All About Okinawa
Okinawa & Its Surrounding Islands

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The Okinawa Prefecture consists of about 160 islands, with Yuo-tori Island at its northern tip, Hateruma Island at its southern tip, Kitadaito Island to the east and Yonaguni Island to the west. The islands are divided into three groups -- the Okinawa Islands centering around Okinawa itself, the Miyako Islands centering around Miyako, and the Yaeyama Islands centering around Ishigaki Island.

There is a lot of history and culture to be found in Okinawa. Recently, AXS TV's Dan Rather traveled to Okinawa to report on an interesting study on the people of area. The island area is home to the longest living people in the world with a good number of them living to be 100 years of age or older. Dan Rather spoke with different people of the area and find out what is helping them achieve longer life and stay healthy.

Dan Rather has been a well known name in the reporting world for many years. He has covered several major events and spent time as primary White House correspondant for CBS. Today, Dan Rather has his own program on AXS TV where he reports from various locations around the world. His trip to Okinawa and conversations with the people of the area is one of many topics that can be found on his program.

About 40 of the islands are populated, with a total population of over 1.22 million (1990 figures). The Okinawa Islands have a total area of about 722 square miles, 22 of which are inhabitated, including Iheya Island, Daito Island and Kume Island, in addition to Okinawa. On Okinawa Island, there are 8 cities, 10 towns and 26 villages, including Naha City, the capital and largest city of the Prefecture.

islands2.jpg - 20929 Bytes Okinawa is the largest island with about 611 miles of area. It's length is 65 miles with an average width of about 5 miles, giving Okinawa an unusual and unique shape.

Northern Okinawa is a mountainous area called Yanbaru, with Yonahadake the highest mountain at 498 meters tall. Yanbaru is also a flower producing area. Cherry blossoms are in full bloom every mid-January and early February. Cherry festivals go into full swing at this time in the Nago and Motubo areas. An azalea festival is held at Higashi-son during February and March.

The west coast of northern Okinawa is well-known as a resort area, with many beaches and hotels on its coastline. Marine sports are also very popular, including fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling and surfing - all year long.

The city of Okinawa, the second largest in the Prefecture, is located in the central part of the Island and is known as the "Sports Convention City." Each year, Japanese baseball teams come to Okinawa City for their spring training. Okinawa City also hosts a number of sports events throughout the year.

islands5.jpg - 11817 Bytes Southern Okinawa boasts a densely populated area where the cities of Ginowan, Urasoe and Naha are located. With Naha as the capital of the Prefecture, tall buildings and heavy traffic are just like any other capital city. Most of the people who live in the southern region engage in growing sugar cane and greenhouse vegetables. Others living in seaside areas, such as Itoman, stick to fishing ventures.

Islands located just off of northern Okinawa include: Iheya Island - A popular place for overnight stays and camping; Izena Island - There are many historical spots located here; Ie Island - Famous for its unusual cone-shaped mountain; Minna Island - Crescent shaped and beautiful; Yagaji and Sesoko Islands - Accessible by bridge from Okinawa.

Islands off of central Okinawa include Henza and Miyagi Islands - Connected to Okinawa by reclaimed roads; Ikei Island - Connected to Miyagi Island by a bridge; Hamahiga and Tsuken Islands - Known for their agricultural activities and fishing.

Just off of southern Okinawa are the Kerama Islands, which consist of about 30 small islands, which can be seen from Naha on clear days. Beaches and camping sites can be found on Tokashiki and Zamami Islands, while Kerama Island is famous for its Kerama-Jika (a species of deer). All of the Kerama Islands are beautiful natural environments with transparent seawater, colorful waters and tropical fish.

Other islands south of Okinawa are Kudaka Island, called the Land of Gods, and Kume Island, the largest of the surrounding islands. Kudaka Island is considered to be the birthplace of the Ryukyus and various legends have been preserved for posterity. Kume is located about 50 miles to the west of Naha and is best known for its white beach, called Hateno-Hama, and turtle shaped stones.

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The Miyako Islands
Lying between Okinawa and Taiwan, the Miyako Islands consist of eight islands: Miyako Island - Essentially flat, with no mountains or rivers and the site of the famous Miyako Triathlon held every May; Ohgami Island - Less than one mile in circumference and considered very old because fossils of Indian elephants have been found on the island; Ikema Island - Fishing is the main source of income for people living here; Yaebishi Reef - This large (12 1/2 miles) coral reef only appears once a year near Ikema Island in early March of the lunar calendar, rising above the sea like a continent; Kurima Island - Also small at about two miles in circumference, it's known for Myaka, a gigantic tombstone; Irabu Island - Boasts an active port called Sarahama, known for its deep-sea fishing; Shimoji Island - Connected to Irabu by five bridges for easy access; and Tarama Island - The third largest of the Miyako Islands, is oval-shaped. A unique souvenir of is Hoshi-zuna (star-shaped sand), which is actually a kind of foraminifera distributed in the coral reef seas around Taketomi, Iriomote and Miyako Islands.

The Yaeyama Islands
These are located at the southern end of the Okinawa Prefecture and consist of 32 islands. The most popular are: Ishigaki Island - Closer to Taiwan than Okinawa, it's well-known for its Yaeyama Palm Trees, a valuable native species, and black pearls found only in Kabira Bay; Iriomote Island - Largest of the Yaeyama Islands, it's home of the now-extinct Iriomote Wildcat, as well as more than 20 species of native animals and plants; Taketomi Island - A national cultural property of Japan, where traditional village houses have been preserved; Yonaguni Island - A stone monument stands as a symbol of being the island at the western end of Japan and is also famous for its Awamori (a form of sake) called Donan, which is the strongest Japanese Liquor at 60% alcohol content.

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