When it comes to visiting Japan, there are a few very well-known reasons to visit. These include the incredible cherry blossom, the stunning Mount Fuji, the poignancy of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorials, and of course the stunning cultural region that is Kyoto and its still active Ginza district, which found worldwide fame in Memoirs of a Geisha. While all of these are excellent reasons for a globetrotter to spend time in Japan, the fact is that seeing these sights without leaving the main island and heading south to Okinawa is doing a disservice to this diverse and awe-inspiring country.
The biggest island of the 49 inhabited Okinawan islands is called Okinawa Honto, and it is the one most easily accessed by flight as you can fly easily to the de facto capital of the islands, Naha. Naha isn’t worth hanging around in, but a drive either north or south will take you to some incredible beach locations. Also, the further north you head, the wilder the island becomes and the greater chance you have of seeing the legendary habu snake that has found itself become so infamous on the islands.
The island also boasts an incredible aquarium that hosts whale sharks and gives visitors the chance to see the world underneath the ocean surface around the Okinawan islands without having to go diving, a solemn yet stunning peace museum in the south of the island where the majority of the heavy fighting in WWII took place, and a beautiful, enviable climate.
Heading to the Beach!
When you think of Japan, you probably don’t instantly realize that you could enjoy some of the most stunning beaches in the world here, but then you quite possibly haven’t heard of the wonderful island of Miyako-Jima, which can be reached via a direct flight from Tokyo and Osaka, as well as on connecting flights via other Okinawa islands.
Regardless of where you’re traveling from, if you are planning on visiting here in peak season, you’d be wise to book in advance and make sure you use your credit card for added protection. In the US, for example, consumers are afforded protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Elsewhere, Canadians can avoid paying foreign transaction fees if they shop around and make sure that they are savvy when they look to take out a credit card for travel usage, something that can help in Japan where you are already trying to make sense of huge numbers when it comes to paying bills. Beware – you can find you are paying tens of thousands of yen, which makes you think you are spending a small fortune, but you’re really not!
If you have found some accommodation on Miyako-Jima, the trick is to ignore the slightly bizarre German Culture Village and instead head to the beaches themselves or to the most southernly Onsen in Japan where you can enjoy the 40 degrees jungle pool! The beaches themselves are truly incredible, the food is fabulous and the island is still relatively unspoiled due to the low numbers of tourists who pass through each year.
Of course, other Okinawan islands are equally as incredible, but if you are pushed for time on your Japanese island-hopping escapades, these are the two you simply need to visit.