One of the biggest keys to fully enjoying life in Okinawa is getting a car. Many incoming JETs are always determined to get by without a car and while this is a nice idea in theory, you’ll find that life in Okinawa is much more enjoyable with a car.
The benefits far outweigh the costs. There are two types of cars you can own: a yellow- license plate (kei) car or a white-license plate car. You also need to pay for shaken, the mandatory vehicle safety inspection. While all can be a bit pricey at first, it is worth spending this money in exchange for traveling around Okinawa with ease, whether to enjoy sightseeing or just to go to work and pick up groceries.
Learn more about having a car here: Cars in Japan
If you live in the Naha area, you’ll be within range of the Yui Rail Monorail, the only train system in Okinawa. There is only 1 line and 15 stations (13 km in total length). The monorail is primarily convenient for sightseeing in Naha City. It travels to many sightseeing spots such as International Street (Kokusai-dori) and Shuri Castle. Like the trains on Japan’s mainland, the fare of the Yui Rail depends on the distance of travel.
Learn how to use the monorail in Naha here: Yui Rail Official Website
For daily life, such as going to work or shopping, the monorail may not be the most convenient way to travel—especially in the humid summer. For JETs who live within an accessible distance from the monorail stations, one of the biggest perks is going to the airport and not having to find a place to store your car. Another benefit is the possibility of not having to call a taxi or daiko (a taxi service that will transport you and your car home) after a night of drinking.
Despite living near the monorail, you’ll find that most of the JETs who live in Naha still own a car.
Buses in Okinawa are notorious for being on “island time”—aka almost always late. But if you plan your time accordingly, you can travel by bus fairly easily. The buses in Okinawa are clean and comfortable, and although not the quickest way to travel it will get you to your destination. The bus fare varies by distance of travel.
Here’s a link to the Okinawa bus website: Okinawa Bus Ltd.
If you live on an outer island of Okinawa or you want to visit one of them, chances are you’re going to have to take a ferry. There are few airplanes and airbuses that go to the outer islands. Some ALTs even commute to work by ferry or boat. The ferries are fairly spacious and comfortable, although how much so varies depending on the ferry company. If you’re not good on a boat, it would be good to take motion-sickness medication beforehand. The islands that can be only reached by ferry are often the most beautiful spots in Okinawa.