In 2021, UNESCO recognized the islands of Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima, together with parts of two other islands in Okinawa, as a Natural World Heritage Site. The islands were added on the merit of containing unique ecosystems, which are habitats for many endangered plant and animal life that exist nowhere else in the world. Visitors to the islands are welcome to observe these pristine habitats while creating as little impact on the environment as possible.
Begin your exploration on Amami-Oshima, the large subtropical island that is over 85% covered by rainforests. This mountainous jungle is home to dozens of unique and often endangered species, including the Amami Rabbit and the Amami Jay (bird), both protected as National Treasures. Get close to nature by kayaking through the Kuroshionomori Mangrove Park along the calm Sumiyo River while spotting endemic fish, crabs, and birds in their natural habitat
Learn the art of weaving the traditional and highly valued Oshima tsumugi silk at Oshima Tsumugi Village. Oshima Tsumugi has been made here for over 1,300 years, dyed in the island’s iron-rich mud, which gives the black threads a beautiful sheen. While it takes a bit of practice to learn the art of weaving on the looms here, you'll be rewarded with your very own custom handmade souvenir to bring back home.
Dine at Natsukasyaya, a refined homestyle restaurant whose full-course menu features a freshly caught spiny lobster. Several other small and colorful dishes are served with the lobster, including several types of sashimi, a savory hot soup, and the house specialty, a purplish colored rice cooked in vegetable broth and infused with dried plums, shirasu (whitebait), and salmon.
Travel to Tokunoshima Island, with its rugged coastline, beautiful beaches, and rainforest interior. Spend a day relaxing on Aze Prince Beach, well protected by a natural coral breakwater and perfect for swimming with small children. Search the rocks and tide pools for living samples of Tokunoshima's many corals, crustaceans, and other sea life.
Experience the local Tokunoshima cuisine, a fusion of Ryukyu (Okinawan) cuisine and Japanese, using the bounty of local ingredients from land and sea. Yadori serves a meal on a banana leaf with homestyle local favorites such as peanut tofu, rice balls wrapped in egg, fried fish, and chomeiso tempura. Tokunoshima boasts some of the longest lifespans on the planet, so rest assured that this meal is as healthy as it is delicious. Reservations are required.
Spend the night on Tokushima in a folk house renovated by Denpaku. This spacious house features a full kitchen and room for six people, just a short walk away from a local beach. A large yard features a coral stone-walled patio created from a building used to house the former owner's cow. For those who can't completely escape work, this is a perfect location for a little workcation, with fast internet access and a small desk.
Travel to the northern part of Okinawa’s main island, home to Yanbaru National Park, a subtropical forest protecting hundreds of indigenous plants and animals. One of the best ways to explore the park is by a guided kayaking tour along the calm Kesaji river. If you prefer to keep your feet firmly on land, a series of walkways allow you to explore the mangroves without getting muddy. There are plenty of other hikes in this 13,600-hectare park, enough to keep you busy exploring for days.
Photo by OCVB
Chillma is an exclusive resort on the island's Motobu Peninsula, where you can rent an entire villa for a relaxing stay. Each villa features an open-air jacuzzi, mini-bar, and a bathtub with a spectacular ocean view. On-site meals are available, including a chef's course dinner, which fuses European and Asian cuisine using Okinawan ingredients. This spacious and private resort begs you to stay a bit longer and is the ultimate location for a luxury workcation.
Photo by Chillma
Iriomote Island is Okinawa's second-largest island, mostly uninhabited and known for its pristine natural preserves. As the majority of the island is difficult to access, the island's sustainable eco-tours, such as those offered by Villa Iriomote, are the best options to enjoy its natural beauty with as little impact on the ecology as possible. A trek to the two-tiered Maryudo Falls is a popular day trip. Snorkeling is another popular activity for visitors, where you'll sometimes find sea turtles casually swimming among schools of colorful fish.
Photo by OCVB
Stay at Shinminka Villa Takemori ryokan Bettei in a new building modeled after traditional Okinawan folk houses. Its floor-to-ceiling windows give you an unobstructed view of its private garden and let the warm glow of Okinawan sunshine make you feel totally at ease. Enjoy your final evening in the Natural World Heritage islands of Japan taking in the view of the sunset from the comfort of the deck hammock.
Photo by Shinminka Villa Takeomori ryokan Bettei
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