You’ve probably seen picturesque scenes of the island, the sandy beaches, and big blue skies. Often cited as a paradise island, Okinawa is a popular tourist destination and famed for showing a different side of Japan. If you’re thinking of heading there, here are some things about Japan's southernmost prefecture that you should know.
1. Experience Japan’s Diversity
I find that Okinawa stands apart from the rest of mainland Japan. Its location and sunny weather make it a great vacation spot for travelers who love the beach and island life. It also offers a dose of culture with several UNESCO World Heritage sites to explore.
2. Don’t Miss the Smaller Islands
The prefecture is made up of many outlying islands that are often overlooked as most travelers spend all their time on the main island of Okinawa. Most of these smaller islands such as Sesoko Island are great for day trips but some accommodation options are available if you want to stay the night.
3. Check the Weather Before You Visit
Okinawa lies in the subtropics, which means on most days, the sun is out, gleaming across the island with awesome sunsets at the end of the day. However, Okinawa’s location also makes it prone to thunderstorms and typhoons. Be sure to do your research before deciding on when to visit.
4. Language Variations
One of the things that make Okinawa different from the rest of Japan is its rich Ryukyuan culture and this will be evident in many of the places and things you see there. The unique heritage also lingers in the form of language and words as Okinawans sometimes speak Japanese that is peppered with the local dialect.
5. Bring Japanese Yen
There is a sizeable American population in Okinawa and some stores and eating establishments may accept the US dollar depending on where you go. However, you must have the Japanese Yen with you to spend at most of the places on the island, as you would anywhere else in Japan.
6. The American Presence in Okinawa
Okinawa is home to several US military bases and Americans make up the bulk of the non-Japanese people living on the island. However, don’t be surprised to find some non-American foreigners who also live and work on the island. Who wouldn't want to live in paradise, right?
7. Don’t Assume Everyone Speaks English
And while English is widely spoken in the capital Naha and most of the tourist areas, you might want to keep your Japanese guidebook handy because you might need it in some places, especially if you venture off the beaten path.
8. Witness the Reminders of War
Okinawa’s modern history is tainted with the memories of war and you can still visit these notable sites, such as the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. In response to the dark history there, the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park hopes to send the message of peace to the world.
9. Pork is Prevalent on the Menu
It’s not a secret that Okinawans love pork. Most of the traditional food, such as rafute, contains pork but tofu and vegetable dishes are also found in Okinawan cuisine. The island is also home to an international array of restaurants and eateries so you will have plenty of options to choose from to suit your dietary preferences.
10. Enjoy the laidback island life
While Okinawa is often said to be the poorest prefecture in all of Japan, don’t let that hold you back from visiting. The necessary infrastructures are in place and although it does not have a subway system that runs throughout the island, I found part of the charm of the island is that it is not overwhelmed with urban modernity.