Okinawa is known by Japanese and foreigners alike as a beautiful, sunny paradise with white sandy beaches where you can bask in the heat no matter the season. In fact, the Okinawan capitol, Naha, can be enjoyed even in the winter. The mild weather, outdoor attractions, and excellent museums and aquarium make Naha the perfect destination for a warm winter escape! Read on to find out more. What we cover:
What to Do During an Okinawa Winter Trip
Because winter is off-season in Naha, some businesses may have reduced hours. For example, some diving shops will only operate boat trips to surrounding islands on weekends during the winter. On the other hand, flights and accommodations are likely to be cheaper in the winter months and the attractions less crowded. The beaches and some water sports can be enjoyed year-round, and certain activities are actually best enjoyed in the winter months. Let’s look at 5 great Naha activities that hit the spot as the rest of Japan starts to chill.
1. Whale Watching
Whale watching is one of the most popular winter activities-in fact the peak season for whale watching is between January and March. Tours depart daily from Naha and the nearby scenic Kerama Islands. Humpback whales and dolphins are the most commonly seen animals on whale watching tours. Humpback whales are very curious and may even swim right up next to your boat! During mating season, they are especially active and may breach (jump) to show dominance or make vocalizations. Your tour group may even provide speakers that allow you to hear these sounds from the water. Some companies offering whale watching tours include Reeffers, Cerulean Blue, Tropico, and Top Marine. If you want the full whale watching experience, you can stay overnight on Zamami Island and take a tour with the nonprofit Zamami Whale Watching Association.
2. Visiting Shuri Castle
Another popular Naha tourist attraction is the beautifully reconstructed Shuri Castle. Don’t skip this because you have seen other Japanese castles – this one is truly unique as it is a faithful recreation of a palace from the Ryukyu Kingdom, created to replace the original after it was destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa. It has heavy stylistic influence from China and is a brilliant vermillion red. The Hokudan (North Hall) and Nanden (South Hall) are constructed as modern day museums explaining the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom and it’s interactions with China and mainland Japan throughout the centuries. The main hall, the Seidan, however, has been rebuilt in its original splendor, including a replica of the king’s throne and crown.
3. Water Sports
Kiteboarding (kitesurfing), diving, and fishing are among the water sports that can actually all be enjoyed during the winter months. Although the weather can vary, the average water temperature is around 22°C in the winter, at times even warmer than the air temperature. Kiteboarding is particularly popular as the winds are not too strong. Diving is also recommended as long as you have the proper gear (i.e. a thicker wetsuit). There won’t be any crowds and the water is especially clear. For diving near Naha, the Kerama Islands and Yonaguni, an island two hours west of Naha by plane, are two prime locations. In Yonaguni, hammerhead sharks can be seen in January through March. Fishing tours also run year-round, and different wish can be caught in the winter and summer seasons.
4. Churaumi Aquarium
A couple hours away from Naha is the world-famous Churaumi Aquarium. It can be accessed using the Yanbaru Express Bus which connects Naha Airport, Naha’s city center, and the aquarium. The trip takes a little over two hours one way and costs about 2000 yen. There are only six round trips per day, so you need to plan carefully, but it is well worth it. The aquarium is famous for its huge Kuroshio Tank, which spans three floors and can be viewed from below like an ocean canopy with huge whale sharks, manta rays, and countless other sea creatures. There are other tanks with tiger sharks and bull sharks, and an outdoor pool featuring manatee, dolphins, and sea turtles.
5. War Memorials
Finally, the war memorials in the south of Okinawa should not be missed. The main memorial site is the Peace Memorial Park which includes the excellent Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and the Cornerstone of Peace, a stone monument with the names of all the fallen from the Battle of Okinawa, including civilians and soldiers of various nationalities. The Former Navy Underground Headquarters is another thought-provoking museum that focuses on navy soldiers at the end of the war. For anyone who wants to better understand Okinawa’s wartime past, these museums are a must-see.
Preparing for Okinawa Winter Weather
Average temperatures in Naha in the winter range from around 12-21°C (55-70°F). Although light rain showers are common, you don’t need to worry about heavy storms: the rainy season is April to June and the typhoon season is from July to October. If you want to avoid weather trouble, winter is actually a good time to visit Okinawa! In January and February, the average highs are around 20°C (68°F) and the lows around 10°C (50°F). Because of the warm weather, you can see cherry blossoms as early as January and into mid-February. Okinawan cherry blossoms are a vibrant dark pink. When going to Naha in the winter months, you’ll want to bring layers and be prepared for all weather. During the day you may be fine with just a long-sleeve T-shirt and jeans but it cools down at night, so bring a sweater. You should also consider bringing a rain coat or poncho in case of sudden downpours. Bring sneakers or other rubber-soled shoes for slippery surfaces like boat decks. Don’t forget your bathing suit or wetsuit. Naha also has a reasonably vibrant night scene, so think about bringing something fun to wear out to one of the clubs or bars on Kokusaidori (T-shirts and sandals may not be acceptable). Whatever you do, remember to dress for adventure!
Getting Okinawa WiFi
No matter the time of year Okinawa offers tourists an amazing experience. Make sure to share your Okinawan experience with jealous family and friends by staying connected to WiFi throughout your trip. In Okinawa, WiFi can be easy to get simply by renting a Portable WiFi Router or Data SIM Card from Sakura Mobile.
You can learn more about which device is right for you by visiting our product comparison page. This winter, don’t miss out on the whales, surfing, history, food, and entertainment that Okinawa has to offer-and don’t forget to stay connected!