise ship berth in the port.

Get around Okinawa (Naha), Japan

Ferry and air connections link the islands together, but many of them are simply so small in population that scheduled services may be infrequent and prices vary.

By ferry
There are dense webs of ferry links between nearby islands, but only infrequent cargo boats ply lengthier routes like Naha-Ishigaki. If traveling by boat in late summer, note that the area around Okinawa is known as Typhoon Alley for a reason.

By car
Probably more so than anywhere else in Japan, the trainless main island of Okinawa is a car culture, which makes car rental an attractive option for longer stays. Be prepared to drive on the left side of the road and to show your International Drivers License. Military and other SOFA personnel may obtain driving privileges via their own installation procedures.
International Drivers Licenses are not accepted in Japan, if you are from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Slovenia, Monaco or Taiwan. Instead, you need an authorized Japanese translation of your national driver's license. The translation is issued in the JAF Office (Japanese Automobile Foundation) in 1-48-7 Maeda Urasoe-shi. This took approximately one hour in January 2016. 

By bus
Most islands of interest in Okinawa have at least a rudimentary bus network, although schedules may be sparse and prices fairly high. Times and routes (usually in both English and Japanese) are indicated at each bus stop and at the various bus terminals. Prices outside of Naha are based on distance travel and are indicated in the front of the bus as it moves from sector to sector (your ticket, that you take as you enter the bus, has a sector number on it). There is a changer for 1000 yen bills and coins at the front of the bus. Keep your ticket until you leave the bus. You pay the fare on alighting and it might be, that the bus driver wants to see your ticket with the sector number.


  • Naha - the capital of the Okinawa Prefecture
  • Chatan - some resort hotels and beaches
  • Okinawa City - the second-largest city
  • Nago - home of the enormous Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
  • Itoman
  • Nanjo
  • Kitanakagusuku

What to see in Okinawa (Naha), Japan

Most people come to Okinawa for the sun and beaches. Even in midwinter, when many areas of the mainland Japan teeter around the freezing point, temperatures rarely dip below 15°C in Okinawa. For more adventurous types, the vast yet almost uninhabited island of Iriomote is covered in dense jungle.
Cultural attractions are rather more limited, as the Japanese invasion and subsequent brutal colonization coupled with fighting in World War II did a regrettably thorough job of eliminating most traces of the Ryukyu Kingdom, but two standouts are the newly rebuilt Shuri Castle in Naha on Okinawa Island, and the carefully preserved tiny village of Taketomi in the southern Yaeyama Islands.

Historical sites related to World War II can be found throughout the islands, especially the main island of Okinawa, including the Peace Memorial Park in Naha, the Navy's former underground headquarters and the Himeyuri Monument.
Churaumi Aquarium is a world-class aquarium located on the Motobu peninsula. Attractions include one of the world’s largest tanks with huge whale sharks and manta rays. The aquarium is located in Ocean Expo Park with a beautiful public facility called Emerald Beach.

What to do in Okinawa (Naha), Japan


Okinawa is the best place in Japan for all sorts of watersports.

Snorkeling and Diving

The Okinawa archipelago is one of the world's best diving destinations, with the count of marine species on par with the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. You can find over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks and many kinds of tropical fish. The language barrier can be an issue, with most shops only set up to cater to Japanese-speaking tourists, although Piranha Divers Okinawa and Onna Sensui Diving Shop in Onna Village, Reef Encounters in Chatan or Bluefield in Kadena on Okinawa Island, and Umicōza on Ishigaki are welcome exceptions.

If all this does not put you off, there is some world-class diving to look forward to: particular highlights include the gorgeous reefs surrounding the Kerama Islands, the manta rays of Miyakoand Ishigaki and the hammerhead sharks and underwater ruins of Yonaguni. The waters are generally divable all year, although water temperature fluctuates between 22°C in the winter to around 29°C in summer. Also, beware of the typhoons during June-November and the north wind that may frequently close diving sites in the north shores of many of the islands during November and December. Many people dive in boardshorts and rashguards half the year. Most Japanese divers wear a 5mm full-body wetsuit, and dive shops usually provide aluminum tanks with American-style fittings.


Sailing is gaining in popularity in Okinawa. There is a small but passionate international sailing community centered at Ginowan Marina, near the Convention Center. Local and international sailors cruise and race to the Kerama islands and to other locations. Sailing cruises and classes are also conducted out of Ginowan Marina. 


Surfing is popular in Okinawa, but it's not particularly easy: waves break over very shallow shelves of the reef and/or basaltic rock, resulting in challenging waves. Surfing spots can be found all over the archipelago, but most surfers surf off the main island. 


Okinawa has some of the best offshore fishing in the world. Some fish are seasonal, but there are fish for every season of the year. Marlin, mahi mahi, and various species of tuna are some of the fish that are teeming in Okinawa's crystal clear seas. There are many places where you can find a boat to go fishing, but as with diving, language can be a major issue. Some charter services provide fishing tackle, and others require you to rent fishing gear. The 2008-2009 Issue of "Okinawa Island Guide" has featured Saltwater Fishing Okinawa for catering to Japanese, English, and Chinese speaking travelers.
The cost of offshore fishing in Okinawa is comparable to other charter services around the world. 

What to eat and drink in Okinawa (Naha), Japan


Okinawan cuisine is distinctly different from that of mainland Japan. Unlike the simplicity of classical Japanese food, which tries to highlight individual ingredients, Okinawa is a champurū (mixed) cuisine, where lots of ingredients can be used in a single dish to create complex, balanced flavors -- aptly enough, the very word seems to originate from the Malay campur. Thanks to its notable Taiwanese influence, Okinawans too proudly proclaim that they use every part of the pig except the squeal and pork makes an appearance in almost every dish, including bits like ears, trotters, and blood which are generally disdained by the Japanese. Even Spam has a distinct following.

Other Okinawan ingredients include vegetables rarely seen on the Japanese mainland such as bitter melon (ゴーヤー gōyā) and purple yam (紫芋 murasaki-imo). Local seaweeds like the gloopy mozuku (モズク), often served in vinegar or mixed into porridge, or fluffy green āsa (アーサ), hiding in soups, often get credit for Okinawans' life expectancy, the longest in the world. Okinawan tropical fruits including mango, papaya, pineapple, dragonfruit and the sour lime-like calamansi (シークァーサー shīkwāsā) are delicious when in season. Dark cane sugar (黒砂糖 kurosatō) is also a popular snack, eaten both as is and made into a vast variety of candies and pastries.

Some dishes worth trying:

  • Gōyā champurū (ゴーヤーチャンプルー) is the canonical Okinawan dish, a stir-fry made from goya mixed with pork and tofu. There are lots of other champurūs as well, made with tofu, noodles, fu (gluten), etc.
  • Gurukun (グルクン) is no less than the official fish of Okinawa prefecture. Small but tasty and prepared in a variety of ways, even the bones are edible.
  • Okinawa soba (沖縄そば) is made with wheat noodles and a pork-based stock. Often served with sōki (ソーキ), stewed pork ribs, and spiced up with a dash of shima-koshō (島胡椒) island pepper or shima-tōgarashi (島唐辛子) chilies.
  • Hirayāchī (ヒラヤーチー), an okonomiyaki-like thin savory pancake.
  • Raftī (ラフティー) is a side dish consisting of very fatty cubes of stewed pork.
  • Shima-dofu (島豆腐) is the Okinawan version of tofu, coarser in texture than the Japanese kind and often served warm.
  • Sātāandagī (サーターアンダギー) are deep-fried balls of dough also aptly known as Okinawan donuts.

Okinawan chinmi or "strange foods", eaten as snacks with drinking, include:

  • Chiragā (チラガー), the skin from a pig's face; can be very chewy
  • Mimigā (ミミガー), sliced pork ears in vinegar; crunchy and nearly tasteless
  • Umibudō (海ぶどう) or "sea grapes", a type of seaweed eaten raw dipped into vinegar or soy, mild with a pleasant caviar-like texture
  • Sukugarasu (スクガラス), salt-pickled tiny fermented fish, usually pressed onto tofu before eating

Aficionados of American fast food may find Okinawa to be a curious treat, as many American restaurants popped up here to serve the US military long before they made it to the mainland. Most prominent is the presence of A&W outlets serving hamburgers and root beer (with free refills, even), available practically nowhere else in Japan. Blue Seal ice cream is common, with their purple yam soft ice creams worth a lick. Several hybrid Okinawan-American dishes, most of which seem to employ copious quantities of Spam, are widely available:

  • Nuuyaru burger (ぬーやるバーガー), a specialty of local fast food chain Jef, is gōyā champurū, cheese and a slice of Spam in a bun. Appropriately enough, the name is an Okinawan pun that translates roughly as "What on earth is this?".
  • Pork eggs (ポーク卵 pōku tamago) consists of fried slices of Spam served with ketchup, scrambled eggs and — since this is Japan, after all — rice and miso soup.
  • Taco rice  (タコライス tako raisu) is spiced Mexican-style taco meat with cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes, but instead of being in a tortilla, it's on rice.


The local brew of choice is awamori (泡盛), a notoriously strong rice liquor that can contain up to 60% alcohol, although 30-40% is more common. Unlike Japanese shochu, which is usually prepared from potatoes or barley, awamori is brewed using imported Thai jasmine rice since during the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, short-grain rice could not be brought in from the main islands. It's most commonly drunk on the rocks or neat.

Awamori keeps well, and when stored more than three years is known as kūsu (古酒, also read koshu in standard Japanese). If the label indicates a specific age, it's 100% at least that old; however, kūsu without a given age is usually a blend of 50% 3-year-old and 50% new awamori.

If awamori is a bit too strong for your taste, try awamori umeshu (泡盛梅酒), a delectable sweet liquor made by infusing Japanese ume plums in awamori and cane sugar. Lemon and coffee-flavored versions of awamori are also available.

Okinawa's local beer Orion is a safer alternative, at least in small quantities. Most larger islands also have their own microbreweries.

Shopping in Okinawa (Naha), Japan

Okinawa offers great opportunities for shopping. There are several shopping centers and shopping streets, a real Asian market, fashion boutiques, souvenir and gift stores, and other places to buy clothes, accessories, presents, etc. 

Safety in Okinawa (Naha), Japan

Okinawa is as safe as mainland Japan or more so. On the smaller islands, it's not uncommon to leave front doors not merely unlocked, but open all day.

The number one health risk on Okinawa is sunburn, and it doesn't take long at all to get fried to a crisp when it's sunny outside. Slap on plenty of lotion.
Okinawa is also home to Japan's most fearsome array of poisonous critters. While the venomous habu (ハブ) snake gets a lot of bad press, mostly due to its unfortunate habit of entering homes in search of rats and mice; not only are you quite unlikely to encounter one outside a sake bottle in a souvenir shop, but bites have a fatality rate of "only" 3%. Jellyfish (クラゲ kurage) and a variety of marine creatures that sting if stepped on present a risk, and many beaches have posters in Japanese (and occasionally English) explaining what to watch out for.

Language spoken in Okinawa (Naha), Japan

Okinawa has its own language group, known as Ryukyuan (琉球語 ryūkyūgo in Japanese), which it shares (along with much of its culture) with the Amami Islands in Kagoshima prefecture. These languages are related to Japanese (together, they form the "Japonic family"), but are generally incomprehensible to Japanese speakers. The largest of these languages, the Okinawan language (Okinawan: 沖縄口 uchinaaguchi, Japanese: 沖縄語 okinawago), is spoken on the main island of Okinawa and the surrounding islands and is not used much these days. Most people under 20 can't speak it, the most common exceptions being people who were raised by their grandparents and people who grew up in rural areas. To further complicate things, each of Okinawa's major islands has its own distinct dialect, such as Miyako, Yaeyama and Yonaguni, some of which are different enough to be considered their own languages by some.

In the Daito Islands, the obscure Hachijo dialect of Japanese by immigrants from the Hachijo Islands is the native language. The Hachijo-Daito dialects are direct descendants of the Eastern dialect of Old Japanese, while all mainland dialects are descendants of the Western dialect.
All Okinawans speak standard Japanese, and many understand English as well, particularly on the main island which has several large US military bases.


8:05 am
May 18, 2022


22.72 °C / 72.896 °F
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23.62 °C/75 °F
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23.98 °C/75 °F
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23.26 °C/74 °F
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