Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost prefecture, and is closer to Taiwan and Batanes in the Philippines than to the rest of Japan. It consist of a few dozen, small islands which can be categorized into three major island groups: the Okinawa Islands, the Miyako Islands and the Yaeyama Islands. Aside from the perfect white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters, the tropical underwater here is one of the most famous attractions. Secluded and exotic, it is definitely the ultimate beach escape for all sorts of travelers. In this 5-day suggested itinerary, you will be able to see much of Okinawa’s best attractions. If you are travelling in Japan, why not visit Okinawa as an extension of your trip?
Things to know before traveling to Okinawa:
1.Language – Japanese (Nihongo) is the official language of Japan. For foreign visitors, the language barrier can be intense but this should not be a cause for concern. Every railway stations, bus stations and other transportation options have English signages. Even if you had any difficulty navigating, the Japanese people are very helpful to foreigners. There are also plenty of tourist information centre, usually located in JR offices. It is, however, recommended to learn a few words and phrases because this can go a very long way in Japan, just like in any other countries.
2.Etiquette – The Japanese people are warm and very welcoming to foreign visitors but it’s important to remember some do’s and dont’s to enjoy a faux pas free journey. When entering temples or castles, it is almost always a must to take off your shoes. If there are rows of footwear by the door, it’s a clear sign to remove your shoes. If you are going to visit temples and shrines, remember to dress modestly. On trains and buses, it is considered rude to speak loudly or to speak on your phone.
3.Money and costs – Japanese Yen is the official currency of Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun has a reputation of being a pricey destination, and its reputation lives on, but in reality it has become more and more affordable. Sure traveling in the country can be expensive, if one chooses it to be, but there are things you can do to not break the bank. With a strong dollar and weaker yen, travelling to Japan can offer a lot of bang for your buck.
4.How to get there – Naha Airport is the gateway to Okinawa Prefecture and is Japan’s seventh busiest airport. Located west of the city hall in Naha, it is the primary air terminal for passengers and cargo which serves international traffic to China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. Airfare tends to be pricier during the summer (1000 USD and up from the USA and Europe) but you can save big if you plan you trip between September and May (you can find round-trip tickets from New York for 675 USD, from London – 680 USD and from Hong Kong – 272 USD)
5.Getting around – Public transportation in Okinawa Main Island (Okinawa Hontō) is limited to buses, with the exception of the Okinawa Monorail in central Naha. Although the bus network is quite dense, finding the right connections can be complicated. Therefore, a rental car is the recommended means of getting around the island. There are plenty of rental car outlets in Naha, Ishigaki and Miyako area. If you plan on driving in Okinawa, you must have an international driving permit (IDP), which can be best obtained in your own country if you already have a valid driver’s license.
6.Where to stay – Okinawa Main Island is the most convenient of the island’s destinations. It caters to the most number of flights in the whole Okinawa thus, it can get really crowded. But because of this, the island offers some of the cheaper accommodations in the prefecture. Most budget hostels and guesthouses are located in Naha City. For those looking to get away from cramped city, then head to the other islands in Okinawa. In Ishigaki, travelers will be surprised to see several luxury hotels and budget accommodations to choose from. There are also plenty of beachfront properties in or around Kabira Bay.
Consider these hotels in Naha City:
Rihga Royal Gran Okinawa (1-9 Asahimachi, Naha 900-0029, Okinawa Prefecture)
The Naha Terrace (2-14-1 Omoro-machi, Naha 900-0006, Okinawa Prefecture)
Hotel Rocore Naha (1-1-2 Matsuo, Naha 900-0014, Okinawa Prefecture)
Hyatt Regency Naha, Okinawa (3-6-20 Makishi, Naha 900-0013, Okinawa Prefecture)
Daiwa Roynet hotel Naha Omoromachi (1-1-12 Omoromachi, Naha 900-0006, Okinawa Prefecture)
Detailed Itinerary Okinawa, Japan in 5 days
Day 1: Okinawa Main Island
Since you only have 5 days in Okinawa, it can be tough to whittle down the must-sees. So on your first day, start early and enjoy breakfast at one of the local restaurants. After breakfast, start with a self-guided tour through Okinawa Main Island. Since buses are the only public transport in the island, getting around can be quite challenging. Rent a bike, motorcycle or car on your first day so you can see all the famous attractions at your own pace. If you plan to drive a motorcycle, ensure that your international driving permit includes a motorcycle permit – this is better than going through the laborious process of obtaining a motorcycle permit in Japan.
Make your way to your first destination, Tsuboya Pottery Museum (1-9-32 Tsuboya, Naha 902-0065, Okinawa Prefecture). The museum shows the history of Tsuboya pottery and it houses some fine examples of traditional Okinawan pottery. Then, head to Sugar-Loaf Hill, the historic battle ground where the Imperial Japanese Army and US forces fought during the World War II. For lunch, head to Yunangi Restaurant (3-3-3 Kumoji, Naha 900-0015, Okinawa Prefecture), a top-rated restaurant in Okinawa with pretty amazing food.
After lunch, visit some of the top attractions in Naha City such as Okinawa Prefectural Museum (3-1-1 Omoromachi, Naha City, Okinawa 900-0006), International Cemetery, Fukushu-En Park (2-29 Kume, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 900-0033), Tsushimamaru Museum (1-25-37 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa 900-0031), Gokoku-ji Temple (1-25-5 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa) and Naminoue Shrine (1-25-11 Wakasa, Naha 900-0031, Okinawa Prefecture). Just don’t be a fool – choose two or three of them instead of trying to see all of them in one afternoon (it is possible to see all of them in 4-5 hours but the experience won’t be nearly as good as taking your time to appreciate the history and the beauty if you choose just a few sites).
Day 2: Yaeyama Islands – Ishigaki
On your second day, go on a 3-day excursion out of Okinawa Main Island to visit Yaeyama Islands. Take a domestic flight from Naha Airport to Ishigaki Island, the main island of Yaeyama Islands (round-trip cost about 92 USD and the flight takes approximately 55 minutes). To get to central Ishigaki from the airport, board the bus which runs every 15 minutes between 9:15am until 8:15pm. There are plenty of budget hotels and guesthouses providing friendly island hospitality in Ishigaki. Instead of spending that extra dollars on an exclusive island resort, you may stay in cheaper lodges or inns and just go on a day excursion to see the other islands.
Where to stay in Ishigaki:
Vessel Hotel Ishigaki Island (1-2-7 Hamasakicho, Ishigaki 907-0013, Okinawa Prefecture)
Hotel Patina Ishigakijima (1-8-5 Yashimacho, Ishigaki 907-0011, Okinawa Prefecture)
Hotel East China Sea (2-8 Misakicho, Ishigaki 907-0012, Okinawa Prefecture)
Hotel Rasso Abiyanpana Ishigaki Jima (40-1 Ishigaki, Ishigaki 907-0023, Okinawa Prefecture)
After check in, head out in the afternoon to explore some of the attractions of Ishigaki. There are plenty of beaches in Ishigaki which are within walking distance. Sukuji Beach, for example, provides great swimming and beach experience. This beach is perfect of families with small children due to the depth of the water. Yonehara Beach, on the other hand, is rich in marine life, lush coral gardens and reef walls. It is a great snorkelling and diving destination which has all the necessary facilities like shower and restroom. If you plan to swim in Yonehara Beach, beware of strong currents and avoid the edge of the reef.
Although the city cannot rival the dining scenes of Osaka or Tokyo, Ishigaki boasts a diverse set of culinary delights which is among the best in this part of Japan. For dinner, try some of the best restaurants in the city like Hitoshi Ishiganto, Tofuno Higa, Sumibiyakiniku Yamamoto and Steak Restaurant Papoiya.
Day 3: Yaeyama Islands – Taketomi Island
Wake up to a delicious breakfast in your hotel or get a slice of Okinawa life in the local cafes and restaurants. Embark on one of the most interesting day trips out of the city by heading to Taketomi Island, a 15-minute boat ride from Ishigaki Island. Despite its proximity to Ishigaki City, it still maintains its unspoiled atmosphere. Spend the day swimming or snorkelling in Kondoi Beach. The beach is secluded and not spoilt by commercialism that’s why you won’t find any fancy hotels or restaurants. Except for Kondoi Beach, other beaches in Taketomi Island do not have any public facilities.
To get to Taketomi Island from Ishigaki, board a high-speed ferry which departs every 30 minutes between 7:20 am until 5:30 pm. Getting around the island is very easy. You can explore the entire island on foot or by bicycle. You may also avail water buffalo drawn cart tours, a 30 minute tour that will take you around the preserved and traditional village of the island (trip runs 1,200 JPY per person or 10.60 USD).
If you arrive late at night, get a good night sleep so you have energy for a whole day of adventure the next day.
Day 4: Yaeyama Islands – Iriomote Island
Glistening mangroves, thick jungles, exotic wildlife and long stretches of white sand beaches make up the landscape of Iriomote Island. Being Okinawa’s second largest island, Iriomote Island is much less developed in terms of local economy and facilities. On day 4, embark on another day trip out of Ishigaki City. Accessible only via 40-minute ferry ride from Ishigaki Island, many tourists only come for a day trip to take one of the various tours offered such as Urauchi River Cruise, Kayak River Tours and Nakama River Cruise. Head back to Ishigaki Island in the afternoon so you can prepare for your flight back to Okinawa Main Island.
Day 5: Okinawa Main Island
Taking in to consideration that you most likely stayed out rather late the other night, you can start your last day in Okinawa at around 10 to 11 in the morning. After having a filling breakfast, your final day in Okinawa can be spent on last-minute shopping and seeing those attractions that you haven’t yet had time for. Head to the airport in time to check in for your international flight home, or you may opt to continue traveling independently, extend your stay in Okinawa or explore Busan and Jeju Island (since you are already in the area a round-trip ticket is under 250 USD and there is so much to been seen in Busan and Jeju Island area).
Have you been to Okinawa or anywhere else in Japan? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.