Getting Organized

Since Okinawa is significantly further away from the major population centers of Japan,

you'll have to make some major decisions right up front: primarily, how to get there, both ways. If you want to explore other islands in the chain, you're probably looking at ferries one way and plane the other, unless you have gobs of time -- and cheaper air fares, decent frequent flyer policies and no-charge bike handling policies mean there's really no sense in taking the ferry anymore. If you're planning on exploring only the islands close to Okinawa, you can fly in and out of Naha and go to the other islands by ferry; if you're interested in island-hopping, you'll want to fly one way and ferry the other. Note that the Japan Airlines frequent-flyer policy uses the same number of miles for a round trip as for a one-way, so it doesn't make sense to use miles unless you're doing a round-trip.

Getting There

There's been a revolution in air fares despite the gasoline price problems. Regular fare is outrageous, but cheap ticket outlets for 10-day advance purchase fares to Okinawa can be as low as ¥22,000 round trip. Among others, check out - a friend has used them for a long time with no problems.

More to the point, as noted in the Route Planning section, the baggage handling for bikes has finally gotten more than reasonable: JAL will now take your bike FOR FREE (!) if it's less than 15 kg, and ¥500/yen per kg on top of that. A light road bike should be under that, and even an MTB should be close. You can carry some things (rack, etc.) in your other luggage to get the weight down. Be sure to tell them to attach a "Fragile" tag and they'll hand-carry it in and out. As always, the weak points of a bagged bike are the forks and the derailleur. You can't do much about the forks, but be sure to at least bubble-wrap the derailleur; I use bubble wrap and then a plastic Tupperware-like container to protect it on the off chance that they should drop the bike (which I warn them strenuously not to do). So far, I've had no problems, even though they increase my worry by making me sign a form each time saying they're not responsible for damage. (I usually counter by asking them to please break it on the return trip, not on the before-the-cycling flight.)

As noted in the "Route" section, plan carefully if you want to use ferries, and note the arrival times; the 24-hour ferry from Kagoshima to Naha means that departure and arrival times are tailored to the end points, which means that on the islands in between Naha and Kagoshime the ferry often docks in the wee hours. Also note that the ferry is not much cheaper than airfare, and significantly more expensive than the aforementioned discount fares.


Outside Naha, there seem to be very few minshuku on Okinawa, so in most places you're likely looking at a business hotel or, more rarely, a pension-like place, unless you want to go to a high-end resort (which can actually be quite nice and not that expensive, particularly in the off-season). Luckily, the business hotels are cheap and many even offer free Internet service in the rooms. I chose the bare-bones "Super Hotel" in both Naha and Nago, and apart from being slightly out of the center, they were under ¥5000 per night with free Internet and all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and nice staff. There is one in Nago (0980-50-9000) and two in Naha, one on the road to the airport (098-859-9000) and one in Omoromachi, about halfway from the city center to Shuri (098-861-9000). Other business hotels might be a bit more expensive. In Nago, there does happen to be a minshuku (Nankai Minshuku, TEL 0980-52-2375) located not far from the center of town that will put you up for ¥2,500 a night without meals. At the north end of the island, the only two accommodations listed by the Mapple Touring guide are Oku-Yanbaru no Sato (0980-50-4141), just down from the northern tip, with separate cottages at ¥10,000 - 25,000 a night, and Nature Resort Yanbaru (0980-41-7070) a bit further south, near the intersection with local Route 2. These apparently being your only shot, reservations would be a must. Astonishingly, the Mapple Touring guide lists only three campgrounds on the island: one just northeast of Nago at Yagaji Beach, and two further south on the eastern coast, one at the end of the Florida Keys-like peninsula at Ikei Beach and one at Kitanakagusuku. I would wonder about camping on the island famous for the poisonous habu snake, but apparently these like dense foliage and darkness and try to avoid humans, so campers should be OK (and I did see motorcyclists and bicyclists with camping gear). It’s a known problem and people assured me that there’s snake venom everywhere on the island in the unlikely event that you should be bitten. Don’t go hiking in the brush and you should be fine.


Most people are probably familiar with Okinawa from its World War II history. But the island has a rich cultural heritage that should definitely be explored. Take the time to visit at least one castle ("gusuku") site and maybe a museum if you can fit it in.

Scenery wise, you might consider the following:

- Most of the best beaches are on the west coast just south of Nago. This is where the main resorts are concentrated as well.

- Virtually the entire northeast coast is unspoiled wilderness and is well worth a visit, though be prepared for hills. If you don't want to cycle the entire time-consuming northeast coast, you can consider cutting inland back to the level west coast on local Route 2 just a few km south of the northern tip. Even the Mapple Touring motorcycle guide marks this route as recommended.

- Just above Naha on the southeast coast is the Kaichu Doro Road Park, a pretty stretch in which long bridges connect a long strand and several offshore islands. The area is slightly reminiscent of the Florida Keys and it’s worth cycling even just part of the way, especially if the weather is good. It's level and very pleasant.

- Apart from the southeastern end, the south shore is also virtually level, and also quite pleasant rural scenery. The very south to southwest portion contains many of the war-related tourist sites.

In terms of the standard tourist sites:

- The gate of Shuri Castle (east of the Naha city center) is the symbol of Okinawa, even though it's a reconstruction after the original was destroyed during the war. The castle has some great information displays and there's no charge to see the main section. Lots of stairs, though, so leave the bike in the bike parking area (they'll show you where). Note that it's a VERY steep climb depending on how you approach it; I'd recommend either from the west or east and not from the south.

- The Tsuboya-yaki pottery area is in downtown Naha, on a winding street that begins across the street from Mitsukoshi on Kokusai-dori.

- Mabuni is where the war ended, but it's not the site of the cliffs that people dived off to their deaths at the end of the fighting; that's further to the west. The main area has a huge pavilion that seems perenially crowded with school groups, and it has a very somber cemetery park with stone markers that seem to list the names of every Okiinawan killed. Much closer to Naha, you can also visit the Kyu-Kaigun Shireibu, the maze of underground caves where the resistance to American forces was conducted.

- Further to the west is Himeyuri-no-to, the location of a tragic incident where teachers and students hiding in a cave were mistaken for enemy troops and killed by the American troops.

- The south also has Gyokusendo, Japan's second-largest and one of Asia's finest stalactite caves; it's a bit inland from the southeast coast just off Route 17.

Getting Away

As with the "Getting There" section, you're looking at a long ferry ride or a short plane flight. The airport in Naha is located right near the downtown area, so this makes plane the best way to get in and out.

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