When Jetstar launched flights to Okinawa, we immediately pounced on the deal. Before Jetstar (also our favorite budget airline! #notsponsored #wepaidforourtickets), a 2–way ticket from Singapore to Okinawa would set us back by at least $1400. The day we bought the launch tickets promotion, we paid less than $800 for 2-way tickets, for 2 PAX! It was a super cost-incentivised decision as we didn’t even do any research about Okinawa when we booked the tickets. All we knew was its part of Japan and we don’t want to miss the deal. Heck, we didn’t even know that it’s an island, away from the mainland and all by itself with it’s own unique culture and history. Imagine our shock when we realized we are ‘not going to Japan’!
Okinawa Travel Tips
1. Best time to visit Okinawa
If googled, the recommended time to visit Okinawa is spring (March to early May) or autumn (Late Sept to Dec). However, unknown to many, Okinawa has the earliest Sakura bloom in the world – Okinawa’s Sakura season begins mid January and ends mid February, a good 2 months ahead of mainland Japan. We were in Okinawa from late January to early February and it felt really special to witness the very first Cherry Blossoms of the year! Although it was drizzling on some days and unexpectedly chilly, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. It was too cold for us to hit the beaches which Okinawa is also famous for and we plan to revisit again during summer!
2. Cash or cashless?
While most shops at popular shopping lanes in Naha (main city) accept credit cards, be prepared to have cash AND loose change in your wallet. Many of the best shopping areas in Okinawa are in fact streets filled with local craftsmen and small eateries which do not accept cards. When out of the main city Naha, you might also experience struggles to find a restaurant that accepts cards. Mobile payment is not common and if you intend to take the public buses, make sure you have coins and lose change as you’ll be taking busses back from the 90s!
3. Language Barrier
We experienced little language barriers during our stay in Okinawa. Many of the Japanese in Naha city understood English and Mandarin. While we did meet with some language barriers in small eateries and cafes in Nago, all of them had picture menus or vending machine with pictures, so ordering food was a breeze.
We spent most of our time in 2 cities, Naha and Nago. Within central Naha, transportation is convenient with their monorail, Yui Rail. (don’t understand the meaning of this sentence) Yui Rail ends out of Central Naha but busses are still a plenty. However, to visit tourist attractions out of Naha, it is recommended to take the tour bus or rent a car. I will prepare a comprehensive ‘Getting around in Okinawa’ guide post and update here.
5. Food in Okinawa
Don’t go to Okinawa expecting to feast on your favourite Ramen, Sushi and Yakitori! Because of its unique location and complicated history, you’ll see heavy Chinese and Western influence in Okinawa cuisine. I’ll leave the details in another blog post, but here’s a peek at what you can expect.
- Pork. Lots of delicious parts of the pig cooked and perfected in Okinawa’s unique flavour. It is well known that they use every part of the pig “except it’s “squeal” 😛 Pictured here is their famous Okinawa soba.
- A&W is everywhere and they have been around in Okinawa since 1963. The prevailing strong American influence is mainly due to the high density of American military bases on Okinawa island.
- Everything Champuru – Means something mixed and usually stir-fried. This is the everyday food eaten by the locals themselves and by far our favourite!
- Fresh seafood and sea grapes everywhere! Thanks to the fact the Okinawa is a pretty long island surrounded by the sea.
- Black Sugar – Okinawa is a huge producer of black sugar and black sugar treats.
It may seem funny for me to cover this, after all, skincare is my biggest concern when travelling. Being someone with skin that is super sensitive with a bad attitude, I spent more time packing my skincare and makeup compared to my travel wardrobe 😛 Despite the fact that Winters in Okinawa are not as cold as other parts of Japan, the cold can still be drying for the skin. Heavier moisturisers and constant hydration are a must. For some reason, UV rays are also known to be very strong in Okinawa plus many of the island’s offerings are outdoors. We managed to get a tan after 10 days on the Island even though the weather was mostly cloudy throughout our stay, so remember to pack in some sunscreen as well.
7. Travel Wardrobe
Temperatures during winter time in Okinawa ranges from 21°C (Day) to 14°C (Night). We seemed to have used up our travel luck though, as during the period while we were there, a typhoon was raging in Taiwan and it made the winter colder and wetter, bringing average temperatures to 14°C to 11°C. This was a stark contrast to the forecasted average temperature of 20°C! That said, it is seldom the actual temperature itself the created the cold. Strong winds and persistent drizzles were the chills culprit! So rather than bringing your thick wooden knitwear and heavy coats, it’s smarter to carry wind-breakers and a shawl to cover your neck. A good fitting cap also helps protect you from the drizzle and battle face-in-hair situations, keeping your hair in place. It also makes good sense to bring a strong umbrella or purchase one while you are in Okinawa. Trust me, you’ll need all it takes to combat the strong winds.
8. Wifi, sim-cards and Internet connection in Okinawa
If you wish to get a sim-card, I’d recommend getting it before arrival or getting them at a convenience store where you can find someone who could communicate in English. We purchased ours at the airport upon arrival- bad idea! The sim-cards were sold via a vending machine where we had to first queue up at the nearest Lawson to change our notes into smaller denominations. After doing so, we spent more than an hour trying to set it up ourselves! Many Airbnbs provide free portable wifi but the connection speeds can be described as ‘frustrating’. Some cafes in Naha offer free wifi, but for wifi on the go, we would still recommend purchasing a sim-card. The 4G connectivity is pretty good.
Shopping in Okinawa is unlike Tokyo. There are not many major shopping malls nor big brands around. The biggest that we have visited would be AEON and Daiso which can be as huge as a supermarket and definitely a HUGE SHOPPING HEAVEN AS MOST ITEMS ARE LESS THAN S$2!
(Ok let me calm myself down before I continue…)
Okinawa is better known for their handmade products and the best shopping area in my opinion is Kokusai Street where the Makishi Public Market and Heiwa Street is just nearby. Duty-free shopping can be done ON THE SPOT at many of the duty free stores. Simply bring along your passport. After making your purchase, consumables such as food and beauty products will be packed and sealed. Do not open the sealed bags and do not lose the receipts stapled to your passport else you might be asked to pay taxes at the airport. Therefore, it is also recommended that you do your shopping on the last day. For clothes, you may remove the tags but do not lose them as you may be asked to produce them at the airport. I’ll be updating the blog on more shopping recommendations.
As per any hospitality stays in Japan, hotels are very expensive and it makes more sense to stay in an Airbnb instead. Japanese are known to be very clean and hygienic thus staying with Airbnb while in Okinawa was a no-brainer choice. I would recommend to stay near the the mono-rail while in central Naha and to pick a Airbnb nearest to Makishi street as this would save you a lot of transportation time and cost. It’s also easier to lug your shopping back! Try to keep you luggage as light as possible as many Airbnbs in Okinawa are walk-up apartments that do not have lifts. You can easily wash and dry your clothes considering the less humid weather and that most Airbnbs have a washing machine that you can use.
That’s all I have for now! I’ll be updating this list as I continue writing about the trip. In the meantime if you have any questions or need more tips, feel free to ask and comment!
Will continue writing about my Okinawa trip with (links will be added when post is done):
- Getting around in Okinawa
- My Japan, Okinawa 10 Days Itinerary
- My accommodations in Okinawa
- Okinawa by the days
- What I bought from Okinawa
- What I ate in Okinawa
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