Futuristic cities, Buddhist temples, fresh sushi and soy sauce -- Japan is one evocative place. But one thing it probably doesn’t bring to mind is subtropical islands and pristine, powder-white beaches.
To see an entirely different side to Japan, venture to the southernmost tip of the country, to the islands of Okinawa. Here, the weather is warm all year round, the pace of life is slower and there are 160 islands to explore. The capital of the region, Naha, is an easy 2- to 3-hour flight from Tokyo, Osaka and other cities in Japan and neighbouring China and Korea, and with deals for international visitors saving over 70% on domestic flights, Okinawa is the perfect complement to an Asian cities tour.
Rough Guides praises Okinawa's "vision-of-paradise beaches" and "superb coral reefs", and the region is a dream for sunbathers, nature lovers and divers alike. Head to the island of Miyako for brilliant-white sands and deep turquoise waters, or hop on a boat to Taketomi to see rare star-shaped sand, formed from tiny fossils. The transparent seas surrounding Ishigaki and the Kerama islands are renowned for outstanding diving and snorkelling, harbouring hundreds of vividly coloured species of coral, sea turtles, manta rays, exotic fish and even humpback whales. On Iriomote island, visitors can hike and kayak among mangroves and ancient forests hiding rare and endangered plants and wildlife.
Culture-seekers are spoilt here too -- Okinawa was once the centre of the independent Ryūkyū Kingdom and people here are fiercely proud of their rich and unique heritage. Choose from nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, discover the home of karate and take in traditional dance performances. And modern islanders still stand out from the rest of the country to this day -- they have a distinct dialect, a more laid-back style of dress and cuisine that contributes to an extraordinarily long life expectancy.
We've sourced a range of exclusive hotel, multi-centre, flight and island-hopping deals to Okinawa. Find out more about Japan's exotic alter-ego here.