A Focus on Okinawa Sustainable Practices and Natural


Ecotourism has been around for many years, but has grown in population in the last decade. It is one of the fastest growing trends in the global tourism industry. It is based on the concept that the environment has intrinsic value which outweighs its value as a tourism asset. Ecotourism involves nature conservation by tourists who visit attraction sites. The primary aim is to secure threatened species of plants and animals that depend on the habitat to survive. Ecotourism helps protect generations to come and create a sustainable source of revenue for the government. Ecotourism is defined as responsible travel to natural attraction sites that protect the environment and improve the welfare of local people. It is based on the principles that advocate for minimal impact, cultural respect, and monetary benefits for the local people. Worldwide ecotourism began in the late 20th century, and has been growing steadily to occupy a significant part of the world travel market. Okinawa, located in Japan, is one of the many tourist attraction sites to embrace ecotourism in the 21st century. Okinawa is Japan’s territory located in the Pacific Ocean between Japan`s four main islands and Taiwan. As a major Japanese tourist attraction destination, Okinawa is home to splendid nature and a distinct culture. Furthermore, it is also the birthplace of Karate. The majority of the tourists come to Okinawa to experience the beaches and the year-round mild weather. The destination is also famous for its cuisine, which is heavily influenced by Taiwanese culture. Okinawa is a small heaven for vegetarians and healthy eaters since there are many vegetarian restaurants. The Okinawa diet is famous since it makes the Okinawa people live a long and healthy life.

The majority of the tourists who travel to Okinawa are Japanese accounting for 90percent. However, domestic tourism is threatened as the number of lengthy stays per individual has declined as well as travel expenses per family. Nonetheless, global tourism is increasing drastically and it is expected to continue growing in the future. Consequently, Japanese government is prepared to receive over 25 million foreign visitors by the end of the decade. Despite an increase in revenue and the number of tourists since the 1970s, it has slowed down in recent years to around 400 billion yen and close to 6 million visitors. Moreover, the air routes to vital tourist destination have been shrinking. Okinawa, also known as Okinawa Main Island, is the largest and most densely populated Island in the Okinawa territory, one of Japan`s 47 prefectures. Okinawa has 49 inhabited and 111 uninhabited islands, which cover approximately 2281 square kilometers. The administrative region is divided among eleven cities, 11 towns, and nine villages. Okinawa spans both tropical and subtropical climate and is home to around 1.44 million people. Naha City is the capital city of Okinawa, and has the largest population in the prefecture. The main language in the islands is Japanese, but English is also used for many tourist facilities. The region uses Japanese yen as the main currency though other foreign currencies are also accepted. The Okinawa Islands are surrounded by the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. These include the Yaeyama Islands and Miyako Islands among other, and they are located strategically as they provide convenient access to mainland Japan and many parts across Asia. The weather warm throughout the year and temperature rarely reach 35 Degrees Celsius and above because of the sea. The rainy season starts in May and ends in late June, when the region gets hot and sunny. Peak summer, also known as the usual Okinawan weather, occurs from August to September. Winter lasts through December and is characterized by strong winds.


There are numerous theories dictating the origins of the first residents of Okinawa about 22,000 years ago. Some people say the Minatogawa people arrived from China, while others speculate that they came from Indonesia, other parts of Asian, and from Australia. The first communities centered on hunting, gathering, and fishing in up until the 10th century. between 1100 and 1400 BC, the people transitioned to farming, which is evident from the various historical sites. In the 13th century, conflict emerged among the leaders and three political entities were formed; Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan. All these regions of the traded and interacted with China under the Ming Dynasty. As a result, the region embraced the entire continent`s culture. In the 15th century, Sho Hashi united the three regions to form the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Ryukyu Kingdom spelled an era of prosperity for Okinawa as it actively traded with Japan, China, other Southeast Asian countries, and some Europeans (Nash, 2015). The islands have a unique culture which was refined during the Ryukyu kingdom. These include unique food, crafts, and performing arts. However, in the 1500s, the Ryukyu kingdom was invaded and placed under the control of the Satsuma. The Ryukyu continued to trade with China until the late 19th century when the kingdom was abolished. This paved way for the modern Japan, where the Okinawa Prefecture was established.

After the establishment of Okinawa Preference in the late 1800s, Japan`s national government appointed Naoyoshi Nabeshima as the first governor. The 20th century saw the region undergo modernization until World War II. During the war, Okinawa experienced a fierce battle that left severe damage, both to people and the culture. After the Second World War, the islands were placed under American rule until 1972, when it was reverted to Japan. Since then, the region has become an international tourism destination and has hosted various international events such as the G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit of 2000. Additionally, the Gusuku Sites are registered under the World Cultural Heritage Sites.

One of the best attraction sites in Okinawa are the islands. One can hope from one island to another since Okinawa has more than 160. Twenty-five of the islands are accessible by a plane or ferry, and they consist of 14 Kerama islands, 4 Miyako islands, and Taketomi Island which contains well-preserved Okinawa villages (Laurel and Doherty, 2013). Furthermore, diving is offered all over the islands since there is warm water and visibility is good. Each island has something unique to offer such as the Keram islands and Ishigaki Island that are well-known for their manta rays. Miyako Island has the largest coral reefs in Japan and Yonaguni has mysterious underwater ruins (Laurel and Doherty, 2013)

Moreover, another tourist attraction is the Churaumi Aquarium located in central Okinawa. The Kuroshio Sea tank provides a spectacular view as it involves watching thousands of fish of all types. It feels like one is watching a movie. It costs between $8 and $13 for a ticket to watch the sharks. There is a village located in the North part of Okinawa Island where more than 120 women are over 90 years old. This is a popular destination as tourist come see what makes the people have such a long life expectancy. During the summer, the Eisa drum dance is must see for tourist. The dance dates back to the 17th century as a means to send off the ancestors to the afterlife. It is a vibrant and colorful affair that involves singers, drummers, and dancers.

The Shuri Castle is an important landmark in Okinawa`s history. Located in Naha, Shuri Castle is the region`s former capital under the Ryukyu Kingdom. The castle was the political, economic, and cultural centre of Okinawa from 1420 to 1879. Moreover, Okinawa boasts of the world`s biggest tug-on-war. Every October, the Naha Great Tug-of-War festival takes place in Okinawa and everyone is invited to join the 15,000 person throng. After the festival, one can take home a piece of the rope for good luck. Another fascinating aspect of Okinawa is that karate originated from the islands. Karate came from the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had banned weapons, forcing the people to use their hands for defense. In Yomitan, there is the Murasakimura cultural village that has English-speaking karate instructors that offer karate lessons and history for a fee. Awamori is a traditional drink unique to Okinawa and made from Indica long-grain rice and ages in clay pots to mellow fire. The drink is commonly served with water and ice. Awamori distillation techniques were adopted from Thailand centuries ago.

There are many attractive land-based activities, particularly for hikers and nature enthusiasts. The region boasts the best underwater sightseeing spots on the Pacific. The majority of the tours start in Naha, though many prefer to visit the shorelines and shore side reefs. Marine life includes anemones, rays, dolphins, and many more. There is a cultural and conservation center on the island of Ishigaki, where the researchers study coral (Tredinnick, 2019). Additionally, the centre also has an outreach program that maintains sustainable interactions between the island and the ocean. Yanbaru has a forest that attracts many bird watchers. For eco-tourists enthusiastics, Iriomote and Miyako are the two most accessible islands. Nearly 90 percent of Iriomote is covered by tropical forest, with extensive greenspaces filled with animals. There is a waterfall and a mangrove forest on the island`s edges. Miyako Island has a mangrove forest and it is famous for its quiet beaches, especially for sun-seeking tourists. The island has the Hirara City Tropical Garden, which is ideal for nature lovers (Tredinnick, 2019).

The region is a great place to eat healthy. Despite the pork and fish being the primary cuisine, the islands have many organic or vegetarian restaurants (Lee and Hyun, 2018). Visitors wishing to sleep green, the populated islands have campground. You can either bring a personal tent or hire one at an affordable rate. There are also cabins and guesthouses for those who want more comfort. Rural parts such as Iriomote Island offer the best camping experience.

Most of the inter-inland travel is by ferry. Nonetheless, there is an impressive network of routes between major islands. Travelling within the islands is challenging because of uneven terrain and heavy traffic. The best mode of transport in the islands is public transport.

Tourism has played a significant role in Okinawa`s environment and local people. Through ecotourism, the region has ensured the ecology is protected and the locals benefit from such efforts. However, as the number of tourist visiting Okinawa continue to increase; some of the islands are struggling to deal with the growing amount of waste left behind by the visitors. As a result, the beautiful beaches and cool atmosphere could become a thing of the past. Garbage disposal especially food waste is an issue in Naha. Furthermore, ecotourism has increased tourists numbers in remote islands with inadequate water supplies which could affect the livelihood of islanders.

Okinawa tourism boom has increased the economic benefits to the local people. An increase in the number of foreign tourist staying in hotels located in rural and remote areas improved the domestic economy. In the last three years, foreign tourists’ stays outside cities accounted close to half of the entire visiting population. Additionally, more hotels have been constructed and they employ local people. Hence, foreign tourism has been instrumental in revitalizing rural economies. Ecotourism has helped conserve the abundant islands` flora and faunas. There are various conservations programs on the islands that help maintain the ecology. Okinawa has rich cultural heritages and unique historical experiences that make it an international center for cultural, academic, and sport events.

Increased tourism poses a threat to the islands` carrying capacity and environmental sustainability. Most of the islands in Okinawa Prefecture are uninhabited or remote, which entails that they do not have the infrastructure or resources to handle a growing population. If visitors continue to increase, soon the islands will not be able to handle the population leading making it unsustainable.

Internal migrations from other parts of Japan have played a crucial role in modifying the tourists` experiences. Okinawa prefecture is a part of Japan thus other cultural aspects in the nation only shows how diverse the country is. Since the 19th century, people from mainland Japan have migrated to the Okinawa territory influencing the culture of the people one way or another. Okinawa has a unique culture that stems from the Ryukyuk Kingdom and it has elements of the Chinese way of life. The region has also become an international cultural centre where different people from all walks of life come to enjoy their culture and see Okinawa local traditions. Hence, inward migration from Japan is significant towards enhancing tourists’ experiences. Furthermore, majority of the tourists came from Japan and would like some aspects of their culture in Okinawa.

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  • Laurel and Doherty, C. (2013) ‘The Islands Of Okinawa’, Cruise Travel, 35(1), pp. 8–12. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hjh&AN=88954376&site=eds-live (Accessed: 18 April 2019).
  • Lee, S. and Hyun, H. (2018) ‘Pork food culture and sustainability on islands along the Kuroshio Current: resource circulation and ecological communities on Okinawa and Jeju’, Island Studies Journal, (1), p. 195. doi: 10.24043/isj.58.
  • Nash, D. E. (2015) Battle of Okinawa : III MEF staff ride : battle book / Douglas E. Nash, Sr. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgpr&AN=edsgpr.000962918&site=eds-live (Accessed: 18 April 2019).
  • Tredinnick, J. (2019) ‘CULTURAL PARADISE: Beauty and heritage combine on Japan’s subtropical Okinawa island’, Business Traveller, p. 32. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.579538095&site=eds-live (Accessed: 18 April 2019).

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