Picture pristine coastlines lined with cerulean waters. Stretches of unspoilt beaches sprawling across striking remote islands. Under-the-Earth caves, prehistoric stone citadels and regal castles. Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa Island effortlessly transports you to an idyllic paradise. The birthplace of Karate and part of the the erstwhile kingdom of the Ryukus (an independent kingdom that ruled most of Japan’s southern islands from the 15th to the 19th century), Okinawa is Japan’s very own natural oasis. It inhabits Japanese folk that boast some of the highest life expectancies in the world, experience comparatively less cancer, heart diseases and dementia — exemplifying the serenity and perhaps the sanity that can be experienced here.
Getting to Okinawa is easy; fly nonstop from Tokyo or Osaka on Japan Airlines or All Nippon Airways, or even low-cost carriers like Jetstar and Peach Aviation to reach Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture.
Away from the chaos and bustle of Japan’s big cities, Okinawa’s magnificent seascape (Manza Beach in front of ANA Intercontinental Manza Beach Resort is our recommendation) is ideal to steal some moments in the blue lap of nature. Beaches on islands around Okinawa can be reached by ferry or a quick flight from Naha. On the main island of Okinawa Honto are beautiful beaches where you can soak up the sun and master the art of doing nothing. If an adrenaline rush is what you’re looking for, Okinawa’s vibrant diving spots, teemed with mystical underwater ruins, vivid corals, manta rays, whale sharks and humpback whales are unmissable. Yonaguni-jima, inhabited by hammerhead sharks and a majestic submerged monument is a dive spot the brave-heart in you could consider.
With a history dating back over 450 years to the times of the Ryuku Kingdom, Okinawa’s past is the flag bearer of rich Japanese history. The evidence of this is in its many UNESCO World Heritage Sites that hail history geeks from the world over. Some of these include Nakijin Castle, the erstwhile castle of a Ryuku king who ruled in northern Okinawa and Zakimi Castle, that was built by Gosamaru, a great commander who played an important role during the ‘Sanzan’ period (war-torn era). Nakagusuku Castle is another such wonder that is lined with well-preserved stone citadels and offers panoramic views of the Nakagusuku Bay from its hilltop.
The Okinawan flavour
With the presence of a US military base since the end of the Second World War here, a notable American influence is seen around Okinawa. English is widely spoken and a visit to Mihama American Village, a large entertainment complex located in central Okinawa Honto certainly teleports you to a big American city with its ferris wheel, outdoor shopping outlets, multifarious restaurants and quaint cafés. Kami Sushi Bar here is a great choice for sushi aficionados.
With a unique mix of Ryuku, Chinese, Japanese and American cultures, Okinawa’s culinary cauldron blends many flavours. The secret of long life-expectancies of the people here could just be in the traditional dishes of the island. Goya chanpuru, a stir-fry made with goya, a melon is known for its uplifting properties in Okinawan or Ryukyuan cuisine. You can also try Okinawa soba noodles that’s prepared with soki, pork spare rib marinated in soy sauce. If you want to feel like royalty, try Rafute, a local pork dish made with an Okinawan liquor and brown sugar that was once a preferred dish of the Ryuku kings. Head to Ryukyu Sabo Ashibiuna for Okinawa soba noodles, Yakiniku Hana for high quality Wagyu beef and Yunangii for traditional home-style Okinawan dishes. For Okinawa’s local spirits, head to Bar Accord.
Conventions and weddings
Situated alongside azure waters, Okinawa is a beautiful island destination that’s ideal for small and large-scale events. It not only makes for picturesque backdrops with its enchanting natural landscape but also plays host to a wide range of conventions and venues. Okinawa Convention Centre is the largest MICE complex in the prefecture, with a theatre, event hall and 12 small and large conference rooms. Its theatre is suitable for all kinds of performing arts and its hall can accommodate upto 5,000 people for a range of events from trade shows, concerts to sporting events.
That perfect sub-tropical wedding that you’ve always dreamed of can come to life on Okinawan shores too. Distinguished by its Uchinanchu (people from Okinawa are called this) hospitality, emerald green waters and lush forests, a wedding held in Okinawa is a fairy tale like scenario. Planning a wedding here is a seamless experience, with sprawling spaces offered by luxury resorts and their dedicated events that take care of all your requirements. It also makes for a romantic honeymoon destination for couples wanting a tryst with nature, culture and modernity. To tie the knot in that ‘something blue’ setting, you can choose the Okinawa Chapel.
Where to Stay:
Okinawa Exes Naha
Part of the Exes brand of hotels that are the part of the Kariyushi Hotels Group, Okinawa Exes Naha is situated at the heart of Naha. It is a short walk from Naha’s main shopping and nightlife streets and is a 15-minute drive from Naha airport. The boutique hotel features 67 rooms which are equipped with amenities such as a Nespresso machine, bathrobes, a marble bathroom and a large desk. The private swimming pools in the Villa suites on the top floor are quite luxurious. The property places a lot of emphasis on superior F&B. A traditional Japanese dinner in Loo-Choo to taste authentic Okinawan cuisine is recommended. Sushi and Bar Taira is ideal for an evening of cocktails and sushi. The hotel also features an outdoor swimming pool and a fitness centre. exes-naha.jp
Okinawa Spa Resort Exes
Set in Onna, the resort area of Okinawa, Okinawa Spa Resort Exes is about an hour from Naha Airport. The resort features an outdoor pool and water sports facilities for those looking to get away from city life. It also boasts a sun terrace and spa that offers relaxing treatments. Rooms overlook panoramic ocean views and feature L’Occitane amenities, a coffee machine, a bathrobe and a marble bathroom. Snorkelling and windsurfing are popular activities organised by the hotel. Okinawa Spa Resort Exes also houses a fitness centre. Restaurant Ten serves a wide range of western and Japanese cuisines. To enjoy a variety of liquors from around the world and the famous local liquor Okinawa Awamori, head to the bar. Okinawa Kariyushi Beach Resort Ocean Spa Hotel can be reached by a skywalk. Guests can use its facilities of banquet halls for meetings and parties. sparesort.exes-kariyushi-inb.com
Okinawa Kariyushi Beach Resort Ocean Spa
Situated in Onna, the resort area of Okinawa, Okinawa Kariyushi Beach Resort Ocean Spa hotel is 50 km away from the Naha Airport. It features a private beach area and houses an array of F&B outlets. Rooms are equipped with balconies overlooking oceanic views. The resort arranges for guests to partake in activities such as snorkelling, diving and hiking. The hotel also organises guided cycling tours for its guests as well. Other amenities include a business centre, complimentary newspapers in the lobby, and dry cleaning/laundry services. Okinawa Kariyushi Beach Resort Ocean Spa also features 1,390 sqm of event facilities including three banquet halls and two party spaces. Apart from the above mentioned hotels, Kariyushi Hotels Group also owns and manages a luxury Hotel under the Exes brand in Ishigaki Resort Island and a city resort hotel in Naha called Okinawa Kariyushi Urban Resort Naha. kariyushi-oceanspa.jp
Hyatt Regency Seragaki Island Okinawa
Located on a private island on the west coast of Okinawa, Hyatt Regency Seragaki Island Okinawa offers 344 rooms with breathtaking ocean views from open-air balconies, the accommodation is the address of luxury in Okinawa. An array of dining options includes Serale for all-day dining, Cucina Serale for authentic Italian fare and Shirakachi Robata for Japanese grill, sushi and teppanyaki amongst others. The Lobby Bar is an ideal place to network and share a tipple with your business colleagues. Stunning sunset views can be enjoyed at Shirakachi Bar. There is also Regency Club — the hotel’s exclusive club lounge and Spa Hanari for rejuvenating therapies. An outdoor swimming pool with sweeping views of the ocean and a fitness centre are other facilities at the hotel. hyatt.com