Japan

Helpful guides for travel in Japan to help you get the most out of your trip, from first-hand experience!

Best Japan Travel Apps You Need in

Best Japan Travel Apps You Need in

Japan’s vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and delicious cuisine bring in thousands of travelers each year. But, navigating a new country, especially one with a different language and customs can feel extremely overwhelming. Luckily in this technologically advanced country, there are a lot of handy Japan travel apps here to empower your exploration, ensuring a smooth, fun, and safe journey.

From navigating around the bustling city of Tokyo, to overcoming the intense language barrier, and simply being in a new world with new ways of life, these Japan travel apps can help you overcome it all with confidence!

Girl standing with a paper umbrella in front of a temple in Japan

Table of Contents

Navigation Apps in Japan

Google Maps

The supreme navigation app anywhere in the world remains to be Google Maps. This is essential for transport around Japan, especially in congested cities like Tokyo or Osaka which show transport options via trains and subways.

Another great feature of Google Maps is the ‘My Maps’ feature where you can create your custom maps with pins and lists of the must-go places. I use these in all of my itineraries like the ultimate one week in Okinawa.

Google Maps App icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Japan Travel by NAVITIME

This is the ultimate travel planning app for Japan. This is essential for complex route planning using different modes of transport (bus, subway, taxi walk) and where to stop for Wi-Fi or ATMs. 

To make your travel even more seamless, download a Suica card before you go. This is like a digital card that you can scan on trains and subways to pay. The Suica card is essential in Japanese cities! 

Japan Travel Navitime App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Uber

It’s always uncertain which rideshare app a country uses. While much of Asia uses Grab, Japan is an Uber user making it super easy for travelers to get a taxi even with little to no Japanese. 

This is great when you first land and need to get to your accommodation, or in an area where public transport isn’t as possible. However, public transit in Japan is unmatched and very affordable, so you’ll rarely need Uber, but it is nice to have on you when you do!

Uber App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Ecbo Cloak - Luggage Storage

Not a navigation app entirely, but it does allow you to travel lighter without all of your luggage! Ecbo Cloak is the Airbnb of luggage storage, allowing you to find storage lockers around the city so you can drop your bags and explore a bit lighter.

Japan is filled with luggage storage in train stations, subways, airports, and the typical places… but what about the retail store that offers storage for a small fee? In the blazing heat of summer, you’ll definitely want this.

I didn’t learn about this until after my 1 day trip in Tokyo, and wow do I wish I had it. I was a sweaty mess carrying 2 backpacks in small streets waiting until I was able to check-in. Don’t make the same mistake!

Ecbo Cloak App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Communication & Culture Apps in Japan

Google Translate

Assuming you’re not fluent in Japanese, Google Translate is essential. The many features allow you to translate any text or speech easily. The best part is you can download the Japanese language for use offline, so you’re never too far from a fluid convo.

The voice translation feature allows you to have a seamless conversation with a local, so you don’t have to go back and forth typing (even if you could type kanji). Once you set up an international phone plan, you’ll be able to navigate any language with ease.

The camera is my favorite feature, especially for grocery shopping or ordering off a menu. Simply use the camera to scan the text and read it back in your native language! Good luck shopping for the right kind of sauce among the thousands of options without it. 

Google Translate App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

LINE

If you’re staying in Japan for a while, you’ll want to get set up on LINE, a messaging app common amongst locals. It is more popular than competitors like WhatsApp, texting, or Facebook Messenger. 

LINE uses an internet connection, and is completely free to use! If you’re a short-term traveler through Japan, you’ll be fine enough just using WhatsApp.

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Food & Dining Apps in Japan

Ramen Beast

If you’re excited about the Japanese food scene (rightfully so), be sure you’re getting the best around. As the name suggests, Ramen Beast is a review app dedicated to ramen lovers, listing top-rated ramen shops across Japan. 

Ramen Beast App Icon

Available for download:
iOS 

Gourmet Navigator by GuruNavi

GuruNavi is the best restaurant tool there is in Japan, providing thorough information on your options. Filter by cuisine, see the estimated price, nearest station, and if English menus and staff are available. If you’re a big foodie (which is mostly everyone in Japan, the food is too good), you’ll also want to check out Tabelog & HotPepper. All 3 of these platforms are used by locals, so you’re going to get better results than the touristy uses of Yelp or TripAdvisor.  While there is an app, it’s all in Japanese! The website tool is just as useful, so I suggest using that. However, if you’re ready to test your Japanese knowledge (or do a lot of translating), I’ve linked the app below.
GuruNavi App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

GuruNavi Website

HappyCow

In honor of making ethical and sustainable choices, HappyCow has a rightful place on this list. With this app you can find vegan and vegetarian restaurants near you, around the world!

Especially in such a fish and meat-heavy cuisine, the veg-heads often struggle to find quality meals in Japan. As a former vegetarian for 12 years, I either didn’t eat out much or got comfortable with a side salad and some french fries.

Japan’s food is insanely good, but you shouldn’t have to miss out on it just because you don’t eat pork broth or horse sashimi (yes, that’s a thing here).

Happy Cow App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Safety Apps in Japan

My Earthquake Alerts & Feed

Welcome to Japan, the most earthquake-prone country in the world! While most of the daily quakes are safe, as we’ve seen from the tsunami in 2011, they can be catastrophic. Japan has rigorous safety precautions, and warning systems around the country, and has dedicated its resources to preventing disaster from striking again… but you can never be too sure.

Ease your mind with updates and alerts from the Earthquake app. You can set your notification settings like the ratings, location, distance to trigger an alert, and more! This is one of the best travel apps everyone should have, especially while in Asia and the Pacific.

My Earthquake App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

TripWhistle

One thing that isn’t considered while traveling until you need it is the local emergency numbers. While I have 911 engrained in my head, that won’t do much in Japan when the number for police is 110.

TripWhistle is an easy way to have every country’s number for police, fire emergencies, and medical services. The app also provides your exact location with the nearest address, and coordinates so you can clearly provide your location!

Trip Whistle App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Best General Travel Apps

Japan Travel Guide App

There is no better place to start than with the offical travel app of the country. With the Japan Guide Travel App, you can find detailed information about your location, making it a perfect planning tool.

Learn about the transportation, costs, health and safety measures, basic phrases, restaurants and accommodation recommendation and so much more! The app has an easy to use user interface and is top rated among Japan travel apps.

Japan Travel Guide App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Currency Converter

Whenever you go to a new country, it’s essential to have an accurate and reliable currency converter. My favorite is called ‘currency’, and allows you to have a list of every currency you use on one page, so when you type in the value for one it converts them all!

This is great for a Southeast Asia backpacking trip when you’re in and out of so many countries that some seem to stick more than others. The app also shows the historic trends of the currency, giving some insight into the best times to convert or invest. 

Currency conversion App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

 

WiFi Map

Japan is notoriously hard to come by Wi-Fi. Not too great if you’re a traveling digital nomad like us. Unless you rent a portable Wi-Fi device, then the WiFi Map will be your best to locate internet access wherever you are.

You can download maps while in internet zones so that you can search when you’re offline! Wi-Fi maps have saved me a lot from no data in Europe to Japan, it covers everywhere!

WiFi Map offers more than just internet access; you can see exchange rates, a world clock, local tipping etiquette, and a VPN. While using public internet, it is essential to have a reliable and secure VPN for travel.

WiFi Map App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

VoiceMap Audio Tours

Voice Map is my favorite underrated travel app, especially when traveling to cities that are as ancient and historic as some of the sites in Japan! Voice Maps provides walking tours so you can pop in your headphones and go at your pace.

The tours are written and read by historians, authors, and experts in a certain subject so you can walk where history happened, without the annoyances of joining a tour group. The app is location-based, so once you reach the next talking point, the tour resumes making it a seamless experience.

Many of the tours are free, while some are paid. Regardless, they are all downloadable for offline use to save your data. I did the walking tour in Asakusa to explore the history of the Sensoji Temple, and had such a fun time walking and learning at my speed!

VoiceMap Audio Tours App Icon

Available for download:
iOS and Google Play

Summary - Best Japan Travel Apps

From mastering public transportation to deciphering menus and staying informed about natural disasters, the right Japan travel apps can be your digital travel companions.

This guide has explored a diverse range of apps, catering to various needs and interests. Choose the apps that resonate with your travel style, download them beforehand, and take off on your Japanese adventure with confidence!

Remember, this is just a starting point. Explore further, research features, and tailor your app selection to create a personalized digital toolkit for your unique Japanese escapade.

Explore the other destinations waiting for you in Asia!

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Japan, 0 comments
One Week In Okinawa – The Ultimate Itinerary

One Week In Okinawa – The Ultimate Itinerary

Welcome to the tropical paradise of Okinawa, where aqua-blue waters, white sandy beaches, and lush green landscapes await your arrival. This guide will help you spend the best one week in Okinawa

Use this itinerary any way you want – it isn’t a step-by-step guide to walk you through your one week in Okinawa, but rather a guide where you can take what you want and leave what you don’t. There may be more listed for a location than what time allows, and you definitely shouldn’t rush through your trip to Okinawa.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply looking for a tranquil escape, Okinawa has something to offer for everyone. Explore the historic Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and delve into the rich history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. 

Take a stroll along the picturesque Kokusai Street, where you can shop for traditional crafts and sample delicious local delicacies. Feel the warm sand between your toes as you relax on pristine beaches or dive into the crystal-clear waters of the Kerama Islands for an unforgettable snorkeling or scuba diving experience. 

With its vibrant coral reefs, breathtaking sunsets, and friendly locals, Okinawa is a destination that will leave you in awe. Get ready to explore a place like no other as we uncover the hidden gems of this tropical paradise in the perfect itinerary for one week in Okinawa.

 

View of Nago city and a bay in Okinawa from Mount Katsudake hike

Table of Contents

Arrive in Naha

No matter where you’re coming in from, you’ll land in Okinawa in the main city of Naha. Here, you’ll see a lot of military personnel, and use this as your starting point whether you continue north on the main island, head over to neighboring Kerama Islands, or take off to any of the other 160 islands in the Okinawa Prefecture. 

You will come to Okinawa and leave from it through Naha, so it doesn’t matter if you stop there first or last! Just be sure not to miss the rich history, lively city sights, and everything else waiting for you in Naha.

Naha - 1 Day

Shuri Castle

The highlight of Okinawa is Shuri Castle. A UNESCO Heritage Site, this is a symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom that used to dominate the area and a must-see in your one week in Okinawa. Although the castle tragically burned down in 2019, you can observe the reconstruction process and learn about its history. 

Surrounding Shuri Castle are more highlights to see, like a traditional Japanese-style home, an old steep stone road, and many shrines, temples, and ancient artifacts. Take some time to walk around the area!

Cost: ¥400 / $2.70 
Time: 
2 hours

Red building of Shuri Castle in Okinawa
Shuri Castle | Image from Atlas Obscura

Kokusai Dori Street

Kokusai Dori Street felt like a mini Vegas. Neon lights, street vendors, trinkets, and tourist stores galore. However, if you head down some of the side streets and the covered market, you’ll get a better taste of local life.

Kokusai Street is a perfect place to try some Habushu, a liquor made with Habu snake venom (with the snake right in the jar)! However, some places can be a bit of a rip-off, so check reviews online first, and don’t be afraid to get off the main strip!

Cost: Free
Time: 1-2 hours

Neon lights and palm trees at Kokusai Dori street in Okinawa's capital city
Kokusai Dori | Imagr from Good Luck Trip

Peace Memorial Park

There is no denying the intense and graphic history that WWII has left in Okinawa. The Peace Memorial Park is the best way to learn and pay remembrance to the Battle of Okinawa, one of WWII’s bloodiest conflicts. Established in 1975, the park honors over 240,000 lives lost through its moving monuments.

Witness the Eternal Flame’s continuous glow ignite a spark of hope for a world free from war. Delve deeper into the battle’s human cost at the Peace Memorial Museum, where artifacts and personal stories paint a vivid picture of the era. Take a guided tour or explore at your own pace, reflecting on the horrors of war and the preciousness of peace. Remember, respect and modesty guide your visit to this significant site.

Cost: ¥450 / $3
Time: 2-3 hours

Green park and a small pond at the Peace Memorial Park in Okinawa
Peace Memorial Park | Image from Ciel Tourist

Thrift Shop!

You may not consider thrift shopping as a fun thing to do on holiday, but thrift shopping in Japan is next level, especially if you know where to go. You can pick up a traditional kimono for less than ¥1,000 / $6.75.

For the best selection, head to “Hard Off / Off House Okinawa Awase”, where they have 3 rows of kimonos of every style, size, color, and material. You can take your kimono to a retail shop that sells them to learn more about the one you bought, learn how to wear it, fold it, and more about its history. Okinawans are very proud to share their culture and kimonos with foreigners!

Where To Eat In Naha

  • Drink Habushu 
  • Conveyor Belt Sushi, whichever one is near you (and has good ratings)
  •  King Taco – they serve Taco Rice which is an Okinawan favorite

Onna - 2 Days

Onna is the best first-stopping place to rest from travel and take in the beauty of the island. Instantly, you’ll see how blue the water is. Onna is a resort destination with soft sand beaches and snorkeling off the coast! Before exploring the rest of this historic and bustling island, take some time at Onna to chill out under the sun and explore the blue water.

Dive Blue Cave

The highlight of water activities is snorkeling or diving at the Blue Cave on Cape Maeda. This area is teeming with travelers in the peak summer months, but a perfect place to explore in the shoulder season. Water temperatures are always comfortable, but the conditions can fluctuate to near dangerous, especially in the winter.

If you’re looking to go on a tour, then you’re in good hands! If you’re more up for traveling at your own pace, then be sure to check out the Cape Maeda website. At the bottom, you’ll find the day’s guidance on whether swimming is allowed or not, with a live cam of a hanging flag.

While there isn’t anyone monitoring the area per se, the cape is known to have a gnarly current and some rough waves so I suggest you heed the advice online. If you can’t swim, it’s still worth some time exploring the area! 

Cost: ¥100/hour for parking
Time: 3 hours

Turquoise water in the Blue Cave in Okinawa, a popular snorkeling destination
Blue Cave, Okinawa

Surfing / Beach Day

Onna is the best place to have a chill beach day. If you stay at a resort, chances are there is a beach right outside! While there are beaches all over Okinawa, they are not all the same. Some have rough coral and rocks, while others are as fluffy as almond flour. The area along Onna and towards Churaumi Aquarium is the best for beach chilling. Also conveniently, a perfect place to watch the sunset. 

There are some expert surf instructors in Okinawa – if you stay at the Tropical Surf House listed below, you’ll be staying with the top surf instructor, and kiteboard instructor in all of Japan! 

Girl on the beach holding a black dog in her lap
The Best Beach Days

Cave Okinawa

A tourist attraction, but also very cool to explore. These limestone caverns are a great way to learn the foundations of these dramatic islands, and fun to do with the whole family! They will often put on light displays, but these geographic features are pretty nifty themselves.

Parking is free and it’s a fun thing to do if you have extra time or a rainy day. If you’re interested but don’t have the time while you’re in Onna, there are a few of these cave excursions around the island!

Cost: ¥500 / $3.37
Time: 1 hour

An underground limestone cavern in Okinawa at Okinawa World
Okinawa World | Image from Japan Travel

Cape Manzamo

Cape Manzamo is the perfect place to see the sunset. The visitor center is modern and nice with a lot of local food options and free to explore. There is a small walking trail that goes out onto the cape for a small fee, but so worth it to see the unique cliffs! 

The area does get a bit busy, so go earlier rather than later. If you’re still up for an adventure then head just 5 minutes south and check out Mermaid’s Grotto on the beach! This area is not for swimming, but it does have cool tide pools to check out!

Cost: ¥100 for small lookout hike
Time: 30 minutes

Head to the 3rd floor of the visitor center (near the escalators) and you'll find a private outdoor deck. There are no signs for it, but you can get impressive views for free!

View of Cape Manzamo at sunset in Okinawa
Cape Manzamo Viewpoint

Where To Eat in Onna

  • Orchid Ryukyu Cuisines – Not the best for food, but it sure is a local experience with a show while you eat!
  • hale’aina HOA – Not Japanese, but the best food we’ve have in a long time (and great for working)
  • Agu Shabu-Shabu and Okinawa Cuisine Kafuu – $$$ but a fun local experience

*Be aware in touristy areas – some restaurants will give you an appetizer or beer you didn’t order.. if you take it, you buy it. Be aware of their sneaky tricks to get more money out of you.

 

Nago - 2 Days

Nago is like the capital of northern Okinawa. A great jumping-off point to both the tourist activities and heading north into the Yanbaru National Park. There are a lot of traditional restaurants in Nago and fun modern things to do. 

Churaumi Aquarium

The Churaumi Aquarium is a must-do for every traveler in your one week in Okinawa, even if you try to skip the touristy stops as we do. This was the most incredible aquarium I’ve ever seen! Not only because of the amount of education and conservation efforts that are taken by the aquarium but also because of the massive Whale Shark that is there.

Although I usually don’t support large mammals in captivity, all of the animals that are there either cannot be released into the wild due to injury or human habituation. The dolphins that are in the show are never forced to perform and only spend a few years in the aquarium before being released (knowing a few extra tricks to show off to their pod).

The owner of the budget accommodation below used to work at the aquarium, so if you stay with him you’ll get the ultimate tour!

Cost: ¥2,180 / $14.69
Time:
3 hours

You can buy discounted tickets at convenience stores close by to save a few dollars!

Whale shark statue outside of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium during sunset

Hike Mount Katsudake

The best views over Nago and the surrounding peninsula & islands are from Mount Katsudake. There is a network of trails that lead to mountain peaks with incredible views. Parking is free and it is never busy! 

This is one of the best-hidden gems in Okinawa and a great way to explore outside without heading all the way north into the denser rainforest. The trek is free and beautiful any time of year, but don’t underestimate the strength of the sun! 

Cost: Free
Time: 1.5 hours

Girl standing on Katsudake mountain looking out over the city of Nago in Okinawa
Katsudake Mountain View

Snorkel Gorilla Chop

Our favorite snorkeling location was Gorilla Chop, a must-do during your one week in Okinawa. It is an easy drive to get there, and just a few meters from a public bus stop! Parking is free, and once you’re on the beach, it’s only a few meters into the water until you’re in one of the best snorkeling spots in Okinawa! Here you may see turtles, octopuses, unique and colorful fish, and of course, other divers.

This is a popular place since it is sheltered from the wind and waves, and it’s easy to access. Although there are a lot of scuba divers, the depth never got more than 10 meters, so it’s very easy to snorkel! Visiting Gorilla Chop in the morning or shoulder season is the best way to experience it with fewer people and less water disturbance. 

Cost: Free
Time: 2 hours

Do Not feed the fish. The animals were habituated to people as a result of tours feeding them. If you go with a tour group, make sure it isn't one that supports unethical animal encounters!

Underwater footage of Gorilla Chop in Okinawa, some of the best snorkeling in Okinawa
Gorilla Chop Coral Reef

Nakijin Castle Ruins

The Nakijin Castle will take you back in time to the 14th century. Here you can explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a testament to the Ryukyu Kingdom’s legacy. Explore the sprawling ruins, imagining the royal court, temples, and defensive structures bustling with life. Climb the observation tower to be rewarded with breathtaking panoramas of the Motobu Peninsula and East China Sea.

Wear comfortable shoes as you navigate the uneven terrain, and remember sunscreen and water during warmer months. Consider this historical gem as part of a day trip exploring nearby wonders like Kouri Island!

Cost: ¥600
Time: 1 hour

Stone wall structure at the Nakijin Castle Ruins in Okinawa
Nakijin Castle Ruins | Image from Japan Travel

Where To Eat in Nago

  • Annetai Chaya Hammock Garden – Incredible views right next to the more touristy Pizza in the Sky
  • Miyazato Soba – One of the oldest Soba restaurants in Okinawa, a traditional meal
  • Sashimi from a fish market – Perfect for a sushi date on the beach, our favorite was at 483 Nakaoshi in Nago. 
  • Orion Brewery – Not really a place to eat, but this is the beer of Okinawa. Take a tour to see where it’s made and try it yourself!

Kunigami & Yanburu National Park - 2 Days

This is the least explored part of the island, but our favorite by far. You can drive deep into the ancient jungle, see more wildlife, and explore on foot. This is the best hiking area and home to most of the island’s waterfalls!

Explore Daisekirinzan & Cape Hedo

The northernmost point of the island has insane views and history. Daisekirinzan is a low-cost way to explore the unique topography of the area and learn about the people who used to live here. There are 3 hiking trails, banyan trees, ruins, and so much natural beauty and spiritual lore which only takes about 90 minutes to walk.

Further north is Cape Hedo, a great lookout and viewing area to see the insane geography of the area you just hiked! Down on the beach is popular for surfers, but waves can get pretty big so beware!

Cost: ¥1,200 / $8.00
Time: 2 hours

View of a steep cliff and jungle from Daisekirinzan in northern Okinawa
Daisekirinzan

Hike Hijio Falls

If you’re going to do any waterfall hikes within your one week in Okinawa, let it be Hijio Falls. It is the biggest on the island and the suspension bridge you cross to get there is so dreamy. If you go early morning or closer to sunset, you won’t have much of a crowd. The park closes at 17:00, with the last entry at 15:30 so don’t wait too long!

Although swimming is not permitted, you can still feel the mist from the viewing area at the base of the falls. There are a few spots to enter the water further downstream, just watch out for Habu! If you want to swim at the falls, then check out Ta-Taki – just as beautiful and with swimming permitted.

Cost: ¥500 / $3.40
Time: 2 hours

A waterfall cascading through the jungle at Hijio Falls in Okinawa
Hijio Falls

Mangrove Kayaking

If you’re keen to explore out in nature, then get up and close with a mangrove kayaking excursion. Located on the eastern coast, the Higahi-son Fureai Hirugi Park is a perfect place to get on a kayak and float among the trees. 

You’ll be amazed at the life that lives in these coastal ecosystems, and your guide will educate you on all the birds, fish, insects, and plants that rely on each other to thrive. Mangroves keep coasts protected from erosion, tsunamis, hurricanes, and everything else that the ocean throws at us… crazy how so many places rip them out for ‘a better view’!

If you don’t want to get in the water, you can still walk along the boardwalk and get a glimpse!

Cost: Free park entry, kayak tour booked privately
Time: 1 hour

Lush magrove trees in shallow water with a kayaker in Okinawa
Okinawa Mangroves | Image from Japan Travel

Where To Eat In Kunigami

  • Emi no Mise – Best traditional options, recommended by many locals!
  • Satsukimaru – Great local food when you’re exploring the far North
  • Agachi Mui – Perfect for a break to take in the ocean views
  • Ogimi Sky Terrace – Incredible views over the bay with a walk-out viewing deck

Getting Around in Okinawa

Okinawa is best traveled by rental car. Especially if you want to explore the northern part of the island where public buses don’t run, you’ll need a car. Many hosts have one for rent, or may know someone that can provide it!

Be sure to have your International Driver’s Permit with you, as driving laws are very strict in Japan. Also, Japanese drivers are extremely courteous… like too kind. So drive slowly, and be courteous in return!

The public bus is useful, but only as far an Nago – anything further north is not accessible. The buses work on a pretty regular time clock, although the drivers barely speak English so be ready to know where you’re going!

Best Time To Visit Okinawa

Okinawa is a beautiful tropical paradise any time of year. However, depending on what you’re looking for out of your perfect one week in Okinawa, some times are better than others.

In general, the best time to visit Okinawa is in the shoulder seasons of April & May, or September & October. These months you will still have ideal weather, but without the intense heat and big crowds. 

Explore the other destinations waiting for you in Asia!

Summary - Perfect One Week Itinerary in Okinawa

You can do so much within this one week in Okinawa. This island has a rich history, incredible food, lush nature, and friendly people.

One week may not seem like enough, we spent 45 days there and still wanted to stay longer!

Between the capital city of Nago’s rich history at the Shuri Castle, WWII memorials, and the northern region’s Yanbaru National Park, there is something for every traveler.

You cannot go to Okinawa without exploring the life under the water in the vibrant coral reefs. Also, be sure to try as much of the local food as you can – that may just be the secret to the Okinawan’s vitality and long-lifespan! 

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Japan, 0 comments
Dive into Paradise: Discover the Best Snorkeling in Okinawa

Dive into Paradise: Discover the Best Snorkeling in Okinawa

Nestled in the crystal-clear waters of the Pacific Ocean, a paradise awaits with the best snorkeling in Okinawa. From vibrant coral reefs teeming with exotic marine life to stunning underwater caves, this beautiful Japanese prefecture offers a treasure trove of hidden gems for snorkeling enthusiasts. 

In this article, we will uncover the best snorkeling spots in Okinawa. Whether you’re a seasoned snorkeler or a beginner looking to take the plunge, Okinawa’s pristine beaches and diverse marine ecosystems have something for everyone. 

Immersing yourself in the colorful world beneath the waves, you’ll encounter playful sea turtles, schools of tropical fish, and surreal underwater landscapes that seem straight out of a dream. With its warm waters and excellent visibility, Okinawa promises unforgettable snorkeling experiences. So grab your snorkel gear, put on your fins, and get ready to dive into paradise as we uncover the hidden gems for the best snorkeling in Okinawa!

 
Sunlight filtering through the ocean with a vibrant coral reef and tropical fish

Table of Contents

Why Okinawa is a Top Destination for Snorkeling

Okinawa’s pristine waters and rich marine biodiversity make it a top destination for snorkeling enthusiasts worldwide. The region boasts over 200 islands, each offering a unique snorkeling experience. Whether you prefer calm lagoons or adventurous open-water snorkeling, Okinawa has it all.

One of the main reasons Okinawa stands out as a snorkeling destination is its vibrant coral reefs. These reefs are home to a remarkable variety of coral species, including beautiful fan corals and brain corals. The best snorkeling in Okinawa allows you to witness the incredible colors and intricate formations, and the hundreds of species that call these corals home! 

In addition to the coral reefs, Okinawa is known for its clear, warm waters. With visibility often exceeding 30 meters, snorkelers can fully appreciate the underwater beauty. The temperature of the water remains comfortable year-round, making Okinawa an ideal destination for snorkeling at any time.

Best Time To Visit Okinawa for Snorkeling

While Okinawa offers fantastic snorkeling opportunities throughout the year, the best time to visit depends on your preferences and what you hope to see underwater. Generally, the period from April to October is considered the peak snorkeling season in Okinawa, with warm water temperatures and excellent visibility.

During this time, you can expect to encounter a wide range of marine life, including sea turtles, colorful fish, and vibrant coral formations. If you’re lucky, you might even spot manta rays gracefully gliding through the water.

However, if you prefer a quieter snorkeling experience with fewer crowds, the off-peak season from November to March is also a great time to visit. While the water may be slightly cooler, the calmer conditions, increased visibility, and reduced tourist activity create a tranquil atmosphere for the best snorkeling in Okinawa.

Best Snorkeling in Okinawa

Blue Cave, Onna Village

Imagine swimming into an underwater cathedral bathed in an ethereal blue glow. Sunlight filters through an opening at the top of the cave, illuminating the vibrant coral formations that line the walls. Schools of colorful fish dart between corals, as sunlight filters through the aqua blue water.

Topographical Features: The Blue Cave is a shallow cave system accessible through a small opening at the water’s surface. Inside, the cave expands, offering spacious chambers and crevices to explore.

Wildlife: Expect to see an abundance of tropical fish, including butterflyfish, angelfish, and parrotfish. Sea turtles are also occasionally spotted grazing on the algae-covered rocks.

Dive Conditions: Entry and exit are through a small opening, which can be challenging in rough conditions. The cave itself is well-lit and calm, with good visibility. However, be mindful of changing tides and currents. 

Swimming is only permitted during safe conditions. check the Maeda Website for a live stream update of the 'flag'

Turquoise water in the Blue Cave in Okinawa, a popular snorkeling destination

Gorilla Chop

No tour of Okinawa snorkeling would be complete without mentioning the iconic Gorilla Chop. This spot features a rock formation resembling a mighty gorilla performing a karate chop (we didn’t see it, but it’s a memorable name!)

The diverse marine life and sheltered bay make it a popular choice for families and beginners, but can get very crowded in peak season.

Topographical Features: Gorilla Chop boasts a gently sloping reef with sandy stretches and coral formations perfect for exploration. The sheltered bay offers calm conditions and excellent visibility.

Wildlife: Expect to see a variety of colorful fish, including clownfish, butterflyfish, and angelfish. Sea turtles are also commonly spotted in the area, making it a perfect spot for underwater photography. My partner even spotted an octopus!

Dive Conditions: The waters around Gorilla Chop are typically calm and sheltered, making it ideal for beginner and intermediate snorkelers. However, be mindful of occasional boat traffic, especially during peak season.

Underwater footage of Gorilla Chop in Okinawa, some of the best snorkeling in Okinawa

Kunigami Sea - Western Coast of Northern Okinawa

Find anywhere you can park along the western coast of the northern region of the island, and you’ll explore the best snorkeling in Okinawa right from shore. There is no set location or ideal snorkeling spot as it is all beautiful. I recommend driving up the coast, pulling over where there is a good spot to park, and hitting the water if it looks calm!

Topographical Features: Dive through trenches among vibrant coral life, only a short swim from the beach. Swim over vast arrays of flat corals, among tropical fishes and fellow freedivers!

Wildlife: Expect to see a wide variety of marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, manta rays, and more! As a reminder, do not touch any aquatic life.

Dive Conditions: Visibility is high, boat traffic is low, and there aren’t nearly as many tourists as the other 2 mainland locations. A current can be present, so it’s important to talk with a local or do some research before entering the water.

A girl in a striped wetsuit swimming through vibrant coral reefs in Okinawa, Japan

Kerama Islands

This breathtaking archipelago is a snorkeler’s paradise, boasting pristine coral reefs, crystal-clear waters, and an abundance of marine life. Each island offers a unique snorkeling experience:

  • Aharen Beach on Tokashiki Island: Shallow coral reefs teeming with tropical fish and excellent chances of spotting sea turtles.
  • Zamami Island: Drift snorkeling along vibrant coral walls and encountering larger pelagic species like manta rays and sharks.
  • Aka Island: Explore intricate coral formations and hidden coves teeming with colorful fish.

Topographical Features: The Kerama Islands boast diverse underwater landscapes, from gently sloping reefs to dramatic coral walls and hidden coves.

Wildlife: Expect to see a wide variety of marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins, and even humpback whales or whale sharks in certain seasons.

Dive Conditions: Currents can be strong around certain islands, particularly Zamami. Choose your snorkeling spot based on your experience level and prevailing conditions.

Whale shark and other fish swimming below the surface

Locations You Can't Swim

While researching, I found a lot of misleading information on snorkeling locations. I feel it’s important to set some things straight! You cannot swim at Cape Manzamo (Mermaid’s Grotto). 

Online, this was listed as a ‘beginner-friendly’ spot, but when we arrived with our floaties in hand.. we pulled up on some aggressive signs that it was very dangerous. If you’re not sure about a location, ask a local, or a dive master, and use your best judgment! 

Girl holding an innertube in front of signs that say 'no swimming' and 'danger, do not enter water' in Okinawa, Japan
Signs at Mermaid's Grotto "swimming location"

Snorkeling Equipment & Safety Tips

Before embarking on your snorkeling adventure in Okinawa, it’s essential to have the right equipment and follow safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

  1. Snorkel Gear: Invest in a high-quality mask, snorkel, and fins to maximize your comfort and snorkeling efficiency. A well-fitting mask with a silicone skirt and a dry-top snorkel that prevents water from entering are crucial for a hassle-free snorkeling experience. These are available for rent or borrow from most accommodation hosts!
  2. Sun Protection: Apply a waterproof sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Wearing a rash guard or a wetsuit can also provide additional sun protection.
  3. Swim with a Buddy: Always snorkel and dive with a buddy, preferably someone who is experienced and confident. Having a buddy ensures safety and allows for a more enjoyable snorkeling experience.
  4. Be Mindful of Currents: Before entering the water, familiarize yourself with the local currents and tides. Snorkel in areas with calm waters and avoid strong currents to prevent accidents and ensure your safety.
  5. Respect Marine Life: While snorkeling, refrain from touching or harassing marine life. Maintain a safe distance to avoid causing stress or harm to the underwater creatures. Remember, you are a guest in their natural habitat.

Wildlife & Marine Species in Okinawa

Okinawa’s waters are home to diverse marine species, making every snorkeling experience a thrilling encounter with underwater wildlife. Some creatures are completely harmless, while others are the complete opposite. Check out a full list of dangerous animals in Okinawa’s waters.

Here are some of the fascinating creatures you might encounter in Okinawa:

  • Sea Turtles: Okinawa is known for its sea turtle population, including the endangered green sea turtles. Snorkeling in Okinawa allows you to observe these majestic creatures up close as they gracefully swim and feed in their natural habitat.
  • Tropical Fish: The coral reefs of Okinawa are home to a vast array of tropical fish species, including clownfish, angelfish, parrotfish, and pufferfish! 
  • Sea Snakes: The white and black-banded snakes are majestical and also very venomous. Keep your distance and watch their beauty from afar!
  • Lion Fish: One of the most unique fish species, look for lionfish hidden in the shadows with red and white spines covering their bodies. Another creature to watch from afar!
  • Manta Rays: Spotting manta rays gliding through the water is a highlight of snorkeling in Okinawa. These gentle giants are known for their graceful movements and can be seen in various snorkeling spots, especially during the peak season.
  • Stonefish: While they exist all across the coral triangle, for some reason they are more talked about in Okinawa. Be aware of these deadly fish that bury themselves in the sand, and always wear shoes in the ocean!
12 photos of dangerous aquatic life in Okinawa
Source: Marine Corps Installation

Snorkeling Tours & Guides

As a certified free diver, SCUBA diver, and frequent snorkeler, I never did an official tour! With over a month to explore the island and a rental car, we went for self-led exploring.

However, if you’re only visiting for a short period, are new to the water, or just want to see the best places without thinking about anything else, a tour is a great option! 

 

Coffee Boat

I recommend contacting Coffee Boat – a local guide that will take you to all of the best locations in northern Okinawa while capturing amazing photos of you under the waves!

I met the guide and owner of the cute Cafe Banana – an incredible diver with great energy and knowledge about the island and waters. Check out their website, and their incredible photos and videos on Instagram, and book the best snorkeling in okinawa tour!

Half Day = 7,000 Yen
Full Day = 13,000 Yen

Snorkeler under the surface with a vibrant coral reef in Okinawa, Japan

Summary - The Best SNorkeling in Okinawa

Okinawa’s hidden gems await your discovery as you embark on a snorkeling adventure like no other. With its vibrant coral reefs, diverse marine life, and stunning underwater landscapes, the best snorkeling in Okinawa promises an unforgettable experience for snorkeling enthusiasts of all levels.

Remember to plan your trip carefully, pack the right gear, and follow safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable snorkeling adventure. Whether you choose to explore the Kerama Islands, Maeda Point, or the remote Iriomote Island, Okinawa’s hidden snorkeling treasures will leave you in awe of the wonders that lie beneath the waves.

So grab your snorkel gear, immerse yourself in Okinawa’s crystal-clear waters, and get ready to dive into paradise. Uncover Okinawa’s hidden gems for the best snorkeling experience and create memories that will last a lifetime.

 

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Japan, 0 comments
Best Time To Visit Okinawa

Best Time To Visit Okinawa

There isn’t a single best time to visit Okinawa – there is so much to see year-round! This tropical paradise is becoming a popular destination for good reason. The good food supports one of the healthiest communities, the blue water is filled with aquatic life, and the culture is so vibrant!

>Okinawa has so much to experience throughout the year, from humpback whale sightings to world-class diving, cherry blossom festivals, and so much more! So, depending on what you want to see, the best time to travel isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. 

Explore everything that Okinawa has to offer throughout the year, and find the best time to visit Okinawa for you!

View from the top of Okinawa, with blue water and small islands in the distance

Table of Contents

Explore the other destinations waiting for you in Asia!

When is the Best Time to Visit Okinawa

Generally speaking for Okinawa, the best time to visit Okinawa is in the shoulder seasons, during April or May, and October or November. 

While the word ‘best’ is up for interpretation, the shoulder seasons offer smaller crowds, milder weather, and lower costs! There is less competition for your dream accommodations, and fewer people at the best beaches.

CHEAPEST TIME TO VISIT OKINAWA: November – February

BEST WEATHER IN OKINAWA: April-May & October

LEAST CROWDED MONTHS IN OKINAWA: February-March

BEST NATURAL PHENOMENON IN OKINAWA: Humpback Whale Watching January-March

BEST FESTIVALS & EVENTS IN OKINAWA: Cherry Blossom Festival – February

When is the Worst Time to Visit Okinawa

In my opinion, I would avoid Okinawa during the summer months of June, July, and August. During the summer, temperature is the highest, as well as humidity (hello hot mess), crowds are the biggest, and increased prices follow. In general, I avoid destinations during peak season. I  prefer beaches empty, nature to myself, and fewer travelers so I can more clearly see the authenticity that lies at the heart of a location.

MOST EXPENSIVE TIME TO VISIT OKINAWA: June, July, August

HOTTEST MONTHS IN OKINAWA: August

COLDEST MONTHS IN OKINAWA: January

MOST CROWDED MONTHS IN OKINAWA: June, July, August

My Experience in Okinawa

I spent an amazing 45 days in Okinawa. I arrived on December 6, and left on January 19 – right in the middle of winter!

As you can see from the photos in this article, the weather was still so warm outside! We had plenty of beach days, as well as some cozy winter storm days. I often wore a bikini and a sundress, but always made sure to have a warm jacket and rain jacket for any changes in the weather.

We did a lot of snorkeling in Okinawa, and almost always needed in a 3mm wetsuit. The visibility was insanely good, and we saw so much aquatic life since there were fewer people in the water!

The downside of traveling in December-January is a lot of restaurants had shorter hours, or were closed completely. However, with fewer travelers, the places we did go were cheaper, and we got to connect more with the locals. 

A woman standing on stairs facing a unique rocky peak, with tropical palms growing

Weather in Okinawa

Okinawa is tropical and breezy, with annual rainfall in the summer months along with high humidity, and cool and crisp air during the winter months. The weather fluctuates between a low of 13°C (55°F) and a high of 33°C (91°F) throughout the year.

While there are 4 seasons, the year is typically broken into a wet and dry season. Wet months are from June to September, with the most rain in June at almost 600mm of rainfall.

Graph showing the annual rainfall and temperature in Okinawa, Japan
Image from All Japan Relocation

Seasonal Breakdown in Okinawa

Spring (March, April, May)

As the weather warms and the island awaits the tourist crowds, Spring is among the best time to visit Okinawa. Resort beaches reopen for swimming in March, the temperature starts creeping back up, and the vibrant life of the island is awaiting your exploration.

Weather

Spring in Okinawa offers comfortable weather, with balmy days and refreshing evenings. Average high temperatures range from 20°C (68°F) in March to 25°C (77°F) by May, with lows dipping to 18°C (64°F) and 22°C (72°F) respectively.

Rainfall is minimal, making it a fantastic time for outdoor activities. While humidity starts to creep up toward April, it remains comfortable compared to the summer months.

The ocean beckons with increasing warmth throughout the season. Sea temperatures rise from a cool 21°C (70°F) in March to a comfortable 26°C (79°F) by May, perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Visibility in the turquoise waters is excellent, reaching upwards of 30 meters, and offering stunning views of the vibrant coral reefs.

Events

  • Yaeyama Islands Flower Bloom (March-April)
  • Naha Hari – Dragon Boat Race (May)
  • Yomitan Island Canoe Festival (May)
Sunset over the ocean in Okinawa, Japan

Summer (June, July, August)

Summer in Okinawa is perfect for lounging on a white sand beach or snorkeling anywhere off the coast. This is a great time to travel if you’re trying to be in the ocean more than not, you’ll need the refreshing reprise of an ocean dip to escape the heat! Be prepared for many other travelers, making it a perfect time to socialize and meet fellow wanderlusts.

Weather

Summer in Okinawa is a tropical paradise that demands respect for the sun’s intensity. Scorching days average between 28°C (82°F) and 33°C (91°F), with nights offering little respite at 24°C (75°F) and 28°C (82°F).

Humidity soars, reaching upwards of 80%, providing a free sauna-like experience. The high humidity during the summer months will make it feel much hotter than it reads on the thermometer, so pack accordingly and stay hydrated! Typhoons, though rare, can disrupt travel plans during this season. Be sure to have a good rain jacket and umbrella to withstand the intense precipitation.

Ocean temperatures reach their peak, averaging a hot 28°C (82°F), making it ideal for water sports enthusiasts. However, the increased surface temperature can affect coral health, and visibility slightly decreases compared to spring.

Events

  • Naha Eisa Matsuri Dance Performances (June or July)
  • Naha Harbor Fireworks Festival (July)
  • Ishigaki Island Stargazing Festival (July-August)
  • Miyako Island Orion Beer Festival (August)
  • Yaeyama Islands Manta Festival (June-August)
  • Whale Shark Snorkeling Tours (June-August)
Whale shark and other fish swimming below the surface

Autumn (September, October, November)

The rain subsides and temperatures drop in November, making it a perfect time for cultural events and indoor activities. Although, the oceans are still booming with life, and you’ll have some of the best snorkeling spots all to yourself!  Autumn is among the best time to visit Okinawa for a more authentic exploration with fewer crowds.

 

Weather

Autumn in Okinawa offers comfortable temperatures and clear skies. Average highs range from 22°C (72°F) in September to 28°C (82°F) in November, with lows dipping to 18°C (64°F) and 21°C (70°F) respectively. 

Rainfall increases slightly compared to summer but rarely disrupts plans. Humidity remains manageable, making it an ideal time for enjoying outdoor activities without the summer’s intensity.

Ocean temperatures begin to cool slightly, although they remain pleasantly warm at around 25°C (77°F) in September and 23°C (73°F) by November. Visibility remains excellent, offering stunning underwater views as the coral reefs prepare for winter.

Events

  • Ishigaki Island Harvest Festival (September)
  • Naha Tug-of-War Festival (October)
  • National Karate Day (October 25)
  • Kabira Bay Hot Springs Festival (October)
Aerial image of the annual tug-of-war festival in Naha, Okinawa, featuring a crowd of people and a massive rope
Image from Renee and Japan

Winter (December, January, February)

Winter travel in Okinawa is an underrated time of year. This is the best time to visit for some tropical life in the heart of the cold season, especially if you’re traveling from the Northern mianland. Stick around for the chance to sport a humpback whale, and join in on the lively cultural celebrations!

Weather

Winter in Okinawa offers a relief from the mainland’s biting cold, with mild days and cool nights. Average highs range from 18°C (64°F) in December to 23°C (73°F) in February, with lows dipping to 13°C (55°F) and 17°C (63°F) respectively.

Occasional bursts of chilly winds can bring temperatures down even further, and although rain increases slightly, it rarely dampens plans.

Ocean temperatures continue their descent, reaching 21°C (70°F) by February, making water activities less appealing for most. However, visibility remains excellent for divers and snorkelers who don’t mind the cooler waters.

Events

  • Naha Christmas Village Celebrations (December)
  • Ryuku Lantern Festival (December)
  • New Year’s Celebrations (January 1)
  • Okinawa Flower Carnival (February)
  • Cherry Blossom Sakura Festival in Naha. (late January – February)
  • Humpback Whale sightings off the Kerama Islands (late January – March)
  • Yonaguni Island Lantern Festival (February)
A mom and baby humpback whale swimming along the surface in the blue ocean

Top Things To Do In Okinawa

Of all the things to do in Okinawa, this is my top list of the things you can’t miss out on, no matter what time of year you visit Okinawa! These are open year-round and were my favorite things to do in Okinawa.

Charumi Aquarium

By far the biggest attraction on the island, The Okinawa Charumi Aquarium is among the best aquariums in the world. The responsible practices of rehabilitation and education are top-tier. They even release the dolphins back into the wild after a few years so they don’t become reliant on humans.

The biggest ‘attraction’ (if you can call an animal that) is the Whale Shark. So breathtaking to see such a massive creature up close.

Hike Hijio Waterfall

Hijio Waterfall is an incredible stop in the northern region of the island and very easy to get to. The 45 hike to the falls crosses a dreamy suspension bridge in the forest and leads to a stunning area to watch the water cascade down the hillside.

Especially if you go in the off-season, you’ll have the waterfall to yourself, another great reason why winter is the best time to visit Okinawa!

Snorkel Gorilla Chop

Of all the locations I snorkeled at, Gorilla Chop was by far the best. Maybe even the best I’ve ever seen in my life! This easy-to-access location is filled with life. It is accessible year-round, although water will be a bit chillier in the winter, so be sure to get a wetsuit!

The parking is free, and so is water access! Please be careful to not touch the coral or any aquatic life, and never feed the fish!

Summary - The Best Time To Visit Okinawa

Okinawa is undeniably a great place to go at any time of year. The tropical landscape, turquoise blue water, vibrant culture, and aquatic life have something for every type of traveler. But, when is the best time to visit Okinawa? 

The shoulder seasons of April and May, or September and October offer mild temperatures, smaller crowds, and the beautiful summery atmosphere that so many people love. However, if I were to go back to Okinawa, it would be in February.

In February there are no travel crowds, the cherry blossoms are in bloom, the rain is low, and best of all… humpback whale migration. It’s not often you get to see such beautiful creatures in the wild, and it’s relatively easy! 

Which month’s adventures are pulling you into Okinawa?

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Japan, 0 comments