Unlike the rest of Japan, Okinawa has different seasonal temperatures, with winter being blissfully cool on bright sunny days. Its weather makes it ideal to visit the island all year round. But why not avoid the more touristy spots and get down to a hidden gem of an area not too far from Naha Airport?
Just a quick 40-minute drive or an hour’s bus ride from Naha is Nanjo, the southern city of Okinawa. Blessed with long scenic roads surrounding every inch of it, Nanjo offers the countryside, seaside, and hillside of Okinawa all in one heart-shaped package. If you’re wondering what this quiet inconspicuous area has to offer, well, the answer is plenty. But to narrow down that list, here are five things you can do in Nanjo.
Whip out your sneakers or hiking boots and head off the beaten road to see the Chinen Castle Ruins. The trail to the castle might be easy to miss from the road but as you head along the road, you will spot a small dirt road heading into the jungle with signs indicating you’re at the right place.
There is a parking lot so leave your car and stretch your legs as you head towards one of Nanjo’s former strongholds. The castle was said to be the former residence of Chinen Aji, constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. It has been since left to the mercy of the surrounding forest, but the occasional restoration works can ensure that it remains a significant landmark of Nanjo. Within the castle houses a site for worshiping in the direction of Kudaka Island.
A lack of tourists in the area ensures an Instagram-worthy photo. Not too far from the ruins on the right off the dirt path are Chinen-Ukkaa, Ukinju, and Hainju. These are springs with connections to the rice cultivation in Okinawa. After the hike, you can unwind in the nearby Cafe Curcuma, a Thai fusion restaurant with a magnificent view.
Be it for children or adults, riding a Yonaguni horse should be on everybody’s wish list when coming to Okinawa. This particular breed of horse has been listed as critically endangered and a native to the island of Yonaguni, about 100 km from Taiwan.
There are only about a 130 Yonaguni horses left in Okinawa and Umikaze Horse Farm has seven of them. Sweet, gentle creatures, these small horses are suited for children of all ages and especially beginner riders.
Umikaze Horse Farm offers a variety of riding courses for all levels with views that feature the coastline. If you don’t mind getting wet, you can also opt to ride the horses on the beach and into the sea where you can hang on to their tail and be towed along in the cooling waters of Okinawa.
And speaking of beaches, Mibaru Beach is one of Okinawa’s nicest beaches with stunning blue-emerald waters and clean white sand that feels so cooling between the toes. On most days, the beach is almost a void of people save for a few locals and water sports enthusiasts jetting in the waters. It is almost like your own personal paradise.
Go in the mornings or late afternoons to enjoy a kinder sun and stunning views. Just a short drive or walk away is Hyakuna Beach, one of the many beaches where Umikaze Horse Farm has its beach riding courses. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see the horses simply frolicking and rolling about in the sand after a good ride.
Take a drive along Nirai Kanai Bridge and make your way to Cape Chinen Park. Located close to the sacred Sefa-Utaki Site, Cape Chinen Park boasts a stunning seaside view. Strong winds make it the ideal location to take a leap and simply glide across the skies on a paraglider.
While up in the skies, you can look out to Kudaka Island and Katsuren Peninsula in the central part of Okinawa. Sefa-Utaki is also a short walk away and is an inscribed World Heritage Site.
Nanjo has tons of cafes to stop at for a break. The best part is that most of them offer a stunning view of the coastline. The road leading to Nirai Kanai bridge, in particular, offers many hidden gems such as Tsukishiro Moon Terrace Cafe and OOLOO Cafe. Prices may be on the higher end for a cup of coffee but the views and ambiance are well worth it.
One particular popular stop for visitors is Cafe Curcuma, just off the road before Japan Self-Defense Ground Force Chinen Sub-camp. The cafe is not your average Okinawan cafe as it offers a fusion of local and Thai cuisine. Enjoy their cakes and desserts on the outside terrace overlooking a gorgeous view of the sea and skies, and maybe even the sunsets in the evenings.
Nanjo has so much more to offer in its heart-shaped land for both local and international visitors and these five activities are only the tip of the iceberg. With amazing views left and right, forward and back, why not grab a few friends, fly down to Okinawa, rent a car and head south for a ride of your life. Possibly quite literally on a Yonaguni horse along a beach in Nanjo.