Lush jungle, sandy beaches and coral reefs define Okinawa, a holiday-friendly group of more than 100 subtropical islands that extend across 700 kilometres of the South China Sea from Kyushu to Yonaguni-jima, almost within sight of Taiwan.
Part of the Ryukyu islands chain, the beaches and dive sites are in stark contrast to the temples and shrines of mainland Japan, while another oddity is the presence of the US military at a number of island bases. Drive-ins and shopping malls in ‘American' towns have become an attraction for Japanese tourists looking for a taste of American culture.
In Okinawa's capital, Naha, Okinawan textiles and ceramics are made in the shadow of Shuri-jo, a heritage listed recreation of the Ryukyu kingdom's most important castle. On tiny Taketomi, buffalo-drawn carts trundle around a typical village of red-roofed bungalows. Others, like Iriomote, are covered in jungle, whereas palm tree-lined beaches and clear seas are the allure of Ishigaki.