With its tropical weather, Hawaii-like shores and unique culture, Okinawa offers the perfect mix of island time and Japanese sophistication. But how do you get there?
Okinawa is Japan’s most southerly prefecture. Its string-of-pearl archipelago reaches almost within sight of the shores of Taiwan. And its ancient culture makes it as different as it is far from its mainland kin.
We love the fascinating blend of Ryokyu (Okinawa’s original name) and the wider Japanese cultures you find in here. It one of the many things that make Okinawa a wonderful travel destination.
However, getting to Okinawa isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world. Here are our tips for navigating your way to Okinawa and making the most of your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
How to get to Okinawa and why it’s worth the effort
Direct flights to Okinawa
Flights to Japan – especially Tokyo – are becoming ever-more frequent and affordable. But flying directly to Okinawa isn’t always that easy.
If you’re in China, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Singapore, you’ll be able to fly direct to Naha, Okinawa’s international airport (and Japan’s 7th busiest).
But if you’re coming from anywhere else in the world, you’ll have to get a connecting flight south. The good news (if you’re flying from Tokyo) is there’s a chance you’ll see Mount Fuji from your plane window!
Connecting flights to Okinawa
Of course, lots of flights and lots of flight companies leave Tokyo for Okinawa.
But here’s the problem.
There are two main airports in Tokyo – Narita International and Tokyo-Haneda International – and not all airlines use the same airport for Tokyo arrivals and Okinawa departures.
JAL for example has international flights arriving into Narita, but its connecting flights to Okinawa fly from Haneda. And it can be a 2-hour trip between airports.
Triple-check your connecting flights and flight times to make sure you know which airport you need to be in and that there’s enough time between flights if you have to reach the other airport.
How to get from Narita Airport to Haneda Airport
As you’d expect with Japan’s biggest city, there is a multitude of ways to travel between Narita Airport and Haneda Airport.
The best option we found, which was affordable, convenient, quick and simple, was to book seats on the Narita Limousine Bus. You can book seats in advance or simply pay when you get there.
This direct coach service takes between 60-90 minutes (depending on traffic) and costs around $30pp each way.
Uber/Taxis are another option, but they’re not cheap in Japan. In fact, a study on taxis around the world names Tokyo as the most expensive.
Trains leave Narita for the city very regularly and are affordable. However, to get to Haneda, you’ll have to change trains – possibly more than once. Not ideal when you’re lugging bags around.
Making the most of your Tokyo time
When we first arrived in Tokyo, we flew into Narita, but booked a night in a hotel near Haneda airport so we wouldn’t have to rush for our Okinawa flight the next day.
We took the Narita Limousine Bus to Haneda, checked in then hopped on a train into the city.
The Kelkyu-Kuku train goes from Haneda Airport to Higashi-Ginza Station in about 35 minutes and costs around $7 per person each way, then it’s about a 10-minute walk to the centre of Ginza and the heart of Tokyo’s shopping and cocktail bar district.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi, which is obviously much quicker.
How to take a taxi in Japan
While I’m on the subject, taking taxis in Tokyo is quite an experience. The cars themselves look quite boxy and old, but they are in fact quite modern.
But there’s a process to using taxis here.
- Always approach the taxi from the curb side, never from the traffic side.
- You won’t be able to flag taxis down in the street in Ginza. You can only catch one at a taxi stand. Other parts of the city, you’ll be able to just hail taxis in the street though.
- Don’t try to open the passenger door yourself – the doors are automatic, and the driver will open and close them for you!
- If you can’t speak enough Japanese to give directions, show the driver on a map and they’ll take you straight there. You don’t have to worry about taxis ripping you off in Japan. It’s not their style. But drivers’ English isn’t always very good.
- Taxis often don’t accept credit cards, so cash is the best option. At the end of the trip, check the metre and put the cash in the little basket at the front of the car.
- Don’t try and tip the driver. Tipping in Japan can be seen as an insult. Don’t risk it.
Of course, an easier way round it is to book an Uber.
Arriving in Okinawa
Unlike Tokyo, public transport in Okinawa isn’t great, but like Tokyo, taxis here are just as pricy. So if you want to get around easily, you’ll need to hire a car. It’s not too expensive and the rental companies will meet you at the airport to take you to the offices.
Driving in Japan – especially Okinawa – is easy and fun, though the GPS system they have there is quite strange. You often need a ‘map reference number’ to locate a place, but the people at desk of your car hire company should be able to explain it.
Here’s our story on how to hire a car in Japan and what to expect.
Okinawa is home to much of Japan’s military defence. It’s also home to a large and controversial contingent of USA military. Because of this, Okinawa’s Naha Airport hosts lots of fighter jets.
Keep your eyes peeled for them taking off and landing while you’re at the airport. It’s quite something to see.
If you’re looking for more of our stories in Japan, click here.
And for other stories on Okinawa, check out:
It sounds like a lot of bother to get to Okinawa, doesn’t it? Well, perhaps it is, but the extra effort to get to Okinawa is definitely worth it. After all, the road less travelled is the road less worn.