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ASIAN DESTINATION great
Gathered from previous travels of Living Asia Channel correspondents and fellow explorers, with cooperation of local tour guides, is a collection of information on various Asian countries and its provinces to make traveling easier for the common tourist.
TRAVEL TO OKINAWA, JAPAN
Time Zone +8:00 hours from UTC/GMT
Okinawa Prefecture is a collection of Islands whose beautiful seascape inspired many foreign and Japanese travelers alike. The islands are 640 kilometers south of Japan’s mainland, making it one of the farthest point of the country. With it comes a different pace. In contrast to destinations in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, Okinawa’s gripping seaside is a reservoir of rest and relaxation.
HOW TO GET THERE
Get to Okinawa by booking a flight to Naha Airport(OKA), also known as Okinawa Airport. There are two terminals in the OKA, one that serves domestic airlines from at least 20 cities within the country, and the other a few countries nearby including, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Flights to Okinawa can be expensive, so consider purchasing tickets in advance or acquiring a Japan Air Pass for a multiple city itinerary through Japan. These can reduce the cost of traveling to Okinawa to about ⅓ of the standard rate.
There are several ferry lines that service passengers to and from Okinawa, with port to port transfers direct from Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe or Kagoshima to name a few. Traveling south-west, the journey takes about anywhere from 25 to 44 hours. Although it depends on your city of departure and season, on average, the cost traveling by ferry is the same as purchasing an airline ticket at full price, with the exception of ferries plying from Taiwan.
OKINAWA URBAN MONORAIL
Only operating in Naha City, the railway travels from Naha Airport to Shuri. Along the way are 14 other stops that offer a variety of attractions, including the Okinawa Prefecture Museum, T Galleria Okinawa and huge shopping centers, plus great views of the Kerama Islands and Urasoe city (upon approaching Shuri station) on clear days.
TAXI CAR RENTAL
Although bus lines are cheaper, taxi’s are still far more visitor-friendly for first time travelers to Okinawa. If you have little knowledge of the city, and think that bus system is far too complicated, then a taxi ride may provide a better option. You can also rent your own vehicle or a chartered cab with a tour guide.
The hottest and humid months begin in April and end in September, while the cool season begins from November all the way till February. May to June may bring occasional rain showers while September can expect a few major typhoons.
Bus lines in Okinawa are certainly the most accessible means of traveling, especially those locations further out of the city center. Unlike other cities in Japan, Okinawa is still in the process of making their bus line more tourist friendly, with many of their signs not having any English translations. These may be confusing for first time travelers. Best way to get around this is to note your stops and bus numbers and include them in your itinerary. As some of these buses operate only on exact fare, you may need to have your money changed at the money change slots also on the bus stops.
WHAT TO DO
• Swim along the shallow waters of Kondoy Beach.
• Imbibe the local customs in Ishigaki Jima and take in the rural landscape
• Snorkel along the many nearby reefs in Yaeyama Island, and remember to
inquire about English speaking guides.
• Meditate inside shrines found almost at every street corner.
• Take a guided tour in Taketomi jima. Try the Kondoy Beach Course where you
ride on a cart pulled by buffaloes as the local tour guide explains the history,
architecture, and culture of Okinawa.
• Learn and appreciate some of Okinawa historic sites at the Shuri Castle Dragon
in Naha, where Chinese permeate their Japanese architecture.
• Experience pottery-making and observe expert craftsmen as they sculpt intricate
pieces of the Shisa, a traditional Ryukyuan decoration that resembles a cross
between a lion and a dog, from Okinawan mythology.
LOCAL CUSTOMS AND CULTURES
The people of Okinawa have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, with an average person living to about 100 years. It is for this reason that some visitors come to learn about their culture and their people. Okinawans are a peaceful and reserved society. Being separated from the rest of the region, their customs differ slightly from that of mainland Japan.
Although much of Okinawan culture is influenced by Chinese religions as well as Buddhism and Shintoism, they do follow their own religion called Ryukyuan, an indigenous belief system that is characterized by ancestor worship. Women also have a higher standing in their society, one that contrasts that of Japanese Shinto practices.
Along the coast, a common site to see are tombs that look like storage bunkers, but they are in fact the resting places of Okinawans in the afterlife. Ask permission first should you be curious to inspect these closer.
OTHER NOTABLE SITES
• Fukugawa Falls, the Todoroki Waterfall, and the Aha falls
• Kokusai Dori and Makishi Public Market in Naha
• Nakagusuku Kogen Hotel - an abandoned site considered by locals as haunted
There are only a handful of hotels, inns and specialty lodgings in Okinawa to choose from but these offer up the basic amenities for a comfortable stay. Although not all locations have English speaking employees so it’s best to check in with them first before heading to one. There is a Hyatt hotel and Rihga Royal Grand for a 4-5 star luxury in Naha, or you can try the Inn Minshuku Rakutenya on Ishigaki Island, a homey a place whose owners speak English.
Okinawa’s cuisine is fresh and bold. Placed between China, Southeast Asia and Japan, it has brought in a confluence of flavors that are hard to forget. But some are visiting Okinawa for a different reason. Having the longest life expectancy in the world, it's no surprise that people come to Okinawa to learn more about the health benefits of their cuisine. Try these delights:
• Goya Champuru - their signature dish; it means mixed bitter gourd; bitter
gourd mixed with tofu, pork, eggs and onion.
• Dinner sets - these include some of your favorite Japanese set meals:
Tempura, fresh seafood, noodles, soup, rice, and fresh seasonal vegetables.
• Sata Andagi - a donut-like sweet bread found in local pastry shops along
with a variety of local delicacies
• Awamori - that translates to “Firewater,” is a locally produced distilled
liquor once served only for the elite.
WHERE TO STAY?
WHAT TO EAT?