When it comes to paradise beaches, Japan probably isn’t the first location that springs to mind. But the northern island of Okinawa boasts beaches which would make the Caribbean islands green with jealousy. With delightful sands, deep blue seas and an amazing selection of marine life, Japan is, surprisingly, one of the best places in the world for a paradise beach retreat.
Read on for a roundup of what to see, do and eat in Okinawa, the secret Japanese beach paradise you never knew existed.
Japan’s cherry blossom is famous worldwide, which can make cherry blossom season a crowded and stressful affair in mainland Japan. In Okinawa, however, the stunning cherry blossom lines the streets and locals enjoy the season walking between the trees rather than picnicking with bottles of sake on the fallen blossom. Due to its location, Okinawa is also the first place in Japan to get the blossoms, around the end of January, so it is perfect if you’re looking to stay away from the crowds. Be sure to take a trip to the 700-year-old Nakijin Castle, whose floodlit grounds are open at night during cherry blossom season.
Eisa Drum Dance
Dating back to the 17th century, the Eisa drum dances are a ceremonial way of honouring the spirits of the ancestors. Happening all over Okinawa between July and September, these vibrant affairs are a must-see summer attraction. Involving singers and clowns as well as drummers and dancers, some of the most famous dances attract hundreds of thousands of spectators. Seen as an integral part of Okinawa tradition, the All-Okinawa Eisa Festival in Okinawa City attracts as many as 300,000 spectators.
Home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Japan, the Kerama Islands offer the chance for adventure, whether that be camping, fishing, or simply soaking up the stunning views. The waters around the islands are unbelievably clear, and feature incredible coral reefs with unique flora and fauna. Widely inhabited by sea turtles, migrating humpback whales, and all kinds of fish and corals, it is the ideal place for snorkelling and diving.
There is no better place to learn the famous Japanese martial art than in Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate. It originated before the Ryukyu Kingdom (now Okinawa) became a part of Japan in 1879, after the Ryukyu kin banned weapons, forcing the locals to defend themselves by hand. In the early 1900s, it spread to Japan and, from there, became popular in the rest of the world. Okinawa is still the best place to learn authentic karate, however, and classes take place in the Murasakimura cultural village for anyone wanting to try their hand at a little self-defence.
Japan might not be the first place you think of when it comes to world class diving, but the clear waters and coral reefs around Okinawa really are something special. With warm water that reaches 30 degrees in the summer, and visibility up to 40 feet, Okinawa’s diving is hard to beat. Manta rays, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, humpback whales, and Japan’s largest coral reefs are just some of the treasures that can be found around Okinawa and surrounding islands. Equipment hire is available at popular beaches, as is snorkelling equipment for those who would prefer to stay closer to the surface.
As well as its famous paradise beaches, Okinawa’s lush, sub-tropical jungle offers a world of vibrant greenery to explore. Jungle trekking tours give you the chance to experience the jungle environment for yourself, and maybe catch a glimpse of the rare creatures that inhabit it. Most tours head to the sacred waterfall located deep in the forest, crossing difficult terrain, and even swimming through water that blocks your path. Once you reach the waterfall, you can enjoy its majestic beauty up close and even wash off the sweat of the jungle with a cooling swim in the waterfall basin. Tours are available for all abilities, including those who have children with them.
The iconic goya, a cucumber-shaped vegetable, is often described as being an acquired taste, but this doesn’t stop locals and tourists alike loving the unusual, bitter treat. Okinawa is a great place to try it, and it is often included in a delicious stir-fry dish with pork and tofu called goya champuru. It is also delicious as tempura, in a salad, as a tantalising dried snack, or even in the form of goya beer! Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, many people adore it once they’ve become accustomed to its unusual taste.
Umibudo (sea grapes)
When you think of the perfect beer snack, the first thing that springs to mind probably isn’t a little bowl of seaweed with a soy sauce and vinegar dip. Once you’ve had this served to you in Okinawa however, you might think differently. Umibudou, or sea grapes, have a unique texture caused by the little green bubbles that grow on the stem, which burst a slightly salty flavour across your tongue as you bite them. Okinawa is the northern-most place that the seaweed can be found, and is rightly treated as a delicacy among locals.
If you’ve been anywhere in japan, you probably think you’ve already tried soba noodles, but in Okinawa they do things a little differently. Rather than the buckwheat noodles of mainland Japan, the Okinawa soba features thick, white wheat noodles, piled into a clear broth. Usually pork based, it is often paired with slices of pork and the crisp zing of spring onions to make a tasty, nutritious soup. Add chilli peppers marinated in awamori and top with pickled ginger to get the most out of this beautiful noodle dish.
If this guide has whetted your appetite for discovering Japan for yourself, why not book one of our amazing cruises to the Land of the Rising Sun. Browse and book online, or call our team on 1300 857 345.