Okinawa is one of the places that always ranks high among destinations within Japan that people would like to visit. However, don't be fooled - Okinawa has many more charming places outside of the beach. Here are some places that showcase Okinawa's unique culture, handicrafts, and nature on the main island.
The must-see sight at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is the Kuroshio Sea, one of the largest tanks in the world.
Around 16,000 sea creatures that include whale sharks and giant manta rays swim elegantly in the waters, and the sight will make you forget all about the time. Also, every day at 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm, you can watch the various programs in the Churaumi Theater as well as the impressive sight of them feeding the whale sharks. They have a program called Exploring the Kuroshio Sea Tank, where you can look into the tank from above from an observation deck and learn about. If you're just looking around then you can go around the aquarium in an hour, but please take lots of photos and check out some of the programs available. About 5 minutes from the aquarium exit is the Okichan Theater where you can watch a free dolphin show (about 20 minutes long), so make sure to add that to your plans.
1. Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, a popular spot to recharge
The first attraction that was opened at Okinawa World was Gyokusendo, a place said to be the most beautiful limestone cavern in Asia. Every year about 1,000,000 people visit it. In the 890m that are available to the public, there are 37 kinds of stalactites lined up. The summer-only cave exploration activity, where you can enter a normally-off-limits area, is particularly recommended. When you leave Gyokusendo, you can go to the Kingdom Area where there are many traditional Okinawan houses with red brick roofs lined up. These are homes that were actually used and then moved here, and they're complete even down to their traditional latrines. In this area there's an impressive show that happens 4 times a day that features the traditional Okinawan dance Eisa. You can also enjoy workshops featuring Okinawa traditions such as making Ryukyu glass. You also can't miss the habu pit viper show put on by the Habu Museum Park. You can see Gyokusendo, the Kingdom area, and the Habu Museum Park in 2-3 hours, but if you want to enjoy Okinawa World to the fullest it's best to spend half a day there.
2. Okinawa World, where you can experience one of the country's biggest limestone caverns as well as Okinawan culture
Ryukyu Mura is a place where you can experience the Ryukyu culture first hand. Every hour inside the park they perform various shows like the Eisa dance and folk songs. In the traditional homes, dancers have the visitors participate in dancing with them to the music created by the sanshin (a traditional stringed instrument), taiko drum, and song. When you hear the sound of the sanshin you should participate in order to experience the Okinawan musical culture. Also, there are many workshops, including one where you can paint your own shiisa (a lion-dog that guards against evil) to take home that same day. There are a wide variety of activities, from some that you can finish in 10 minutes to some that might take 2 hours. All the clocks in the homes are stopped so you can enjoy the area without thinking of the time. It's best to enjoy this area without minding the passage of time and allowing the Ryukyu culture to heal you from the exhaustion of travel.
3. Ryukyu Mura, where you can experience a wide variety of programs about Ryukyu culture
Bios Hill is a huge area where you can enjoy Okinawa's ecosystem all year round. You can spend a relaxing time there surrounded by nature away from the beach and business districts that are full of people. While it's great to stroll around enjoying the flora, while you're there, why not try riding an oxcart pulled by a water buffalo or take a pleasure cruise or canoe around the lake? On the grounds there is also a playground, forest swing, bamboo stilts, and more that you can use to play to your heart's content. When you're tired of playing, you can go to the Omoro Chaya nearby to have Okinawa soba. You can borrow a mat for free, so after you eat you can spend a luxurious time on it sleeping or reading. This is perfect for adults who want to relax, but it's also great for kids that want to play in nature, so it's recommended as a trip for the whole family.
4. Bios Hill, where you can enjoy a botanical garden filled with subtropical flora
Shuri Castle was the center of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a kingdom that spanned 450 years from 1429. The castle was burned down in the Second World War in 1945, so the castle that currently stands there is one that was rebuilt in 1992. However, the architectural style that fuses together Chinese and Japanese culture and the techniques used for the stone-building has earned it a UNESCO World Heritage designation. The Shureimon gate that is on the Japanese 2000 yen bill is in the free area by the information center, so it's definitely something that can't be missed. Shuri Castle was built on a slightly elevated area from which you can see the city of Naha, and it was completely recreated from the Ryukyu Kingdom era. Because of that there are many slopes and stairs made of stone, so make sure to go in comfortable shoes. There is a barrier-free course available so children and disabled people can also enjoy it to their heart's content. You only need about an hour and a half to go through it. The vivid scarlet of the building is considered a symbol of the history of the kingdom passed down to modern-day Okinawa. This is a must-see!
5. Shurijo Castle Park, where you can experience the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom
There's tons to do in Okinawa outside of the beach. There's also plenty for both couples and families, so please enjoy Okinawa to the fullest!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.