Experience A Different Type Of Winter In Okinawa | CoolJapan

Its sunshine island vibes, pristine beaches and warm climate are what make Okinawa popular, but few people know that from December to February, it turns into a winter wonderland. However, this off-peak winter period is actually a fantastic time to visit Okinawa because of special winter-only activities, not to mention fewer tourists that congest attractions.

Although it is winter, the temperature stays within a comfortable range of 12 to 20 degrees Celsius (ºC) and rainfall is low, making it very pleasant to explore and sightsee. Here are four things to try in Okinawa for a unique winter experience!

Whale season

Humpback whales spend the summers feeding in the waters near Alaska and begin to migrate south to the warm waters near Okinawa during fall and winter for breeding. From January to March, these magnificent creatures can be spotted around the Ogasawara Islands and Okinawa.

During mating season, humpback whales are particularly active and it is quite common to witness these sleek black beauties jumping or swimming alongside your boat. If you are lucky, you can even catch an unforgettable sighting of whales swimming with their calves.

You can choose to whale-watch either from a boat or from a whale observatory located on Zamami Island. If you are prone to seasickness, the conservatory is a good choice. If not, there are several tour companies that organise certified boat tours departing from Naha, Chatan and the nearby Kerama Islands.

To watch humpback whales in the wild is a memorable spectacle of nature and it will definitely be a whale of a time.

A dazzling lights show

For those who are unaware, Itoman has been through devastating times during the battle of Okinawa in WWII. To send a message of peace to the world and to celebrate the peace that Okinawans are now enjoying, this meaningful light show was created in 1999 and has now become a much-anticipated event.



Held annually at the Itoman Tourist Farm (Uchinaa Farm), the Itoman Peaceful Illumination is a colourful wonderland of illuminated objects and decorations that are all handmade by the people themselves. Besides soaking in the dazzling array of lights, there will also be performances to entertain visitors. Not only is it a stunning sight, the tranquility of the lights remind us of the importance of these hard-earned peaceful times.

Held over 17 days from 20th December 2019 to 5th January 2020, it is now on its 21st year, and will unquestionably be a not-to-be-missed Okinawan winter event!

Okinawan cuisine

Due to cultural influences from China, Southeast Asia, United States and obviously Japan, Okinawan food is unlike the typical Japanese cuisine that you are familiar with. In fact, a lot of their local delicacies are unique to the island.

Besides their famed dishes including goya champuru (stir-fried bitter melon and egg), rafute (braised pork belly) and umi budo (local sea grapes), winter season is also the time to indulge in fresh locally-grown vegetables. You have got to try vegetables that are harvested during the colder season such as shima ninjin (island carrots), shima rakkyo (island shallots), tanmu (taro root, also a New Year specialty dish), Napa cabbage and other leafy vegetables that don’t grow so well during the hot summer months.

Okinawan cuisine

Awamori Distillery (left), local Okinawan dishes enjoyed with a cup of Awamori (right).

It is also a great time to enjoy awamori because it will warm you up nicely. Indigenous and unique to Okinawa, awamori is a rice-based distilled liquor that is enjoyed by everyone on the island. With an alcohol content ranging from 30 to 45%, this traditional spirit goes well with hearty Okinawan food and is a must-try especially during winter.

The largest water tank in Japan

If you are in search of a warmer indoor activity, the famed Churaumi Aquarium is open all year-round. They boast of the largest water tank in Japan, the breathtaking Kuroshio Sea Tank, where the main attraction is the whale sharks. To stand in front of this enormous tank, exhibiting more than 60 species of migratory marine creatures that are found along the Kuroshio Current, is a surreal and awe-inspiring experience.

This sprawling three-story aquarium also features an impressive living coral exhibit, exciting feeding times that everyone looks forward to, educational activities with dolphins and a rare "Deep Sea" exhibition. Mostly collected from deep waters around Okinawa, the extraordinary Deep Sea segment contains around 70 species of mysterious deep sea marine creatures that have adapted to living in the cold dark depths of the ocean floor, 200 metres and below where the sunlight does not reach.

So, if you are looking for an alternative destination that is not too far away and not too touristy during the December holiday period, Okinawa is a marvellous choice. Besides cheaper flight and accommodation prices, it is a perfect spot for travellers who want to experience winter sans extreme low temperatures. Not a bad place for a white Christmas.

Witness the most beautiful view in Japan.

  1. 1.Inazaki Observatory
  2. 2.Itoman Tourist Farm (Uchinaa Farm)
  3. 3.Churaumi Aquarium
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