smallest of the five main islands of Japan
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Okinawa Island (沖縄本島 Okinawa-hontō) is the largest and most populated island of Okinawa Prefecture in Japan.



Okinawa Island is conventionally divided into three regions, each of which used to be an independent kingdom before they were unified in 1429 by king Shō Hashi.

Okinawa's capital and largest city.
  Southern Okinawa (Shimajiri)
The site of many fierce battles during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.
  Central Okinawa (Nakagami)
The narrow waist of the island, dominated by large US military bases.
  Northern Okinawa (Yanbaru)
The most sparsely populated part of the island, with beaches and luxury resorts. Together with Tokunoshima, Iriomote and Amami Oshima, it was listed as a natural world heritage site by UNESCO in 2021.
  Kerama Islands
The small islands of Tokashiki, Zamami and Aka, a short ferry ride and a world away.



Okinawa Island is by far the largest and most populated of Okinawa's islands, with over 90% of the population. For better or worse, the island is what people think of when they think of Okinawa: beaches and snorkeling, large resort hotels, US military bases and WW2 battle sites.

Around a quarter of Okinawa Island's land area — including much of the best arable land — is occupied by US military bases, and there are almost 80,000 US military personnel, support staff and their families on the island. Many Okinawans are unhappy that their small island with less than 1% of Japan's land area has to host them all, but decades-long negotiations to reduce or at least relocate the base footprint have made only fitful progress.



All Okinawans speak Japanese but many, especially older citizens, also speak Okinawan. Many mainland Japanese regard Okinawan to be a dialect of Japanese, but it is a separate language, part of the Ryukyuan branch of the Japonic language family, making it distinct from but related to Japanese.

The heavy US military presence means that English is better catered for than usual on the island: for example, virtually all restaurants in touristy areas will have English menus.

Get in


Naha International Airport is the primary way to get into Okinawa Island, and is only 2 km from downtown Naha. See the main Okinawa article for details and the Naha article for local transport.

The increasingly few remaining ferries from mainland Japan stop at Naha and Motobu. See Okinawa#By ship for details.

Get around


Unusually for Japan, Okinawa does not have any train lines, except for a monorail in Naha that runs from the airport to the city centre, Shuri Castle and some stations beyond. If you're planning to travel outside Naha, a rental car will come in very handy.

If you have a Suica/Pasmo-compatible smart card from any of Japan's major cities, you can use it to pay for public transport in Okinawa as well. Oddly, this works one way only: OKICA cards bought in Okinawa cannot be used anywhere else.

By car

Route 58 near Nago
Main article: Driving in Japan

The main road is Route 58, which runs for 120 km along the East China Sea coast north-south from Naha to the northernmost tip of the island. During the summer months, the volume of rental cars can make traffic very heavy on Route 58. The Okinawa Expressway (沖縄自動車道), marked green on signs and confusingly labeled E58 on maps, offers a separate, parallel route for 57 km between Naha and Nago, but charges ¥1020 for the privilege.

While distances seem short on a map, low speed limits (typically 40-60 km/h) and congestion particularly on the southern half of the island mean that travel times can be longer than you'd expect. When the road does open up, many people drive well over the speed limit. As usual in Japan, while there are no penalties for exceeding the limit by up to 10 km/h, above that line hefty fines apply and going more than 30 km/h over the limit means instant suspension. There is zero tolerance for drunk driving: any alcohol at all in your system is sufficient to be charged with "driving under the influence".

By bus


Okinawa Bus operates buses throughout the island, including "limousine" services direct from the airport to all larger towns. The focal point for most services is Naha Bus Terminal (那覇バスターミナル) in central Naha. Schedules tend to be sparse: particularly further away from Naha, it's not unusual to have to wait for 2 hours between services.

By bicycle


Cycling around Okinawa island is possible but not very practical. The island is very densely populated and car traffic is heavy almost everywhere. In Japan it's customary to ride your bike on the sidewalk instead of the road (supposedly due to the unsafety of doing the latter), but the sidewalk has the disadvantage of having to evade other pedestrians, overgrowth, the occasional antisocially parked car, and cars pulling out of driveways. Japanese drivers are polite and not aggressive, but have a habit of often not looking where they are going when pulling out of driveways or taking corners. The terrain is very hilly and becomes more challenging the further you move away from the coast. If you find yourself on the east side of the island and want to go to the west side or vice versa, you will have to cross the range of steep hills that runs along the length of Okinawa. A moped or motorcycle helps to overcome this, but it's still very important to stay alert and avoid obstacles or cars.

Top sights in Okinawa include:

  • The UNESCO World Heritage "Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu" is composed of nine sites around the island, of which Shuri Castle in Naha with its Shikinaen garden, Tamadun mausoleum and Sonohyan-utaki grove is the standout. The other eight are the castle ruins of Nakijin (in Nakijin), Zakimi (in Yomitan), Katsuren (in Uruma) and Nakagusuku (in Nakagusuku) plus the Sefa-utaki place of worship in Utaki.
  • The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Motobu (Northern Okinawa) is one of the great aquaria of the world, featuring a 7,500-m³ water tank with whale sharks and manta rays and home to the world's largest living coral exhibit.
  • Southern Okinawa has many historical battle sites and monuments related to the World War II Battle of Okinawa.
Minnajima beach, Northern Okinawa
  • Go to the island's many beaches. Most larger resorts have their own, and there are also countless public beaches.
  • Scuba diving is one of the most popular activities on the island with an abundance of dive shops across the island. Most shops cater primarily to Japanese divers, but some shops in Chatan and Kadena speak English as well.
  • Spear fishing is another popular activity on the island.
  • Take a glass bottom boat tour, offering views of corals and fishes. Busena Marine Park in Nago is a popular option for this.

Kokusaidori Street in Naha and Mihama American Village in Chatan have plenty of souvenir shops. One of the popular items to buy is an Okinawan shirt, similar to Hawaiian shirts, at the Mango House, which have various locations throughout the island, but most of them in Naha.

Souvenir-sized statues of shisa lion dogs can be purchased pretty much anywhere including convenience stores. If you have a more serious interest in Okinawan pottery, Yachimun no Sato in Yomitan is worth a visit.

Main article: Okinawa#Eat

On Okinawa Island you can, of course, find Okinawan cuisine and Japanese cuisine. The US military presence ensures that fast food of all kinds is well represented, including A&W, found nowhere else in Japan, and many drive-thru restaurants, a rarity elsewhere in Japan. Mexican food of varying degrees of authenticity is also common, with tacos in particular very popular.

For dessert, have Blue Seal ice cream. Many flavors are available, including sweet potato (beni-imo), the local flavor in Okinawa. Also, sweet potato-flavored cookies are popular and can be found just about anywhere.



Orion Beer is brewed locally in Okinawa. Available in just about all stores, restaurants, bars, and many vending machines. Aside from beer, a local favorite is awamori, or aged rice wine, similar to Japanese sake. Awamori differs from sake in that the former is brewed using rice from Thailand and black yeast, while the latter typically uses locally produced rice and white yeast. Most available awamori is aged at least five years, with more expensive brews being aged fifteen. Locals consume awamori with ice and water.

Go next


Check out other Okinawan islands, such as Ishigaki, Taketomi, Kume, and Iriomote.

This region travel guide to Okinawa Island is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.