International travel is not necessarily more difficult from Okinawa than from mainland Japan. Direct flights abroad leave to four countries from Okinawa’s Naha Airport: Taiwan, Korea, China and the Philippines. You may have to fly to Tokyo before departing for other international destinations, but JETs on mainland Japan are usually in the same situation. Naha’s airport is Japan’s fifth largest airport. It carries domestic flights to Tokyo Haneda Airport and has recently introduced flights to Tokyo Narita as well. There are also many other flights to cities on Japan’s four main islands, as well as to numerous destinations within Okinawa (Ishigaki, Miyako, and smaller islands).
One of the few setbacks of living on Okinawa is that mainland Japan is somewhat difficult to access. Whereas a mainland JET may be able to travel to Kyoto on the train during the weekend, OkiJETs have to fly, which is a substantial monetary expenditure. Keep in mind, however, that Okinawa is the top destination for tourists from mainland Japan! Within Okinawa, there are a plethora of weekend-accessible trips. There are many small islands just a few hours ferry ride away with pristine tropical beaches, and superb snorkeling and diving (all of these are available on the main island of Okinawa as well). There are also slightly more distant destinations within Okinawa such as Ishigaki, Iriomote, or Miyako (also huge tourist destinations) that we OkiJETs can access far better than those on the mainland.
It is always recommended to ask about nenkyu/holiday time before you book your possibly non refundable or changeable flights, especially if you will need to miss some classes. Travel times you may want to book in advance for or must be willing to pay a premium to travel during are Obon, summer vacation (the month of August), Golden Week, Silver Week and New Years. Much of the country has this time off and flights and trains are very busy both in Japan and going to and from other countries.
When you want to make an international flight, there are two routes. One is to take an international flight directly from the Okinawa International Airport. The other way is to get a domestic flight to Fukuoka / Osaka / Tokyo, and transfer to an international carrier there. The Okinawa International terminal is pretty tiny compared with the domestic, and your options are limited. Flights from the big mainland cities are cheaper, and fly to many more destinations; but given the time and expense of Japanese domestic flights, you are usually better off using Okinawa’s international terminal. The international destinations from Naha are Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai and Manila. China Air (via Taipei) isn’t the world’s most glamourous carrier, but they are reasonably cheap, and fly twice a day, and from Taipei you can transfer to flights to Thailand, Europe, Australia and the U.S. It is also possible (and slightly cheaper) to use Phillipine Air to travel to Australia, or Asiana Air (via Seoul) to Europe, but flights are limited. Also, remember to check different travel agents, as the prices for the same flight may vary by 5000 yen or more. HIS, HIT and OTS all have English-speaking staff.
There are two major airlines in Japan: JAL and ANA. They fly nearly identical routes at different times and their prices are almost always the same. Air tickets are sold as one-way in Japan so it’s possible to fly from Naha to Osaka with ANA and back with JAL if one has more convenient times than the other. Both have easy to navigate English websites.
If you’re planing on doing lots of travel within and outside Japan while here, consider getting both JAL and ANA’s mileage cards. The applications are online and are fast and simple to complete. You’ll get the cards in the mail and can use them at airport to printout your e-ticket reservations. JAL and ANA are also partners with other airlines and numerous hotels so that you can earn mileage even when not flying with them. ANA, for example, is a part of the Star Alliance which includes AirNewZealand, Lufthansa, BMI, Asiana, United, AirCanada and others. JAL also offers a credit card and you can request the application for it when filling out the mileage card form.
JAL flies to and from more cities on mainland Japan. JAL recently introduced 28 Day advanced fare purchase or Sakitoku fares, and Super Sakitoku or 45 Day advanced purchase for more budget minded passengers. They also have a companion fare if you are traveling in a group of 2 to 4 passengers, allowing for a better rate.
The JAL English website looks good but only offers schedules of flights and not the actual fares. It’s good to use as a comparison for the ANA flights if you’re looking for specific flying times. It will also show if any tickets are available for the flights you want. You can search for fares on the Japanese version of the site, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the kanji for your destinations, but the rest is similar to the English site layout. Also to find out prices or to reserve with JAL you’ll have to call the numbers available through the website or stop by a travel desk at your nearest Jusco.
On the ANA website you can search for fare prices 2 months prior to the departure date. All prices are one-way fares, and ANA has at least cheap specials to watch out for. ANA’s cheapest fares are Chowari and they are only available during specific buying and flying windows. There are a limited amount of seats available on each flight at Chowari prices, so book on the first day the fares become available. Chowari fares will also not be during any holidays or long weekends.
The other cheap fare for ANA is Tabiwari. It’s available 2 months prior to departure and up to 28 days prior to departure. In some instances the Tabiwari fare may be as cheap as chowari fare and it’s available year round. This is a replacement for the Birthday fare that was popular but is no longer available.
ANA is also continuing to expand it’s network. It recently begun direct flights to Sapporo (best to keep that in mind for the Yuki Matsuri in February!).
It’s possible to reserve without paying on the ANA website. The reservation will hold for 2 days. You can pay at a Lawson or FamilyMart or with a credit card. Paying at a convenience store is easy to do; follow the links on the website once you’ve completed your reservation and you’ll be shown the step by step with pictures instructions on how to pay at a convenience store. Reserving online also gives you a 2% discount. It’s not much, but it’s something and also makes check-in at the airport speedy.
Recently ANA has started a “SKIP” program which allows you to select you seat online to avoid a check-in at the airport as well and head straight to the gate.
Flights direct from Naha to Tokyo Haneda, Kobe (easy access to Osaka and Kyoto), Fukuoka and Nagoya Chubu. Flights can be as cheap as 10,800円 one way, including taxes and fees if you book two months out and get in on the limited seats available at that price. Flights go on sale two months before departure date at 9am. The cheapest flights have no change fees, but you can refund your seat if you need to.
Payment options include credit cards and cash. The easiest way is paying at a FamilyMart or Lawsons, and there are directions on their website to help you use the terminal to do so. You have two days once you book a flight to pay for it, then another two days to pay for it if you want to pay cash at a conbini.
Jetstar flies from Naha to Sapporo, Fukuoka, Osaka, Kagoshima, Matsuyama, Tokyo, Oita and Takamatsu within Japan. This airline also flies to Australian aiports such as Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne, Gold Coast, and Sydney. You can also fly to New Zealand (Auckland), the Phillipines (Manila), Taiwan (Taipei) and Singapore with this airline. Most bookings require a credit card, though!
Peach has become a very convenient option for those willing to give up a few minor luxuries; the Peach terminal is separated from the main airport and requires a shuttle bus, one has to have their ticket pre-printed, and one has to walk right up to the plane, but other than that there aren’t very many pitfalls. Peach flies from Naha to Osaka and Ishigaki, as well as Taiwan(Taipei). Recently Peach has also expanded to direct flights to Korea.
The newest airline to add themselves to the list is Vanilla Air. The options are a bit limited at the moment as the only flight from Naha is to Tokyo, but from Tokyo you can fly to Sapporo, Taipei and Seoul! Very nice.
For more complex travel plans or for package vacations which can save you a lot of money, HIS Travel is recommended. They have two offices with English speaking staff, and have a website with discount fare prices to and from destinations all over Asia and to North America. They even do packages to some of the Okinawan Islands if you find that intimidating to do on your own. They can also help you book tickets on airlines like Skymark if you do not want to fuss with conbinis and online bookings. There is an office in Chatan as well as Okinawa City.
If you’re worried about traveling overseas look into getting some travel insurance. Here are some options:
SBI Insurance (online, Japanese only)