Experiencing island culture in Okinawa Prefecture

Guests to the Japanese archipelago have the chance to explore a variety of unique operations

Experiencing island culture in Okinawa Prefecture
Kunigami on the main Okinawa Island is home to Tataki falls, the most famous waterfall on the island at 40 feet tall

By Amber Hickman |

There are a total of 160 islands in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, all offering natural beauty and cultural gems, ranging from historical monuments to uninhabited areas that boast unique ecosystems. 

There are five main ports in the prefecture, all with their own nearby attractions and potential excursions. Naha Port, in the capital city of Naha, Okinawa, is a prime destination for cruises as a gateway to the rest of the islands and offers a wide range of experiences for visitors. For example, tourists can learn about the history of Okinawa by touring nearby Unesco World Heritage sites such as the ruins of the Shurijo Castle and the Shikinaen Royal Garden. Furthermore, there are opportunities to visit uninhabited islands around Okinawa by ferry, such as Nagannu Island, which boasts clear water perfect for snorkelling. 

Also on the main Okinawa Island is Motobu Port and Nakagusukuwan Port. At Motobu Port, visitors will be able to explore the nearby Yanbaru National Park, play with dolphins at Motobu Genki Village, or learn about local industry at Matayoshi Coffee Farm. From Nakagusukuwan port, guests can visit the Zakimi Castle Ruins World Heritage Site, the Okinawa Zoo and Museum and Niisato Sake Brewery, the oldest sake brewery in Okinawa. 

Miyako Island offers a range of land and sea attractions, and visitors to Hirara port can go on glass boat tours, swim with sea turtles and explore the islands culture of food and crafts that make use of what the sea provides. 

Finally, from Ishigaki Island’s port, visitors can experience Ishigaki, the southernmost city in Japan, by taking part in Ishigaki-yaki pottery classes. They can also visit Iriomote Island, which has been registered as a World Natural Heritage Site. 

Cruise lines are continuing to discover the beauty of Okinawa by bringing expedition cruising to the region and designing itineraries that explore the islands.  

For example, luxury cruise line Ponant held its first Okinawa expedition cruise in March 2023. The cruise line will return to Okinawa in 2024 with six cruises and new islands added to the itinerary. The eight-day ‘Japanese Subtropical Islands’ expedition cruise will depart from Naha and call at the islands of Iheyajima, Zamami, Kumejima, Ishigaki, Taketomijima, Iriomotejima and Yonagunijima, before disembarking at Keelung, Taiwan. 

Okinawa is not just available for port calls, with cruise ships homeporting at the islands too. The island will be serving as a homeport for MSC Cruises’ ship MSC Bellissima from January to March 2024, and the cruise line will offer a range of three, four and five-day itineraries, including roundtrip cruises departing from Naha that call at Miyako Island and Ishigaki. 

Also in 2024, the islands will be visited by cruise lines such as Resorts World Cruises, Costa Cruises and Holland America Line.   

To learn more about the ports and attractions of Okinawa, visit cruise.visitokinawa.jp/en/ 

This article was first published in the 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.

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