Family Travel: Okinawa

Discover peaceful beaches, culture and eclectic cuisine in Southern Japan

by SHFamily | Thu, February 09, 2017

Okinawa (translation: "rope in the open sea") is a beautiful string of islands 640 kilometres south of mainland Japan. Known as one of the earth's "Blue Zones," the increasingly popular tourist destination is home to some of the world's longest-lived people. Whether it's due to the sunshine or their famously healthy diet, the Okinawans are definitey on to something. Visit yourself and see what a week in paradise can do for your mood. 


Getting There

Naha Airport is the only international airport on Okinawa’s main Island. It takes just under two hours to fly there from Shanghai and another 20 minutes to get a taxi to almost anywhere in the city. Round-trip flights are currently around ¥2,500 on Ctrip.


Where to Stay

There are a host of fancy hotels and beach resorts across Okinawa, but if you’re looking for a unique home to accommodate the whole family, look no further than Airbnb. Many apartments and cottages have Japanese style layouts, with modern bathrooms and kitchens, making the stay more convenient and economical for families with multiple children. Sit around a traditional table on the floor in the living room or sleep on a tatami mat in the bedroom (some also offer twin sized beds). Another great option is Chura Umi Coral Cabin, located across from the famous aquarium (see below) and near the ocean. 


What to Do

Okinawa is the birthplace of karate and a mecca for black belts looking to work on their chops. The Okinawa International Karate Study Centre in Yomitan village offers classes in English for all levels.
It’s also a great place for diving, snorkelling and kayaking. We recommend booking through SEASIR, as they are one of the oldest and biggest dive companies, with a variety of locations. They also have whale watching tours that run between January and March, which is a relaxing way to spend a morning or afternoon.
A must-see for families is the Churaumi AquariumDisplaying 77 tanks throughout four floors, it's the third largest aquarium in the world. Prepare to see whale sharks and manta rays, deep sea creatures and an impressive collection of coral. 

What (and Where) to Eat 

Okinawa is technically part of Japan, but throughout history, its location in the East China Sea has afforded it a wealth of culinary influences from nearby nations. Both China and the Philippines have inspired the cuisine here. Thai flavors are also present as well as American and, of course, mainland Japanese. Be sure to try goya chanpuru (bitter melon stir-fry) or rafute (Okinawa’s answer to hongshao rou). If you want something a bit more “western,” check out taco rice, an Okinawan adaptation of the Mexican classic, in which the fillings are served over a bed of rice rather than in a taco shell.
Japanese cuisine lovers should also try the island’s version of soba noodles or head to the Makishi Public Market in Naha to fill up on the freshest sashimi and sushi you’ve ever had. Also in Naha, A Taste of Okinawa, a cooking studio and craft beer restaurant, is well worth signing up for. You’ll tour the nearby wet market and discuss local ingredients and cuisine (four courses consisting of appetizer, soup, main and dessert). Returning to the studio you’ll get a hands-on cooking experience. As a bonus, parents can sip on the craft beer made on site while the kids fight over who gets to make (and eat) dessert. 

Experience the Culture

Head to Okinawa’s capital, Naha, where families should definitely visit the Shurijo Castle, a remaining testament to the ancient Ryukyu kingdom. Spend several hours at the impressive structure overlooking the sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the year 2000. Although almost destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, intense study of historical photographs and documents brought the castle back to life and it was restored in 1982. You’ll be transported back in time exploring the walled in fortress and grounds.
Being a cluster of islands, there are plenty of beautiful remote beaches around Okinawa for you to relax on. If you decide to stay on the south of the main island, get a boat out to Zamami. The island is just a 45 minute boat ride away and is home to only 200 people.


Okinawa Travel Tips:

  • Transportation can be difficult if you don't speak Japanese, so try to arrange a driver in advance, or hire a car (note that you'll need an international driving license). If you don't want to worry about a car, public buses and taxis are available, but make sure you have all of the names and addresses typed out to show the driver. 
  • Plan to stay at least 3 nights in Naha and 2 in Motobu. You can travel between cities by ferry or rental car.
  • Avoid mid-May to mid-June, which is the rainy season.