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Must Visit Attractions in Okinawa

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The only white sand beaches you will find east of Kume Island are at Hate no Hama, a seven-kilometer (four-mile) stretch of pure white juxtaposed with deep blue waters that never seem to end. The island itself can only be described as a mosaic of beaches, making it the ideal tropical paradise. To get to this amazing getaway, visitors need to take a boat from Kume Island (the ride is about 20 minutes). There are few things to do except relax and take the time out to enjoy life and the surrounding natural beauty. During the summer months, mats and parasols are available for rent to make sunbathing more comfortable for beach-goers.

At a time when the island of Okinawa needed protection from the vicious Lord Amawari, legendary Ryukyuan commander Gosamaru built the Nakagusuku Castle. Gosamaru was one of the leaders of the army that served Ryukyu Kingdom in the mid-1400s. The castle was built in 1440, and was attacked in 1458, when it fell to the attacking warlord. Many centuries later, the famous British explorer Matthew C. Perry visited the castle and was impressed by the sturdy walls that seemed able to resist cannon fire. Sadly, the castle has since fallen into disrepair, though its impressive stonework is as imposing today as when it was constructed. The ruins have been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site and draw crowds each year that come to explore the parts of the castle that remain.

Built around the 12th Century, the ruins of Katsuren-jo (Katsuren Castle) sit atop a hill in Uruma, east of Okinawa City. It is an example of a gusuku, or traditional Okinawan castle. Because it lies on a peninsula bounded by the Pacific Ocean, it is also called the "Ocean Gusuku." Lord Amawari played an instrumental role in promoting trade and introducing overseas techniques and cultures to increase the prosperity of his domain. However, he was overthrown in 1458. Many fine pieces of tile and Chinese porcelain have been excavated from the structure, and it is now a World Heritage Site.

This little strip of land jutting out into the azure waters is one of the most picturesque sights in Onna. The area round Cape Maeda is a popular diving spot in the region and attracts adventure enthusiasts. For those who simply want to enjoy the scenery, the plateau-like features of the cape offer sweeping views and leisurely hikes. Don't miss the spectacular sunset from here.

Ocean Expo Park is a massive complex on the Motobu Peninsula that was first built for the 1975 Okinawa International Ocean Expo. Probably the most popular place in Northern Okinawa, the grounds contain the Oceanic Culture Museum, Tropical Dream Center (a botanical garden with 2000 orchids), and the Churaumi Aquarium. The aforementioned attractions require an entry fee, but the equally entertaining Dolphin Lagoon, Sea Turtle Pool, Manatee Pool, Native Okinawan Village and Arboretum are free of charge. Don't be alarmed by the vast expanse of the complex - wheelchairs and strollers are provided for those who need them, and visitors can buy a day pass for the park bus for JPY200. Dining facilities and Emerald Beach are also on-site. Check the website for group fares, operation hours, and free admission days for the various attractions.

The Churaumi Aquarium at the Ocean Park Expo is the perfect place to experience Okinawa's beautiful sea life and coral reefs, and its facilities make it a wonderful place to bring children. The largest tank in the aquarium measures a whopping 7,500 cubic meters (264,860 cubic feet) and houses some of the world's largest manta rays as well as sharks, the most impressive of which are the whale sharks. The Churaumi Aquarium is also the first aquarium to be equipped with a reproducing coral tank whose water flows freely in and out of the ocean. Dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and fish also reside happily here.

The subtropical climate of Okinawa allows for a fantastic botanical garden where you can examine tropical and subtropical plants and beautiful blossoms. The main aim of the South East Botanical Gardens is to provide knowledge and research about the plants and environment through its two gardens; namely botanical and aquatic. One of the features you can't miss is the pond that flows amidst the garden and the carp fish that swim right up to the surface for feeding. The two gardens also offer their venue for private parties and events.

A World Heritage Site, this gusuku is among the largest of all the surviving Okinawan castles. Estimated to have been built around the 12th Century, the castle walls outline its massive size. Surrounded by gorges to the east and a shoreline cliff to the north, the highest part of the site affords some amazing ocean views. Multiple shrines were found in the ruins, and so the castle is known as the "Castle of God."

In Ishikawa near Uruma, visitors can walk through the fern-filled park, kayak, ride in a water buffalo cart, or go on a 25-minute jungle cruise, though tickets for the rides are not included in the entrance fee. The beautiful wild orchids growing in the park and the adjacent Bios on the Hill Garden Center, the largest orchid greenhouse in Japan, provide a perfect backdrop for a romantic outing as well. Wheelchairs and strollers can be rented at the front desk.

Take a peek at life as it would have been in Okinawa's celebrated past. The erstwhile kingdom of Ryukyu has intrigued many and this facility gives a fantastic chance to see what it was like. Formed in order to protect Okinawa's ethnic cultural heritage, Ryukyu Mura is a living village that exemplifies the history and traditions of ancient Okinawa. Visitors to the village have a lot on their hands from exploring the sterling structures and watching artisans at work, to partaking in the various festivals and events celebrated here.

At the Busena Marine Park on the southern outskirts of Nago City, tourists and locals alike can go underwater to explore the coral that thrives in the ocean, or board a glass-bottom boat to admire what lies beneath. The observatory looks like a tube perched off the coast of the island, and takes visitors down to the ocean floor for a panoramic view of Okinawa's marine life. Glass-bottom boats that go further out are on the beach.

Located in the Okinawa Ocean Expo Park, the Emerald Beach is a white coral beach that sits in a lagoon. This beach is famous for its yearly turtle release, where adult turtles nest and volunteers help release the hatchlings into the sea. The beach features many esplanades where visitors can take a walk while enjoying the panoramic views of the pristine clear water.

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