Whether to buy a car or to not may be one of your biggest dilemmas during your first year in Okinawa. While many OkiJETs will highly encourage you to buy a car, the ultimate decision rests in your hands. Your finances may take a hit, but that might be minor compared to the sunburn and sweat of walking in the summer humidity. Or maybe you have a heart of steel and are willing brave the Okinawan sun… in any case, Okinawa has a pretty well-developed bus system, so you can always decide later whether a car (or scooter, motorcycle, or bicycle) is for you.
Public Transportation versus Buying a Car
This really is a big question for people moving here. Okinawa is notorious for having an underdeveloped public transportation system, especially when compared to mainland. When you finally arrive in Okinawa, the driving might be different from what you are used so much so that you might be apprehensive about driving.
Whether or not a car would be the best option for you really depends on your location. If you live in Naha or near a larger city and don’t mind not going too far outside your own area, then having no car is fine. The parking per month is also pretty high in the big cities like Naha and maybe Okinawa city, so some people would rather do without.
The Naha monorail starts around ¥200 without return, and buses start around ¥100, but quickly rise in price the further you travel. Buses do not include a transfer or return when purchased. The costs can accumulate if traveling far distances regularly.
Don’t be discouraged by what some people will tell you about the bus system; it is pretty reliable, and drivers are very helpful if you let them know where you are headed. If you live in a more rural area, you might find yourself feeling lonely and isolated without a car. Especially if there are just a few buses that pass by through your area.
You don’t have to get a car as soon as you arrive if you’re not too sure. It’s convenient to buy your predecessors car and the paperwork is sometimes easier if you do everything ahead of time. However, if you have a great supervisor and friends who know cars, then you can wait a few months to get one after you first arrive. For many people who have no clue about cars, it is better to wait until after you arrive to decide on what car you want to buy. Some people will find themselves living in an apartment with a parking place that only fits very small cars.
The system is worth learning. Taxi fare from Kadena Air Base to the Naha International Airport, for example, can cost up to 5,000 whereas a bus fare for the same route will cost about 800. The only downside is that there are no set schedules and it can take a long time to take the bus. Some of the longer running routes only run a few times a day at peak hours, as well. So plan accordingly.
The first hurdle to overcome is determining which bus to take. There are four different bus companies operating in Okinawa, taking a mix of expressways, surface streets and different size of bus. They are: Okinawa Bus, Ryukyu Bus, Naha Kotsu and Toyo Bus.
There are no schedules or routes available in English, but this does not make it impossible to figure out where you are going. At every bus stop there is a map of Okinawa with routes included. All you need is a general idea of where you want to go and you can use the map to identify which buses are going to your destination.
At each bus stop there is a list of the buses that service the stop and their schedules. Find a bus that goes to your destination and its next arrival time. Using the maps at the bus stops you can figure out the general area where you want to go. However, the best way to learn the system is by taking some time to ride the bus and explore. Also, always remember the route number of the bus you took, because the same bus, going the opposite direction, will get you back.
For example, bus routes 20 and 120 go from Naha bus terminal to Nago bus terminal. The buses depart approximately every 15 minutes, north to Nago and south to Naha.
Planning Your Bus Route
There are four separate companies operating separate lines, but fortunately they all work in the same way. Outside of Naha, take a ticket when you get on, and pay when you get off — the amount you pay is referenced from the number on your ticket to the price shown on the electronic board at the front. The further you travel, the more you pay. The buses which run only in Naha have a flat rate (currently 200 yen) that is paid as you board. The main bus terminal (map link) is in Naha close to the kencho. It is connected to Asahibashi Station on the monorail (旭橋駅)
- This page has some of the best, user friendly maps I think. It also has some fare and timetable information. The route maps, however, are pictures so the kanji cannot be easily copied.
- This page shows the route for a new bus company specializing in going from the airport to the Northern part of Okinawa, the Yanbaru Express
- This page has a really useful animated map
- Okinawa Buses, with links to a few timetables
Below is a partial list of the available services and their numbers:
|Line Number||Line||Departure||Destination||Bus Company|
|24||Ishikawa(via Oyama)||Naha||Airport||Naha Koutsuu|
|25||Ishikawa(via Shuri)||Naha||Ishikawa||Naha Koutsuu|
|30||Awase Higashi||Naha||Shin Akamichi||Touyou|
|31||Awase Nishi||Naha||Awase Eigyousho||Touyou|
|33||Itoman Nishihara||Itoman||Nishihara||Naha Koutsuu|
|46||Itoman Nishihara||Nishihara||Itoman||Naha Koutsuu|
|~||Urasoe(Uranishi Danchi orikaeshi)||Naha||Uranishi Danchi Iriguchi||Ryukyu|
|57||Bitou||Awase Niku||Okisou Danchi Iriguchi||Touyou|
|58||Ken Sougou Undou Kouen||Awase Niku||Minamiaragusuku||Touyou|
|65||Motobu Hantou(Toguchi mawari)||Nago||Nago||Ryukyu|
|66||Motobu Hantou(Nakijin mawari)||Nago||Nago||Ryukyu/Okinawa|
|74||Nago Toubu(Taira mawari)||Nago||Nago||Ryukyu/Okinawa|
|78||Nago Toubu(Futami mawari)||Nago||Nago||Ryukyu/Okinawa|
|92||Tounan Shokubutsu Rakuen||Awase Niku||Tounan Shokubutsu Rakuen||Touyou|
|96||Urasoe Minatogawa||Baten Eigyousho||Rikuun Jimusho||Touyou|
|97||Ryudai(Shuri keiyu)||Naha||Ryuudai Kitaguchi||Naha Koutsuu|
|101||Heiwadai/Aja||Gushi Eigyousho||Ichiba Kitaguchi||Naha Koutsuu|
|102||Kuukou Futenma||Kuukou||Futenma||Naha Koutsuu|
|111||Kousoku Bus||Kuukou||Nago||All 4 Companies|
|120||Kuukou Resort Nishi||Kuukou||Nago||Ryukyu/Okinawa|
|124||Chibana(Ouyama keiyu)||Chibana||Kuukou||Naha Koutsuu|
|125||Chibana(Shuri keiyu)||Naha Kuukou||Chibana||Naha Koutsuu|
|~||Chibana(Nakagusuku keiyu)||Naha Kuukou||Chibana||Naha Koutsuu|
|Kokusai Street (Matsuo, Makishi)||1,5,9,12,15,20,21,23,27,28,29,30,33,46,52,56,63,77,80,88,90,97,98,120,124,125
(Some of the buses with the above numbers do not use Kokusai Street)
|Nago (From Naha)||20,21,77,120|
On The Bus
Using Okinawa’s bus system can be a little tricky until you get the hang of it. Below are the procedures for riding city buses and a few simple steps to help get you started:
- When you see your bus approaching your stop, be sure to flag it down. It may not stop otherwise.
- Wait for those on board to exit first. The bus driver will say “Douzo” when all is clear.
- Take a ticket from the dispenser at the bus entrance. The ticket will have a number on it, that number will determine your fair when exiting.
- While riding, there is an electronic voice that calls out the stops (in Japanese). When your stop is called press the button next to the window to signal the driver to stop. A good idea of what your destination looks like, or a landmark that can be seen several stops away, can help ensure that you exit the bus as close to your desired destination as possible. If you plan your route ahead of time, you can print the route map from the Internet and following along with the kanji of the stops on the signboard.
- There is an electronic display at the front of the bus that has numbers and a corresponding fare that increases as the bus makes its way along its route. When leaving, match the number on your ticket to the number on the display. The fare next to that number is what you pay.
- Drop your ticket and exact fare (yen only) in the fare box. There is a change dispenser at the front of the bus that gives change for 1,000 yen bills, 500 yen coins, and 100 yen coins.
Useful Bus Routes
These are useful bus routes that run from the Naha Bus Terminal (adjacent to the Asahibashi Monorail Station).
Naha to Awase, Goya Intersection in Okinawa City: 30
Naha to Yomitan (Zanpa Cape, Nikko Alivilla Hotel, Yachimun Pottery Town area): 28, 29
Naha to Onna village (Manza-mo, Manza Beach Hotel area): 20, 120
Naha to Nago city (Orion Beer brewery, Busena Terrace Hotel, Churaumi Aquarium): 20, 120