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16 Incredible Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Japan’s Southern Islands

Here's why Okinawa should be on your radar...

Okinawa is a photographers’ dream – a day-glo paradise with eye candy on every corner. Here are 16 photos which sum up why Japan’s most beautiful prefecture should be on your radar.

Best beaches in Asia?
When asked where to find Asia’s most beautiful beaches, most people would name Indonesia, Thailand or Cambodia – unless they’ve been to Okinawa. The sea here is wonderfully warm and even during the coldest time of year (February and March) rarely dips below 21°C. Visit during the warmer months and you’ll experience bath-warm temperatures of 30°C.
Shisa lions
Follow any Instagrammer who’s visiting Okinawa and it’s almost guaranteed a lion or two will eventually put in an appearance. You’ll see beautifully carved lions throughout Okinawa, often hiding in the lush undergrowth outside locals’ houses. Known as shisa lions, they’re seen as guardians of the home. Fancy one of your own? Okinawa’s capital, Naha, is filled with potteries, many of which allow visitors to make their own lovable lions.
Delicious dishes
We’ve got an insatiable appetite for pictures of Okinawan cuisine – the next best thing to a visit to this tropical island chain. Visit Okinawa and you’ll be blown away by the range of dishes on offer – a colourful melange of rainbow-hued vegetables, steaming broths and the freshest fish you’ve ever seen.
Traditional dress
It’s not just the food which makes Okinawa one of the planet’s most colourful places – the region’s traditional dress has a large part to play. So-called Ryusou outfits are worn at various special occasions, including birthdays and weddings. The use of bingata (a traditional textile) ensures colours (usually red and blue, the hues most commonly associated with Okinawa) remain wonderfully bright.
Underwater world
You don’t need to be a scuba diver to admire life beneath the waves in Okinawa. The islands’ famously clear waters mean snorkellers can easily spot a wide range of marine life, from turtles and clownfish to sea snakes and neon corals.
Incredible landscape
Even those who’ve done their research prior to visiting Okinawa are blown away by the diversity of the landscape – you’ll find stalagmite-filled caverns, forested valleys, endless beaches and thundering waterfalls.
Look at that sea!
Okinawa is one of Japan’s most popular watersports destinations, and with visibility like this, it’s hardly surprising. Growing numbers of visitors are opting to explore Okinawa’s islands on kayaking tours, and paddle boarding is becoming increasingly popular, too.
Finding Nemo
Although you don’t need to be a scuba diver to appreciate Okinawa’s marine life, visitors with a PADI qualification under their belt will certainly get to see a whole new side of this island paradise, whether it’s huge swarms of tropical fish, some of the healthiest coral reefs in Asia or impossibly cute sea turtles.
Squid is a staple
Foodies with a weakness for seafood are especially well catered for in Okinawa, which has one of Japan’s most diverse food scenes. Squid is practically regarded as its own food group here – it’s added to a wide range of dishes and its ink is used to make Okinawa’s famous squid ink soup
Amazing island hopping
One of the best things about Okinawa is the accessibility – ferries connect the larger islands and regular flights put the more remote ones within easy reach. Several islands are even connected by road bridge. Henza, Miyagi, Hamahiga and Ikei islands are connected to Katsuren Peninsula on Okinawa Island by the Kaichu Doro, known as the inter-island highway.
Paradise found
Okinawa’s islands are made largely from limestone, and many of its beaches are dominated by weird and wonderful rock formations.
Okinawa World
Gyokusendo Cave is one of Japan’s longest caves – a stalagmite and stalactite-filled wonderland which can be explored on guided tours. You’ll find it in Okinawa World, a sprawling theme park which also has a snake museum and craft village.
Stunning coastline
Okinawa’s stunning, wind-ravaged coastline is one reason the prefecture is so popular with hikers, who come to ramble along coastal paths which wind around the islands’ best bits.
Aquatic attractions
It’s impossible not be amazed by the sheer scale of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which was the world’s largest until the title was poached by an American one in 2005. Highlights include the nine-metre whale sharks and the beautiful manta rays.
Shopper heaven
A word of warning – if you’re prone to a spot of retail therapy, set yourself a strict budget. Okinawa has strong connections with various traditional art forms, although it’s most famous for its Ryukyu glass – colourful glassware embedded with bubbles created during the glassblowing process.
Heritage sites
Despite the wonderful simplicity of this rural site, Sefa-utaki, with its carefully-positioned rocks and triangular tunnel carved out of rock, is actually one of Okinawa’s most important heritage sites, and was accessible only to the most senior members of the Ryukyu Kingdom. This is where important events, such as the inauguration of Kikoe Okimi (the kingdom’s highest-ranking priestess) took place.