Getting to Okinawa and around the islands
Okinawa, the place studded with offshore islands, with stretches of white sand beaches and exquisite coastlines, letting people sit back and relax while watching clouds float over the blue ocean or listening to peaceful Okinawan folk music - is a tourist destination which most Japanese people love to visit. Since numerous guide books and websites have already described the charm of Okinawa and what to see and what to do there, here mentioned are some practical information including tips for getting there and around.
Lies in southern Japan, Okinawa Prefecture is a group of islands consist of islands including major Okinawa Honto(Main) Island, Kumejima Island, Miyako-shoto islands, Yaeyama-shoto islands and many other surrounding minor islands. The gateway of Okinawa is Naha City on the Okinawa Main Island, is about 1600km away from Tokyo, a 2-hour-20-minute flight distance.
Okinawa is situated in the subtropical climate zone and various activities are available throughout the year; diving, snorkeling, fishing, cycling, hiking, jungle cruise, as well as doing nothing but gazing at the crystal clear blue water which is the most popular one. Okinawa has its unique cultural background that brings an exotic taste of food, music and dancing that are different from those in other regions of Japan. The exotic atmosphere and the easygoing lifestyle attract visitors.
Kabira Bay (Kabirawan), Ishigakijima Island
Getting there from Tokyo by air
The gateway to Okinawa is Naha Airport 那覇空港 on Okinawa Honto Island (The main, largest island of Okinawa) and there are regular flights available between Naha and most major cities of Japan including Tokyo. About 30 daily flights are served between Tokyo Haneda Airport and Naha Airport, and about 5 flights between Narita International Airport and Naha Airport are served daily.
From/to Naha Airport international flights are also available. There are flights served between Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States (California) etc. Arriving at or leaving from Okinawa to start/end your trip in Japan may be an idea to make a travel plan.
Major islands of Okinawa, Kumejima Island, Miyakojima Island, and Ishigakijima Island also have an airport and direct flight from/to Tokyo, but the one hitch is that only a few flights are available daily or weekly. So, passengers usually fly via the hub airport Naha to reach the islands.
Getting around by sea
Attractions of Okinawa, especially on Yaeyama-shoto islands, are mostly found on remote islands reachable only by boat. The hub port of Yaeyama-shoto islands is on Ishigakijima Island, known as one of the most popular tourist destinations of Okinawa. The travel time by boat from Ishigakijima Island to those remote islands depends on which islands you go to, but it is from 10 minutes up to 60 minutes. The sea around the remote islands is often shallow off the shore, with light blue water.
Tourism is the largest industry of Okinawa and there are many accommodation facilities ranges from luxurious hotels, resort hotels, business hotels to guesthouses. Some travel agencies offer flight and hotel packages which allow you to save money for your budget. The information about these packages is usually available only in Japanese. It may be well worth considering if you understand Japanese.
Transfer from airport to your accommodation
In Naha City of Okinawa Honto there are many hotels reachable by monorail, about 10 to 20 minutes by taxi, 15 to 25 minutes by bus. Resort hotels are scattered around the island, in the area about 50 to 90 minutes by bus, and the bus fare is somewhere between 600 JP Yen and 2500 JP Yen depending on the travel distance. As for other major islands, many accommodations are located within a 10 to 20-min distance by car. Also, there are accommodations offering a free airport pick-up or a shuttle bus service that you should check when booking
On Okinawa Honto Island a monorail runs between Naha and Shuri Castle and this is the only train transport in Okinawa prefecture. The public transport available on the major islands of Okinawa is the bus (or taxi). The good thing is that you can catch the bus anywhere along the bus route outside of downtown. (Just raise your hand to attract the attention of the driver). Also, several types of unlimited ride passes are available. One thing you need to know is that the buses run only every one hour or less in the most areas, and places you can visit in a day will be very limited. Joining a tour or an excursion may be a good option for those who want to make a trip within a planned schedule. There are many travel companies and taxi companies offering various types of tours.
Yaiyama Village Garden on Ishigakijima Island
Taketomijima of Yaeyama-shoto islands
For those who want to take a take-it-easy trip, it may be better to use a car rental service. Hiring a car allows you not only to have easy access to destinations but also to enjoy the majestic views along the coral-fringed coastlines. You will get a great feeling from driving over the bridges between the islands. Picking up your rent-a-car at the airport on arrival at Okinawa by air will allow you to save money for a taxi or a bus to get to your accommodation.
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The easy, budget-friendly way to travel on small islands such as Taketomijima, Kohamajima and Kuroshima of Yaeyama-shoto islands, is to rent a bicycle as these remote islands are flat and are not as large as major islands. Bicycles may be hired at daily/hourly rate from a rental bike shop, is usually located near the port. You will get a great feeling from cycling, but watch out for heat stroke as Okinawa is much hotter than other regions of Japan and visitors who are not acclimated to the weather can quickly suffer from it.
Yubujima is reachable from Iriomotejima Island by oxcart
Taketomijima Island is about 10 minutes by boat from Ishigakijima Island
Enjoy cycling in Okinawa
Okinawa Prefecture has established a 337km cycling route around Okinawa’s main island, provides 85 Cycle Stations at hotels and parks along the road so that cyclists can park their bicycles at the bike stand to take a break. At the cycle stations, bike tools rentals and free route maps are available, and some of the facilities offer a slower service. The 337km route is suitable for advanced cyclists, but there are also several cycling routes in the main island suitable for beginners and intermediates.
During May and June heavy rains tend to suddenly fall and let up quickly, which is often known as a rainy season. Okinawa actually lies in a rainy region. However, it rarely rains all day long. Clouds across the sky quickly and the sun begins to shine soon. Also, many bays and coves are fringed with coral, and the light blue water fascinates visitors even on rainy days.
Important: Typhoons generally occur in the summer months; July, August and September. During this season what you have to concern about is flight cancellations due to severe weather conditions. In the case of a flight delay or cancellation, you will have to wait for an alternative flight to be arranged or wait for another flight as a standby passenger. It is suggested that you take account of such delay when scheduling your flights, especially if you leave from Japan right after your trip in Okinawa. Remember Okinawa is about 1600km away from Tokyo. The chances are that it is so sunny in Tokyo where international flights are right on schedule while a typhoon is hitting Okinawa. Relax, and take-it-easy is the travel style recommended to enjoy a trip on Okinawa islands.
In Okinawa, winter is in December and January. It becomes cold in Okinawa even the islands are located in the subtropical climate zone, but it is not much as cold as in Tokyo. The average temperature of Okinawa in January is 18C (64.4F) and it in Tokyo is 6C (42.8F). You may need a jacket when visiting Okinawa in winter. A windbreaker will be useful to protect against chill winds on beaches.
In summer the average temperature of Okinawa is 29.6C (85.28F) in July and also in August. This temperature is not much different from that in Tokyo, however, surprising to say, summer in Okinawa is rather cooler and more comfortable than Tokyo, it is because of the heat island phenomenon occurring in the urban areas of Tokyo. Since the sunshine is strong, you may need sun protection items such as a long-sleeved shirt, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen lotions.
With abundant nature and wildlife habitats, there are rules and cautions for environmental protection and your safety. Here mentioned are some of them and it is strongly recommended to check the detailed information on the website of OKINAWA Convention & Visitors Bureau. http://en.okinawastory.jp/
Watch out for poisonous animals while diving or snorkeling in the sea. In case you need urgent medical assistance after having been injured by them, ask someone who speaks Japanese for a help.
Do not go into any bushes where poisonous snakes live. The snake is called Habu and it sometimes found on the road.
In and near villages there are holy places called Utaki or On held sacred by the local people and visitors are not allowed to go into these places without permission.
In some areas on Okinawa islands there will be no mobile phone coverage.