by Katherine LaGrave, Condé Nast Traveler
Southeast Asia may get all the love when it comes to tropical beaches, but on Japan's southern islands of Okinawa Prefecture, picturesque white-sand beaches draw locals year-round. Here, you'll find average annual temperatures of 74 degrees, and more than 100 islands stretched over 435 miles of ocean.
1. Yonaha Maehama Beach, Miyako Island (pictured above)
Located in the southwest corner of the island, this beach--considered by many to be Japan's best--stretches for four blissful, uninterrupted miles. With clear, shallow water for swimming and water sports, it's a popular spot, but can still (sometimes) feel like a private beach if you visit during the morning or off-season. Come sunset, there's no better spot to be. Nearby Sunayama Beach, known for an arch-shaped coral wall formed by centuries of crashing waves, is a close second.
2. Kondoi Beach, Taketomi Island
An island best known for its preservation of traditional Ryukyu architecture, aesthetic and lifestyle, the flat, oval-shaped Taketomi is just 2.09 square miles. Though it's simple enough to head straight to the turquoise waters of Kondoi Beach on foot or by bike, taking a traditional $10 water buffalo-cart ride through the sandy streets of the village is a worthwhile detour. Kondoi is the only beach on Taketomi with public facilities, but Kaiji Beach is worth a trip for its star-shaped "sand"--skeletons of Foraminifera, small, one-celled organisms that live among sea grass.
3. Minna Beach, Minna-jima
A crescent-shaped island, Minna-jima is a quick, 15-minute ride across the East China Sea from Toguchi Port, located in Okinawa's Motobu town. Though a local favorite with beachgoers, snorkelers and scuba divers due to its accessibility and underwater visibility, Minna Beach is sparsely populated compared to the beaches on Okinawa Honto, or mainland. With public toilets, showers, food stands, jet ski rentals, and roped-off areas for swimming, Minna is also one of the better beaches for family travel. Round trip ferry adult tickets from approximately $14.
4. Kabira Bay, Ishigaki Island
The biggest of the Yaeyama Islands, Ishigaki has a number of sandy and coral beaches perfect for swimming and sunbathing (Sunset, Sukuji and Yonehara beaches, in particular). One of its most beautiful spots, however, doesn't actually let you do either. Enter Kabira Bay, a lush oasis of emerald-green water and white sand that is part of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park and one of two cultivation sites in Japan for black pearls. Take a $9, 30-minute glass-bottom boat tour of the bay, which gives you a close-up look at its underwater ecosystem.
5. Nishihama Beach, Hateruma Island
Hateruma has a stone monument staking its claim as the country's southernmost point--a popular photo op for visitors. Another hit? Nishihama, an almost blindingly white, soft beach with good offshore snorkeling options. Drawing its name from the Okinawan word for coral, uruma, Hateruma loosely means "The Last Reef" or the "Edge of the Coral." With no stoplights and very few streetlights, the island's lack of light pollution also makes it one of the few places in Japan to view the Southern Cross constellation.
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