Quick. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Japan? Is it pristine beaches? Or maybe world-class scuba diving? Cascading waterfalls? Probably not. You probably think of things like sushi, sake, and the bright lights and towering architecture of Tokyo. However, head south from Tokyo to the southernmost prefecture of Japan, Okinawa, and you’ll find a subtropical destination that more than meets the eye.
Having never done anything beyond snorkeling and snuba, I had no idea what to expect from scuba diving in Okinawa. To be on the safe side, I popped a Dramamine (hoping for the best, planning for the worst) before my scuba instructor, Taku, picked me up from the Intercontinental Manza Beach Resort. Unbeknownst to me, there was superior diving off the coast of Okinawa that didn’t even require a boat.
After an hour of instruction, safety demonstrations, and getting fitted at Benthos Divers’ shop in Onna-Village, it was up the coast a short drive to Nago Bay. While Benthos Divers do many boat dives, beach dives are recommended for beginner divers who want to get their feet wet (literally and figuratively). Just minutes after getting suited up and throwing the oxygen tank over my shoulder, I was seeing everything from clown fish to starfish to eels to coral reef and much more. I even cruised by a couple large schools of fish (or maybe it was them cruising by me). All of this was mere yards from the beach just outside of Nago. Taku told me that boat dives around Okinawa offer even more unique diving experiences, such as diving inside caves and shipwrecks.
While much of Okinawa’s population is in the southern portion of the island, further north is where the population density is much lower, and thus, you find more outdoors and nature opportunities. North from Nago you can find trails and waterfalls, such as Hiji Waterfall. The 45-minute hike makes for a light walk that ends at the waterfall, although at times I felt like I was deep in the rainforest, as the waterfall is shielded by a thick forest.
Closer to Nago is Todorki Waterfall. This waterfall is for those who want to see a waterfall but without having to hike to it. Once you’ve parked at the trailhead, the walk to the series of falls is no more than 30 steps. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, take a dip in the small swimming hole.
Also close to Nago is Tadake Falls, for those who aren’t afraid to get their feet wet, literally. Tadake can be a little more tedious, as parts of it can require hopping across slippery bedrocks, trekking through river beds, and for the adventurous, climbing over rocks. It’s not a particularly unsafe hike, but just not a manicured trail like you may be used to.
Viewfinder Tip: The further north you go up Okinawa, the more you’ll feel like you’re on a subtropical island.
Finally, if you still want to get into outdoor adventures, but let someone else do all the work, then there’s plenty of opportunities. Okinawa is home to beautiful beaches that’ll rival the best tropical beaches you’ve seen. Many of these are away from metropolitan areas of the south, located in the central regions of Okinawa (the more offbeat beaches are further north). Similar to North American beaches, the best time to get in the water is from May until October. Some of the Central Okinawa beaches are home to water sports, such as banana boats and water tricycles. While the winter months are pleasant, the water temperatures can drop lower than what’s comfortable.
What are your favorite things to do outdoors on a trip?