Never been to Okinawa? This hidden gem is perfect for your next family holiday
Mention about plans for a trip to Japan and most of us will think of dynamic Tokyo, vibrant Osaka or foodie haven Hokkaido. But there is one prefecture that many of us rarely consider visiting. Surrounded by unspoilt natural beauty and a tropical climate, Okinawa, located at the southernmost tip of Japan, is known for its idyllic beaches, hip cafes and rich culture, and there are many familyfriendly activities to explore here.
OLD WORLD CHARMS
Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Okinawa at Okinawa World. See how the acclaimed Nanto beer is manufactured; visit the Kingdom History Museum to learn about Ryukyu history; dress up in royal kimonos at the Traditional Crafts Village; watch an Eisa traditional dance; and catch a fun show featuring poisonous Habu snakes at the Habu Museum Park. Visit www.gyokusendo.co.jp/okinawaworld/en/
Located at Okinawa World, the Gyokusendo Cave is known to be Japan’s largest underground cave systems, spanning an overall length of 5,000 m with 890 m opened to the public to explore. Marvel at nature’s beauty, made up of over a million stalactites, inside. Visit www.gyokusendo.co.jp/okinawaworld/en/
The splendor of the Ryukyu Kingdom is a sight to behold at Shurijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the castle’s vermillion walls, walk through paradise the halls where great emperors once lived and view ancient royal artifacts. Visit http://oki-park.jp/shurijo/en/
Try on royal kimonos in Okinawa World.
Considered a must-visit by many tourists, the Sefa-Utaki Sacred Site, once used for religious pilgrimages, is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. A tour of the holy site’s ancient ruins is also like a walk through a beautiful nature reserve trail. Visit http://okinawananjo.jp/sefa/pdf/001.pdf
The majestic Shurijo Castle makes for the perfect photo op.
ENCOUNTER WHALE SHARKS
Housing over 700 species of marine life, the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, located at the Ocean Expo Park, has an impressive showcase – the mammoth 7,500 m3 tank which houses three whale sharks and manta rays. Kids will love the exciting dolphin shows which take place near the ocean front. Visit http://oki-churaumi.jp/en/
Impressive marine life on display at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Ocean Expo Park.
MAKE CRAFTS & SWEETS
Want a break from all the sight-seeing? Try these activities: Design your own Bingata, an Okinawan traditional dyed cloth made using coral stencils. Visit www.shuri-ryusen.com/en/. Or drop by Okashigoten to make delicious Okinawan beni-imo tarts made with purple sweet potato. Visit www.okashigoten.co.jp
Kids having fun baking Beniimo tarts at Okashigoten.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Okinawa may not be a shopping paradise like Tokyo, but the avid shopper can still have a field trip. Kokusaidori in Naha is a 2-km stretch filled with shops large and small. If you prefer mega malls, head over to Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom where it’s a shopaholic’s and foodie’s heaven made up of over 200 shops and food stores to explore. Visit http://en.okinawarycom-aeonmall.com
At Shuri Ryusen, you can design your own Bingata using coral stencils.
Home to more than 30 pottery stores and workshops, Tsuboya Yachimun Street (about 10 minutes walk from Heiwa Street off Kokusai Street) is the place to shop for beautiful ceramic crafts made by local potters from all over Japan. You can also try your hand at pottery at one of the workshops here. Visit http://okinawatravelinfo.com/sightseeing/yachimundori/
Long used as bases for the US military troops, Okinawa has had a strong American influence on its culture. The charming American Village and Depot Island, a huge entertainment area, is perfect representation of this cultural fusion. Shop and dine at the hundreds of stores here, and explore cinemas, live bands, beauty spas, bowling alleys and arcades. Visit www.okinawaamericanvillage.com/?lang=en and www.depot-island.com/en/
Romance In Okinawa
On holiday with your loved one? Try these five couple escapades
A stunning vista greets you at the famous “Heart Rock” on Kourijima Island which a local legend of Adam and Eve is based on. Visit www.mapitokinawa.com/2014/11/the-heartrock- kouri-jima.html
At Taabaa-ya, you get private pampering at this quaint spa located in an olden Japanese house. Book ahead as this spa accommodates only two people at one time. Now this is what we call the ultimate couple spa! Visit www.shimaspa.com/en/taabaaya
A romantic walk through the serene Bise Fukugi Tree Road is an experience both of you will never forget. We found this lovely opening (left) that leads to the sea! Visit http://okinawatravelinfo.com/sightseeing/ bise-fukugi
Perfect for a dinner date and drinks at the end of the day, Seagarden serves up fine fare and a fantastic selection of cocktails, with the ocean view and night breeze setting the right mood. Visit http://seagarden-okinawa.com/welcome.html
FOOD WITH A VIEW
Three places in Okinawa with delicious food and Insta-worthy scenery
SMILE SPOON www.smilespoon.net
FOOD: Yummy French-Japanese fusion cuisine with affordable prices.
SCENERY: Located in a quaint house surrounded by lush greenery, plus a small retail corner in the restaurant.
FOOD: Try the authentic Okinawan soba, served in a very nice meal set, here.
SCENERY: Book a seat facing the most charming zen garden you’ve ever seen.
BEACH TERRACE BLUE DIAMOND CAFE http://okinawatravelinfo.com/gourmet/diamond-blue
FOOD: We simply love the hamburg steak here, and the free flow of soup and salad!
SCENERY: Dine facing azure beach waves and crystal clear skies that will make you go trigger happy on your camera.