Known as the Hawaii of the land of the rising sun, Okinawa is a chain of sun-kissed, coral-fringed islands at the southern tip of Japan.

A nature lover’s paradise, the 160 Okinawan islands are possibly as far off from the traditional image of Japan as you can imagine. From white sandy beaches, Mykonos-blue waters to sugarcane fields, Okinawa boasts some of Japan’s best coral reefs and stunning dive spots.

Here Okinawans have switched their kimonos for “kariyushi” the local version of the Aloha shirt. They even have their own local dialect, Uchinaguchi.

Holidaymakers from Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul and Taiwan regularly descend on Okinawa to play golf, swim, snorkel, scuba dive, whale watch, parasail or island hop. They all want to enjoy the warm, crystal-clear waters and the soft, sandy, white beaches.

Today, Okinawa is a popular getaway for Singaporeans keen to experience a Japanese holiday with a difference.

About 1.4 million people live on 49 of the 160 islands. Okinawa is the largest island.

Rice and seaweed, staples of the Okinawan diet, are eaten at all meals. Locals also eat a lot of pork because of the Chinese influence. Like the Chinese, Okinawans are known to cook every part of the pig. They abide by the saying “everything but its cry is eaten”.

They also love their soba noodles, made from flour, not buckwheat. And they adore locally caught tuna because of its tender texture.

Mozuku, a dark brown seaweed eaten with vinegar is a favourite side dish and Okinawa produces 90 per cent of all Mozuku eaten in Japan.

The island of Miyako has a population of 54,000 mostly farmers but many wealthy Japanese have second homes here because of its attractive, well-manicured golf courses. The island is renowned for its turquoise waters and Yonaha-Maehama Beach beach where sea sports abound.

From the capital city of Naha, drive north to Motobu and experience Okinawa’s famous Churaumi Aquarium and watch the feeding of three whale sharks, each weighing 5.5 tonnes. They are the biggest whale sharks in captivity and consume 25 kilograms of shrimp a day.

No visit to Okinawa is complete without a visit to the famous Shuri Castle in Naha. The castle is the second most visited in Asia attracting more than 5,000 visitors a day.

Before heading home, head to Kerama waters to the west of Okinawa and experience the real thing – whale watching. During the whale season from January to March, the ocean is full of action. The mind-blowing sight of whales playing with their calves is simple unbeatable.

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