(CNN) If you’ve ever had the urge to hit up Google with the phrase “Where is Okinawa? you’re not alone.
Despite being the site of a major World War II battle and an incredibly popular Japanese beach resort destination, many international travelers know little about the country’s southernmost prefecture.
Which is where we come in, starting with a little geography lesson.
Where is Okinawa?
OKINAWA has an area of 1,200 square kilometers and is made up of a few dozen small islands in the southern half of the Nansei Shoto island chain, which stretches over 1,000 kilometers from Japan’s Kyushu island to Taiwan.
Sounds isolated from the rest of Japan? It is. And that’s why Japanese and those in the know adore it.
Properly known as the Ryukyu Islands, after the name of the independent kingdom that once flourished there, Okinawa is home to a culture that’s distinct from that of the mainland.
Although “standard” Japanese is spoken here, there are also a number of dialects that are foreign even to native Japanese.
The capital of Okinawa is Naha, the island prefecture’s capital, and largest city.
Its metropolitan area covers most of the southern portion of the main Okinawa Island, Naha (population 321,000) has been a port of entry for travelers and goods since the 15th century.
Other popular Okinawa holiday islands include Ishigaki, Taketomi, Irimote, and Yonaguni.
When Okinawa hits the news media it is mainly around a U.S. military presence on the island, that includes some 8,000 marines, most based on the main island.
When to visit Okinawa
Weather-wise, the best time to visit is July through the end of September.
At the tail end of that period, travelers run the risk of getting caught in the dreaded, holiday-wrecking typhoon season.
October and November, and February through April, are also popular times to visit, though cooler than in peak months. We’re still talking 20 degrees Celsius, a far cry from the chilly temps found in northern Japan.
Times to probably avoid include the rainy season, which runs May through June, and the holiday of Golden Week, the first week of May when crowds of Japanese tourists throng the islands and make getting reservations a nightmare.
Getting there is becoming easier with ANA and JAL running multiple flights a day from most of Japan’s major cities to Naha — the three-hour flight from Tokyo makes it a popular getaway from the big city.
It’s even closer to Hong Kong and Taiwan; Hong Kong-based Dragonair operates four flights a week.
Naha offers connecting flights to other islands in the archipelago.
Source: Okinawa: The Japan you might not know – CNN.com