Things to do
Japan’s volcanic Nansei Islands have a distinctly tropical feel – and Okinawa has no shortage of natural highlights to uncover. Head north to the Yambaru region to explore forested hills draped in mist. It’s here that you’ll find the enchanting Hiji Waterfall hiking trail, too. Or leave dry land behind and snorkel over the coral reef fringing the island. To get an even closer look at marine life, visit the Churaumi Aquarium where you can walk beneath the waves and watch sharks swim overhead.
The tropical nature of Okinawa means its cuisine is slightly different from that of mainland Japan. Centuries of trade with Southeast Asia brought spices such as turmeric to many traditional recipes. And the warmer weather means you’re more likely to find tender pork on the menu than sushi or sashimi. Popular dishes include Okinawa soba – a noodle soup topped with stewed belly pork, pickled ginger and konbu seaweed.
Throughout Okinawa you’ll find evocative echoes of its regal past as the heartland of the Ryukyu dynasty. Wander the romantic ruins of Nakijin Castle, surrounded by cherry tree groves. Then while away an afternoon in the tranquil surrounds of Shikina-en – a treasured royal garden rebuilt after World War II. Those interested in military history could explore thought-provoking sites such as the Peace Memorial Park and the former underground headquarters of the Japanese navy.