Okinawa Island



Okinawa, Japan, is a place of history, beauty and a friendly, laid-back lifestyle not seen elsewhere in the country. It is home to subtropical forests, coral reefs, sunken ships and ruins. It is a hidden paradise of warm, clear water waiting to be explored by both snorkelers and scuba divers of any level.

The Okinawa archipelagos are composed of 160 islands formed by coral and volcanic activity. They are located between the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, 500 mi/800 km east of Shanghai and 750 mi/1,200 km south of Japan proper. Its history is rich and intriguing, dating back some 10,000 years.

Off the main island of Okinawa, there are other historic dive sites to explore, as well as ecotours in the lush subtropical jungles and 15th-century castles.

The USS Emmons, a naval destroyer, sank off of the northwestern coast of Okinawa on 6 April 1945 when five Japanese pilots pummeled the ship, leaving her listless. It initially sunk in 240 ft/74 m of water but, because of typhoons in the area, the ship moved into shallower waters (145 ft/45 m deep) where it was discovered in 2001.

From the 15th century to the 19th century, the archipelagos were known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, an independent nation that wisely learned how to bridge cultural and political bridges with China, Japan and Korea.

The Shuri Castle was home to the king and acted as the main political and economic hub for Ryukyu. The castle was nearly destroyed during World War II; however, the architectural plans were preserved, and the castle was rebuilt as an exact replicate, incorporating a few original stone walls and underground storehouses that remained from the 15th century. In October 2019, the main structures of the reconstructed, all wood castle, which was a Unesco World Heritage site, caught fire and burned to the ground.

From the beginning of time, nature and the Okinawan spirit have been synonymous. Ecotours are available to explore the mangrove forests, waterfalls, rare plants and animals indigenous to the islands. The Kerama islands are just 20 mi/32 km southwest of the main island and provide great day trips. This group of islands provides world-class snorkeling, diving and kayaking.

Each season of the year brings special focus to nature in Okinawa Prefecture. During January and February, whale watching and cherry blossoms are spectacular; during the spring, marlin and sailfish abound; summer brings the coral blooms underwater; and fall sees the re-enactment parade and festival at Shurijo Castle.

Visitors should expect to spend at least four days there.

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