Tokyo to Okinawa: Getting to the Islands on the Cheap

Lily Crossley-Baxter

Simply put, Okinawa is Japan’s answer to paradise. If you want to stretch out on golden sands, swim with turtles and explore uninhabited islands, read on for budget-friendly ways of getting your cheapo self from Tokyo to Okinawa.

tokyo to okinawa
Okinawa really might be paradise on earth.

Made up of over 150 islands and lying about 400 miles from the rest of Japan, Okinawa is in its own world. Beautiful clear seas are waiting to be explored (snorkeling, anyone?), mountains hiked and cocktails drunk. Whether you’re in Japan for a few weeks or living here, if you’re in need of a break then Okinawa is it. But do look at how to get from Tokyo to Okinawa, as the island destination is no secret. With the combination of distance, sea and popularity to compete with, travel options for everyone (and especially the cheapo) are limited, but not impossible. If it turns out to be too far however, have you considered the 9 secret Islands of Tokyo?

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Tokyo to Okinawa
Okinawa’s waters make for superb snorkeling. | Photo by Ippei and Janine Naoi used under CC

Flights from Tokyo to Okinawa

This is pretty much the only (realistic) option, but can be affordable. The main concern is when you travel. As one of the most popular spots for domestic-holidaying, times like Golden Week (roughly April 29 – May 5) see prices skyrocket and seats sell out fast, so are best avoided. August is also peak travel time due to the number of events and festivals taking place across Japan—and the resorts and beaches get packed despite it being typhoon season. With that in mind, get your best interweb searching skills ready!

RouteAirlineOne-way FareBooking
Tokyo => OkinawaJetstar Japan¥6,512 (US$60)Details
Tokyo => OkinawaVanilla Air¥6,750 (US$64)Details
Tokyo => OkinawaJapan Airlines¥9,120 (US$86)Details
Tokyo => OkinawaANA (All Nippon Airways)¥9,177 (US$87)Details
Tokyo => OkinawaSkymark Airlines¥10,618 (US$100)Details

Airlines to look out for

Low-cost carriers Vanilla Air and Jetstar fly to Okinawa (touching down at Naha Airport) from Narita, and offer good deals with return trips at a pretty stable ¥13,000 for the earlier months. These prices creep up through the year though, reaching ¥16,000 and higher in May and sometimes over ¥20,000 in July and beyond. They do have quite a few sales, however, and budget fares can be snapped up as early as January for the summer months (but bear in mind that they do sell out fast).

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Ishigaki sand
Beaches like you’ve never seen before. | Photo by Nicholas Wang used under CC

Hot deals from Tokyo to Okinawa

Both ANA and JAL offer special discounts on domestic flights for foreign visitors, meaning you can get any flight for ¥10,800. #cheapowinning

ANA have no limit on how many times you can use this deal, but for JAL it can be used on a maximum of five flights. There are generally no blackout dates, but the discount ticket may be unavailable on certain flights or days if there is high demand. Read more about the JAL Japan Explorer Pass and the ANA Experience Japan Fare.

Note: You need to reside outside of Japan and have a return flight to your home country to be eligible, and the ticket is only available through the direct sites (so not skyscanner etc.). Both companies also offer similar flight deals which can only be booked through selected travel agents outside of Japan before you depart, for example the ANA Visit Japan Fare ¥13,000, the JAL Welcome to Japan Fare ¥14,040, and the Oneworld  Yokoso Visit Japan Fare ¥10,800 (with specific blackout deals). There are also specials on travel between the main island of Okinawa and outlying islands.

tokyo to okinawa
Kabira Bay (it’s a black pearl farm), Ishigaki. | Photo by Tzuhsun Hsu used under CC

Ishigaki: The jewel (seriously) of Okinawa

The main hub of the Yaeyama islands and 250 miles from Okinawa proper, Ishigaki is an even more idyllic area—full of beaches, coral-filled seas and a national park. Ishigaki is popular enough to have its own airport, meaning you can fly direct from Tokyo, or from Naha in Okinawa. Unfortunately, the connecting ferry service was discontinued in 2008.

From Ishigaki, you can catch a ferry to the nearby islands of tiny Taketomi, wild Iriomote and more. Day or overnight trips are possible.

Flights from Tokyo

RouteAirlineOne-way FareBooking
Tokyo => IshigakiPeach¥17,430 (US$165)Details
Tokyo => IshigakiANA (All Nippon Airways)¥22,578 (US$213)Details
Tokyo => IshigakiJapan Transocean Air¥22,578 (US$216)Details

Contrary to what you may see above, few of the cheap airlines fly to Ishigaki, so it is pretty pricey. ANA and JTA service the route, though, so if you can use their magical foreigner passes, this is a great way to make the most of them!

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Flights from Okinawa (Naha)

RouteAirlineOne-way FareBooking
Okinawa => IshigakiJapan Transocean Air¥6,550 (US$62)Details
Okinawa => IshigakiANA (All Nippon Airways)¥7,401 (US$70)Details

This option is relatively pricey, as it is offered by ANA, Solaseed and JTA, but if booked in advance you can get flights for about ¥13,000 return (or use the special passes outlined above—Solaseed offers a ¥10,500 Visit Japan Fare too).

Alternatives to Okinawa

If your heart is set on Okinawa but your wallet isn’t, you have a few options. But before you give up on your Tokyo to Okinawa holiday quest, note that sales often feature more flights between Osaka and Okinawa. If you are traveling there anyway, flying out of Kansai might be preferable. With some good luck and dedicated searching, you could even catch a highway bus to Osaka specially for a cheap flight. Check Kosoku Bus to see what deals are available.

Otherwise, you could stay Tokyo-side and head to the island of Shikine-jima instead. It’s a fair whack cheaper, and makes for an easy weekend trip. You can also make day or overnight trips to some of these awesome beaches that are even closer to Tokyo.

Shisa protect Okinawan buildings from bad vibes. | Photo by Norio Nakayama used under CC

What about the flight-phobes?

If flying really isn’t your thing (anyone read Alive?), then there is a way, but it is pretty time consuming. If you are determined, you can catch a highway-bus to Osaka and then hop on a ferry for 43 hours. Yeah, maybe time-consuming was an understatement. The journey costs ¥19,000 without a bed, ¥39,000 with, and ¥92,000 if you want the whole car to yourself. It’s run by a company called A-Line, and leaves 6-7 times a month.

For an overview of Okinawa, see our dedicated Okinawa Guide and accompanying articles.

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