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A Different Side of Japan

A Different Side of Japan

More than 900 miles from Tokyo, the islands of Okinawa offer an unexpected abundance of natural beauty

By Kevin Revolinski

A loud hiss provokes a collective cry of amazement, and the boat lists just a bit as everyone on board rushes to starboard. A plume of vapor drifts away from a gray hulk rising up from the waves. Moments later a barnacled pectoral fin reaches into the air and slaps the surface of the water several times as though waving at us. This is one of perhaps a dozen humpback whales to make an appearance this morning, and I wonder if the boat captain has some sort of divine magic to consistently find these elusive leviathans.

The whale-watching tour is an auspicious introduction to Okinawa. In a country known more for urban development, where even natural beauty is carefully crafted in its many gardens and parks, this southernmost prefecture offers a wilder side of Japan.

Okinawa’s pristine Taketomi Island

Okinawa Prefecture is a chain of islands that lies over 900 miles from Tokyo, halfway between mainland Japan and China. Temperatures reach at least above 68 degrees year round. So, while there may be snow falling in Osaka, vacationers can head to the beach and slip into turquoise seas. It’s those warmer waters that attract the humpback whales each year during their breeding season from January through March. Okinawa is also the name of the prefecture’s largest island, and its capital, Naha, is a popular port for whale-watching excursions.

Back onshore in Naha, I head down the coast to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium to learn more about the surrounding seas. Churaumi means “beautiful ocean” in the Okinawan dialect….


 

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