Okinawa Prefecture, Japan
Okinawa’s unique mysteriesIn complete contrast to Japan’s mainland, life in Okinawa errs on the wild side. Part of its charm is that Okinawa seems to have been inoculated from the outside world, offering the chance to encounter incredible wildlife and discover pockets of the world unchanged for centuries. Where else can you take a water buffalo taxi, swim with hammerhead sharks or walk on sands shaped like the stars? People head to Okinawa for its beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, but they leave with a sense of adventure, a passion for the natural world, and ancient historical knowledge.
One of the most memorable sounds you’ll hear on Okinawa’s island life is the haunting call of the sanshin, a traditional three-stringed banjo-like instrument. It’s a music favoured by water buffalo taxi-men as they take you across sand and seashore in traditional Taketomi, a preserved Ryukyu village where less than 400 residents reside in a tangled maze of red-tiled bungalows with white coral walls. It’s like taking a step back in time.
In fact, if you’re filled with the desire to leave all trace of civilisation behind then these islands were made for you. Many species are also endemic, making Okinawa a naturalist’s paradise too. Keep your eyes open for giant coconut crabs, enormous Atlas Moths and rare fruit bats and wildcats. And don’t miss Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost inhabited island, to ride their native ponies or dive alongside hammerhead sharks in the underwater ruins which lie offshore, a relic from a forgotten time.
Even the beaches are unusual. Star-shaped sand sounds like a strange fantasy, but on Okinawa’s isles it’s a reality, thanks to thousands of preserved tiny crustaceans. Because this is a place filled not just with beauty but also mystery and intrigue. And, as with most things in Okinawa, it has to be seen to be believed.