Japan is well known among Australians for its cold climes and snowy mountainous landscapes, making it a top destination for winter activities like skiing, snowboarding or even basking in the warm waters of a hot outdoor onsen. But did you know Japan is also home to an idyllic tropical island paradise only a short flight south of Tokyo?
The balmy islands of Okinawa prefecture offer beautiful top-rated resort stays, white sand beaches, warm turquoise waters, and coral reefs. Naturally, Okinawa has everything you’d want for some much-needed R&R but it’s also a haven for explorers, comprising more than 160 inhabited and uninhabited islands with a combined area of over 2,000 square kilometres.
However, with Japan already having a reputation for finding ways to do things differently, it may not surprise you that an island-hopping adventure in Okinawa comes with a unique twist.
Kaichu-doro (the ‘Road Through the Sea’)
Thanks to the Kaichu-doro (roughly translating to the ‘Road Through the Sea’), you can hop between Okinawa Main Island and four of its nearby Yokatsu Islands without the inconvenience of getting on and off ferries or going to the extra expense of booking a sailing adventure, as you might in many other island destinations.
Henza Island, Miyagi Island, Hamahiga Island, and Ikei Island can all be accessed in the comfort of your hire car using the Kaichu-doro, with some road connections between islands relatively short while others will make you feel like you’re gliding over huge stretches of glistening ocean.
Other islands connected to Okinawa Main Island by road include Yabuchi Island (also part of the Yokatsu Islands), Sesoko Island, Yagaji Island, Ojima Island, and Kouri Island.
Unmissable sights around Okinawa’s Yokatsu islands
You’ll probably want to spend plenty of time enjoying some of the many beachside resorts and villas with luxurious pools and ocean views, but don’t miss out some of the other top activities and experiences dotted around the Yokatsu islands:
Experience the buzz of Henza Island’s morning fish market
The main village on Henza island is home to a local port where you can drop by early in the morning to see the daily catch being unloaded and sold. You might even have an opportunity to try some umibudo (‘sea grapes’ – a type of edible seaweed) straight from the waters. But if first thing in the morning sounds too early for seafood, you might like to try the popular seafood restaurants nearby which open around mid-morning and serve the freshest fish and other ocean delights.
Find your perfect tropical hideaway on the secluded beaches of Akuna and Ukuno
On the central east coast of Miyagi Island, you’ll discover the idyllic and pristine beaches of Akuna and Ukuno – both side-by-side and tucked away in their own secluded bays with Ukuno to the north and Akuna to the south. While both are only a short drive from the main road which traverses the island, you’ll feel a million miles away on these beaches as you soak up the calming sights and sounds of the still, turquoise waters and admire the jagged rock formations that spill from the coast and into the bay.
Enjoy the thrill and exhilaration of Ikei Island’s many water sports
As you continue your journey through the Yokatsu islands, a visit to Ikei Beach and Oodomari Beach on the west coast of Ikei Island is a must for some action-packed fun, or to chill out with more relaxing beachside pastimes.
On the beaches, you can swim in the safety of the calm shallow waters, snorkel, dive or choose to hire jet skis, paddle boats, and kayaks. Glass bottom boat tours and banana boat rides are also typically available, and for those keen to experience the novelty of making their own lunch against this idyllic backdrop, you can even rent a full BBQ kit at Ikei Beach complete with charcoal, tongs, beach tent and table.
Soak up the islands’ history and culture at the Nakabaru archaeological site
Also on Ikei Island, you’ll discover the Nakabaru archaeological site – a prehistoric location where 2,000-year-old pit dwellings were found. Immaculately rebuilt and preserved, visitors to the site are permitted to walk around the traditional village huts to see how people lived in Okinawa thousands of years ago.
Visit the sacred sites, tombs and caves of Hamahiga Island
Dating from the Gusuku period in Okinawan history, there are a few sacred sites scattered around Hamahiga Island, but the cave of Shirumichu in the island’s south is one of the most well-known and visited. The cave is thought to be the home of two deities and their children – part of Ryukyuan mythology – and has become a popular spot for couples to pray for their children. The deities Amamikyu and Shinerikyu are said to be entombed on the Islet of Amanji which sits just off the coast and is accessible by foot via a walkway.
Islet of Amanji, Hamahiga Island.
Take a walk or stargaze at Hamahiga Island’s Muruku beach
Muruku beach can be found on the east coast of Hamahiga Island and its gently curved stretch of white sand is the perfect place to take a walk or lay a towel for some rest and relaxation. Longer than some of the many beaches around the Yokatsu Islands, Muruku beach is the ideal place to escape the crowds – even during high season. Muruku’s warm clear waters teeming with tropical marine life are perfect for swimming and snorkelling, but it’s also a popular spot for stargazing after dark because it faces away from all the other islands and offers uninterrupted ocean views.
Explore the traditional Ryukyuan architecture of Hamahiga
Home to the small village of Hama in the northwest and Higa in the northeast, Hamahiga offers some of Okinawa’s best-preserved examples of Ryukyu culture through its food and traditional buildings. With both villages easily explored on foot, Teirabui in Hama, which has been renovated into a popular restaurant, and Kominka Asahi in Higa, which offers traditional accommodation experiences, are a must-see – both are old wooden homes (kominka) which were typical of the houses built for local townspeople and villagers. You’ll find kominka scattered all over the villages which have been put to different uses from renovated luxury residences to offering guests accommodation and traditional local cuisine.
For more travel inspiration and information on Okinawa, visit https://www.japan.travel/en/destinations/okinawa/okinawa/
SOURCE: Japan National Tourism Organization Sydney Office