Most people are familiar with the Japanese capital of Tokyo and Osaka, and Kyoto, but much of this fascinating nation remains a mystery to visitors. Here are seven of the most widely held misconceptions regarding Okinawa Prefecture in Japan.
The main island is just one of more than 160 islands that comprise the Okinawa prefecture. This archipelago stretches like a thread of pearls towards Taiwan.
Some islands are uninhabited, just a stretch of unspoiled white beaches fringed by turquoise waters. In contrast, others are dotted with luxury resorts on the outskirts of beautiful dive spots.
Like the remote Yaeyama Islands, others are densely forested, with beautiful mangrove swamps, rivers, and waterfalls.
Forget about rattling about in old buses and cabs — the roads are left-hand drive, and most rental vehicles have GPS systems.
A rented automobile is ideal to tour the bigger islands, where attractions are dispersed, and transport services are infrequent.
Island hopping is almost as simple, with frequent ferry services linking the three main islands of Okinawa, Miyako, and Ishigaki to smaller neighboring islands.
Okinawa is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Because of the Chinese influence, you’re less likely to discover sushi and more likely to see a pig on the menu. You’ll find soba noodles made with wheat rather than buckwheat and taco rice, ascribed to the Americans.
A diet rich in tofu, seaweed, and yam is claimed to add to the residents’ lifespan. Don’t miss the sea grapes, a native seaweed delicacy that explodes on your tongue, or the congee-style porridge offered for breakfast.
The most popular local beverage is awamori, which, like sake, is made mainly from rice, but the similarities end there.
The native spirit, which is distilled rather than brewed, delivers a punch, with an alcoholic content ranging from 30% to 43%.
Awamori distilleries can be found across the islands, including three on Okinawa. You can take a tour and learn how the drink is prepared before tasting glass or three.
With analogies to Hawaii, one might easily see an infinite shoreline of huge resorts.
However, Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park in the Yaeyama Islands was designated an International Dark Sky Park last year for its lack of man-made light pollution.
With up to 84 constellations visible on a clear night, Ishigaki is one of the most incredible spots in the world for stargazing.
While the rest of Japan is freezing, it may still reach a tropical 20°C here in the winter. The ocean temperatures are equally enticing, and visibility is excellent.
Despite the off-season – and the strange stares you’ll receive from toughened locals. You can rent snorkeling equipment and locate diving trip operators who’ll take you out on the water (weather permitting).
The added benefit?
You won’t have to deal with the Christmas throngs.
Until Japan colonized Okinawa in 1609, the islands were controlled by the autonomous Ryukyu Kingdom.
You may learn about its imperial past by attending matsuri festivities like the Naha Great Tug-of-War Festival held in October.
More recently, it was the location of one of World War II’s deadliest campaigns — and to this day, US Forces (Japan) maintain a significant presence on the islands.
Because you made that far, how about the same extra curious facts about Okinawa. Did you know Okinawa is the birthplace of karate, as well as the location of the season’s first cherry blossoms?
The cherry blossoms here, are darker in color than those on the mainland. Bloom in mid-January, many months before Tokyo and Kyoto. Witness the scene at Mount Yae and Nakijin Castle, where the slope is turned into a riot of pink blossoms for two weeks each year.
Okinawa is home to the country’s top dive spots, with fantastic diving available across the islands. The prefecture also has Japan’s most extensive reef. Manta rays may be seen at Ishigaki, underwater caverns in Miyako, and hammerhead sharks off Yonaguni. On a beach dive off Okinawa Island, even beginners may get in on the fun.
Surprisingly, karate originated in Okinawa.
The sport may have spread like wildfire worldwide. However, it was practiced here even before it was seized by mainland Japan in 1879 — and it is still the most important site to study the martial technique.