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Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture in Japan and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The island chain, consisting of 49 inhabited and 111 uninhabited islands, is blessed with a balmy subtropical climate and flourishing coral reefs around its beautiful shores. In addition to the paradisiacal island culture, Okinawa boasts a rich and complex history. Swimming, diving, and snorkeling rank high among the many things to do in Okinawa, but during your stay stray away from the resort-ready beaches and discover the unique culture of the region through visits to historic Ryukyu sites and theme parks that showcase the many facets of Okinawa's vibrant character.
The Okinawa prefecture can be divided into 3 main island groups: the Okinawa Islands, the Miyako Islands, and the Yaeyama Islands. The main island of Okinawa Island, home to the capital and several natural and historic attractions, is most commonly visited by tourists.
Okinawa Island - Okinawa Main Island, or Okinawa Honto, is the largest and most populous island in the prefecture. The former center of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the island is now home to the capital city of Naha and several US military bases. The incredible Churaumi Aquarium, Shuri Castle, and the Blue Cave are some of the island's main attractions, along with Cornerstone of Peace, which memorializes the lives lost during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, and Sefa Utaki, a sacred site of the indigenous Okinawan religion.
Miyako Island - The focal point of the Miyako Islands, Miyako Island itself is most famous for its postcard-perfect beaches. The white-sand beaches of Maehama, Yoshino, and Sunayama Beaches are considered among the most beautiful in Japan. Head to Maehama Beach for gentle waves suited for swimming and other water activities, and visit Yoshino Beach for snorkeling among a vibrant coral reef.
Yaeyama Islands - Ishigaki Island is the most populous of the Yaeyama Islands and serves as the region's transportation hub. Nearby Iriomote Island is home to the Iriomote National Park, which consists of dense jungle and mangrove forests which can be explored by kayak. Tatetomi Island, just off the coast of Ishigaki, is famed for its impeccably preserved traditional Ryukyu village.
The Churaumi Aquarium, located inside Ocean Expo Park on Okinawa Island, is one of the largest aquariums in the world, with a main tank that holds nearly 2 million gallons of water. See giant whale sharks and graceful manta rays in the main Kuroshio Tank, or explore the marine diversity of Okinawa over 3 floors of exhibits. Delve into the heritage of Okinawa as well with a visit to the Ryukyu Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or Okinawa World, a theme park focused on Okinawan culture, the massive Gyokusendo Cave, and the endemic snakes of Habu Park.
Okinawa is the place to go for some good old rest and relaxation in the sun. While each of the islands feature breathtaking beaches, Miyako Island is home to some of the prefecture's most amazing shores perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and soaking in the sun. The best-known beaches of Okinawa Main Island include the long Manza Beach, gorgeous Moon Beach, and the quiet Okuma Beach. Diving and snorkeling are popular water activities in the area, thanks to Okinawa's abundance of incredible coral reefs, and the Blue Cave on Cape Maeda features mesmerizing underwater landscapes that even beginner divers can explore with ease. Visit the city of Nago for opportunities to go paddleboarding or sea-kayaking in Nago Bay, and make a stop at the Nago Pineapple Park for a taste of the fresh and juicy fruit. In addition to its beautiful beaches, Okinawa is packed with unique history and culture. Learn about the Ryukyu Kingdom that reigned in the region from 1429 to the 17th century, when the kingdom was placed under Japanese control, and Okinawa's role during World War II, including the sobering effects the war had on the islands. Sites like the Shuri Castle, the Ryukyu Mura theme park, Tamaudun mausoleum, and Peace Memorial Park reveal the complicated and nuanced history of the Okinawa prefecture.