I hate cold weather. In Canada, I would hibernate most of the winter. Whenever I was forced to leave my apartment, I was instantly filled with intense rage. Even though I live in Southern Japan now, it still gets a bit cold. Nowhere near Canadian winter cold – snow is only found on the mountains – but it’s cold. So, when I was thinking about what I should do for my winter holidays, SOUTH was the only thing I was thinking. I didn’t feel like leaving Japan yet. I had only been in the country for 5 months and hadn’t even left my prefecture. Okinawa was the obvious place for me to go. I planned a 9 day, 3 island trip to Okinawa Prefecture.
If you are going to go to Okinawa, you’re most likely going to fly into Naha on Okinawa Island. Okinawa Island is the main island in the prefecture and Naha is the biggest city. This is where I decided to start my vacation.
The number one thing I wanted to see was Shurijo. Shuri Castle is within Naha and easily accessible via monorail. The Ryuukyuu architecture is something to see. I also did a day bus tour around the island. Apart from renting a car and driving yourself, a bus tour is the best option to see outside Naha. We hit up Cape Hedo, Daisekirinzan, and Churaumi Aquarium. Before leaving, I stopped at Fukushuen Garden and spent a day at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum.
Look, I said I’m not one for the cold, so I needed to head even further south. Ishigaki Island, and the other Yaeyama Islands, is basically as far south you can go within Japan. It’s closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan.
Ishigaki is WAY different from Okinawa Island which is WAY different from mainland Japan. Ishigaki Island has more of a laid back vibe than Okinawa. It’s smaller, less westernized, and I honestly felt like I was the only non-Japanese tourist there most of the time. It’s a beautiful island. I think the scenery is the main attraction here. There might be some beaches for swimming/snorkelling since the water is gorgeous. However, I can’t comment on that since I didn’t actually get into the water.
A short boat ride away from Ishigaki Island is Iriomote Island. This island is basically just one big nature preserve. So, I made it a day trip from Ishigaki.
Iriomote island is a stunning jungle. I have a thing for mountains and forests and Iriomote didn’t disappoint. The hike was great although the waterfall we hiked to wasn’t exactly the most spectacular I’ve seen. Iriomote Island is very close to Yubu Island. It contrasts Iriomote’s jungle by being one big botanical garden. The highlight of Yubu Island is the water buffalo. We took a water buffalo cart to and from the island through the shallow water (it was maybe ankle high). You can also visit the water buffalo on the island if flowers and nature aren’t your thing.
Overall, my time in Okinawa was amazing. I loved seeing this unique culture within Japan. Between being so far from Japan’s mainland, having a rich history, and the heavy influence of America, Okinawa is a place all its own. While I might have decided to take this trip so I could escape the cold, the fact that it was slightly warmer isn’t why I enjoyed it so much. Okinawa is much more than the beach vacation many people see it as.
Much love and happy travels,
xo Meggie Kay