Before I came to Japan, I had only vaguely heard of Okinawa. In fact, I’d heard of it because it was featured in the first Kill Bill movie, and in Karate Kid. And when I came to live in Japan, I definitely didn’t think I would be in a country with tropical beaches and Hawaii-like weather. After all, Japan is best known for its cherry blossoms in spring, as well as autumn landscapes and snowy winter onsens and mountains. Many tend to forget Okinawa, or not associate it with Japan at all. So, I assumed that if I really wanted a sun, sea, and sand-type experience, I’d need to go further afield to somewhere like the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, or other countries in that part of the world.
Little did I realize that just a three-hour flight away from busy metropolitan Tokyo is a place that would enchant me so much and for so many different reasons. Okinawa is an absolute gem, and believe me when I say it still holds many undiscovered spots which you can get to with a little time on your hands.
If you are in Japan and want to really get away from it all and go to a tropical paradise, look no further than Okinawa. Especially during winter, when the rest of Japan is cold and dreary, while at the same time everyone has time off for the holidays. Why? Let’s break down some of the reasons.
The weather is beautiful in Okinawa. Of course, you may get a rainy day, and there is the risk of typhoons at certain times of the year, especially in summer. Winter, on the other hand is pretty much typhoon-free. Generally speaking, the weather is warm and pleasant for most of the year, but in winter it’s less humid and hot, and hence it’s one of the most pleasant times for sightseeing.
I visited in January and was walking around the islands in my t-shirt and shorts, and cycling around until late into the night. I saw people camping, snorkeling, sailing, and sunbathing. And that was in January when it’s at its coldest in Okinawa!
This was a wonderful week of relief from the winter temperatures you will experience in the rest of Japan! The best months to go are probably in autumn and spring, but from my experience, it is pretty great all year round!
OK, this one is true for the whole year, not just winter. Food is always tasty, however, in summer’s heat and humidity everyone’s appetite goes down, while in winter, when it’s around 20 degrees Celsius, the appetite grows and you can taste more food!
Okinawan cuisine is markedly different from the cuisine you will find in the rest of Japan. And it’s delicious, too! Okinawan cuisine unsurprisingly includes a lot of fresh seafood such as fish, crab, and oysters. You can also find great and unique Okinawan vegetables such as goya and taro, and umibudo (sea grapes)!
Okinawa is also famous for having a variety of international influences, partly due to the U.S army being stationed there. One famous dish is ‘taco rice’, which is a delicious mix of rice, meat, cheese, salsa, nachos, beans, and spices!
There is so much to do in Okinawa. The list is endless, but to give a few examples, you could spend your vacation snorkeling in transparent waters with coral life even in winter, whale watching, cycling around some of the islands, camping, renting a car and doing a road trip, going scuba diving, or simply island hopping!
All these things are doable during the winter, and in the winter months it will be much less busy! One caveat is that you need to check if some tours or activities are not be open. But from my experience, the ones that are open still offer a great experience and are less busy which is an advantage over busy and hot summer. Camping facilities and scuba diving courses are still available all year round!
The local people in Okinawa have to be some of the most friendly people I’ve met in my life. They just seem happy, cheerful, and relaxed. There is an islander feel to this place and it’s contagious. People will be eager to talk with you, help you, and find out about your travels and why you’re in Japan.
They are great people year round, but I want to think that in winter, when there are less visitors, the atmosphere is even more relaxed and locals have more time for meeting visitors.
If you go out at night, particularly around Kokusai-Dori, the main party street in Naha city, you will meet many people and can easily spend an evening visiting different local bars and chatting or just toasting drinks with locals! Don’t be shy!
It’s common knowledge that Japan is not the cheapest place in Asia, by any means. You can’t expect the same cheap hotels and street food that you will enjoy in South East Asia. However, flying from Japan to those places isn’t cheap either.
Especially during the winter holiday seasons, airlines like to double or triple their flight tickets to and from Tokyo and other main cities. Getting out of Japan is almost impossible, unless you spend all your savings, win the lottery, or get a free ticket from Santa! (or a free ride in his sleigh!!!)
However, getting to Okinawa can still be relatively cheap, even when it’s double price, as it is just a short domestic flight and is served by several low-cost airlines.
In this way, you can get to a tropical warm place for a cheaper price than if going outside of Japan. Okinawa itself also has its fair share of budget options. There are plenty of cheap hostels and capsule hotels for accommodation, some activities might be discounted off-season, and many activities you can do yourself such as snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, stargazing etc, are of course 100% free!
Now that you know the secret to visiting Okinawa easily and cheaply, go buy yourself a ticket and hurry – there are others who are IN on this!
See you in Okinawa!
: AC photo/