Okinawa’s Most Breathtaking Sunsets
'Gods exists in nature, specifically in the sea and in the sun.'
If luck is something that is distributed equally to us all, I probably used all mine up on the day I was born in Okinawa. The islands have undergone a history that is drastically different from the rest of Japan, its geographical importance making it an island that has always been open and free-flowing; "The Keystone of the Pacific" as it is known in international politics.
In a span of just three generations, Okinawa has transformed itself from the bloodiest battlefield of WII, to an American-administered island province, to again becoming a prefecture of Japan. This last period meant the currency changed from dollar to yen, the cars changed from driving on the right to driving on the left, and the local chocolate choices moved from Hershey’s to…well, actually it is still pretty much just Hershey’s.
My generation has witnessed none of the hardships or drastic political changes of recent history, but we live with the consequences of our past. While we wait to see what will happen in Okinawa’s future, we work to honor and restore the unique culture of the islands. I believe being born to these islands was luck indeed, because in the midst of its turmoil, Okinawa has one thing that has never been lost: its incredible environment.
For centuries Okinawans believed that the gods exist in nature, specifically in the sea and in the sun. There is one time, every day, when these two gods meet, making it the most powerful time of the day. Of course, I am talking about sunset.
When visiting the main island of Okinawa, you should not miss these three beautiful spots to catch the most amazing sunset views the world has to offer.
Tropical Beach is one of my favorite places. I lived three minutes away from this beach for 19 years, and my sister and I spent most of our childhood and teenage years running up and down the sands, whiling afternoons away in the water. We were there literally every day until forced to leave by the security guards. The view of the sunset at Tropical Beach’s panorama is overwhelmingly beautiful. We used to share no words while watching the sunset, so as not to break the magic. Just sit on the warm sand and observe the burning red sun drop steadily below the sea on the horizon.
Tropical Beach is a beach for everyone (meaning old and young, children, couples, cats, and dogs alike). Located behind the Okinawa Convention Center in Ginowan city, the size of this place is outstandingly big. Inside the facility, there are huge football and baseball fields, a park for children, and outside concert areas. The beach itself is big as well (48,551 square meters, to be exact). On the left side of the beach, there is beautiful marina with private yachts. Along the white sand, there are barbecue tables and a little shop for food and drinks. As you walk north, there is a little path with grass where you can sit and feel the breeze. Besides all of this, the beach also comes with very hot lifeguards, a showroom, and a parking lot. All of this is free.
Address: 4-2-1 Mashiki, Ginowan City, Okinawa (20 minutes by car from Naha)
Swimming hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (from late April to Oct. 30; hours change slightly depending on the season)
The Kadena Marina Complex
Driving north from Tropical Beach on Route 58, after about 20 minutes you will enter Kadena. At the blue painted sign for Kadena Marina Seaside Ristorante, turn left to enter another great sunset spot, The Kadena Marina Complex. This beach park used to be a private marina owned by Kadena Airbase, but is now open to the public.
I love this beach for two reasons. First, the water is extremely shallow which means you get to enjoy the sunset from the sea, without worrying too much about the tide. I enjoy coming to this beach with my nephews because the surf is shallow enough for the kids to swim in safely. Second, there is a little island mysteriously floating out in the water off the beach. Of course no humans live there, but it is inhabited by many wild birds. Sometimes the sun sets right behind this island and this view is almost supernatural.
If by some splash of further luck you can reach this beach a day or two before a typhoon hits, then you will see the sky colored by vivid shades of pink and blue and the trees of the island dancing with the wind. Another great thing about this beach is that it shares its location with the seafood restaurant mentioned above. This place is perfect for a romantic night out since you get to see the sunset view from terrace while enjoying fresh seafood and a cold Samuel Adams. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get to see the fireworks of the local festivals from this terrace as well. The Kadena Marina Complex is free to enter with plenty of parking available.
Open: Wed-Mon, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (in season only)
This last beach is not free, but is worth every penny of the small entrance fee. Mission Beach, located 40 minutes north of the Kadena Marina Complex, is a hidden private beach that offers you an intimate time with a sunset, making you feel like it is a show put on just for you.
White sand sparkling with washed up coral, friendly local fish floating in the waves, swaying palm trees, and a sun that stretches out forever make Mission Beach one of Okinawa’s most wonderful little discoveries. The beach itself is nestled at the bottom of a hill between two large rock formations. While surfers enjoy the water further out, closer to the shore things are calmer. One can indeed swim with the local fish life, as small little minnows dart here and there. The water is a deep, rich royal blue that shines in the sunlight. I don’t have a photo of the sunset from this beach because when I visit, I am always on the little boat offshore (where I don’t risk bringing my camera or phone). In fact, I advise you to forget about all these devices, and just throw yourself out to the wild ocean and enjoy the tranquil waves.
Mission Beach attracts families and groups, but it is never busy and has some local facilities such as rental shops, showers, changing rooms and in some months, boat rides out to sea. A large car park makes it perfect for visitors who are renting a car to see the island. The entrance fee is ¥300, or ¥700 if you wish to camp out for the night.
Address: 2005-1 Afuso, Onna Village, Okinawa
Open: 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Swimming hours: Until 6 p.m. (from late April to late October)
Tropical Beach photos by Shuichi Aizawa.