Foreign tourists are discovering Okinawa in droves
By David Higgins
Recently, I visited the Rycom Mall and immediately noticed how many foreign tourists there were meandering through the shops. Rycom Mall is by far, the largest mall on the island, but I have never considered it to have any outstanding character or to be particularly enticing. This leaves me to wonder why so many tourists have chosen to congregate at this particular mall when there must be a variety of other places for them to visit on the island.
Ever since Rycom Mall opened, the mall has been packed with locals, Americans, and tourists from every corner of the earth. I regularly notice the fleet of tour buses parked by the main entrance. On most of the buses, the names of the tour groups are written in Chinese.
I recently asked one of the drivers why he brought a group of tourists to this mall, and he responded that it was because it was included in their tour plan. The group was picked up at the airport, traveled to Shuri Castle and explored around Kokusai Street area, and then made a stop at the Rycom Mall for shopping on their way to a resort hotel up in Nago.
This would also explain why there is such a vast selection of souvenirs in the mall. If you are in need of souvenirs to send to your friends and family back home, this is the place.
American Village seems to be another hot spot. A few years back, there were more Americans than any other foreigners, but now there seems to be a lot more tourists from Asian countries such as China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
It is a great location. Besides dipping in the ocean or lying on the beach, those who enjoy water sports can go diving or kayaking about 10-15 minutes away. A short walk away there is a concentration of restaurants and shops where visitors can eat delicious food and go sightseeing and shopping. Those who happen to be on Okinawa for a wedding can take memorable wedding pictures at nearby Araha Beach.
Another must see place on Okinawa is the Churaumi Aquarium, the second largest in the world, that presents a comprehensive view of life under the ocean surface. As rays, schools of fish and sharks glide by a visitor easily becomes spellbound by their grace and speed.
I return to the aquarium every few years, and the view never ceases to amaze me. It’s a wonderful place to bring your partner, friends or family. Purchasing an annual pass will enable you to return whenever you want to enthrall a friend or just escape the world for a moment. If you go, visit after 16:00 and you will receive a discount ticket and still have enough time to experience the entire aquarium.
Okinawa is such a small island, and to those who you live here, it often feels as if there isn’t much to do. But for tourists, it’s such a unique place to explore. Okinawa sits in a conveniently close traveling distance from many countries in Asia, is an integral part of Japan and yet offers an experience that comes with its’ unique mix of cultures.
It is most likely that the tourists are the ones who discover new places and adventures on our island. So, if you are looking for something fresh to explore, follow the tourists. You never know what new adventure lies just around the corner on this island of Okinawa.