The ‘Hawaii of Japan’, Okinawa is THE summer resort destination highly sought-after by both Japanese and international tourists each year.
Crystal clear waters, tropical summer days, sandy beaches, the nation’s best golf courses, rich culture, diverse cuisine and over 150 islands to explore… the list of reasons to visit Okinawa just goes on and on and on. Japan has an abundance of winter ski resorts, but as far as summer resort living goes, Okinawa is the only destination truly worthy of mention on an international scale. Foreign interest in Okinawa property is booming with commercial and residential opportunities ready for the taking. Most experts agree that now is the time to get in on the act.
Brought to the attention of the Western world as a US Civil Administration for almost 30 years after WWII, the American military presence remains in Okinawa with 32 military bases located throughout the archipelago and a noticeable American flavour exists in many aspects of modern Okinawan life. The quirky ‘American Village’ shopping precinct for instance, feels just as much an Americana-theme-park as it does as shopping mall!
For Tarantino fans, Okinawa might be more swiftly remembered as the place Uma Thurman’s ‘The Bride’ travels to obtain her ‘Hattori Honzo sword’ in Kill Bill.
Nowadays, Okinawa is a melting pot of historical Japanese culture, beachside vibes and international cuisine attracting hundreds of thousands of beach-loving tourists every year.
Investors are just as inspired as tourists when it comes to Okinawa. In fact, since 2008, the value of second-hand apartments in Okinawa has more than doubled and the market for new developments is also growing rapidly.
Improved inter-island access and improved access from mainland Japan, particularly to the smaller, more remote islands of Okinawa has fast-tracked development interest and growth. One such example was the building of the Irabu-Ohashi Bridge to connect previously inaccessible Miyakojima to Irabu Island, home to the Shimojishima Airport (with three airlines offering direct flights to and from Tokyo and Osaka). The result… an increase in land prices from as little as 600 yen per square meter to as much as 30,000 yen per square meter in just four years. A tip of the hat to those who got on to that one early… ahhh, we can all dream!
Despite some hiccups along the way, of course, Okinawa has been fairly well placed to ride out the COVID pandemic without catastrophic impact on the holiday market and therefore the hospitality development market.
In some ways, its unique standing in Japan as a summer beach-side destination has held it in good stead. A significant number of Japanese tourists, unable to travel abroad as they usually would to places like Hawaii and Guam, have chosen to explore Okinawa for their summer holidays instead.
Okinawa is littered with brand-name hotels. The Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, Marriot, Best Western, The Renaissance and many others have a presence either on the main island, on the smaller islands, or on both. Beyond the major players, boutique hotels such as the 5-star Halekulani Okinawa Hotel (pictured above, inspired by the original Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii) and the Besuna Terrace Hotel (home to the terrific Alta Terrace Golf Club) make it such that tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to quality hotel options.
Other savvy owners compete for the lucrative Airbnb market in Okinawa which is growing stronger and stronger with the social distancing trend increasing the appeal for detached homes over shared hotel spaces.
And for many, the chance to simply own a holiday house by the beach for personal use any time of year is reason enough to have entered the Okinawan property market.
It must be said that Okinawa is huge and the market is greatly varied. With more than 150 islands ranging from Okinawa Island with a population around 1.5 million to teeny-tiny islands seemingly on the edge of the Earth, there are many separate, distinct resort areas and a vast array of investment opportunities in homes, commercial properties and land.
Here are just a few of the areas which typically attract the most interest:
Onna – on the main island of Okinawa, about an hour north of the capital Naha, Onna is home to a number of luxury hotels and plenty of incredible seaside resort homes. Tourist hot spots Cape Manzano and Cape Maeda are both in Onna, attracting thousands each year in search of spectacular scenery, diving and snorkeling.
Nago – still on the main island, Nago is slightly further north than Onna and offers equally stunning seaside views.
Naha – it’s not necessarily all about the beach in Okinawa. Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, is a buzzing metropolis and home to over 300,000 people, a number of World Heritage listed sites, an amazing food scene, nightlife and plenty more.
Ishigaki – perhaps the most famous of Okinawa’s ‘remote’ islands, this jewel of an island is so far south it’s actually closer to Taiwan than it is to mainland Okinawa. As far as postcard-perfect beach scenery, white sandy beaches and the bluest of blue waters go, it’s hard to find anywhere better in Japan than Ishigaki. The island is just big enough, and certainly popular enough, to justify the existence of its own airport too, meaning that access to and from mainland Japan is easy, quick and affordable.
Iriomote – slightly west of Ishigaki is the second largest island in Okinawa prefecture, Iriomote. This island boasts incredible nature, a typically gorgeous Okinawan coastline, some of Japan’s best stargazing and famously, its own native and extremely rare, wildcat! Access is only possible via ferry meaning limited tourist numbers visit Iriomote, ensuring that the jungle which covers over 90% of the island’s surface is kept well protected. Japanese hotel giant, Hoshino Resorts, entered the Iriomote market in 2019, opening the Iriomote Hotel on the northern shore of the island.
Miyakojima – hotly debated to have even clearer waters than Ishigaki, the outer island of Miyakojima is connected by bridge to four other islands and has recently become one of the prefectures most popular tourist spots. The coastline is dotted with a number of tucked away villas, luxury hotels such as Marriot’s Iraph Suiand 5-star retreats such as the rescape.