Okinawa: A to Z
Araha Beach: Located close to various U.S. bases, namely Camp Foster and Camp Lester, and the San-A department store. Araha beach is good for people watching, walking, strolling, and jogging. It also has a swimming area that has life guards during 'summer season'.
Bios on the Hill: Located close to the Southeast Botanical Gardens in central Okinawa, Bios on the Hill has a similar character and offers a river boat ride through subtropical flora.
General Buckner Monument: Not easy to find, this small marker/monument comemorates the location where General Simon Bolivar Buckner, commander of the Tenth Army, was killed by enemy artillery shrapnel on June 18, 1945. General Buckner was the highest ranking U.S. military officer to be killed during WWII. The monument is located in Kuniyoshi, Itoman-city, in southern Okinawa, where most of the fighting took place.
Busena: A little farther up the west coast from Manzamou, just before Nago, is Busena Resort, host of the G-8 summit in 2000. Great beaches, as are many on this side part of the island. There is also an underwater observatory which costs 1000 Japanese yen. Views are from abour 10 meters below the water's surface.
Expo Park: Past Nago is the Expo Park which is highlighted by the Churaumi Aquarium whose aqautic denizens include whale sharks.
Fukushu Chinese Gardens: These Chinese style gardens with pavillions were a joint project by Naha and its sister city, Fuzhuo, China. A nice place to stroll and view various plants and generally a nice urban oasis in Naha.
Futenma Shrine & Cave: Located in Futenma, in south central Okinawa island, just outside the back gate of CampFoster, this site has an interesting shrine with a grotto underneath. There is a lot of subterranean geology underneath Okinawa, which is no surprise since the island is mostly limestone.
Ginowan Seaside Park: The park is home to the Okinawa Convention Center, Tropical Beach, and if you have kids, a great playground. Parking gets tight in the summer months because of the popularity of the beach, so plan ahead. If you don't go swimming, you can at least enjoy good views of both the East China Sea and the Ginowan cityscape from the seawall. Located south of the Route 58 split.
Gyokusendo: Said to be the largest cave system in East Asia, (although unlikely) the cave system is nonetheless impressive. Located in the southern part of Okinawa there is an 800 meter stretch that is publicly accessible along an underground river. The escalators that bring tourists underground spoil the effect as do some of the tacky displays among the natural formations.
Hedo, Cape: Most northern point on Okinawa Island. Monument marks the spot. Impressive cliffs and mountains form a nice backdrop. Beautiful coral formations off shore.
Hiji Falls: A 50 foot fall - the highest in Okinawa. Ominous signs warn US GIs that it is illegal to jump into the pool below the falls from the rocks above and a graphic list of injuries will hopefully deter all but the intoxicated. The falls, said to be the highest on the island, are reached by a steep, arduous 45 minute hike through jungle that is reminiscent of the Ho Chi Minh trail. As much as 500 vertical foot gain, maybe more. The water is refreshing, especially after the hike. The falls are located in northern Okinawa island near Okuma and Hentona.
Himeyuri Park: Well known park in southern Okinawa known especially for its variety of plants and cacti.
Ie-shima: A twenty-five minute ferry connects Ie with Okinawa's northwest coast. Today the island is home to pineapple and sugar cane fields and has some nice resorts. Of interest is the mountain that rises pyramid-like in the middle of the otherwise flat island and the monument to Ernie Pyle, the famous WWII correspondent who was killed in action on Ie-shima.
Ikei-jima. Located just off Okinawa's Pacific side with access by causeway/bridge, the island makes for a great weekend drive through agricultural fields and scenic coastline and has good beaches both public and private. The Big Time Resort is located along the island's coast as well.
Ishidatami: Unique stone walkway from ShuriCastle to Shuri city. Be careful when it rains, as the pavement gets slick. Plenty of places to stop and rest along path.
Japanese Navy Underground HQ: This was the underground bunker and last staging point for the Japanese military during the Battle of Okinawa, which lasted from April to June 1945. It is open daily and you can take self-guided tours through the network of tunnels. Located in Naha.
Kadena Airbase: Kadena Airbase was a Japanese Imperial airfield before the U.S. acquired it in 1945. Access requires a base pass and there is a 15 stop self-guided auto tour that outlines mostly war sites such as bunkers. The most interesting site are the royal tombs about 1 kilometer past the main gate (Gate 1) off Route 58 on the right hand side of the road (Douglas Blvd) as you climb the hill. Great views of the Kerama islands on this same stretch as you go downhill.
Kariyushi beach: Along Okinawa's west coast (East China Sea) south of Manzamou. Beautiful streetch of beaches with many resorts.
Katsuren Castle: Located in Katsuren township on the Yokatsu peninsula, this castle overlooks the NakagusukuBay of the Pacific Ocean. Free of charge it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Good views of it can be seen from approaching highway and the castle is accessed from a steep road.
Kerama Islands: Located about 25 miles west of Naha and visible from most points in southwest Okinawa island, these islands have the best diving and snorkeling in East Asia north of the Philippines. A one and a half hour ferry can get you to the main islands of Zamami or Tokashiki. Most of the other islands are uninhabited.
Kin Kanon: The Buddhist temple in Kin village is just another Buddhist temple, but its fame rests in what lies beneath. If you don't plunge down a steep set of stairs to visit the cave under the temple, you've missed out. The cave's formations are beautiful and the aomori stocks that are stashed make it more interesting. Located on the east coast of Okinawa. From the Okinawa expressway, take the Kin exit and drive north on 329 to village of Kin.
Kokusai dori, or Kokusai Street is not to be missed for any visitor to Naha. The various covered side streets take in all the smells and sounds of the island's consumer culture. Most interesting are the food stores and the various types of edibles that are sold ranging from fresh vegetables to seafood. Don't miss the various gift stores with all types of aomori and saki and the various streets and cookies that are to be sampled in each stores.
Kudaka: About three miles off the southeast tip of Okinawa. Remarkable snorkeling from a beach adjacent to the ferry terminal. Kudaka is considered to be a sacred island. Don't take shells from the island. If you do they will bring bad luck and cause personal misfortune unless they are returned. The village has some interesting houses surrounded by coral typhoon walls.
Kyan, Cape: At the southern tip of Okinawa and the scence of some of the fiercest fighting during WWII. The Peace Memorial Park and Himeyuri Gardens are in the general area. Today the area has beautiful stretches of unspoiled beaches that are undeveloped and remains a good place for beach combing. Rural agriculture villages populate the region which is relatviely close to Naha, the island's largest city and a major metropolis.
Maeda Point: Also known as Cape Maeda. A popular snorkel and diving spot off central Okinawa's west coast, or East China Sea.
Manzamou: This is a tourist trap so don't get trapped. Proceed directly past the souvenir stalls to the beautiful cliffs that look down into clear waters and coral pillows. Located on the East China Sea off Route 58 in the village of Onna.
Mihama American Village: Across Route 58 from Camp Lester in Chatan, the Mihama American Village offers trendy shops and a great JUSCO department store for shoppers, a ferris wheel for great views, and Sunset Beach for sunbathers. If these amenities don't satisfy, try the Terme Villa Chula-U spa next to Sunset Beach. A mix of Japanese style baths and a very heated outdoor pool are great for relaxation.
Morinokawa spring: Look for signs on Route 58 just south of Futenma for this hard-to-find park that offers a nice reprieve and a good place for a picnic. Water comes out of the rock where a stone pool has been built around a natural spring. Turn right at the stop light in Mashiki-cho and head up the steep hill.
Nago Pineapple Park: Admittedly this is a tourist trap but it's a fun place to go nevertheless. You can purchase anything from pineapple spirits, cake, cookies, candy, and whatever else they make from pineapples after you have sampled them all. You can also purchase just a plain pineapple if you like. Located outside of Nago off Route 72.
Nakagusuku Castle: Nakagusuku castle was visited by Commodore Perry during his voyages in the East Pacific. It is in south central Okinawa. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nakajin Castle: Located near Nago, in northern Okinawa, Nakajin hosts the annual cherry blossom festival in February. It's a big thing for the Japanese as the ones at Nakajin are the first to bloom in all of Japan. Historically significant and one of five castles in Okinawa that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Nakamura homestead: An interesting well-preserved homestead of Okinawan farmers. Just down the hill from Nakagusuku Castle. The Nakamura homestead is a well-preserved antique but the traditional Okinawan-roofed houses can be found everywhere which creates a uniqueblend of old and new. These houses are among modern apartments in Isa-cho, Ginowan-machi.
Naminoue Shrine. This colorful waterside shrine in Naha overlooks the harbor and is close to a nice city beach, called the Naminoue Beach, adjacent to the bridge. It is up the street from a Buddhist temple known as Gokokuji. Both are located in a quiet corner fo the city.
Okinawa Zoo and Children's Discovery Kingdom: In central Okinawa near Okinawa City. Set in a very hilly section along the central backbone of Okinawa, it's a good place to bring kids and the zoo has a decent collection of animals although some of the enclosures need updating badly. Carp pond, playgrounds, petting zoo, and kiddy rides included.
Peace Memorial Park: In southern Okinawa this park is a tribute to the bloody battle that took place on the island and killed some 125,000 - mostly Okinawan civilians. Located at Mabuni Hill, where the battle finally ended. The memorial, completed in 1995, contains the names of 30,000 military personnel, both Japanese and U.S., who died during the battle.
Ryukyu Mura: This is touristy and a mainstay in tourist brochures of the island, but don't let that dissuade you from going. It's a very interesting collection of working native Okinawan houses and buildings that interpret and recreate native Okinawa. All of the buildings are authentic and traditional. Easily reached from route 58 in the town of Yomitan a few miles north of Kadena Air Base.
Seifa Utaki: A jumble of huge limestone stones 60 feet high just across the sound from Kudaka in Chinen village, Okinawa island. A Shinto sacred site with UNESCO World Heritage recognition.
Shuri Castle: Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and undoubtedly the best known cultural monument in Okinawa. A faithful reproduction of the original castle has been rebuilt. During WWII the Japanese Military chose the castle grounds, which sits at a high point to make a last stand against the Americans. Before its destruction in WWII, the castle burnt to the ground in 1868. It has been the focal point of the Ryukyu dynasty since the 15th century. A great place to walk, you only pay to enter the inner sanctuary (1000 Yen as of 2006). The rest is free access.
Sogeniji Gate: Located in Naha close to the Miebashi monorail stop, the Gate (free access) commemorates a worship site of Ryukuan royalty. It originally dates from the 16th century, but the current site was mostly reconstructed after WWII. It's not worth a separate trip unless you are in the area and happen to be close by.
Southeast Botanical Gardens: Okinawa's answer to plant lovers. A nice assortment of plants, with special attention to native and tropical species. Good place to walk.
Tamaudan tombs: A UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just down the road from Shuri castle, these tombs housed the remains of the Ryukyu dynasty royal family. See photo above of a 'turtle back' tomb that is found across the island. This one is located on Route 81 in Kitanakagusuku village adjacent to MCB Camp Butler.
Yanbaru Tropical Gardens: North of Nago is some spectacular scenery and backcountry known as the Yanbaru. The tropical gardens are complete with a stunning backdrop framed by Yae-dake (453 meters, 1486'). Complete with a gift shop, restaurant, and paths that led down into the botanical gardens, it's most enjoyable aspect are the great views.
Yomitan Pottery Village: Not far from Ryukyu Mura is the pottery village that features crafts, mostly glassworks and pottery, made by local artisans. Of interest are the pottery kilns and their unique shape. Of course there are plenty of shops to purchase from.
Zakimi Castle: Located in Yomitan township, this castle has incredible views of the East China Sea. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and free of charge.
Zanpa, Cape. Ten kilometers from Cape Maeda, Zanpa has impressive sea cliffs, rough waters and high winds. Walking paths skirt the cliff edges.
Other hubs by jvhirniak about Japan:
jvhirniak (author) on July 30, 2009:
Internpete: I'm sure you know much more about Oki if you've been there since 2001. I enjoyed my short time there very much. So much to see and do.
Peter V from At the Beach in Florida on July 28, 2009:
Very cool! I was wondering if anyone had posted anything about Okinawa, and so you have! I have lived on Okinawa since 2001. Very nice hub!