Isn’t travel one of life’s greatest pleasures? If you’ve been indulging your passion with abandon (good girl!) you’ve ticked off most of the classic if over-crowded travel destinations on your list. You may have even been travelling long enough to see previously “hidden gem” locations turn into tourist traps. So what’s the next secret location for an unspoiled holiday?
One off-the-beaten path we’d like to walk is Okinawa. Okinawa is a group of sub-tropical islands in the south of Japan with an extraordinary history. This hidden gem is a three hour flight from Tokyo, and home to unspoilt coral reefs, deserted white sand beaches and a thriving food scene. Another unique facet? Okinawa’s unique Ryukyu culture. A dynamic mix of cultures from various countries through trade with China, Japan, Korea and other Southeast Asian countries, everywhere you go you’ll see living evidence of the Ryukyu: from the food to the music to the exotic architecture.
When you’re ready to take a beach break, head to one of the beautiful islands surrounding Okinawa. Ishigaki Island is a treat for all the senses. Lively markets tempt visitors with lines of food stalls selling the unique local Yaeyama islands cuisine, while magnificent natural scenery and stunning Kabira Bay – designated the best scenic view by the government – provide an endless gallery of visual treats.
Kabira Bay is one of Ishigaki’s best-known tourist spots and this exquisite venue has received three stars from the French edition of the Michelin Green Guide to Japan. Strong currents preclude swimming, but the stunning views of coral and marine life visitors can enjoy from the many glass-bottomed boats more than make up for it.
Why not island hop? Taketomi Island lies six kilometers southwest of Ishigaki. This tiny jewel has rows of charming houses with red tiled roofs and garden walls of coral stone alongside white sand-covered roads. Not surprisingly, the entire town has been designated a National Traditional Architecture Preservation District.
Zanpa Cape thrusts out to the west from the middle of Okinawa Island. At the tip of the cape stands a tall white lighthouse, majestic in its solitary dignity. The surrounding area is covered with thickets of Adan (screw pine) trees and the typical coastal vegetation of subtropical Okinawa. The cape is a popular fishing spot and the rocks along the water are almost always dotted with fishermen. A huge Shisa lion-dog guards the entrance to the Zanpa Misaki Recreation Plaza. Here you’ll find a playground of bicycles, restaurants, shops, barbecue pits and more.
For wonderful shopping in Naha City, Kokusai Street and New Paradise streets behind the Matsui bus stop are the places to head for. Full of traditional and modern craft shops, souvenir shops, delightful cafés and restaurants serving tempting fare every few meters, the entire area is a magnet for shopping lovers. And for more unique purchases the little back streets can offer some real ‘finds’.
If you want to experience a laid-back version of Japan that almost all foreign tourists miss, check out the beautiful secret known as Okinawa.
For more info, visit beokinawa.com.