A relaxation destination with blue skies, white sand beaches, and picturesque palm trees, the islands of Okinawa Prefecture are commonly known as the “Hawaii of Japan,” a tropical paradise with distinct local cuisine and a signature laid-back atmosphere. Previously the independent state of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa is now made up of more than 150 islands dotted throughout the East China Sea between mainland Japan and Taiwan. Influenced by trade, Okinawa’s culinary history gained strong influences from Asia and the U.S., creating local cuisine called Ryukyu Ryori, after the indigenous people. The friendly locals’ diet features a high intake of vegetables and tofu, seasoned with spices and ingredients bearing bountiful health benefits. Supposedly giving properties of longevity, Okinawan cuisine is made from local sweet potatoes (violently purple), native shikuwasa citrus fruits, sea grapes, and more. The U.S. Military occupation led to some of Okinawa’s most famous culinary innovations, like Blue Seal ice cream, locally-brewed Orion beer, and taco rice (a rice bowl with taco fillings).
Naha is the capital city of Okinawa and the gateway to the prefecture’s broader islands. The stunning beaches of Ishigaki island, Miyako-jima, and Tokashiki (to name a few) offer world-class scuba-diving among coral reefs and surfing in crystal-clear waters. On the main island of Okinawa, Shurijo Castle and the American Village offer different worlds, while Cape Maeda is a popular snorkeling spot for its breathtaking underwater scenery; enjoy views from the cliffside Naminouegu Shrine, or the ruins of Katsuren Castle overlooking the ocean. Seafood sold at Naha’s tasty fish market is rivaled by restaurants and lively izakayas on the main street, Kokusai Dori, serving specialty dishes like Okinawan soba noodles, rafute (succulent pork belly), and goya champuru (stir-fry featuring bitter melon). The Tsuboya pottery district locally produces rustic Ryukyu-yaki (Okinawan ceramics) including plates, bowls, and legendary shiisa (lion-dogs) motifs, the ancient symbol of the Ryukyu Islands. Distinct from mainland Japan in its tropical environment and regional cuisine, Okinawa Prefecture is Japan’s mouthwatering paradise.
Goya chanpuru is a well-known local dish in Okinawa. This dish consists of tofu, eggs, and its main component goya (bittermelon). You can learn how to make your own goya chanpuru and other Okinawa dishes by joining a Ryukyu cuisine cooking class.
Shuri Castle on Okinawa Honto is one of the main attractions on the island. Unlike other castles in Japan, this castle has gusuku architecture, which is unique to Okinawa. Surfing is also popular in Okinawa, as it is the best place to catch waves in all of Japan. Cape Kyan, Cape Hedo, and Ikei Island are recommended spots for surfers.
During the Shuri Castle Festival, the Ryukyu Kingdom comes to life as the coronation of the first king is re-enacted. Another famous festival, the Hari Festival, is a spectacle of traditional Okinawan dragon boats riding along the waves. The festival includes local food, games, and fireworks.
With many islands surrounded by water, Okinawa is known for its rich culture and underwater activities. For the best waves, interesting caverns, and intriguing sea life, Okinawa is the best place to explore the waters of Japan whether that means surfing, snorkeling, or diving.
There are many unique souvenirs you can try in Okinawa, like Shisa figures, which are lion-dog hybrid statues normally placed at gates outside of houses to ward off evil. If you like food souvenirs, the Beni Imo Tart is perfect for you. It is Okinawas’s best selling souvenir, a tart made of purple sweet potato.
Sign up to receive insider tips about the food scene in Japan's most extraordinary areas.