Okinawa, the Tropical Japan

When most Westerners think of Japan, they think of one large curved island, roughly the size of California. However, Japan is actually made up of 6,852 islands, most of which are very small and uninhabited. (97% of the Japanese population lives on the largest four islands—that “one large curved island” is actually made up of four islands connected by bridges.) The stretch of Japan includes places with harsh winters similar to nearby Russia (Hokkaido) to tropical islands far south from the main island of Honshu. Okinawa, located almost 1000 miles southwest of Tokyo, is perhaps the most famous of the tropical Japanese islands.


Location of Okinawa relative to the main island.

While all of Japan is essentially a series of islands, most of the inhabited parts are reachable by train and car once you land in Tokyo. However, to get to Okinawa, you’ll have to take a plane or boat, even from the main islands. Okinawa Island is too far from the mainland for bridges.

Okinawa Island is the most populous area of Okinawa, but Okinawa Prefecture actually consists of hundreds of smaller islands called the Ryukyu Islands that curve southwest of the main island of Japan for roughly 620 miles. The tropical climate of the Ryukyu Islands makes Okinawa Island a popular vacation spot even for native Japanese, as temperatures are warm year-round and swimming, surfing, scuba diving, fishing and other water sports are frequent activities at Okinawa’s many beaches. You can expect temperatures to drop no more than 68˚ F. In the summer, temperatures are more frequently in the 80s and 90s.

Besides the many pleasant beach activities, Okinawa is home to many historical sites that showcase classic Japanese architecture, such as Shuri Castle and Nakagutsu Castle. Parks, caves, and capes are popular destinations for tourists looking to relax and explore. The Churaumi Aquarium, the second largest aquarium in the world, features enormous whale sharks and mantas.

There are four U.S. military bases in Okinawa, making this the most likely stop for any U.S. serviceman or woman who’s stationed in Japan. This is a rather contentious point with the Japanese government, as these bases were established after World War II as part of the US’ decision to “keep an eye on” the Japanese due to their role in the war. Obviously, times have changed, but the U.S. presence remains. Although the U.S. has agreed every few decades to give up more of its territory, U.S. law and land still makes up 18% of the main Okinawa Island.

Did you know that Japan had tropical islands? If you won an all-expenses paid vacation to either Tokyo or Okinawa (but not both), which would you choose and why? Do you think the U.S. should still have so much military presence in Japan?

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Tags: japan, japanese culture, japanese places, okinawa, tropical, usa