Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa is home to more than 150 islands and is known for its balmy weather and gorgeous sandy beaches. The subtropical destination has a complex history; it was once the independent Ryukyu Kingdom. In the 19th century, Okinawa was established as a Japanese prefecture, but was placed under American rule at the end of World War II in 1945. Control of Okinawa was only returned to Japan in 1972, and due to its rich history, the island archipelago has developed its own culture and traditions that are distinct from the rest of the country.
The best time to visit is during spring and late autumn, when the heat is not too extreme but still warm enough for a day on the beach. The best way to get there is by plane, and there are a number of flights from Tokyo and other major Japanese cities to Naha – Okinawa’s capital – as well as some of the surrounding islands.
Of course, it could take a lifetime to explore all 150 islands, so if you’re wondering which ones to zero in on your next vacation, here's a list of our top picks, along with what to expect at each destination.
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RECOMMENDED: Prefer something closer to Tokyo? Try these islands off the coast of Kanagawa.