Okinawa's chain of islands stretches a thousand kilometres long, well south of 'mainland' Japan, and the distance is not just geographical. Like many cultures of this latitude, the islands of Okinawa (formerly known as the Ryūkyūs) have a laid-back feel, like Japan on muscle relaxants. The pace is slower, the people more open and the vibe decidedly more chilled out. The islands are also slightly less developed than mainland Japan, with more exposure to salt carried by ocean breezes, the constant encroachment of tropical flora and generally less of its exuberant nature paved over. Still, there are a handful of resorts catering to higher-end visitors who can hang with a bit of island quirkiness.
Big island hideaway: Hyakuna Garan
In southeastern Okinawa-hontō (Okinawa's main island), Hyakuna Garan (hyakunagaran.com) offers a first-class retreat perched on a bluff above the sea. Only 35 minutes' drive from Naha airport, its elegant, red-roofed Ryūkyūan-style rooms afford luxury and privacy on an enviable beachfront bluff location.
Room rates include beautifully styled traditional breakfasts and dinners, as well as free use of six 'hermitages' – private bungalows on the top level of the property, each containing private, open-air baths and terraces with unobstructed views of the ocean.
Surrounding a courtyard centred on a large banyan tree, the executive suites make up the bulk of this property, all with wide-ranging ocean views and designed in comfortable Western style with a classic Japanese touch. The three 'special' rooms are more spacious suites, all with private terraces or gardens, along with oceanview baths. One is Japanese-style, complete with tatami floors and shōji (wood-and-paper sliding doors), while the Western-style options have a sophisticated, distinctly Ryūkyūan feel to them, with polished rattan furnishings and limestone walls and flagstones.
Hyakuna Garan's easy accessibility from Okinawa's main hub, Naha, makes for a convenient luxury getaway for those with limited time in the islands.
Whitewashed villas, turquoise seas: Island Terrace Neela
Heading farther south to Miyako-jima, you could certainly choose one of the larger resorts on this beautiful island. However, if you seek intimacy, star-filled silent nights and don't mind shelling out for more solitude, cross the bridge on the northern end of the island to Ikema-jima. There, on the west side, a quiet isle of tropical beach and marshland, Island Terrace Neela awaits with private villas atop an oceanfront bluff. Some of the five villas boast private hot tubs, but the small communal pool has its own appeal, perched in a prime spot above a private crescent of white-sand beach. And while a dip in the pool is lovely enough, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not donning a snorkel and mask to swim amid the coral and brightly-coloured fish just offshore.
Each freestanding villa has its own semi-private outdoor space for lounging, where you can also opt to grill your own dinner. With vaulted ceilings, tiled floors and glass doors opening toward the ocean, the spacious villas feel connected to the outdoor space. The whole environment has an air of unpretentious, laid-back comfort, making this a superb spot for low-key honeymooners.
Modernist jungle seclusion: Jusandi
For something equally intimate but with a modernist twist, Jusandi (en.jusandi.jp) on Ishigaki-jima is the place. Designed by Norihiko Dan – the architect behind the redevelopment of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, among other large projects – Jusandi features five sleek, white villas nestled into the jungle, lending a sense of privacy and attunement with nature. Each villa, surrounded by jungle greenery, has its own garden area that includes a spring-fed pool and a covered deck with lounge chairs.
Secluded and elegant with a contemporary minimalism, the villas make good use of windows for natural light, Ryūkyūan limestone for a native feel and clean aesthetics in furnishings and decor. At the in-house Ryūkyūan fusion restaurant, guests can choose between Japanese- or Western-style breakfasts to enjoy with a jungle view. Tables are arranged with slatted screens around the room for a sense of privacy in this serene setting.
Honeymooners with a little cash to burn will find these secluded villas in the jungle well worth the romantic splurge.
Village luxury: Hoshinoya Taketomi Island Village
Holding fast to their Ryūkyūan roots, the islanders on Taketomi-jima have worked fiercely to preserve their cultural identity, most clearly evidenced to outsiders by the island's uniformly traditional architecture. The low-lying buildings on the island are still constructed in traditional fashion, with red-tiled roofs and low walls of stacked coral surrounding them. Tiny succulents, and flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea add colourful living accents to the stone structures.
One such clutch of traditional red-tiled dwellings blends right into the island's environs, and for travellers wishing for a uniquely Okinawan experience, Hoshinoya Taketomi Island Village (hoshinoyataketomijima.com) is it. Established by the luxury Hoshino chain, this singular inn creates a luxury experience in understated Taketomi style.
As in traditional Taketomi design, each 'pavilion' opens with a living space meant to be open-air, facing south to catch the ocean breezes. Guests can opt for wood or tatami floors, but all pavilions are outfitted with modern comfort in mind, with furniture that invites lounging and large bathtubs begging for long soaks.
The stacked-limestone walls and crushed-coral paths echo the village design, while the heated pool in the garden area seems like an incongruous secret in the centre of the property. Even more decadent is the Okinawan-tinged French style cuisine, showcasing local ingredients in the best kind of island fusion. Best of all, when evenings fall on Taketomi-jima, the day-tripping population ferries back to Ishigaki-jima and the quiet magic of the island's starry sky is all yours.