My top things to do on Okinawa
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: December 23, 2018
Okinawa may not be the biggest island, but is sure has a long list of fun things to do. Between all of the subtropical islands, the adventure never ends. Sometimes though, you just need to know where to go. Here is a look at some of the island’s highlights.
Naha Dragon Boat Race
The major event in May draws around 200,000 people every year. Each heat features three teams that sail side-by-side for 2,000 feet. Rowers’ stamina, teamwork and ability to make a smooth turn makes a difference between winners and losers in this physically challenging race. Among the many matchups scheduled for the event, the rivalry among men’s and women’s teams from the four service branches of the U.S. military attract much of the attention.
Naha Tug of War
This event is huge – literally. Known for it is exceptional scale, the giant rope of the event was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest rice straw rope used in a tug-of-war. Annually, 285,000 Okinawans, Americans, and tourists show up and either pull the rope or root for one side or the other.
Shuri Castle Festival
The age of the Ryukyu Kingdom is brought back to life in this autumn event. Traditional ceremonies, parades, and dance/music performances are presented with authentic costumes at Shuri Castle. At night, the venue is illuminated with candles.
Eisa Festival/Orion Beer Festival
From August through September, many festivals take place that present Eisa, an Okinawan style of dance. Choreographed dancers perform as a group to audiences at a venue, or march through local communities with their drumbeats marking the season of the dance. The Okinawa Zento Eisa Matsuri, the biggest among all the Eisa festivals on the island, is now combined with a beer festival.
Cherry Blossom Festival
In Okinawa, cherry blossoms begin blooming in late January. The early bloomers draw many people at places such as Yaedake Mountain, Nakijin Castle and Nago Chuo Park. Unlike those on the mainland, the petals on Okinawa don’t dance in the wind, but their vibrant pink color still dazzle countless visitors.
On Okinawa, many marathons take place from fall through spring. Each race provides unique challenges and attractions. In Ayahashi Kaichu Road Race, runners will hop around islands as they cross bridges overlooking the water. In Kourijima Magic Hour RUN, people can enjoy a beautiful view of the ocean during the sunset. There is also Iheya Moonlight Marathon where runners can enjoy different scenes from sunset well into the night. Naha Marathon and Okinawa Marathon are the two major races on the island and are very popular among runners.
There are many diving/snorkeling spots in Okinawa. At Sunabe Seawall, people can enjoy spotting colorful tropical fish and soft coral. At Maeda Point, a stunning view of the Blue Grotto welcomes divers and snorkelers. If you travel to Kerama Islands, you can even swim with sea turtles.
Beaches in Okinawa offer all sorts of fun. Water obstacles at Manza Beach draw many Japanese and American kids during the summer. At Moon Beach, people can enjoy new water activities such as Flyboard and Hurricane Disco. Some military facilities have beautiful beaches on site. On White Beach, there are cabins and pavilions lined up along the coast for parties on the beach. At Torii Beach, people can enjoy water activities such as ocean kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Kadena Marina is home to many water activities such as scuba diving, Jet Skiing and sailing. Plus, the beautiful Okuma Beach is a perfect destination for a getaway.
There are places in Okinawa where people can enjoy trekking/hiking in the northern part of the island. At Mt. Yonahadake or Mt. Nagodake, routes are well maintained for mountain climbers. At Daisekirinzan, people can see unique rock formations or tropical trees and plants. Around Hiji Falls, there is camping area as well as a route for trekking.
Although Okinawa may not have Disneyland or Universal Studios, there are theme parks that offer unique fun. At Expo Park, you can watch dolphins pull off acrobatic stunts or a large whale shark swim in a giant water tank. At Okinawa World, people can explore caves like a spelunker or catch a habu snake show at Habu Museum Park. At Doki Doki Yambarunture, an exhilarating ride on an ATV is available. Okinawa Zoo & Museum near Kadena Air Base has 150 kinds of animals and creatures.
Places like Nakagusuku and Katsuren Castles offers an opportunity to learn the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. At Tsuboya Pottery Street or Yomitan Pottery Village, view and purchase some of the signature products of Okinawa. There are opportunities for people to watch craftsmen working on their pottery, or even get hands-on experience making their own. Places like Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, Hacksaw Ridge (Urasoe Caslte Ruin) or the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters provide learning opportunities about the Battle of Okinawa.
SHOPPING & DINING
Shopping area and mall
AEON MALL Okinawa Rycom near the Plaza Housing Area is the biggest shopping mall on the island. This is the place to go if you are looking for U.S. brands such as American Eagle, Gap, and Forever 21. Kokusai Street in Naha is crowed with tourists looking for local souvenirs and foods. Heiwa Dori off of Kokusai Street is also poplar with many shops lined up in a maze-like arcade. American Village near Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base offers all sorts of different dining experiences.
Okinawa soba noodles are one of the popular foods that the prefecture proudly presents. There are countless places where you can enjoy them. Chiruguwa Mihama and Hamaya are notable soba joints near Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base. There are many ramen noodle restaurants on the island, as well.
Chain ramen restaurants such as Tenkaippin or Hayatemauru are popular among service members.
Okinawans love steak. And because of that, there are many steak houses on the island. Jack’s Steak House serves up one of the rarest steaks you’ll find on the island. SAM’s restaurants are very popular for sirloin steak, and Four Seasons near Kadena Air Base is popular among service members.
Old American brand
On Okinawa, there are many examples of “good ’ol America.” One example of that is A&W restaurants. While it is becoming difficult to find them in the states, there are 40 of them on the island. Some even feature carhops with roller skates bringing food to your vehicle. Foremost Blue Seal Ice Cream is another example of “born in America, raised in Okinawa.” The ice cream maker was originally established by USA-based Foremost Ltd. Now, the ice cream maker is recognized in Okinawa as a major brand along with Baskin Robbins.
Places for kids
Round 1 Stadium is an amusement center where kids can enjoy various arcade games, bowling, karaoke, batting cages and more. At Kukuru Yomitan Circuit, kids can get behind the wheel of go-kart like Mario or Luigi. At Owls Adventure Park, they can put the birds of prey on their arms just like Harry Potter.