|Area (rank)||2,271.30 km² (44th)|
|- % water||0.5%|
|Population (December 1, 2008)|
|- Population||1,379,338 (32nd)|
|- Density||606 /km²|
|- Flower||Deigo (Erythrina variegata)|
|- Tree||Pinus luchuensis (ryūkyūmatsu)|
|- Bird||Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii)|
|- Fish||Banana Fish (Caesio diagramma,"Takasago", "Gurukan")|
Symbol of Okinawa Prefecture
|Template ■ Discussion ■ WikiProject Japan|
Okinawa Prefecture (沖縄県 Okinawa-ken , Okinawan: Uchinaa) is one of Japan's southern prefectures, and consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 1,000 km long, which extends southwest from Kyūshū (the southwesternmost of Japan's main four islands) to Taiwan. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of the largest and most populous island, Okinawa Island, which is approximately half-way between Kyūshū and Taiwan. The disputed Senkaku Islands (Mandarin: Diaoyu Islands) are also administered as part of Okinawa Prefecture at present.
The oldest evidence of human existence in the Ryukyu islands was discovered in Naha and Yaese. Some human bone fragments from the Paleolithic era were unearthed, but there is no clear evidence of Paleolithic remains. Japanese Jōmon influences are dominant in the Okinawa Islands, although clay vessels in the Sakishima Islands have a commonality with those in Taiwan.
The first mention of the word Ryukyu was written in the Book of Sui. This Ryukyu might refer to Taiwan, not the Ryukyu islands. Okinawa was the Japanese word depicting the islands, first seen in the biography of Jianzhen, written in 779. Agricultural societies begun in the 8th century slowly developed until the 12th century. Since the islands are located in the center of the East China Sea relatively close to Japan, China and South-East Asia, the Ryūkyū Kingdom became a prosperous trading nation. Also during this period, many Gusukus, similar to castles, were constructed. The Ryūkyū Kingdom had a tributary relationship with the Chinese Empire beginning in the 15th century.
In 1609 the Satsuma clan, which controlled the region that is now Kagoshima Prefecture, invaded the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Following the invasion the Ryūkyū Kingdom surrendered to the Satsuma and was forced to form a tributary relationship with Satsuma and the Tokugawa shogunate, in addition to its previous relationship with China. Ryukyuan sovereignty was maintained since complete annexation would create a problem with China. The Satsuma clan earned considerable profits from trades with China during a period in which foreign trade was heavily restricted by the shogunate.
Though Satsuma maintained strong influence over the islands, the Ryūkyū Kingdom maintained a considerable degree of domestic political freedom for over two hundred years. Four years after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government, through military incursions, officially annexed the kingdom and renamed it Ryukyu han. At the time, the Qing Dynasty of China asserted sovereignty over the islands of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, since the Ryūkyū Kingdom was also a tributary nation of China. Ryukyu han became Okinawa Prefecture of Japan in 1879, even though all other hans had become prefectures of Japan in 1872.
Following the Battle of Okinawa and the end of World War II in 1945, Okinawa was under United States administration for 27 years. During the trusteeship rule the USAF established numerous military bases on the Ryukyu islands.
In 1972, the U.S. government returned the islands to Japanese administration. Under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) have maintained a large military presence. 27,000 personnel, including 15,000 Marines, contingents from the Navy, Army and Air Force, and their 22,000 family members are stationed in Okinawa. 18% of the main island was occupied by U.S. military bases and 75% of all USFJ bases are located in Okinawa prefecture.
Accidents and crimes committed by U.S. servicemen have reduced local citizens' support for the U.S. military bases. The Japanese and the U.S. government consider the mutual security treaty and the USFJ absolutely necessary. The rape of a 12 year old girl by U.S. servicemen in 1995 triggered large protests in Okinawa. As a result, both the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and other minor bases. However, at present, the closure of the bases has been indefinitely postponed. These disagreements also contribute to the relatively recent anti-Japanese sentiment and ensuing Ryukyu independence movement.
The set of islands belonging to the prefecture is called Ryūkyū Shotō (琉球諸島). Okinawa's inhabited islands are typically divided into three geographical archipelagos. From northeast to southwest:
Okinawa Prefecture includes eleven cities.
These are the towns and villages in each district.
The island is largely composed of coral rock, and rainwater filtering through that coral has given the island many caves, which played an important role in the Battle of Okinawa. Gyokusendo is an extensive limestone cave in the southern part of Okinawa's main island.
The island experiences temperatures above 20 °C (68 °F) for most of the year. Okinawa and the many islands that make up the prefecture contains some of the most abundant coral reefs found in the world. Rare blue corals are found off of Ishigaki and Miyako islands as are numerous species throughout the chain.
Okinawa prefecture age pyramid as of October 1, 2003
(per 1000s of people)
Okinawa Prefecture age pyramid, divided by sex, as of October 1, 2003
(per 1000s of people)
Coral reefs found in this region of Japan, provides an environment to specific fauna. The Sea turtles return yearly to the southern islands of Okinawa to lay their eggs. The summer months carry warnings to swimmers regarding poisonous jellyfish and other dangerous sea creatures. Okinawa is a major producer of sugar cane, pineapple, papaya, and other tropical fruit, and the Southeast Botanical Gardens represent tropical plant species.
Having historically been a separate nation, Okinawan language and culture differ in many ways from that of mainland Japan.
There remain numerous Ryukyuan languages which are more-or-less incomprehensible to Japanese speakers. These languages are in decline as the Mainland Japanese is being used by the younger generation. Many linguists, at least those outside Japan, consider Ryukyuan languages as different languages from Japanese, while they are generally perceived as "dialects" by mainland Japanese and Okinawans themselves. Standard Japanese is almost always used in formal situations. In informal situations, de facto everyday language among Okinawans under age 60 is Okinawa-accented mainland Japanese called ウチナーヤマトグチ (Uchinaa Yamatoguchi "Okinawan Japanese"), which is often misunderstood as Okinawan language proper, ウチナーグチ (Uchinaaguchi "Okinawan language"). Uchinaaguchi is still used in traditional cultural activities, such as folk music, or folk dance. There is a radio news program in the language as well. 
Okinawa also has its own religious beliefs, generally characterized by ancestor worship and the respecting of relationships between the living, the dead, and the gods and spirits of the natural world.
Okinawan culture bears traces of its various trading partners. One can find Chinese, Thai and Austronesian influences in the island's customs. Perhaps Okinawa's most famous cultural export is karate, probably a product of the close ties with and influence of China on Okinawan culture. Karate is thought to be a synthesis of Chinese kung fu with traditional Okinawan martial arts. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods after the invasion and forced annexation by Japan during the Meiji Restoration period also very likely contributed to its development.
The people of Okinawa maintain a strong tradition of pottery, textiles, and glass making.
Other prominent examples of Okinawan culture include the sanshin—a three-stringed Okinawan instrument, closely related to the Chinese sanxian, and ancestor of the Japanese shamisen, somewhat similar to a banjo. Its body is often bound with snakeskin (from pythons, imported from elsewhere in Asia, rather than from Okinawa's venomous Trimeresurus flavoviridis, which are too small for this purpose). Okinawan culture also features the eisa dance, a traditional drumming dance. A traditional craft, the fabric named bingata, is made in workshops on the main island and elsewhere.
The Okinawan diet consist of low-fat, low-salt foods, such as fish, tofu, and seaweed. Okinawans are known for their longevity. Individuals live longer on this Japanese island than anywhere in the world. Five times as many Okinawans live to be 100 as in the rest of Japan, and the Japanese are the longest-lived nationality in the world. There are 34.7 centenarians for every 100,000 inhabitants, being the highest ratio in the world. The possible explanations to this fact is the diet, low-stress lifestyle, caring community, activity, and spirituality of the inhabitants of the island..
In recent years, Okinawan literature has been appreciated outside of the Ryūkyū archipelago. Two Okinawan writers have received the Akutagawa Prize: Matayoshi Eiki in 1995 for The Pig's Retribution (豚の報い Buta no mukui ) and Medoruma Shun in 1997 for A Drop of Water (Suiteki). The prize was also won by Okinawans in 1967 by Tatsuhiro Oshiro for Cocktail Party (Kakuteru Pāti) and in 1971 by Mineo Higashi for Okinawan Boy (Okinawa no Shōnen).
Karate originated in Okinawa. Over time, it developed into several styles and sub-styles, among them Wado Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Goju Ryu, Shotokan, Gohaku-Kai, Isshin-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Shorinji Ryu and Pangai-noon.
Okinawa has many remains of a unique type of castle or fortress called Gusuku. These are believed to be the predecessors of Japan's castles.
Whereas most homes in Japan are made with wood and allow free-flow of air to combat humidity, typical modern homes in Okinawa are made from concrete with barred windows (protection from flying plant matter) to deal with regular typhoons. Roofs are also designed with strong winds in mind, with each tile cemented on and not merely layered as seen with many homes elsewhere in Japan.
Many roofs also display a statue resembling a lion or dragon, called a shisa, which is said to protect the home from danger. Roofs are typically red in color and are inspired by Chinese design.
Between 1965 and 1972 Okinawa was a key staging point for the United States, in its military operations directed towards North Vietnam. Okinawa along with Guam also presented the United States military a geographically strategic launch pad for covert bombing missions over Cambodia and Laos. Anti Vietnam War sentiment became linked politically to the movement for reversion of Okinawa to Japan. Political leaders such as Oda Makoto, a major figure in the Beheiren movement (Foundation of Citizens for Peace in Vietnam), believed that the return of Okinawa to Japan would lead to the removal of U.S forces ending Japan’s involvement in Vietnam. In a speech delivered in 1967 Oda was critical of Prime Minister Sato’s unilateral support of America’s War in Vietnam claiming "Realistically we are all guilty of complicity in the Vietnam War".
The United States military bases on Okinawa became a focal point for anti-Vietnam War sentiment. By 1969 over 50,000 American military personnel were stationed on Okinawa, accustomed to privileges and laws not shared by the indigenous population. The United States Department of Defense began referring to Okinawa as "The Keystone of the Pacific". This idea was even stated on U.S military license plates.
As controversy grew regarding the alleged placement of Nuclear Weapons on Okinawa, so fears intensified on the possible escalation of the Vietnam conflict. Okinawa was now seen by some inside Japan as a potential target for China, should the communist government feel threatened by the United States.. American military secrecy blocked any local reporting on what was actually occurring at such bases as Kadena. But as information leaked out, and images of air strikes were published, the local population began to fear the potential for retaliation .
The Beheiren became a more visible protest movement on Okinawa as the American involvement in Vietnam intensified. The anti-war movement employed tactics ranging from demonstrations, to handing leaflets to Soldiers directly, warning of the implications for a third World War. The Vietnam War forced many Okinawan's to address their own recent history, in particular the destruction wrought by the battle of Okinawa in World War Two. Images of devastation in Vietnam, by planes based and armed in Okinawa, led many to see parallels in the two conflicts. This sympathy for a fellow Asian nation only increased public outrage, and calls for a return to what Okinawans called "Absolute Pacifism".
The United States military bases, once viewed as paternal post war protection, were increasingly seen as aggressive. The military build up on the island during the Cold War increased a division between local inhabitants and the American military. The Vietnam War highlighted the differences between the United States and Okinawa, but showed a commonality between the islands and mainland Japan..
Because the islands are close to China and Taiwan, the United States has large military bases on the island. The area of 14 U.S. bases are 233 square kilometres (90 sq mi), occupying 18% of the main island. Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan's land, but hosts about two-thirds of the 40,000 American forces in the country. Two major bases, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Kadena Air Base are located near residential areas. One third (9,852 acres) of the land used by the U.S. military is the Marine Corps Northern Training Area in the north of the island.
According to a 2007 Okinawa Times poll, 85% of Okinawans oppose the presence of the U.S. military due to noise pollution from military drills, aircraft accidents, such as one in 1959 which killed 17 people, and environmental degradation, and crimes committed by U.S. military personnel. The Okinawan prefectural government and local municipalities have made various withdrawal demands of the U.S. military since the end of WWII, but no fundamental solution has ever been undertaken by either the Japanese or U.S. governments.
On September 4, 1995, two U.S. Marines and a sailor abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl. At the time of the incident, Japanese police could not arrest the men known to be involved because they had to remain with the United States Military until charged in a court, per the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. Anti-military base emotions erupted in some of the largest protests in recent history. Eventually through political pressure, the former Marines were tried and convicted in early 1996. As a result of this incident the Status of Forces Agreement, which was criticized for being too protective of U.S. servicemen involved in crimes, underwent revision.
In November 1995, a group called "Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence" was organized to raise awareness of crimes alleged to have been committed by U.S. military personnel on the island. Sentiments against the United States military presence in Okinawa were inflamed further by the Michael Brown Okinawa assault incident, in which a Marine Corps Major charged with attempted rape (and later convicted of the reduced charge of attempted indecent assault) was not turned over to the Japanese authorities at their request. Okinawa authorities pressed for a modification of the Status of Forces Agreement in an effort to remove the military's unilateral right to determine whether it would turn over a servicemember charged with a serious crime.
Tensions increased even more following allegations of an assault committed by an American serviceman against a minor. A restriction was imposed to all U.S. military and Status of Forces Agreement eligible personnel at bases in Okinawa and Iwakuni in February, 2008. It has since been lifted.
In April 2008 the U.S. Military charged a Marine with raping a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa, pressing ahead with a case that spurred protests against the U.S. presence on the island. U.S. military charges against Staff Sgt. Tyrone L. Hadnott included rape, kidnapping through luring. Hadnott pleaded guilty to the assault charge, but was cleared of the charges of rape and kidnapping. He was convicted on the assault charge with a prison sentence of three years and dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military. Hadnott was not indicted by Japanese prosecutors, however, because the girl declined to file charges.
The Japanese government strictly restrained the introduction of nuclear arms into Japanese territory by the non-nuclear policy (Three Non-Nuclear Principles). Prior to the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese administration in 1972, it is speculated, but never confirmed, that 1200 nuclear weapons were deployed to U.S. bases in Okinawa. Most of the weapons were stored in ammunition bunkers at Kadena Air Base.
There are conspiracy theorists who speculate that not all the supposed weapons were removed from Okinawa. Edwin O. Reischauer, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in 1981, said that U.S. naval ships armed with nukes stopped at Japanese ports on a routine duty, and this was approved by the Japanese government.
The governments of the United States and Japan agreed on October 26, 2005 to move the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma base from its location in the densely populated city of Ginowan to the more northerly and remote Camp Schwab. Under the plan, thousands of Marines will relocate. The move is partly an attempt to relieve tensions between the people of Okinawa and the Marine Corps. Protests from environmental groups and residents over the construction of part of a runway at Camp Schwab, and from businessmen and politicians around Futenma and Henoko, have occurred.
The legality of the proposed heliport relocation has been questioned as being a violation of International Law, including the World Heritage Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in an article titled "Boundary Intersections of UNESCO Heritage Conventions: Using Custom and Cultural Landscapes to Save Okinawa’s Dugong Habitat from U.S. Heliport Construction". The article even questions whether the current use of Camp Schwab for amphibious training violates these three conventions.
As recently as 2003 the U.S. was considering moving most of the 20,000 Marines on Okinawa to new bases that would be established in Australia; increasing the presence of U.S. troops in Singapore and Malaysia; and seeking agreements to base Navy ships in Vietnamese waters and ground troops in the Philippines.
As of 2006, some 8,000 U.S. Marines were being removed from the island and being relocated to Guam. In November 2008, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Timothy Keating stated that the move to Guam would probably not be completed before 2015.
Japan's foreign minister Katsuya Okada said he wants to review the deployment of U.S. troops in Japan to ease the burden on the people of Okinawa, where many U.S. bases are located, the Associated Press reported October 7, 2009.
The public schools in Okinawa are overseen by the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education. The agency directly operates several public high schools. The U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) operates 13 schools total in Okinawa. Seven of these schools are located on Kadena Air Base.
Okinawa has many types of private schools. Some of them are cram schools, also known as juku. Others, such as Nova did, solely teach language. Since Nova's closure, more people are favoring small language schools . Japanese language schools for foreigners are also becoming popular in Okinawa.
There are 10 colleges/universities in Okinawa including the Asian Division of University of Maryland University College (UMUC).
There are numerous golf courses in the prefecture, and there was formerly a professional tournament called the Okinawa Open.
The major ports of Okinawa include
The name Okinawa means "rope in the open sea", a fairly apt description of this long stretch of islands between mainland Japan and Taiwan. Consisting of 41 inhabited islands and 16 uninhabited islands, Okinawa has the only sub-tropical climate in Japan and as such is a major tourist destination for the Japanese, but not many foreign visitors make it to these shores.
Once the independent kingdom of Ryūkyū (琉球), which was a tributary state of imperial China, the islands were first invaded and brought under the control of Satsuma (modern-day Kagoshima) in 1609, who continued to use them as a conduit for trade with China, to the profit of all three parties.
However, Ryūkyū was annexed outright by Japan during the Meiji Restoration in 1879, and the Japanese proceeded to impose punitive taxes and did their best to suppress indigenous culture, language and religion. Worse was to come during World War II, when heavy bombardment and suicidal Japanese tactics, including the use of civilians as human shields, killed 120,000 Okinawans or one fourth of their population at the Battle of Okinawa. Post-war they remained under U.S. occupation until 1972, and the presence of several large American military bases on Okinawa Island remains a sore point between the local government and the Japanese national government.
With their own language and customs, Okinawans still regard themselves as different from the mainland Japanese and some still harbor a certain degree of resentment towards the mainland for the brutal way the islands were treated as colonies and during World War II. Okinawans proudly call themselves uminchu (海人) or "sea people" in the local dialect and talk of the way things are done on the shima (島) or island(s), in contrast to the ways of the mainland, known as hontō (本島) in standard Japanese, yamato (ヤマト) in the local dialect, and sometimes as the slightly derisive local slang naichi (内地).
Okinawa's most famous export worldwide is the martial art of karate. In recent years Okinawan culture has become quite popular throughout Japan thanks to popular musicians and local foods. Okinawan music is very attractive and unique because of the mixture of original Okinawan sounds and American rock, jazz, and other sounds from the USA. The distinctive instrument of choice is the sanshin (三線), a three-stringed, banjo-like distant relative of the mainland's shamisen, whose pentatonic melodies are instantly recognizable. The island has produced a disproportionate amount of musicians, most famously J-pop singer Namie Amuro, and The Boom's electric-guitar-and-sanshin Shimauta ("Island Song") has been dubbed Okinawa's unofficial national anthem — even though the group actually hails from mainland Yamanashi.
On the roof or at the gate of almost every house you will spot the ubiquitous Okinawan shīsa or guardian lion-dogs, one with its mouth open to catch good fortune, the other with its mouth closed to keep good fortune in.
Okinawa is subtropical and even in winter temperatures rarely drop below 15°C in the daytime, making the area a popular winter getaway, although it's often cloudy and usually a little too cold for sunbathing. Spring, around March and April, is an excellent time to visit if you take care to avoid Golden Week at end of April. The rainy season starts early in May and continues until June. Summer in Okinawa is hot and humid but still one of the peak visiting seasons, while September-October brings a succession of fierce typhoons. November and December are again good times to visit.
Er, excuse me?
One of the most distinctive features of modern Okinawan is appending the English ending -er for people who do, well, pretty much anything. The meaning of "boozer" (ブーザー) is fairly obvious, while a "shrimper" (シュリンパー) is just somebody who likes shrimp. However, the common semi-affectionate "beacher" (ビーチャ―) does not refer to someone who enjoys healthy marine sports, it means an alcoholic drunk!
Okinawa has its own language group, known as Ryukyuan (琉球語 ryūkyūgo in Japanese), which it shares (along with much of its culture) with the Amami Islands in Kagoshima prefecture. These languages are related to Japanese (together, they form the "Japonic family"), but are generally incomprehensible to Japanese speakers. The largest of these languages, the Okinawan language (Okinawan ucināguci, Japanese 沖縄語 okinawago), is spoken on the main island of Okinawa and the surrounding islands, and is not used much these days. Most people under 20 can't speak it, the most common exceptions being people who were raised by their grandparents and people who grew up in rural areas. To further complicate things, each of Okinawa's major islands has its own distinct dialect, some of which are different enough to be considered their own languages by some.
In the Daito Islands, the obscure Hachijo dialect of Japanese by immigrants from the Hachijo Islands is the native language. The Hachijo-Daito dialects are direct descendants of the Eastern dialect of Old Japanese, while all mainland dialects are descendants of the Western dialect.
All Okinawans speak standard Japanese, and many understand English as well, particularly on the main island which has several large US military bases.
Most visitors arrive in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Domestic flights do connect major Japanese cities directly to some other Okinawan islands like Miyako and Ishigaki, but prices can be steep; for example, the standard one-way fare for Tokyo-Ishigaki is a whopping ¥50,000. Using an international airpass like Star Alliance's Visit Japan or JAL's Welcome to Japan, both of which allow domestic flights in Japan for ¥12,000, may allow considerable savings.
Ferry services to Okinawa have been cut drastically in the last few years, with Arimura Sangyo filing for bankruptcy and RKK Line stopping passenger services entirely. With long travel times, bumpy seas, frequent cancellations in the fall typhoon season and prices that aren't any cheaper than flying, it's easy to see why this isn't too popular anymore.
As of November 2008, the only survivors are A-Line Ferry , aka Maru-A (マルエー), which runs twice a week from Kagoshima (25 hours, ¥16,000 2nd class one-way) and once a week from both Osaka/Kobe and Tokyo (44 hours, ¥28,000) to Naha, and Marix Line , which runs between Kagoshima and Naha only. All ferries call at various minor islands including Yoron and Amami Oshima along the way. Note that if you don't speak Japanese, you will find it easier to book through a travel agent.
Ferry and air connections link the islands together, but many of them are simply so small in population that scheduled services may be infrequent and prices high.
Flights between the islands are mostly handled by Japan Transocean Air (JTA; ) and its subsidiary Ryukyu Air Commuter (RAC), both owned by JAL. ANA's subsidiary Air Nippon (ANK) also has a limited network radiating out from Naha. If you plan on traveling extensively in the region by plane, consider JTA's Churashima Kippu, which gets you five JTA/RAC flights of your choice for ¥35,000.
There are dense webs of ferry links between nearby islands, but only infrequent cargo boats ply lengthier routes like Naha-Ishigaki. If traveling by boat in late summer, note that the area around Okinawa is known as Typhoon Alley for a reason.
Most people come to Okinawa for the sun and beaches. Even in midwinter, when mainland Japan teeters around the freezing point, temperatures rarely dip below 15°C in Okinawa. For more adventurous types, the vast yet almost uninhabited island of Iriomote is covered in dense jungle.
Cultural attractions are rather more limited, as the Japanese invasion and subsequent brutal colonization coupled with fighting in World War II did a regrettably thorough job of eliminating most traces of the Ryukyu Kingdom, but two standouts are the newly rebuilt Shuri Castle  in Naha on Okinawa Island, and the carefully preserved tiny village of Taketomi in the southern Yaeyama Islands.
Historical sites related to World War II can be found throughout the islands, especially the main island of Okinawa, including the Peace Memorial Park in Naha, the navy's former underground headquarters and the Himeyuri Monument.
Okinawa is the best place in Japan for all sorts of watersports.
Most Japanese diving terminology is imported straight from English (finzu, masuku, regyurētā, etc), but the following terms are not:
Scuba diving is very popular in Okinawa, but expensive compared to, say, South-East Asia — you'll usually be looking at around ¥17,000 for a day's diving off a boat plus an additional ¥5,000+ if you need gear rental. For a 3-day certification course you'll need to fork out a cool ¥70,000 or so. Fortunately, a lot of the diving on Okinawa can be done from the shore (no boat needed), in which case you can get full gear rental and tanks for around ¥5,000, or if you just need tanks (and can guide yourself) then it will only be around ¥700 per tank. To top it off many shops don't accept credit cards, so you'll need to carry a thick wad of yen to pay for it all. The language barrier can also be an issue, with most shops only set up to cater to Japanese-speaking tourists, although Bluefield in Kadena, Reef Encounters in Chatan on Okinawa Island, and Umicōza on Ishigaki are welcome exceptions.
If all this doesn't put you off, there is some world-class diving to look forward to: particular highlights include the gorgeous reefs surrounding the Kerama Islands, the manta rays of Miyako and Ishigaki and the hammerhead sharks and underwater ruins of Yonaguni. The waters are generally divable all year, although water temperature fluctuates between 22°C in the winter to around 29°C in summer. Also, beware of the typhoons during June-November and the north wind that may frequently close diving sites in the north shores of many of the islands during November and December. Many people dive in boardshorts and rashguards half the year. Most Japanese divers wear a 5mm full-body wetsuit, and dive shops usually provide aluminum tanks with American-style fittings.
Surfing is popular in Okinawa, but it's not particularly easy: waves break over very shallow shelves of reef and/or basaltic rock, resulting in challenging waves. Surfing spots can be found all over the archipelago, but most surfers surf off the main island. Check out Mensore Surfing for weather forecasts and up-to-date info.
Okinawa has some of the best offshore fishing in the world. Some fish are seasonal, but there are fish for every season of the year. Marlin, mahi mahi, and various species of tuna are some of the fish that are teeming in Okinawa's crystal clear seas. There are many places where you can find a boat to go fishing, but as with diving, language can be a major issue. Some charter services provide fishing tackle, and others require you to rent fishing gear. The 2008-2009 Issue of "Okinawa Island Guide" has featured Saltwater Fishing Okinawa for catering to Japanese, English, and Chinese speaking travelers.
The cost for offshore fishing in Okinawa is comparable to other charter services around the world. Usually about $100 US Dollars per person for walk on charters, and up to $1,500 US Dollars for private charters.
Okinawan cuisine is distinctly different from that of mainland Japan and bears notable Taiwanese influences. Okinawans too proudly proclaim that they use every part of the pig except the squeal and pork makes an appearance in almost every dish, including bits like ears, trotters and blood which are generally disdained by the Japanese. Even Spam has a distinct following.
Other Okinawan ingredients include vegetables rarely seen on the Japanese mainland such as bitter melon (ゴーヤー gōyā) and purple yam (紫芋 murasaki-imo). Okinawan tropical fruits including mango, papaya, pineapple, dragonfruit and the sour lime-like calamansi (シークァーサー shīkwāsā) are delicious when in season. Dark cane sugar (黒砂糖 kurosatō) is also a popular snack, eaten both as is and made into a vast variety of candies and pastries.
A small gōyā gourd (front) and a scoop of gōyā champurū (back)
Sōki soba noodles
Mimigā (pig ear) and Chiragā (pig face)
Sukugarasu on tofu
Umibudō (sea grapes)
Some dishes worth trying:
Okinawan chinmi or "strange foods", eaten as snacks with drinking, include:
Aficionados of American fast food may find Okinawa to be a curious treat, as many American restaurants popped up here to serve the US military long before they made it to the mainland. Most prominent is the presence of A&W outlets serving hamburgers and root beer (with free refills, even), available practically nowhere else in Japan. Foremost ice cream (under the "Blue Seal" brand) is also common. Several hybrid Okinawan-American dishes, most of which seem to employ copious quantities of Spam, are widely available:
The local brew of choice is awamori (泡盛), a notoriously strong rice liquor that can contain up to 60% alcohol. Unlike Japanese shochu, which is usually prepared from potatoes or barley, awamori is brewed using imported Thai jasmine rice since during the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, short-grain rice could not be brought in from the mainland.
Awamori keeps well, and when stored more than three years is known as kūsu (古酒, also read koshu in standard Japanese). If the label indicates a specific age, it's 100% at least that old; however, kūsu without a given age is usually a blend of 50% 3-year-old and 50% new awamori.
Okinawa's local beer Orion is a safer alternative, at least in small quantities. Most larger islands also have their own microbreweries.
Naha has the busy nightlife scene you'd expect of a large city, livened up by the presence of many GIs from the military bases.
Okinawa has many live houses in Naha city and Okinawa city, with styles ranging from Okinawan traditional folk music to American rock, jazz and other sounds from the USA. The charge depends on the artist but it’s usually about ¥1000-3500, plus one drink. Check the time, the artist, and the price before you go.
Broadly speaking, accommodation on Okinawa can be divided into two brackets: cheap basic lodges, and expensive fancy resorts. Another option is sleeping in campsites.
Okinawa has a multitude of cheap minshuku-type lodges geared towards poor surfers and divers, and unlike the mainland many offer or even specialize in bed-only (素泊まりsudomari) stays with no meals included. The very cheapest dorm-type places can go for less than ¥2000, although you'll usually be looking at a minimum of ¥3000 for your own room and around ¥5000 if you want two meals. Watch out for hidden charges for things like air-con, fridge rental or even using the shower.
In Naha you can easily find dirt-cheap places starting from ¥1000 per night.
There are many campsites around Okinawa, some on nice beaches. They offer cheap accommodation if you have your own tent and sleeping bag(&mat) for ¥500-1000/night. Their facilities are sometimes very poor, they have only cold shower for example (and they even charge you for using it!) and no cooking/cleaning facilities. However they often rent out BBQ sets (2-3000 yen) which can make the night unforgettable.
B&B-type pensions are the most common midrange option, although there are some city hotels also. Figure on around ¥10,000/person with two meals.
The other end of the spectrum is Okinawa's host of resorts, usually located on a private beach in some remote corner of the island — which means you'll be stuck eating at the resort's expensive restaurant and using their expensive watersports services. Rack rates for these places tend to be ludicrous (¥20,000+/head/night), but you can usually get steep discounts by buying flight and hotel packages, especially in the low season.
Okinawa is as safe as mainland Japan or more so. On the smaller islands it's not uncommon to leave front doors not merely unlocked, but open all day.
The number one health risk on Okinawa is sunburn, and it doesn't take long at all to get fried to a crisp when it's sunny outside. Slap on plenty of lotion.
Okinawa is also home to Japan's most fearsome array of poisonous critters. Jellyfish (クラゲ kurage) and a variety of marine creatures that sting if stepped on present a risk. Also, habu, a snake with very deadly venom should also be watched out for throughout the year. Check out the posters (in Japanese, and sometimes in English) on the beaches explaining the dangerous marine animals.
Okinawa (hiragana おきなわ)
Okinawa is the name for the islands in the far south of Japan. There are hundreds of small islands in Okinawa. These islands make up Okinawa Prefecture. The capital of Okinawa is Naha. Naha is on the island with the most people, Okinawa island. Okinawa used to be called the Ryukyu islands.
Many of Okinawa's islands are scenic, and there are many beaches there.
Okinawa's music is popular all over Japan. A musical instrument called a sanshin is often used.
Okinawa was the site of the last big battles World War II, the Battle of Okinawa. A lot of Okinawan people died during the battle. Now, the United States has some military bases for soldiers on the different islands of Okinawa.
Okinawa is currently a part of Japan. However, it has its own history and culture distinguished from Japan. The history of Okinawa is usually divided into five eras as follows.
In prehistoric era, hunting animals and collecting plants were mainly prevailing among the people. A shift to farming economy advanced during from 10th to 12th century. Many communities were formed, and integrated into three small countries. In 1372, one of these countries had belonged to Min dynasty, which is one of the dynasties in China. This small country had become strong because of profits from the trade with Min dynasty, then it unified the countries. It is "Ryukyu kingdom". Ryukyu kingdom flourished by trade in Asian whole area, not only with China, during 15th and 16th century.
In 1609, Shimazu invaded Ryukyu kingdom and made it subordinate. Shimazu was the feudal lord, who ruled over one region of Japan, Satsuma-han. "han" means the unit that a feudal lord ruled over. This invasion meant that Ryukyu kingdom had been incorporated in Japanese shogunate regime. This domination continued until the end of the 19th century.
In 1867, Japanese shogunate gave back government to Tenno, who is the Japanese Emperor, Japanese shogunate regime had ended then. The Japanese new government had a policy to incorporate Ryukyu kingdom in the Japanese regime. So, Ryukyu kingdom was reorganized soon. At first, in 1871, Ryukyu kingdom was renamed Ryukyu-han, it meant that Ryukyu was directly controlled by Japan without Satsuma-han. In 1879, It was reorganized as "Okinawa-ken". "Ken" means "prefecture". Ryukyu kingdom was perfectly ruined at that time. Okinawa became a Japanese colony.
At first of colonization, Japan emphasized difference between Okinawan and Japanese culture, because it justified a discriminatory policy in the colony. However, to justify colonization against the Western countries, policies were changed into ones which emphasized similarity of them and assimilated Okinawa into Japan. Thus, Okinawan society had been influenced from Japan more and more. The biggest influence was that Okinawa was rolled up in Japanese war mainly against U.S.A. and China. Okinawa was incorporated into the part of the war system. In the end of the wartime, Okinawa in itself became the battlefield, and the social infrastructure was completely destroyed, and many people died.
After the war, Okinawa was put under the U.S. military administration. The people expected freedom and democracy, but did not come true to give priority to the U.S. military policy. Therefore, movement in search of administrative authority return to Japan was strengthened, it was carried out in 1972. However, the problem continues up to the present in order that Japanese government gives priority to U.S. military policy afterwards. Many US military bases are still left, and crimes by the US soldiers continue to become the social problem.