Welcome to Okinawa
The mention of Japan rarely conjures up images of coral-fringed islands bathed in sunshine and lapped by turquoise waters. Okinawa, a prefecture comprising more than 150 islands, reveals a Japan that many didn't know existed. World War II relics sit on tropical beaches; sushi is served alongside exotic fruit; and the locals operate at a pace far more relaxed than Tokyo and Kyoto. International and domestic flights land in Naha, the prefecture's modern capital; while Okinawa-honto, the busy main island of the archipelago, is the principal starting point for sightseeing tours that showcase the region's beauty. Popular cruises cover the islands of Iriomote, Yubu, Taketomi, and Kohama, characterized by powdery white sand beaches, roaming water buffalo, and fauna-rich mangroves. The Ishigaki and Miyakojima islands—far closer to Taiwan and the Philippines than anywhere in Japan—are an ideal (and literal) jumping-off point for scuba diving and snorkeling. Diving courses tailored to all abilities allow you to explore caves and observe weird and wonderful marine species, including anemones, sharks, and damselfish. Meanwhile, off-road motorbike tours are great ways for thrill-seekers to explore the islands. Family-friendly Okinawa attractions include the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Okinawa World, and Ryuku Mura, while top draws for history buffs are Nakihim Castle, Shuri Castle, and the Himeyuri Peace Museum—all best booked in advance to ensure tickets and easy entry.