- Overview of Okinawa
- Getting there
- Getting around Okinawa
- Is Okinawa Muslim-friendly?
- Where to stay
- Must-do activities
- Where to eat
- Must-buy souvenirs
Overview of OkinawaOkinawa is a prefecture comprising more than 150 islands located in Kyushu, the southernmost region of Japan. The largest and most populous island is Okinawa Main Island (or Okinawa Honto in Japanese), which is home to Naha, the capital city ofthe prefecture. Okinawa Honto also used to be the centre of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which ruled Okinawa independently before it was recognised as a prefecture of Japan in the late 1800s. Okinawa’s historically independent status and its location away from the mainland means it’s quite different from what you would find in places like Tokyo or Osaka! The islands are especially known for their crystal clear waters, diving spots rich in coral reefs and amazing beaches. For this guide, we’ll largely be focusing on Okinawa Honto - where we refer to Okinawa in the rest of the article, we mean the main island 😃 It’s important to note that the main island, while not large in terms of land size, stretches out quite long. It takes about 2 hours in total to drive from the northern tip of the main island to Naha in the south, and given that a lot of Okinawa’s attractions are spread out across the island, it does mean you’ll often need to travel anywhere between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours to get to your destination!
Getting thereAs recently as a few years ago, getting to Okinawa from our part of the world wasn’t so straightforward. Itrequired a connecting flight, transiting through nearby cities like Taipei or Hong Kong or alternatively flying to Japan and taking a domestic flight from there. Nowadays though it’s gotten a lot easier, especially with Jetstar’s direct flights from Singapore to Okinawa! The flight takes about 5 hours and lands at Naha International Airport. When Amir and I took the flight we also pre-ordered our meals onboard! Jetstar has a selection of halal-certified meals as part of its in-flight menu that you can pre-order while booking your ticket or purchase ahead of your flight. The menu for the pre-order meals includes Nasi Goreng Kunyit with Ayam Bakar Sambal, which came along with water and some ice cream. The chicken in sambal was very tasty, and we loved ending the meal on a sweet note with the ice cream! We also got one of the meals from the premium pre-order menu, the Nasi Lemak with Chicken Satay. Premium meals come with water and sides including coffee crumble cake, goji berry nut mix and Himalaya Salt mint candies. The Nasi Lemak came with a fried egg and combined with the satay and sides made for a nice hearty meal!
Getting around OkinawaOkinawa is an islandthat’s probably best explored by car. While getting around Naha city is pretty doable by relying on public transport and taxis, many of Okinawa’s attractions including its beaches are located in the northern area of the island (about 1.5 - 2 hours away from Naha). Outside of Naha, public transport is a lot more fragmented, and while there are buses that service routes throughout the island, it does take a lot longer (but it’s still doable so long as you’re willing to factor in the waiting and travel times!). Credit: @visitokinawajapan on Instagram Hence, renting a car and driving yourself is the most popular mode of getting around the island. Car rental costs from around SGD60 (RM185) a day and you can find a great selection of vehicles from compact sedans and hybrid vehicles to vans and camping cars. Do note that to drive in Okinawa, Singaporeans and Malaysians will need an International Driving Permit in addition to your local driver’s license. To apply for an International Driving Permit, you can find more information here (for Singaporeans) and here (for Malaysians). #HHWT Tip:Similar to Singapore and Malaysia, cars in Okinawa are right-hand drive, with vehicles driven on theleft side of the road. In addition, while we were there, we noted that most of the signages have English translations, especially near the key attractions. Combined with a GPS system, driving around Okinawa should be a pretty straightforward experience! If you can’t drive or are not quite comfortable with the idea of driving around the city, don’t worry. You can also hire private charters (i.e. cars with drivers) to get around the island (like we did!). We booked our charter through Klook for a set duration of hours for the day. We used this option mostly for travelling in the areas outside of Naha, where we stayed for a few nights. While staying in Naha, we relied on taxis and public transport, primarily the monorail. You can find more information on how to get around Okinawa here. #HHWT Tip: If you’re staying in Naha, getting around by monorail is pretty easy! For those relying on the monorail for multiple trips in a day, you can consider getting the 1 Day pass that’s valid for 24 hours from purchase (JPY800).
Is Okinawa Muslim-friendly?Prayer room at Naha Airport (located on the 4th floor of the International Terminal, near the Observatory Area) SinceOkinawa is still a place many people are not familiar with, while we were there we got several questions from our Instagram audience (check out ourInstagram stories from our Okinawa trip on our highlights!) asking if it was easy to find halal food and prayer amenities. They’re not as widely available as in other cities like Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, however, there are a number of halal and Muslim-friendly restaurants scattered throughout the main island, and there is also a new mosque located in the Nakahami district. In addition, there is definitely increasing awareness of the needs of Muslim travellers, with more hotels and eateries offering halal or Muslim-friendly meals. Okinawa has also produced a map and also information guide for Muslim travellers! to As more Muslim travellers come to Okinawa, we’re confident that this trend will continue to grow and Muslim amenities will become more widely available 😊
Where to stayFor the main island, we’ve narrowed down a few areas that are the most suitable for Muslim travellers: Naha Kokusai-dori As mentioned, Naha is a popular place to stay for a lot of visitors, given that it’s close to the airport and there’s a concentration of hotels, eateriesand attractions. In terms of Muslim-friendly amenities, there are a few eateries that offer Muslim-friendly meals, though please note that most require advance reservations (you can find further info on the eateries under the Where To Eat section below!). The biggest advantage of staying in Naha is that you’ll be close to its commercial and shopping area, especially if you stay along Kokusai-dori (which translates to International Street), the main shopping street that runs through downtown Naha. While we were in Naha we stayed at Hotel Palm Royal Naha, a hotel located right off Kokusai-dori. Nago Ocean Expo Park Nago is an area located in the northern part of Okinawa, within the Motobu Peninsula. This more remote area of Okinawa is known mainly for its family-friendly attractions, which include Ocean Expo Park (home to the famous Churaumi Aquarium) and the quirky Nago Pineapple Park. We stayed in Nago for a couple of nights during our trip, and the main reason for this, besides its proximity to the attractions mentioned above, is because of Hotel Yugaf Inn. This Muslim-friendly hotel provides amenities such as prayer area and prayer mats and timetable for use in guest rooms. But best ofall, the hotel also provides halal-certified meals! Hotel Yugaf Inn has food certified by the Nippon Asia Halal Association which is served as part of its breakfast buffet. In addition, it also has a halal menu that both guests or those not staying at the hotel can enjoy, with reservations 3 days in advance (more details on the meals below!) Room at Hotel Yugaf Inn We found our rooms (we went for the Hollywood Twin Room) super spacious, with ample room to perform prayers comfortably. Onna (also known an Onna Village) Cape Maeda Onna is a seaside facing town located in the Chubu (Central) area of Okinawa, about an hour away from Naha. It’s popular for its scenic seaside spots like Cape Manzamo and Cape Maeda, snorkelling and diving spots, and is home to many resort hotels. If you’re looking to spend a lot of your time doing sea activities and want a quieter area outside the city, staying in Onna is a great place to do so. There are many sea activity companies located in the area where you can book sea excursions, or alternatively, you can make arrangements through your hotel if you’re staying in the area. Onnaitself doesn’t have many Muslim-friendly restaurants, but it’s within relative proximity (about 30 - 40 minutes drive) to areas like Chatan which has some halal restaurants (when staying in Okinawa you’ll quickly realise that 30 - 40 minutes drive is considered not bad! 😂).
Must-do activitiesSea activities No trip to Okinawa is complete without doing some sea activities in its beautiful waters! There’s a whole bunch of fun water activities you can do, and it’s not limited to just diving or snorkelling either. Sea activities can be done all-year-round, but the best time is during the warmer months between May to October. For visitors, it’s probably easiest to book an excursion for the activity you want to do through one of the many companies offering guided tours and equipment. #HHWTTip: You can book your excursions directly with the tour companies, or you can also search through sites like Klook and KKday! Doing the marine walk For those who can’t swim or just aren’t comfortable snorkelling or diving, a great option would be to go for a marine walk! This is where you walk on the ocean floor while wearing a special helmet that allows you to breathe underwater normally 😉 Wedid this in Onna - there are a few tour companies offering the experience, we went withSeven Ocean’s Club, which we booked through Klook. We also went snorkelling in Onna. A famous snorkelling/diving spot in Onna is the Blue Cave, a semi-submerged cave in the sea that has incredible blue waters thanks to the sunlight that streams in through the cave. #HHWT Tip: In terms of costs, sea activities can cost anywhere between JPY3,000 - JPY10,000 per person, depending on the type of activity you booked, how long your excursion is, and whether it’s a group excursion or a private excursion. For our activities, the marine walk was JPY6,800 per person, while the snorkelling was JPY3,800 per person. We didn’t end up snorkelling at the Blue Cave due to windy weather, but our guides provided an alternative snorkelling spot off the coast of Yamada nearby, and it still ended up being an amazing experience. We even got to see a sea turtle! 😍 Our guide said we were lucky to spot him. #HHWT Tip:Most excursions require a boat ride out to the sea, and depending on the weather, the boat may roll slightly on the water soit’s advisable to take motion-sickness medicine prior to your sea excursions! Other activities you can do in Okinawa include stand-up paddling, diving, parasailing, and more! Spend the day at Ocean Expo Park Kuroshio Sea Ocean Expo Park is a large park area that’s home to several attractions dedicated to Okinawa’s nature and history. Most notable among these is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, home to over 20,000 marine life. The main highlight is Kuroshio Sea, one of the world’s largest tanks that holds two huge whale sharks, dozens of manta rays and other various fish. From the aquarium, you can take a super scenic walk through the park to another attraction - Tropical Dream Center! The centre displays over 2,000 orchids and other flowers, all beautifully landscaped in picturesque gardens and greenhouses. If you’ve purchased tickets to the aquarium, you can get a 50% discount off your tickets for Tropical Dream Center. Don’t forget to go up the tower to get a great view of the park! #HHWT Tip: For those who don’t feel like walking or have mobility issues, you can opt for a ride on the trolley that circulates around the park at most of the keyattractions. Fares cost JPY100 per person per ride, or you can get a full day pass for just JPY200 per person.Find out more about the trolley here. Walking in Ocean Expo Park One great thing to highlight about Tropical Dream Center is that the cafe located there has a menu that’s completely plant-based and free from alcohol - it’s a good place to make a pit-stop and refuel while exploring the park! You can find more details under our Where To Eat section below. Besides the aquarium and Tropical Dream Center, the park has plenty more attractions, including the Traditional Okinawa Village where you can see reproductions of traditional Ryukyu houses, the Oceanic Culture Museum and Emerald Beach - you’d easily be able to spend almost a full day there. The park’s seaside location is also really beautiful and makes for the perfect place just to soak in the views! Walk along Kokusai-dori This famous street in downtown Naha is filled with shops and eateries and is usually bustling with activity. Its palm tree-lined pavements make it a picturesque place to stroll around as you take in the sights. Heiwadori It’s also the perfect spot to pick-up souvenirsto bring home from your trip. Visit the shopping arcades that branch off from the street (including Heiwadori and Mutumibashidori) and you’ll find plenty of interesting stores selling knick-knacks, local products, Japanese toiletries and more. As you walk along the street, you’ll also find a big Don Quijote outlet. Don’t forget to stop by the Okashi Goten Matsuo outlet to pick up some beni imo tarts (read more about this in our Must-Buy Souvenirs section below!). See another side of Okinawa’s nature at Valley of Gangala and Gyokusendo Cave Valley of Gangala If you think that Okinawa’s best nature spots are mostly its beautiful beaches, think again! One attraction that blew us away is the Valley of Gangala, a sub-tropical forest that has grown in a limestone cave that collapsed thousands of years ago. The valley has long been a significant and sacred place to Okinawans, and is also rich in history - remains of a prehistoric man (named Minatogawa Man) from 20,000 years ago was uncovered here! Gajumaru tree The attraction offers a guided tour around the valley, which is filled with lush greenery and amazing plant life like the impressive Gajumaru, a giant banyan tree. There’s alsoa Cave Cafe at the entrance where you can enjoy a coffee in an incredible cave setting! There are a number of tour sessions offered in a day, with reservations required in advance. English tours are usually held twice a day - you can reserve your tour slot ontheir website. #HHWT Tip: The tour takes about 1h 15 minutes - be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes! Right across from the Valley of Gangala is Okinawa World, a theme park dedicated to Okinawan culture. Okinawa World’s main attraction is Gyokusendo Cave, which is actually part of a system of caves that’s one of the biggest in Japan! The section of the cave in Okinawa World is open to visitors, who can walk along pathway built through the cave and marvel at its incredible interior. The cave environment is very moist, with underwater streams and water dripping from the stalactites that are continuing to form stalagmites to this day! #HHWT Tip: The cave stretches for 890 meters (it can take up to 20 minutes to walk through it, depending on how fast you’re going). Watch your step as some parts of the pathway are wet and thelighting is dim. Learn about local pineapples at Nago Pineapple Park Pineapples are grown in the northern areas of Okinawa, so much so that there’s even a theme park dedicated to the fruit! Nago Pineapple Park is a quirky and fun attraction where you can learn more about the pineapples grown in the area - it’s home to an actual pineapple farm growing about 120 variations of pineapples. Besides the farm, you’ll get to ride automated carts through indoor gardens and of course, buy fresh pineapples and other pineapple-related products! Try wearing Ryusou Trying on ryusou at Okinawa World Did you know that Okinawa has its own unique version of traditional wear? Called ryusou, this local style of kimono originates from the Ryukyu Kingdom and is quite different from the kimono worn by mainland Japanese. For one thing, the sleeves are much larger (to help stay cool in the tropical heat), it’s easier to wear (it’s more similar to a yukata, the casual version of the kimono), and is often made in bright colours with designs significant to Okinawan culture and history. You’ll also see pretty unique accessories, especially the large flower-shaped hat that’s usually worn by traditional Okinawan danceperformers. If you’re looking to try one for yourself, you can do so at attractions like Okinawa World located in Nanjo and Ryukyu Mura located in Onna, which are both theme parks dedicated to Okinawan culture. I tried the ryusou while we were at Okinawa World, which cost JPY700 (to wear in the indoor studio area) or JPY1,500 which also includes up to half-an-hour to wear the ryusou outside as you explore Okinawa World See the cliffside shrine right in the city While we were in Naha, we were scheduled to go parasailing but unfortunately, it was cancelled due to the weather. We decided to visit Naminoue Shrine instead, and we ended up glad that we did! It’s one of the most important Shinto shrines in Naha, dating back to the Ryukyu Kingdom. It’s where locals used to pray for safe sea voyages, bountiful fishing and more. The unique feature of the shrine is the fact it sits on beachside cliff located right in the city. Even though it’s surrounded by the dense city buildings and an elevated highway runs right across the beach in front of it, its tranquil nature and beauty still shines through! The elevated highway, ironically,allows for visitors to get the best views of the shrine. Walk along the pedestrian path on the highway to get that great picture! Explore the tranquil Fukushuen Garden After visiting Naminoue Shrine, we walked over to Fukushen Garden (about a 15-minute walk away). This amazing Chinese-style garden sits within a walled area and pays tribute to the sister-city relationship (meaning cities that have an agreement to foster social and commercial ties) between Naha and Fuzhou in China. It’s over 8,500 square meters and filled with pavilions, water features, pagodas and other statues. You can even buy food to feed the many fishes and turtles that live in the pond. Snap pictures at Cape Manzamo Credit: @huang0506 on Instagram Cape Manzamo in Onna is a popular scenic stop in Okinawa, and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, it has a famous elephant-shaped rock formation. But it’s also a nice place to stroll around and take in the beautiful cliffside views! The surrounding area has grassy plains and walking paths. Admission is also free 😉 Kouri Ocean Tower Kouri Ocean Tower is an attraction located on Kouri Island, an island north of Motobu Peninsula. The island is connected toOkinawa by a bridge just under 2km in length and is surrounded by beautiful crystal waters. Kouri Ocean Tower has an observatory deck where you can see the amazing views of the bridge and Kouri island from up top. In addition, the attraction has a Shell Museum showcasing shells from around the world and souvenir stores where you can pick up local products to bring home. Shuri Castle Park Bezaitendo Shrine Shuri Castle (also known as Shuri-jo) is undoubtedly one of Okinawa’s most famous cultural sites. This former royal palace of the Ryukyu rulers is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an iconic place to visit in Naha. Sadly, the castle caught fire late last month and sustained significant damage and has been closed. However, visitors can still visit Shuri Castle Park, as the castle grounds have been partially reopened. When we dropped by, we were able to walk along the castle walls and visit other buildings in the park such as the Bezaitendo Shrine. In addition, the park’s information centre, shops and eateries have also reopened for business and are a great way for visitors to support the park as it seeks to rebuild following the unfortunate event. ForMuslim travellers, there’s Suimui Restaurant which has a Muslim-friendly menu that you can enjoy (read more about it in the Where To Eat section below!).
Where to eatThere are a number of eateries offering halal or Muslim-friendly meals spread across the island. Disclaimer: Please note that many of the restaurants offering Muslim-friendly meals also serve non-halal food and/or alcoholic beverages. Where possible, we’ve tried to add as much information for each eatery with regards to the meals and the cooking environment. We recommend that you dine at your own discretion. Naha & immediate areas 1. Suitenrou Suitenrou is a restaurant located along the bustling Kokusai-dori that specialises in Okinawan cuisine. The restaurant can prepare a meal made with halal-certified meat free from alcohol, with reservations in advance (preferably up to a week!). The meal comes in a set and the price will depend on the dishes served, starting from JPY3,000 per person. When we were there, we enjoyed grilled chicken, stewed veggies and various side dishes, along with rice and miso soup. #HHWT Tip: For something a little extra special, you can opt to dine on the third floor of the restaurant, where there are performances of traditional Okinawan dances and musicheld every evening. Eating on the third floor to see the performances requires an additional JPY800 per person - do let them know when you make reservations or when you are being seated in the restaurant! Halal status: Can prepare meals made with halal-certified meat, free from alcohol. Please note that the restaurant also serves non-halal food and alcoholic beverages. We recommend that you dine at your own discretion. Average price of main dishes: JPY3,000 and above Address: 1-3-60 Makishi, Naha 900-0013, Okinawa Prefecture (Google Maps) Opening hours: Open daily; 11AM - 12AM Contact: 098-863-4091 Website 2. Sabaroll Credit: @slowlifeinokinawa on Instagram Sabaroll recently opened its doors in Naha (it’s a 5-minute walk from the Asahibashi monorail station), serving up Turkish-style fish rolls made with saba (mackerel). The rolls are made with grilled fish wrapped up with veggies in a tortilla wrap. The owner of Sabaroll was inspired to open this store after travelling in Turkey and tasting the fish sandwiches that are a popular street food there! Halal status: Serves only sabarolls made with fish. Please note that the restaurant also serves alcoholic beverages. We recommend that you dine at your own discretion. Address: 〒900-0021 Okinawa, Naha,Izumizaki, 1 Chome−17−1 1F(Google Maps) Opening hours: Open daily; 7.30AM - 3PM Website 3. Suimui Located at Shuri Castle Park, this restaurant is located at the rest and information centre (called Suimuikan). Even though the area surrounding Shuri Castle itself is still closed following the recent fire, the castle grounds and the facilities at Suimuikan have resumed business and are open to visitors. We had lunch here and were able to enjoy their Muslim-friendly menu which has dishes that are completely plant-based and free from alcohol. The mapo tofu dish was really flavourful! Halal status: Has a Muslim-friendly menu with dishes that are fully plant-based and free from alcohol. Please note that the restaurant also serves non-halal food and alcoholic beverages. We recommend that you dine at your own discretion. Average price of main dishes: JPY1,000 Address: 1 Chome-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa 903-0815, Japan (Google Maps). The restaurant is located on the second floor. Opening hours:
- Apr - Jun; 8.30AM - 7PM
- Jul - Sep; 8.30AM - 8PM
- Oct - Nov; 8.30AM - 7PM
- Dec - Mar; 8.30AM - 6PM