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Okinawa’s beaches and laid back lifestyle are the things of postcards, but what’s it like to visit in spring? Tour leader Robert Kodama leaves the cherry blossom frenzy of the mainland to find out.
5 ways to see spring in Okinawa
The spring season brings floods of tourists to Japan for the comfortable weather and the jaw-dropping cherry blossom. Locals stock up on beer and food from convenience stores and head out for hanami (flower viewing) parties to make the most of the incredibly short blossom season. It is a beautiful time to visit but the crowds can be a bit much.
The tropical island of Okinawa in the south of Japan is synonymous with barbecues and beach life, but there’s no reason to wait for the summer to explore this prefecture. The mainland is busiest in spring and autumn, but with tourists flocking to Okinawa in the summer, spring is an ideal time to head south and escape those pesky crowds.
1. Rent a car
Public transport on the main island of Okinawa is available but sparse. There is a monorail in the main city of Naha connecting the city to the airport, and infrequent buses between major spots on the island, but renting a car gives you the freedom to explore at your leisure. Just be aware that the recent influx of foreign drivers has led to stickers on rental cars warning others that a foreigner is driving, don’t take it personally!
To rent a car in Japan, you will need your licence along with an International Driver’s Permit – be sure to get one before you arrive.
One of the must-see places on any Japan road trip is a michi-no-eki. These road stations, specialising in local produce, are dotted around all over the country. There are books and magazines dedicated to showcasing them, and some Japanese people make it their sole purpose to visit every one.
With its array of food stalls, onna-no-eki is the best one in Okinawa; don’t leave without trying the souki-soba, a local noodle speciality, and sata-andaki, a type of Okinawan doughnut. Inside, aisles upon aisles of local products are also available. I recommend buying a snack pine – a small pineapple grown in the prefecture – from the island of Ishigaki. I guarantee it will be the sweetest pineapple you have ever tried.
3. Matayoshi Coffee Farm
Coffee might not spring to mind when people think of Japan, but Okinawa has just the right conditions for coffee farms to thrive. For 500 yen, you are free to walk or drive through Matayoshi coffee farm at your leisure. Of course, a fresh cup of joe is also available as part of your visit, and coffee connoisseurs will not be disappointed!
4. Cape Hedo
If striking nature is what you are after, head to Cape Hedo (the northernmost point of the island) for the most incredible views of the rocky cliffs. On a clear day, you may be able to spot Yoron Island in the Kagoshima Prefecture. There are a few walking paths dotted around the cape, and a small café with slightly unreliable opening hours in the parking area if you prefer to sit and take in the views.
5. Chanpuru Izakaya
For dinner, make a beeline for the local izakaya (Japanese-style pub). With a vibrant atmosphere and lots of local delicacies, Chanpuru is a favourite of mine. If you are lucky, the staff may treat you to an Okinawan concert as well. Don’t forget to try their gyoza dumplings – they are to die for!
Okinawa is known as one of the happiest places in Japan, with one of the longest living populations in the world. To experience this laid back lifestyle in spring, get in touch with our Japan travel experts.