Okinawa is Japan’s go to beach destination. A 2.5-hour flight from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Okinawa Honto (the main island) and its hundreds of smaller islands attract Tokyo residents as well as international beach goers. Though Okinawa is home to many amazing beaches, this popular Japanese spot boasts many non-sandy attractions as well.
This guide will cover Okinawa Honto from the southernmost region of the mainland, (from the point where travelers disembark at Naha Airport), to the northern tip of the island. Here are Okinawa's must-see non-beach attractions.
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Okinawa Attractions: Four Places to Visit in Okinawa
1. Peace Memorial Park
One of World War II’s bloodiest battles occurred on Okinawa Honto, when US troops invaded the island. Peace Memorial Park stands as the main memorial to the Battle of Okinawa. It is located on the southernmost tip of the island, just a few miles east of the Himeyuri Monument, which is another museum commemorating those who served in the war.
The park’s main attraction is the museum, which paints a picture of the conditions leading up to the battle, as well as the reconstruction efforts of Okinawa following the war. It also houses several monuments and memorials preserving the names of fallen soldiers and civilians.
*Due to renovations that will last until 2018, only one of the two museum buildings will be open at one time, and the number of exhibitions will be slightly reduced.
Reasons to visit Peace Memorial Park:
- Learn about a historical event
- Honor the 200,000 + civilians and soldiers who died in the battle
- Get a sense of the “Okinawan Heart,” the attitude that the Okinawan people developed in response to the struggles of war
2. Okinawa World
If New York has Coney Island, then Okinawa has Okinawa World. But this amusement park is not just about roller coasters and merry-go-rounds. The attraction is all about Okinawan culture, and features natural caves, a craft village, and even a snake museum to help travellers learn more about the local landscape and traditions.
Reasons to visit Okinawa World:
- Take a blast to the past and experience old time Okinawa
- Enjoy local craft projects like glass blowing and pottery
- Watch high spirited Eisa dances and other performances in the central traditional plaza
3. Shuri Castle
This castle is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site, but was also designated as a Castles of the Ryuku Kingdom site. Okinawa was once known as the Ryuku Kingdom and existed as a completely separate country from Japan. The castles of Ryuku Kingdom are the remaining monuments to the bygone culture and heritage of the Ryuku era.
Shuri Castle is the only site that has been reconstructed from the five castles of Ryuku Kindgom. (The other four sites were preserved as ruins). According to Japan-guide, Shuri was the most important castle of the kingdom because it was both the royal residence and central government office. Today, visitors can get a feel for the history and culture of the dynasty as they tour the castle’s interior.
Reasons to visit Shuri Castle:
- Get a feel for how Ryuku royalty once lived
- Walk to your heart’s content, both indoors and outside, for a small entrance fee
- Take in a panoramic view of Naha city from the top of the castle fortress
4. Hiji Waterfall
If you want to get away from the resort-side beach setting, Hiji Waterfall is the perfect place to appreciate untouched nature at its finest. The waterfall is located in the northernmost area of Okinawa Honto in a region called Yambaru. The population density is low, and the environment remains pristine and undisturbed.
There’s a trailhead that leads to the waterfall, and although access to the trail requires an entrance fee, the 26-meter waterfall is a sight to behold. Visitors can also choose to camp out overnight for a fee of 2000 yen, which covers the cost of one tent site per night.
Reasons to visit Hiji Waterfall:
- Squeeze in a bit of a workout with a 30-40 minute hike to the falls
- Brave the suspension bridge that spans a valley 17 meters below
- Observe animals unique to the area including species of birds, turtles, snakes, and lizards
When to Visit Okinawa: Okinawa shares the same latitude as Hawaii and Florida. For those seeking warm weather in sunshine, that means that Okinawa is a great place to visit any time of year.
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This article was written by Hanna Choi!