Planning a solo trip to Okinawa, Japan? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- An island chain over 1,000 km long, Japan’s Okinawa prefecture has a population of around 1.45 million. The capital city of Okinawa is Naha.
- Okinawa’s history is tied to the Ryukyu Kingdom, which flourished in the 15th century and influenced local culture.
- Coral reefs form rings around the islands and provide the ideal ecosystem for an excitingly diverse marine life.
- The islands’ population is known to have the highest life expectancy in the world.
- Nickname: Land of Immortals.
- Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY). Symbols: ¥, 円 or 圓.
- Spoken languages: Japanese, Ryukyuan and English.
- Best time to visit: from July to September for the best beach weather.
- Arriving via airport: Naha Airport (OKA) operates a limousine bus service to major hotels and destinations with tickets that can be booked online or at the terminal. Alternatively, there’s a monorail service running the length to Shuri Castle (although this is often sold out). Taxis charge ¥1,500-¥3,000 to the Naha city centre.
WHERE TO STAY
- Great hostel for solo travelers in Naha: Santiago Guesthouse (7 minu walk to Kokusai-dori, where all the action is). Clean facilities, friendly staff.
- Okinawa Main Island, and in particular Naha, offer the broadest selection of minshuku (Japanese-style bed & breakfast), inns and cottages to suit any budget while also being the best base for exploring the island prefecture.
- Good budget hotel in Naha: Hotel Aqua Citta Naha.
- Yomitan Peninsula is known for its beach resorts, most of which boast their own golf courses, restaurants and bars.
- Onna Village (in the Kunigami District) is the perfect base for world-class diving and fishing.
- Yui Rail is the first and only public rail system in Okinawa Prefecture and its most crowded transportation service, linking the airport to the city and to Shuri Castle. Fares are ¥200 to ¥290 one-way (based on distance), while a day pass costs ¥600 and provides unlimited access to the network plus discounts on admission prices for major attractions.
- There are a number of bus companies operating in Okinawa, though they all use Naha Bus Terminal as a base. They form the most widely used form of transportation for getting to the corners of the prefecture.
- Taxis are surprisingly cheap and convenient with base fares of ¥500 for the first 1.8 km and ¥60 for each successive quarter mile.
- Rental cars can be picked up at the airport or at shops throughout Naha for as little as ¥1050 per half day, or ¥29,800 monthly.
- Drinking age is 20 and last call is 5 AM.
- Naha can’t be beaten for its bars and nightclubs, most of which enjoy patronage until the early hours.
- Kin Town offers relaxed sports bars with rock ’n’ roll in the background.
- Chatan is a beautiful blend of casual chic restaurants and seaside bars, popular with the upmarket crowd.
- Great bars to start your night (Naha): The Smuggler’s Irish Pub, HowdyGarden Irish Pub, Parker’s Mood Jazz Club, Rock Bar HEADS, Bar Daisy (cocktails), and cult bar ‘FREAKS A GO-GO’ (cocktails).
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Shuri Castle served as the administrative centre of the Ryukyu Kingdom and as the residence for the kings until 1879. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Okinawa Prefectural Museum consists of a history and an art museum, both an important stop to learn more about Okinawa’s culture.
- Sêfa Utaki is a site of pilgrimage by both the kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the locals.
- Although there’s only ruins left of Nakagusuku Castle, the well-defined citadels give a clear idea of the imposing structure. Nearby Nakamurake is a traditional Okinawan farmer’s residence dating back to the 18th century.
- Peace Memorial Park commemorates the civilian lives lost in the bloodiest Pacific battle of WWII.
- Follow in the footsteps of the men who lived and served in the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters.
- Wander around the Native Okinawan Village in Ocean Park Expo.
- The Valley Of Gangala is a beautiful forested area. Paved paths allow for exploration of Okinawa’s jungle.
- Kokusai Dori is the main street for souvenir shopping in Naha, and even offers a few pubs for refreshments.
- Okinawa’s architecture is the direct result of guarding against naturally occurring calamities such as typhoons and earthquakes.
- Great restaurants to try in Naha: Yunangi, Sanuki Menten (Udon), Borrachos (Mexican), Bueno Chicken Urasoe.
- Where to find good cheap eats: Kokusaidori not only serves traditional fare such as champuru (stir fry with bitter goya, tofu, eggs or pork) and Okinawa Soba (wheat noodles served in broth with pork toppings), but also provides live Okinawan music.
- Dangerous areas: the worst dangers in Okinawa are from its poisonous land and sea creatures! Watch out for Habu snakes, blue-ringed octopi, brown recluse spiders, and sea wasps.
Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days