22 Best Things to Do in Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa, Japan
Sean Pavone / shutterstock.com

An archipelago of immense beauty, Okinawa has to be one of Japan's best places to visit.

Known for its pristine beaches, clear blue waters, coral reefs, a wide variety of water sports, forests, and different adventure activities, the island is an exciting holiday destination.

There is no shortage of things to do here; in fact, it might feel a little overwhelming.

To help you plan your itinerary, here's a list of the best things to do in Okinawa, Japan:

Discover the Ruins of Nakagusuku Castle

Ruins of Nakagusuku Castle
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Pay a visit to one of the island's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Sitting atop a limestone hill, the castle of Nakagusuku overlooks the East China Sea and the Katsuren Peninsula.

Sunny day at the ruins of Nakagusuku Castle
Chatchai.wa / Shutterstock.com

Do take the help of guides on your trip, as the grounds are not marked, and you will not be able to find any electricity inside.

Someone with prior knowledge is likely to be a great help!

An archway of Nakagusuku Castle's ruin
shikema / Shutterstock.com

Have a Regal Experience at Shikinaen Royal Garden

A pavillon near Shikinaen Royal Gardens' water
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

Japanese gardens are famous all over the world.

But have you ever visited a Japanese royal garden?

The Shikinaen Royal Garden has been sitting in Okinawa for centuries, and it is indeed a garden fit for kings and queens.

Calm waters of Shikinaen Royal Garden
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

Legend has it that this garden was built during the best years of the Ryukyu reign in Japan.

At the time, the emperors were keen on expanding trade relations with the royalties of China, Korea, and other parts of Japan.

The garden was specially constructed to receive royal guests from different parts of the globe and is known to have hosted several important meetings.

Exterior of a house at Shikinaen Royal Garden
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

Explore Yonaguni

Tategami Iwa stone in Yonaguni Island
Renata Barbarino / Shutterstock.com

If you are well-versed in various Japanese history and legends, you might have heard about the ruins at Yonaguni.

Other than history buffs, adrenaline junkies will also be delighted at the prospect of exploring Yonaguni and some of its underwater treasures.

Even if you do not get your hands on literal gems, you can always uncover the exciting ruins at the bottom of the seafloor.

View of Yonaguni's underwater monument
Yong Hoon Choi / Shutterstock.com

There are many local legends on how these ruins date back over 8000 years.

For instance, it's said that at one point, Yonaguni made up part of a drowned continent called Mu.

When you are in Yonaguni, do not miss out on a local tipple.

These are made from fermenting rice and are a local favorite across Japan.

Scenic daytime view of Yonaguni
w.aoki / Shutterstock.com

Uncover the Secrets at Iriomote Island

Mangrove forest in Iriomote Island
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

The best forests of Okinawa are said to be found in and around Iriomote Island.

If you are more of a nature lover, one who wants to say in touch with the lush outdoors, Iriomote might be the place for you.

Aerial view showing Iriomote Island's waterfall
Renata Barbarino / Shutterstock.com

Okinawa is best known for its various water activities.

However, if you are looking for a quiet spot to hike through the woods, this is your destination.

There are many kayaking options here in the various water bodies surrounding the island.

Trail lined with plants and trees at Iriomote Island
takerunosuke / Shutterstock.com

Get to Know More about Okinawa History at Okinawa Honto

Peace Memorial Museum in Okinawa Honto
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

If you want to see Okinawa from a different perspective, Okinawa Honto is a fantastic place to start.

It is the largest island among the group of Okinawa islands.

While the other islands might represent the traditional Japanese lifestyle, Okinawa Honto is more on the modern side.

Daytime view of Okinawa Honto
SUJITRA CHAOWDEE / Shutterstock.com

It's where you will find all the exhibits from the times of WWII, including those of Japanese military equipment.

This used to be one of the many Japanese military bases back in the day, and you still get to see the fighter jets and planes.

Make your way to Naha city, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, to get to know more about this island.

Aerial view of Okinawa Honto's road and buildings
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy Okinawa World

Majestic cave at Okinawa World
Phatranist Kerddaeng / Shutterstock.com

When in Okinawa Honto, have some fun at the beautiful Okinawa World.

Though everyone pits this as your regular theme park, Okinawa World is so much more.

You're unlikely to come across an adventure park like this anywhere else.

An underground escalator leading to Okinawa World's cave
Suphitcha Sukhum / Shutterstock.com

The theme park is centered around a natural deep cave system.

After you are done exploring the cave system, do not forget to take back home some snake liquor.

Okinawa's snake liquor is renowned, and Okinawa Honto sells some of the very best.

Souvenir shops along Okinawa World
Suchart Boonyavech / Shutterstock.com

Go on a Food Tour and Sample Okinawa's Local Cuisine

A bowl of Okinawa Soba Noodles
Masami.K / Shutterstock.com

Japanese cuisine is exquisite, so much so that dishes have inspired renditions in specialty restaurants across the world.

However, while it is one thing to eat Japanese food in your home country, experiencing the taste of authentic cuisine at a homegrown eatery is a real step up!

The best part about the local food tour in Okinawa is that if you are an ardent Japanese cuisine lover, you might notice some significant differences in the food of Okinawa.

Restaurants of Okinawa
juan hung-yen / Shutterstock.com

It represents more of the Taiwanese cuisine.

While the rest of Japan obsesses over beef, you can find the significance of pork here.

The cuisine also goes beyond the staples.

Make sure to try the Yaeyama Islands soba noodles—an example of how pork plays an essential role in Okinawan cuisine.

People dining at a food shop at Okinawa
Vassamon Anansukkasem / Shutterstock.com

Take Advantage of the Gentle Waters and Go Fishing, Swimming, or Whale-Watching

Divers in Okinawa's water
megumi miyata / Shutterstock.com

Okinawa is all about enjoying some of the East China Sea and all the other water bodies surrounding the islands.

There are a lot of activities you can indulge in on the different islands of Okinawa.

Diving into the open waters with sharks, sailing on a sunny day, watching the infamous whales of Okinawa, going fishing, and exploring the well-renowned ocean walking are primary activities you can pursue here when you are on vacation.

If you happen to be in Okinawa during the initial months of the year, you must not miss out on the whale-watching activities.

A person fishing at Okinawa's waters
juan hung-yen / Shutterstock.com

During this time, the whales migrate to Japan from Alaska.

The Kerama Islands are the ideal location for whale-watching.

They also offer some of the best sailing experiences, so make sure that you spare some extra time for a sailing trip while you are here as well.

Nagannu Island is exceptionally well renowned all over Japan for its unique ocean walking experiences.

The islands have some of the most pristine beaches that are beautiful to walk along.

Sunbathing chairs near Okinawa's shore
tutae / Shutterstock.com

And, you know what is even more attractive?

The ocean water.

Want to go inside and have a clear idea of how the underwater world works?

You can do that here on Nagannu Island!

People on a yacht watching the whales of Okinawa
OTTO-FOTO / Shutterstock.com

Take a Day Trip to Akajima Island

Scenic view of Akajima Island
sez / Shutterstock.com

Are you a photographer or an artist looking for your next masterpiece? We’d recommend dropping by the famed Akajima Islands.

This is not the most common island choice for tourists, but artists and photographers love coming here for its unparalleled natural charm.

Clean waters of Akajima Island
kohei0426 / Shutterstock.com

You will not find the same scenic beauty anywhere else in Okinawa.

While at the Akajima Islands, you can also choose to go on a short swimming trip in the gentle waters surrounding central Aka Island.

Calm waters of Akajima Island
sez / Shutterstock.com

Go on a Trekking Tour around Taketomi Island

Traditional village in Taketomi Island
K. Arjana / Shutterstock.com

Taketomi Island is one of the most traditional islands in Okinawa.

Residents here still follow the old cultures and traditions.

You won't find another island in Okinawa that continues to practice an old-world lifestyle like this one.

Aerial view of the beautiful village of Taketomi Island
sakiflower1988 / Shutterstock.com

Start by visiting the ancient villages whose locals have chosen to maintain their distance from modern life and urbanization.

The best way to explore the villages is through a trekking adventure.

This will take a few hours, but you will get to make the best of your experience.

Tourist on a vehicle at Taketomi Island's village
sakiflower1988 / Shutterstock.com

Click Pictures of the Sonohyan-utaki Stone Gate

Front view of Sonohyan-utaki Stone Gate
Joyja_Lee / Shutterstock.com

The Sonohyan-utaki Stone Gate is one of the royal temples built during the Ryukyu period.

This temple holds a special place in the culture because the people used to gather here for prayers when the king was not in the city.

Side view of the Sonohyan-utaki Stone Gate
mTaira / Shutterstock.com

Made from a distinctive form of Japanese limestone, the gate stands tall along the temple's path.

This is another unique Japanese tradition where a stone gate guards the actual temple.

The temple complex in itself also happens to be a significant religious center in Okinawa.

See the Old Okinawa Pictures at Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum

Daytime view of Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

The Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum is another one of the majestic Ryukyu dynasty creations.

Interior of the Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

Being one of the most unique museums in the area, it has earned a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.

Being close to Shurijo Castle, you can drop by the museum for a quick tour after completing your tour of the castle.

Explore Itoman

Front view of Itoman
Uwe Aranas / Shutterstock.com

People mainly pay visits to out Itoman for its various historical spots.

Cornerstone of peace at Itoman
Harismoyo / Shutterstock.com

The most important among all the tourist attractions has to be Okinawa Peace Park, an expansive space where you can acquaint yourself with the legends of the Battle of Okinawa.

The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum is also located in the city of Itoman.

Get to Know about the Local Cuisine at Makishi Market

Products of Makishi Market
PixHound / Shutterstock.com

Also known as the "Kitchen of Okinawa," Makishi Market is a must-visit to fully explore Okinawa’s culinary details.

It is said that the market has been here for almost a century.

People shopping at Makishi Market
AdrianoK / Shutterstock.com

Specialty stores and vendors selling fresh produce have been in the business for a long time, and you must try out some of the seaweed variants while you are here.

There are also a lot of fancy restaurants and cafes in this region.

Bread shop at Makishi Market
ben bryant / Shutterstock.com

See the Clear Waters of Ishigaki Island

Boats docked at Ishigaki Island
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

If you are somewhat familiar with the Michelin Green Guide Japan, you must have heard about Ishigaki Island.

The islands have to be the most picturesque location in Okinawa.

Aerial view of the gorgeous Ishigaki Island
catmanc / Shutterstock.com

Also, the beaches are pristine.

The stingrays are what everyone wants to see while they are here, and unsurprisingly, snorkeling is one of the most popular activities on the island.

Sunny day at Ishigaki Island
Sam Spicer / Shutterstock.com

Party at Naha

Aerial view of Naha
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

At first glance, the small town of Naha might not look all that exciting.

Vibrant night lights of Naha
Vassamon Anansukkasem / Shutterstock.com

But if you are inside your hotel rooms at night, you miss out on the authentic Naha nightlife.

Nights are the most glamorous around the streets of Naha as the town completely transforms after sundown!

Learn about the Old Traditions at Sefa-Utaki

People touring Sefa Utaki
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

Sefa-Utaki played quite an important role in performing the massive numbers of religious ceremonies back in the days of 16th-century Okinawa.

A memorial at Sefa-Utaki
beeboys / Shutterstock.com

If you want to know more about Okinawa’s traditions, make sure you visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

They have done a superb job in maintaining the traditions of Japan even to this day.

A pot at Sefa-Utaki
shihina / Shutterstock.com

Take in the Beauty of Miyako-jima

People paddle-boarding at Miyako-Jima
7maru / Shutterstock.com

Miyako-jima is Okinawa's one true island paradise.

A person admiring the beautiful Miyako-jima
Sam Spicer / Shutterstock.com

Its beauty is evident from the moment you step foot here, and you will instantly fall for the beaches.

Covered with white sand and providing some of the best sunsets, Miyako-jima captures everyone's hearts.

Sunny day at Miyako-jima
Sam Spicer / Shutterstock.com

Visit the World’s Largest Aquarium

People watching sea creatures of Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Athikhom Saengchai / Shutterstock.com

Want to see how the largest aquarium in the entire world works?

Statue of a whale outside Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
f11photo / Shutterstock.com

You do not have to look any further because Okinawa is home to the famed destination.

The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is known for housing native marine life while also serving as a breeding ground for them.

A sea turtle swimming in Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
kritsadap / Shutterstock.com

Take a Tour of Shurijo Castle

Night time view at Shurijo Castle
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Okinawa is a Japanese island that has had roots as an independent kingdom since the 14th century.

It was then taken over and controlled by Japan in the 19th century; however, it maintains a distinct culture that can be seen in monuments like Shurijo Castle (formerly known as Shuri Castle).

After the Battle of Okinawa during World War II destroyed this castle in 1945, people were determined to rebuild Shuri Castle.

In the 1990s, they were able to recreate the castle according to its original design.

People touring the Shurijo Castle
Suchart Boonyavech / Shutterstock.com

In 2000, it was placed on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO and became a model of the world restoration project.

While the central keep of the palace was engulfed in flames in 2019, reconstruction efforts are now a key part of the experience.

Expect to pay an entrance fee, but it's a small price to pay for experiencing this magnificent architecture and the splendid view of the Naho area.

The view is beautiful and is a great place to relax or roam around while seeing what life was like in Okinawa back in those days.

You also get to see and admire the Enkan Pond along with the Giant Akagi Tree just north of Shurijo Castle!

Front exterior of Shurijo Castle
torasun / Shutterstock.com

Discover Okinawa's Mecca of Tourists

The vibrant Kokusai Dori Street
TungCheung / Shutterstock.com

The beautiful Kokusai Dori Street is a lively downtown entertainment and retail neighborhood in Naha that offers visitors a wide selection of entertainment options, from shopping and cuisine to dancing and drinking.

Walk along this 2 km avenue with its view over turquoise waters, then strike up your favorite Okinawan tunes on karaoke later at night.

Kokusai Dori Street is where one can find a lively yet eclectic mix of shops, such as souvenir stores and replicas of local boutiques that showcase Okinawan culture and cookery.

It's also packed with locals performing traditional Okinawan dance and music.

People shopping along Kokusai Dori Street
ben bryant / Shutterstock.com

This is also a great place to shop for local foodstuffs like Habushu, a drink made from the bile of vipers that has been preserved in Okinawan jars, or the famous spice-coated Okinawan Scallops.

You'll find that this street also leads out to Heiwa Dori, an arcade where kids can explore.

Here, you'll see beautiful flowers, specialty shops, museums, and restaurants for tourists—all leading up to the Farmers Market of Naha.

You can reach Kokusai-Dori Street by monorail to get to the Naha Bus Terminal in downtown Naha.

Night lights of Kokusai Dori Street
tutae / Shutterstock.com

Take Some Nice Landscape Photos around Cape Manzamo

Scenic sunset at Cape Manzamo
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Cape Manzamo is a place of refuge for people who want to relax and enjoy the nice view of Okinawa Island’s coast.

This picturesque region of rock formations, located off the Pacific coast, is one of the most popular spots among both Japanese and foreign tourists who come to this island.

Don’t expect a beach on your first trip here, though!

People admiring Cape Manzamo
FS11 / Shutterstock.com

Instead, experience the breathtaking views from the top of these unusual-looking sandstone cliffs that extend hundreds of feet over the ocean below.

If you're interested in taking some nice landscape photos to show your friends back home, come to Cape Manzamo because there's no better spot on Okinawa Island from which to see it all!

Cape Manzamo can be found in the Kunigami District of the Ryukyu Islands.

Located on Okinawa's Western side, Cape Manzamo can be easily accessed via public transportation available in the nearby village of Nago.

Tourists at Cape Manzamo's trail
GG6369 / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Many people enjoy visiting Okinawa, Japan, to see the villages on the island and take part in some scuba diving.

However, there's so much more to Okinawa than just the great scuba diving spots and beautiful reef waters.

Trekking through the verdant hills reveals 40 or so star-gazing sites if you visit at night, as well as a chance to catch a glimpse of cherry blossoms in season from April to May.

Arrange your trip with these essential things to do when planning your itinerary for Okinawa!