Sun and fun abound on Okinawa

by Maria Kato
Stripes Okinawa

Editor’s note: Stars and Stripes Pacific marketing coordinator Maria Kato lived on Okinawa from 2007 to 2011. Kato is familiar with sights and sounds of the island. Here’s her take on making the most of Okinawa. If you have some special places you'd like to share, we'd love to hear from you. You can submit a story on this site, or you can send it to Okinawa@Stripes.com.

When I think of Okinawa, great beaches, water activities and the warm, friendly, laid-back locals come to mind. So when I had the chance to get back to that paradise, I didn’t hesitate. And, as you read above, the price was right.

If you’re stationed here or just visiting, get out and explore.

1. Stay at a resort hotel. The Busena Terrace, Hotel Nikko Alivila, ANA InterContinental Manza Beach Hotel & Resort, Okinawa Marriott Resort & Spa, SPA RESORT EXES are all respected hotels that are either on or near a beautiful beach.

If you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, head north to Motobu Peninsula or Okuma for a night.

If you want to enjoy the nightlife, the Chatan and Naha areas are the places to be. And if you have enough time, you could take the 1 to one to one and a half hour ferry trip to the Kerama islands.

2. Enjoy the beaches and water activities. A good place to do this is at the Okuma Recreation Facility. Take advantage of the military prices because you won’t find a better price on the local economy. But there are plenty of other places on the island to enjoy snorkeling, diving, fishing and jet skiing, including many right outside base gates.

3. Enjoy the local festivals and events. The Okinawa All-Okinawa Eisa Dance Festival & Orion Beer Fest is held in summer, the Naha Great Tug-of-War – certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s biggest tug-of-war – was held Oct. 11 this year.

In November, the Okinawa City Festival will take place outside of Kadena Air Base’s Gate 2. There are also dragon boat races throughout the year, the most famous probably being the Naha ones held in May.

4. Enjoy the local cuisine in the middle of nowhere. “Thai in the Sky” Cafe Kurukuma, located in Nanjyo-Shi (south area) and “Pizza in the Sky” Kajinho, located in Motobu-Cho (north area) are two places I recommend that are off the beaten path. The mountains and beaches are loaded with cafes ready to serve visitors.

5. Take a stroll along the Sunabe Seawall. Only a few minutes from Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster, this is a popular hangout for the military community. You can’t beat the beautiful view and there are many cafes and bars to choose from. There are also some pretty good places to shop.

6. Pamper yourself, ladies. Get your nails and a foot massage at one of the local establishments. It’ll only run you about 3,000 yen($38).

7. Try the “habu” sake shot. Yes, there’s a snake (habu) at the bottom of the sake bottle. But everyone tries it, so give this popular Okinawa drink a shot.

8. Party at the beach. Tropical Beach, Araha Beach and Onna Beach are great places to gather, barbecue and soak in the sun. You can rent barbecue equipment at the beaches or at base MWR facilities.

9. Check out the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.  There are three huge whale sharks at the aquarium as well as a whole bunch of other sea life. This is a must-see place. And speaking of whale sharks, there are diving and snorkeling businesses that offer a chance to swim with whale sharks in the ocean.

10. Check out nearby Miyako Island. A flight for between 2,000 yen to 8,000 yen will get you to this beautiful island and its white sandy beaches and delicious mangos. If you’re willing to spend some money, the Miyakojima Tokyu Resort offers “the most beautiful beach in Japan,” and also is the only hotel on the island sitting on the beach.

If you’ve been stationed on Okinawa for a while and are looking for a quick getaway, Miyako Island is a good choice.

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