Welcome in the New Year in Okinawa with cherry blossoms and whale watching
Enjoy the traditions of Japanese New Year, along with quiet beaches and mild weather in Okinawa. January also brings early cherry blossoms to the islands. It is the ideal time for whale watching, beach strolling, and sightseeing.
- Winter is typically the off-season in Okinawa, so beaches and resorts are less crowded, but some businesses may operate shorter business hours, and some beaches may be closed.
- The water temperature in January averages around 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). Consider bringing or renting a wetsuit for watersports.
- January is ideal for whale watching in Okinawa. Tours depart from Naha and the Kerama Islands, and there is a high chance to see humpback whales.
January weather in Okinawa
Daytime temperatures in January average around 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit), so you can comfortably enjoy exploring and sightseeing. The wind can be cold, though, so it is a good idea to bring a coat or a fleece jacket.
What to do in January
January is the perfect time for whale watching, as humpback whales migrate from Alaska and Russia to the warm waters of Okinawa to breed and raise their young. Zamami Island is a popular destination for whale watching, with regular tours in January to spot these majestic creatures at play.
With milder temperatures, January is a good time to walk around and sightsee. It is also the beginning of cherry blossom season. Watersports remain an option, but you may need a wetsuit to enjoy them comfortably.
Swimming and diving
Some beaches in Okinawa permit swimming year-round while others only allow swimming when lifeguards are present during their respective swimming seasons. Check beach information carefully before going.
Okinawa is a favorite destination for scuba diving. In January, there’s a chance to see schools of hammerhead sharks on a dive around Yonaguni Island. Head to Miyako, Ishigaki, or Kume islands for manta rays.
You can enjoy canoeing and kayaking in January. Join a tour to explore the mangroves in Yanbaru on the main island, or head to Miyako Island and glide across the clear waters on a transparent kayak to watch tropical fish below. Cruise the turquoise waters of Kabira Bay on Ishigaki Island in a glass-bottomed boat to see coral reefs, and tropical fish.
Japan’s earliest cherry blossoms
Sakura season arrives early in Okinawa, with cherry blossoms between mid-January and mid-February. Okinawa’s typical blossoms are the deep-pink kanhizakura. Cherry blossoms bloom in the north of the main island in mid-January, reaching the south of the main island and the remote southerly islands later.
Drive along the mountain roads lined with pink blossoms around Mt. Yaedake, near Motobu on the northwest of the main island. The vivid pink blooms are among the very earliest in Okinawa. The Nakijin Castle Ruins (*only in Japanese), also in Motobu, is another very popular viewing spot.
Great ideas for indoor activities
Don’t let a cold or rainy day put a damper on your explorations. Okinawa has some excellent indoor attractions, from museums and aquariums to pottery villages and castle sites.
Meet the world’s largest sharks
Top of the list for many visitors is Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, known for its massive but docile whale sharks. The aquarium has indoor and outdoor displays, including a dolphin lagoon.
Interact with Okinawa’s traditional culture
The Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum is a good place to learn about Okinawa’s history, nature and culture. Kids will enjoy the Touch and Experience Room, with hands-on activities. RyukyuMura has an array of indoor and outdoor displays and activities to immerse you in Okinawa’s traditional culture. See music and dance performances, explore traditional houses and try delicious Okinawan cuisine.
Events in January
New Year is a special time across Japan, as people pray for good fortune for the year ahead. Okinawa has a range of exciting events to inspire you for the year ahead.
*Event dates are subject to change, and some events may be canceled or postponed due to weather and other circumstances.
New Year celebrations
Welcome the New Year in Ryukyu style at SHURIJO CASTLE PARK, with rituals performed by a king and queen and their courtiers, in traditional dress.
Pretty in pink
Celebrate the beginning of the cherry blossom season at Motobu Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival, from mid-January.
January marks the start of the Okinawa Flower Carnival, a program of events that showcase flowers in bloom across the main island from January through May. See tulips, sunflowers, orchids, and a host of other flowers at Ocean Expo Park in Motobu, in late January.