The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Travel | Leisure

November 2013
By Vicki L. Beyer

Almost any travel poster for Okinawa will feature the tropical allure of the coral island chain: white sandy beaches and water so blue that the horizon is almost invisible.

These beaches, and the delights of diving in Okinawa’s many coral reefs, are the principal attraction of Japan’s youngest prefecture, and definitely worth a visit.

Okinawa offers other diversions, too. Whatever you do, relax and enjoy the tropical island atmosphere.

Shuri Castle
Together with eight other sites on the main island of Okinawa, Shuri Castle received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2000.

The castle represents the culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was established in the 15th century and incorporates features of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian cultures.

Overlooking Naha, Okinawa’s capital city, many of the castle’s gates, buildings, and other structures have been reconstructed and are open to tourists.

Caves and tunnels
Okinawa’s natural limestone caves, particularly those in the southern part of the main island, featured heavily in the last days of World War II in the Battle of Okinawa. Soldiers and civilians alike sheltered in the caves where many died when the futility of the battle was understood.

Finding sites related to this history can be challenging—talking about it is still painful for many Okinawans—but, close to Naha Airport, the underground headquarters of the former Japanese Navy offers some insights.

Nakijin Castle ruins
Two hours by car north of Naha is the village of Nakijin, and the ruins of Nakijin Castle, another of Okinawa’s World Heritage Sites.

All that is left of the well-positioned, 16th century fortification are extensive ramparts, many of which have been restored.

The functions of the various sections of the castle are well explained, while the high-set location affords spectacular views of the island and coast.

Ocean Expo Park
Developed on the site of the 1975 World Fair, Ocean Expo Park features the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, the Native Okinawan Village and Omoro Arboretum, as well as the Tropical Dream Center—a tropical botanical garden.

The aquarium, one of the world’s largest, is host to an enormous selection of tropical ocean flora and fauna and is particularly famous for its whale sharks.

The Native Okinawan Village offers reconstructions of homes and other buildings of 17th- to 19th-century Okinawa (Ryukyu Kingdom). There is enough in this park to keep you busy for a full day.

The American military presence means that American-style food (especially fast food) is readily available. And, of course, Japanese food is ubiquitous.

But take the trouble to seek out traditional Okinawan food and you will be well rewarded. Popular ingredients are goya (bitter melon) as well as pork. It is said that Okinawan cuisine includes every part of the pig except the oink.

Many restaurants along Naha’s Kokusai-dori offer Okinawan dinner and dance shows with traditional cuisine, as well as the music and dancing of the islands.


Vicki L. Beyer is a vice president of the ACCJ.