Okinawa & the Southwest Islands

Collectively known as the Southwest Islands, the Nansei-shotō (南西諸島) comprises several chains of semitropical, coral-fringed isles far removed from the concerns of mainland life, where the slow pace and unique cultural heritage of the former Ryūkyū kingdom endures, offering a vibrant contrast to Japan's focus on modernity and technology.

Since WWII, Okinawa-hontō, the region's biggest island, has been appropriated by the US military for several key installations in the Pacific. Okinawa's bustling capital Naha and the sprawling resorts further north draw steady streams of shopping, sun-seeking and honeymooning tourists from neighboring Asian nations.

But seekers of nature and isolation will love the diversity and beauty of the smaller islands, from Yakushima's primeval forests and craggy peaks to the turquoise waters and soft sands of the Amami, Kerama and Miyako groups, and the spectacular coral, dense jungles and mangroves of the Yaeyamas, furthest south.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Okinawa & the Southwest Islands.