The Okinawa Islands seem a world apart from the rest of Japan, with a slower pace of life, a tropical climate, white sandy beaches and traditions unique to the islands. They're principally composed of Okinawa Main Island and Ie, Iheya, Izena, Kerama, Kudaka, and Kume Islands. Of these, Okinawa Main Island is a favorite with visitors, owing to its easy accessibility, rich history and wealth of scenic beauty, including clear waters, coral reefs with tropical fish, and subtropical vegetation. First-class resorts line the west coast of the island, offering swimming, scuba diving, fishing and golfing.
Okinawa Main Island
Naha is the capital of Okinawa and is served by frequent flights to the mainland. It is also the starting point for sightseeing in the other islands. Kokusai-dori is the main shopping street, lined on both sides with department stores and shops selling jewels, watches, handicrafts and other souvenirs.
a section of Naha, was once a royal city that served as the seat of the Ryukyu
Dynasty, which ruled from 1429 to 1879. Shuri Castle, unfortunately, was destroyed
by heavy bombing in World War II. Its ruins are now part of Ryukyu University,
the center of Okinawa's cultural activities. Shureimon Gate,
rebuilt in 1958, was first constructed in the early 16th century to serve as a
secondary gate for Shuri Castle. Known as the Gate of Courtesy, it typifies Okinawan
architecture and serves as a symbol of Okinawa. Nearby are Sonohiyan-Utaki,
a stone gate built in 1511 as an offering to the god of prophecy. Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum is a remarkable center of cultural and artistic activity in this region. The museum houses collections of pottery, lacquerware, clothing, archaeological finds, a model of Shuri Castle and other items providing an overview of Okinawan culture and history. The art museum, which is also worth visiting, presents contemporary arts related to Okinawa, Japan and other countries of Asia.
Gyokusendo Okoku Mura (Gyokusendo Kingdom Village) in Tamagusuku centers on Gyokusendo, one of the largest limestone caves in the Orient. Discovered in 1967, it offers visitors the chance to see a mysterious underground world of more than 900,000 stalactites, stalagmites and stone pillars, as well as subterranean rivers and waterfalls.
Miyako Island, 320 km. (198 miles) southwest of Okinawa Main Island, is characterized by sugarcane fields and white sandy beaches washed by emerald-colored seas, a mecca for scuba divers. The island is also noted for its unique Miyako-jofu fabric and its nightlife.
Ishigaki Island, about 120 km. (74 miles) farther southwest of Miyako Island, is considered the gateway for visits to other Yaeyama Islands. In addition to its emerald-green waters and white sandy beaches, it is also well known for its pineapples and black pearls.
Taketomi Island, 6 km. (3.7 miles) west of Ishigaki Island, is only 9 km. (5.5 miles) in circumference and is comprised entirely of coral, which gives the island its fine, star-shaped crystalline sand. The island is low-key and rural, with bananas, hibiscus and bougainvillea growing in profusion and carts still being pulled by water buffalo. Red-roofed Okinawan homes dot the island, many of them now minshuku (the Japanese equivalent of a bed-and-breakfast).
Iriomote Island, reached in 50 to 90 min. by boat from Ishigaki Island, has a population of about 2,000 on its 290 sq. km. (116. sq. miles), concentrated mostly in three villages. Nearly 90 percent of the island is covered by a primeval jungle, mainly mangrove, palm and banyan trees, making it a showcase of unspoiled nature, free from the hustle and bustle—not to mention—pollution of urban life. Maybe that's why the island's most famous inhabitant—the Iriomote wildcat—is home here. Japan's largest coral reef, stretching 20 km. (12.4 miles) long and 15 km. (9.3 miles) wide, also contributes to this island's reputation as a tropical paradise.