Okinawa’s rich natural heritage beckons adventurous travelers to sustainably explore the wild, while the Ryukyu archipelago’s mild climate makes it an ideal place for a seaside “workation” at any time of year.
Enjoy a working vacation on Iriomote Island
Okinawa’s second-largest island of Iriomote is part of a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site that was registered in 2021. More than 90% of the island’s landmass is an uninhabited national park, with a mountainous jungle core, lush mangrove forests and a subtropical climate that nurtures a unique ecosystem for a trove of endemic species.
In the southeast, Shinminka Villa provides the perfect place for a workation work-holiday getaway as the exclusive annex of Iriomote’s oldest ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). Surrounded by a private garden, the new wooden building is modeled after a traditional Okinawan minka (folk house), but redesigned with transparent outer walls to give you an intimate connection with the environment.
Explore the wilderness through sustainable tours
On the northern tip of the island, Villa Iriomote offers visitors 60 sustainable tours. Among their most popular is a trek to the famous Maryudo Falls, Okinawa’s largest waterfall by volume, where you can see the ancient geological strata of the rocky cliff and a panoramic view of the island.
Another way to experience Iriomote’s environment is by canoeing through Japan’s largest mangrove forest. On night tours, you can search for rare nocturnal creatures such as endangered coconut crabs, Yaeyama giant eels, dazzling flocks of Yaeyama fireflies in spring, and maybe even catch a glimpse of one of the 100 remaining Iriomote wildcats.
As Iriomote is home to only about 2,400 residents but receives up to 330,000 visitors a year, the islanders are fervent advocates of sustainable and ethical tourism. The Us 4 Iriomote project aims to work with residents to promote environmental awareness and cultural traditions on Iriomote with the aim of ensuring the island’s future.
Chill out on the shores of northern Okinawa
At Chillma on the Motobu Peninsula, you can rent an entire villa for your workation with a private sundeck overlooking the sea from sunrise to sunset to starry nights and everything in between. Bathe in the resort’s iconic curving infinity pool, stroll along its private beach, snorkel in the tropical waters and live the slow life on island time to balance work and play.
Retreat to the reefs of Kouri Island and Cape Hedo
When you’re ready to roll, consider renting a bicycle and going for a refreshing ride along the coast. The further north you venture, the more you will be rewarded with quiet roads, remote seascapes, sparsely populated villages and the thrill of independent adventure on two wheels.
Nearby Kouri Island is an easy excursion and a popular destination for couples, featuring the timeless attraction of a coralline rock formation in the shape of a heart that is also the setting of Okinawa’s own Adam and Eve legend.
After touring Kouri, head northward along the wild west coast of Kunigami past jagged concrete sea walls, above stagelike steps down to sandy shores, through rocky mountain tunnels, and all the way up to the raised coral reefs of Cape Hedo.
From Cape Hedo, you can see the four rocky peaks of Ashimui, Okinawa’s ancient sacred site. Ashimui is part of Daisekirinzan, the Earth’s northernmost tropical karst of eroded limestone, formed by crustal movements in the ocean some 250 million years ago.
Hike and paddle through the primeval forests of Yanbaru
Occupying most of the village of Kunigami, the 13,600-hectare Yambaru National Park covers a mountainous area of ancient forests and rare endemic wildlife. The Yanbaru region is part of the new Natural World Heritage Site that includes northern Okinawa and Iriomote Island. Hike up to cloud forests on Mount Yonahadake, admire spectacular views from limestone cliffs overlooking Shioya Bay or follow a scenic trail leading to the 26-meter drop from Hiji Falls.
At the southern end of Yanbaru in Nago, the Oura Mangrove Road is a 726-meter path along the Oura River that flows through the natural mangrove forest. You can either observe the brackish water ecosystem from the elevated wooden walkway or get a closer look at the roots of hirugi (mangrove trees), fiddler crabs, mudskippers and other native fauna and flora from the water-level perspective of a kayak.
No matter how you choose to spend your time, Okinawa’s natural heritage invites you to immerse yourself in its ancient wilderness and escape into landscapes and seascapes, where the present moment is all that counts.
This year, the 7th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival will be held in Okinawa to celebrate people with ties to the prefecture.
2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan after the U.S. Occupation, with special Ryukyu exhibitions held in Tokyo and Kyushu.
Sponsored by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau
We are running two campaigns to win round-trip plane tickets from Tokyo to Okinawa! Two pairs of tickets, as well as other great prizes, will be awarded in each campaign. Feel free to participate in both if you can.