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 when I came to live in Japan, I definitely didn’t think I would be in a country which holds tropical beaches and Hawaii-like weather. I assumed that if I really wanted a sun, sea, and sand-type experience, I’d need to go further afield to the Philippines, Thailand, or other such countries.
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, I’d suggest going to Okinawa. Here are five reasons why it’s such a unique part of Japan and a great place for a winter vacation.
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. But generally speaking, the weather is warm and pleasant for most of the year.
I visited in January and was walking around the islands in my t-shirt and shorts, and cycling around late into the night. I saw people camping, snorkeling, sailing, and sunbathing. And that was in January when it’s at its coldest!
This was a wonderful week of relief from the winter temperatures you will experience in most other parts of Japan! The best months to go are probably in autumn and spring, but from my experience, it is pretty great all year round!
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.
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, whale watching in the winter months, cycling around some of the islands, camping, renting a car and doing a road trip, going scuba diving, or simply island hopping!
What’s more is that all these things are doable during the winter, too. The winter months will be much less busy which means some tours or activities might not be open. But from my experience, the ones that are open still offer a great experience and are less busy which is a good advantage. 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.
If you go out at night, particularly around Kokusai-Dori, the main drag 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!
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, getting to those places isn’t cheap either.
Especially during the winter holiday seasons, airlines like to double or treble their flight tickets to and from Tokyo and other main cities. However, getting to Okinawa can still be relatively cheap, 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, and many activities such as snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing are of course 100% free!
Okinawa is an area of amazing natural beauty, and it’s only a short flight away from Tokyo! If you are looking for a warm, welcoming place to spend a week or more during the cold winter months, consider Okinawa!