Mensore (めんそーれ!), or “welcome” in Okinawan dialect!
Okinawa prefecture (a.ka. Ryukyu Islands) is arguably the most beautiful place in Japan. Home to a plethora of natural beauty, the subtropical islands of Okinawa host rainforests, beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, colorful coral reefs, and huge waterfalls. Okinawa is a place that should not be missed while you are living in Korea. This list is by no means all-inclusive, and I am happy to submit more advice on specific/additional places if requested.
Okinawans are some of the nicest, warmest, friendliest, people you will ever meet in your life. If you ever get lost or need recommendations on things to do, most people will go out of their way to assist you and ensure you’re taken care of. Above all else in this article, go out and meet an Okinawan and get to know them. You’ll likely make a lifelong friend.
Churaumi aquarium is the one of the largest aquariums in the world. Its home to many types of marine life, including whale sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and manta rays. They host a beautiful SeaWorld style Dolphin/Whale show at their Okichan theater outdoor area. The Aquarium is located inside of the Ocean Expo Park, which also hosts botanical gardens, an Okinawan village replica, and a cultural center.
Calling underwater Okinawa is “beautiful” would be an understatement. The water here is some of the clearest & unpolluted in the world, hosting colorful marine life and great diving sights. If you aren’t Scuba certified, snorkeling around the area is also a great experience that should not be missed on a trip to Okinawa. Diving is a very popular thing to do here, so most shops offer dive certification.
Shuri-jo, or its English name, Shuri Castle, was the home to the Ryukyu Kings in the Ryukyu Kingdom. The castle was burned down during World War II, and subsequently rebuilt. It is now a world heritage site, and should most definitely be on every itinerary to Okinawa.
Okinawa World is a great option for those who visit the main island but don’t have enough time to travel around the islands to see everything. Attractions here include a traditional Okinawan village, Habu Snake Show (highly venomous pit viper native to Okinawa), Ryukyu glass blowing, Gyokyusendo cave (a cavern), and Eisa dance show (Traditional Okinawan Dance).
Nago Pineapple Park
Forget the pineapples, the catchy theme song for this park is worth the price of admission alone! All joking aside, Okinawan pineapples are delicious. If you like pineapples, you can take a tour of the plantation and purchase/sample pineapple fruits, pineapple chocolates, soaps, wines, etc….
Okinawa is known for having a high population of people over the age of 100. While many factors can contribute to this result, their diet is partially to credit. A few famous foods & drinks include: Okinawa Soba is a noodle meal with a pork based broth, green onions, fish cake, and slices of cooked pork on the top. Goya Champuru is a stir-fry made from Goya (a.k.a.: bitter melon), egg, tofu, and sometimes spam/pork.
While Japan is famous for drinks like Sake and Shochu, Okinawa is famous for Awamori (distilled from rice), Habu-Sake (also known as Habu-shu, and is a drink based on Awamori, but is made with the extremely dangerous Habu Snake), Orion Beer (local beer), and Shikwasa Juice (non alcoholic, refreshing, lemonade-type of citrus drink made from the native shikwasa fruit).
This event is held annually in the fall in the capital city of Naha, and has been declared by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest rope of its kind used for tug-of-war. It weighs upward of 40 tons. A parade precedes the event on the famous Kokusai street (International Street), and its such a big deal that the main highway (route 58) in the capital city is closed down for the event. This is free of charge for anyone who wishes to join the event and a lot of fun. The turnout is huge, so get there early to secure a spot on the side of the rope!
Other Main islands in the Okinawa Prefecture
Each of the surrounding islands in the prefecture offers its own beauty. Ishigaki-jima hosts a beautiful rainforest. Iriomote has mangroves and water-buffalo. All of the larger Ryukyu Islands have something unique to offer. Miyako-jima offers beautiful beaches & crystal clear waters. If you have extended time in Okinawa, visiting the other Ryukyus is highly recommended. The major islands have air service from Naha Int’l Airport and other places in Japan.
Umm… ok dude, that info was awesome, but how do I get there?
Okinawa-honto (沖縄本島), the main island of the Okinawan chain, is located about 1,263km from Seoul, making it a convenient weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s quicker for Seoul residents to get there than Tokyoites due to its proximity (1,536 km from Tokyo). Planes, Boats, and Swimming are all methods you can use to get to Okinawa, but Air is the preferred method. Taking a boat would take forever. Swimming is not a good option unless if you’re half-dolphin with superspeed. Asiana, ANA, Jin Air, T’Way, and Peach all offer nonstop airfare from Seoul.