Okinawa, Japan Jan. 25 Wed 6:22AM
In the past known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, an independent state until the Meiji Era in the late 19th century, the islands that make up Japan’s current Okinawa Prefecture are the result of a turbulent history which continues to this day. A unique cultural hybrid, Okinawa is also a tropical paradise of beaches and jungles, now easier than ever to access from mainland Japan.
Long a tributary of China, the design and cuisine of Okinawa combine Chinese and Japanese influences, and while its use is dwindling, the Okinawan language is in fact its own separate language, rather than just a dialect of Japanese. In more recent history, Okinawa suffered horrible losses in World War II, and one can learn about the dark legacy of the Battle of Okinawa through a number of monuments and historical sites. After the war, Okinawa was under the control of the American government until 1972, at which time it was returned to the administration of Japan, but to this day many Americans especially know Okinawa for its many American military bases.
However, Okinawa’s attraction as a superb tourist destination is still underapprecaited both. To broadly sum up what Okinawa has to offer, one can expect to enjoy:
Beautiful nature and perfect beaches. Whether you’re looking for an expedition into the jungle, a place to laze on the beach before, during or after the rest of your Japan trip, or appreciation of unique vegetation and geological formations, Okinawa is worth a trip.
Also worth mentioning, although Japan’s treasured Sakura blossoms typically bloom from in March and April on the mainland, in Okinawa winter travelers can enjoy the blossoms months earlier than in the rest of the country, in January and February.
In Okinawa the vestiges of many eras and influences mingle, allowing visitors to experience a still evolving history. Palaces, temples, shrines and villages of the Ryukyu kingdom still linger and are open for exploration. Okinawa is also the birthplace of karate, and a pilgrimage to the source is a must for fans and practitioners of the art. Those with an interest in war history also can learn about the violent battles that took place on the island, and their shadow that extends to the present day.
Okinawan cuisine, said by some to be the world’s healthiest, is also not to be missed, with a number of delectable specialties such as Goya Chanpuru, Okinawa Soba, Kokuto, and the local alcohol, Awamori.
The islands of Okinawa are lumped into three main groups.
The eponymous Okinawa islands contain the main urban and cultural centers of the cluster, and can be a good place to start your exploration with a little bit of everything.
The Miyako islands are mostly known for their beaches, and are a must for lovers of gorgeous white sand and crystal clear water!
The lush, diverse Yaeyama islands are like microcosms within microcosms, with the scenic Ishigaki Island serving as the main transportation hub, and the jungles of Iriomote Island offering something for the traveler looking for a truly remote adventure. Well preserved Ryukyu villages are also available for visiting.