6 Okinawa Attractions Every Traveller Must See
Spend some time island hopping to learn more about the rich culture and history of the Okinawan islands.
With its mild tropical climate, beautiful coral reefs, and rich marine wildlife, Okinawa is known all over the world as a top snorkeling and diving spot. Formerly known as the Ryukyu Islands, the Okinawan islands’ culture and cuisine is different from the rest of Japan. In fact, the Ryukyu culture is one of Okinawa’s main attractions.
Here are some places to visit in order to have the full Okinawa experience.
1) Shuri Castle
For several centuries, Shuri castle was the center of government and served as residence for the kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom until 1879, when Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture.
Declared a UNESCO World Hertiage site, the castle has been destroyed by either war or fire several times over the centuries, especially in 1945 in the Battle of Okinawa. The buildings you see nowadays are reconstructions from 1992.
The inside of the castle displays exhibits that tell the story of the Ryukyu Kingdom. While informative, the halls have been rebuilt like modern museums. If you want to get a feel for the original atmosphere of the Ryukyu Kingdom, you’ll have to go to the main hall, or the Seiden, which is the most lavishly decorated area. With its classic architecture restored and its eye-catching vermilion color, you will feel like you have travelled back in time to a grander, more splendorous era. You cannot miss the majestic emperor’s throne.
Shuri Castle is located at 1 Chome-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa Prefecture 903-0815.
8:30am to 7:00pm. Until 6:00pm from December to March, until 8:00pm from July to September.
Admission is ¥820
2) Peace Memorial Park
Okinawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War Two. In two months, from April to June 1945, about 200,000 people were killed, civilians and soldiers alike.
Although there are a lot of smaller monuments scattered across the island, the Peace Memorial Park is considered the largest and the main memorial of the Battle of Okinawa. Pay your respects at the “Cornerstone of Peace”, which is a collection of all the names of the fallen soldiers and civilians – not only the locals, but also the Taiwanese, Koreans, British, and Americans.
Drop by the Peace Memorial Museum for a better understanding of the events that lead up to the battle, sad accounts of the tragic battle itself, and the reconstruction of Okinawa.
The Peace Memorial Park is located at 614-1 Mabuni, Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture 901-0333.
9:00am to 5:00pm
Admission is ¥300
3) Himeyuri Monument
Located only a few kilometers west of the Peace Park is the Himeyuri Monument, dedicated to the female high school students who fell in the war. Himeyuri, literally translated, is “lily princess,” pertaining to the “Lily Corps”, which was a nursing unit made up of 222 female high school students and their 18 teachers. Visit the museum to learn more about these brave young women who worked in the most terrible conditions inside caves acting as army field hospitals.
The Himeyuri Monument is located at 671-1 Ihara, Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture 901-0344.
9:00am to 5:30pm
Admission is ¥310
4) Former Navy Underground Headquarters
Consisting of several hundred meters of underground rooms and connecting corridors, this place served as the headquarters for the Japanese Navy. It is a sobering experience, as many sailors decided to commit suicide in these tunnels when they realized they could not win the war.
Former Navy Underground Headquarters is located at 236 Aza Tomishiro, Tomishiro City, Okinawa.
8:30am to 5:00pm. Until 5:30pm from July to September.
Admission is ¥440.
5) Churaumi Aquarium
The Churaumi Aquarium is widely considered to be the best aquarium in all of Japan. The aquarium houses one of the largest tanks in the world—the Kuroshio Tank, which contains a vast variety of marine life of Okinawa, most notably the manta rays and the giant whale sharks.
Get the opportunity to touch living starfish and seashells in the pool near the entrance. There is also the Coral Tank which is “the world’s first large scale exhibit of living coral. Like sharks? Swing by the Shark Tank with its live tiger sharks and bull sharks.
Lastly, and most memorable, in my opinion, is a tank dedicated to the deep waters of Okinawa, with rare deep sea creatures and several species of bioluminescent fish.
The park hosts several animal shows per day, featuring sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins. The shows are free of charge, but you might want to visit their website to check the schedules.
The Churaumi Aquarium is located at 424 Ishikawa, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture 905-0206.
8:30am to 6:30pm, October to February. 8:30am to 8:00pm, March to September. Open daily.
Admission is ¥1850.
For more information, visit their website at: http://oki-churaumi.jp/en/
6) Taketomi Island
While there are two theme parks of recreated Ryukyu villages on the main Okinawa Island—Okinawa World and the Ryukyu Mura, these places are rather touristy. For a more genuine experience, head over to the Taketomi Island to find an authentic, traditional Ryukyu village.
The small island village, located just off the coast of the Ishigaki Island, is beautifully-preserved, with the stone-walled, one-storied houses with red tiled roofs so prevalent in that era. The homes in the village serve as minshukus (or Japanese guest houses), restaurants serving traditional Okinawan cuisine, or shops selling local handicrafts.
Taketomi Island is a good place to spend a day or two soaking in the Okinawan culture, and relaxing at the nearby beaches.
TIP: There are no rented cars on the island. Take this opportunity to walk and bike around the village’s white sand roads.
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