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Things to Do in Okinawa

The mention of Japan rarely conjures 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-hontō, 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; while 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.
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Kohama Island (Kohama-jima)

Rolling hills and uninterrupted views set the island of Kohama apart from others in the Yaeyama archipelago. Travelers can wander grassy passes and shaded trails to two of the island’s most popular lookouts—Chura san’s Point and Ufudake. Locals say Chura san offers some of the best views in the region, but travelers agree that the view from atop Ufudake, where the whole of Kohama can be seen, is equally incredible.

Just like other nearby islands, Kohama is home to some beautiful beaches, including a long stretch of sandy shores called Haimurubushi. Visitors love that its clear waters are protected by jellyfish nets, but avid snorkelers say this means underwater wildlife leaves something to be desired. Still, wet and wild visitors can rent masks and jet skis — or opt to chill out on the shores in comfortable chairs under the shade of giant umbrellas.

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More Things to Do in Okinawa

Urauchi River (Urauchi-gawa)

Urauchi River (Urauchi-gawa)

The Urauchi River, the longest river in Okinawa Prefecture, flows for 24 miles (39 kilometers) through the heart of Iriomote Island’s dense mangroves and subtropical forest, and cascading down two waterfalls, Kanpiuree and Maryudo, along the way.

The most popular way to experience the spectacular scenery along the Urauchi River is on a river cruise. These popular excursions depart frequently throughout the day from the Urauchibashi bus stop and take visitors along a 5-mile (8-kilometer) segment of the river to Gunkan-iwa Rock. From there, it’s possible to trek for 30 minutes through the jungle to a viewing platform overlooking Maryudo Falls. Alternatively, visitors can rent canoes and paddle their way along the Urauchi River, or take a guided canoe tour with motorized boat transfer upriver.

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