Okinawa Trains (Do You Need a Car?)


When traveling or moving to Okinawa, Japan, it’s very easy to assume that public transportation will be identical to mainland Japan: full of fast, efficient trains. In Okinawa, things are much different than the mainland. Trains are no exception.

Are there trains in Okinawa? There is one train (Okinawa Urban Monorail – “Yui Rail”) in Okinawa; it runs just 17 KM (10.6 miles), with 19 stations in the Naha/Urasoe area. It’s a 37-minute ride from the first station, Naha Airport Station, to the last station, Tedako-Uranishi Station. Car, bus, and taxis are used outside Naha.

Most foreigners who travel or move to Okinawa will most certainly spend time in Naha. And the train is the perfect way to get around there. At the same time, most foreigners will also travel or live outside of Naha, so it’s important to know the other options, and their costs and benefits.

Using the Okinawa Urban Monorail (Yui Rail)

Regardless if you already have a car or not, the monorail is a convenient alternative to fighting traffic, trying to find parking, and navigating the language barrier when trying to pay for parking. Here are the basics you need to know when riding the monorail:

Steps to Getting on the Train:

  1. Pay for your ticket – Each station will have a electronic ticketing machine. Select your language, choose your station, pay for the ticket, and then take the paper ticket.

  1. Go through the electronic ticket gates – Each ticket will have a QR code to scan. Place that on the electronic ticket gate. You’ll hear a beep, which tells you it’s accepted. The small flaps on the ticket gate will open for you to walk through.

Schedule

The train begins running from the Naha airport at 6:00 AM; the last train leaves Naha Airport at 11:30 PM. This is on Weekdays, Weekends, and holidays. For detailed times for each station, it’s best to check the official timetable, which you can find here: www.yui-rail.co.jp/timetable

During busy times of the day, the train runs at about 6-minute intervals. And during the slowest parts of the day, it goes up to 15-minute intervals.

Japan is known for its punctuality, and the Okinawa Yui Rail is no exception to this. It’s rarely late.

Cost

It costs just ¥370 (about $3.40) to ride from Naha Airport to the last station, Tedako-Uranishi. If you have any kids under 12 years old, it’s just ¥190 (about $1.70). And up to two children under 6 years old can travel with an adult for free.

Etiquette

Cell Phones

In Japan, it’s standard not to talk on your cell phone in close, public spaces. This is true for the Okinawa monorail, as well. Texting and browsing your phone quietly is fine. But, it’s very rude to talk on the phone, have your phone ringing, or have audio playing while on the train. Earphones are ok, just as long as others can’t hear it.

Priority Seats

There are certain seats reserved just for the elderly, handicapped, expecting mothers, and passengers accompanying small children. When the train isn’t busy, and the priority seats aren’t occupied, it can be tempting to sit in them.

Though nobody is likely to say anything to you, from my experience, it’s generally frowned upon by other passengers. It’s best to only use the priority seats if you fall into one of the above categories. Otherwise, avoid them, regardless of how busy the train is.

Wait in Line

When waiting to board, it’s important to line up behind others. As the train approaches, passengers getting ready to board should step to the side of the opening doors so the passengers who are exiting have a clear pathway. Then once everyone exits, passengers board in line.

Don’t be Loud

It’s fine to talk to others while riding but don’t be loud. Japanese and Okinawans are very polite and considerate of those around them. So, make sure not to disturb others.

Food & Drinks

Though Yui Rail doesn’t specify in it’s a list of rules, it’s generally considered rude to drink or eat while on short, commuter trains in Japan. Long-distant trains are fine to eat and drink on, however you won’t see any of those in Okinawa.

Smoking

This is probably obvious for most of us, but no smoking on the Okinawa monorail.

Luggage

Try to take up as least space as possible with your belongings by placing things on your lap or under your feet when you’re seated.

Capacity

Each monorail train has 2 cars that has around 65 seats, holding around 165 passengers in total.

Stations

To figure out which station you need to go to, Google maps is very accurate here in Okinawa. Just type in your destination, and choose train as your mode of transportation. It will give you walking directions to the correct monorail station and tell you which station to get off at. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

If you don’t have a SIM card while in Japan or have access to 4G. Use your cell phone while you have Internet connection at your house or apartment.  You can type in your destinations, get directions, and take screenshots of the directions. I like to zoom in to the areas I will have to walk to the station and exit to the station to grab the screenshots. That’s where you’ll need the most detail. With screenshots of the map on your cell phone, no need for 4G while you travel!

There are 19 monorail stations in Okinawa:

  1. Naha Airport
  2. Akamine
  3. Oroku
  4. Onoyama Koen (Park)
  5. Tsubogawa
  6. Asahibashi
  7. Prefectural Office
  8. Miebashi
  9. Makishi
  10. Asato
  11. Omoromachi
  12. Furujima
  13. Shiritsu-Byoin-Mae (Naha City Hospital)
  14. Gibo
  15. Shuri
  16. Ishimine
  17. Kyozuka
  18. Urasoe-Maeda
  19. Tedako-Uranishi

Getting Around Other Parts of the Island

No trip to Okinawa is complete without venturing to other parts of the island. So, you’ll probably be going places far out of Yui Rail’s reach. This means you’ll be dependent on car, bus, taxi, or bike (or all of the above).

Choosing the best way to get around, is dependent on where you’ll be headed, the distance, and the time of year you’re traveling, and your traveling preference. Here are some important things to consider:

Bus

Times to consider using the bus:

  • Cooler months: November – April
  • Longer, one-way trips
  • You thrive off the language barrier and love to figure out new countries
  • You love to mix and be more dependent on the local culture when traveling

Times to consider avoid using the bus:

  • Hot & humid months: June – September
  • You like to have more control opposed to depending on the local culture
  • You have an important meeting or appointment (especially if you’ve never taken the particular bus route before or it’s during the hot & humid months).

If you’re trying to save some money, the bus isn’t a bad option. However, from my experience, it can be a little tricky to figure out. If you’re all about mixing with the local culture and aren’t afraid of a little adventure, the bus is an ok way to travel the island.

One thing to consider, however, is the weather. The majority of bus stops aren’t covered; they’re simply a metal pole with a sign on it. So, if it’s rainy or sunny (and in Okinawa, it’s one or the other), the elements will impact you. So, come prepared with sunscreen, water, and an umbrella. If there’s a typhoon on the way (typhoon season is generally June 1 – November 30), it’s best to stick to car or taxi.

Personally, the bus can be particularly challenging during the summer months, when the sun’s rays are particularly strong and the humidity is through the roof. Whether I’m walking or waiting, I’m wet from either rain or sweat. Not my cup of tea.

If you’re thinking of using the bus during the summer months, and have an important meeting, appointment, or just aren’t feeling up to being sweaty and having sunscreen grease on all day, I would reconsider. Think about renting a car or hailing a taxi.

The weather isn’t that much of a factor if you’re just getting on one bus, for a one-way, more distant trip (opposed to hopping local buses all day), you won’t be exposed to the elements as much and the buses’ air conditioning works very well.

Taxi

Taxis are everywhere on the island and easy to use. Even with the language barrier, if you have a cell phone with a map of your destination or the destination name, you and the taxi cab driver can usually figure it out pretty easily.

Most taxis in Okinawa are able to take credit cards these days. But, it’s better to double-check when you first sit down.

Here’s how to ask: “Credito cardo OK desuka?” If the answer is “Hai” or “OK,” you’re good to go. If the answer is “Dame” or the taxi cab driver makes an X sign with his arms, you’d better have yen or find another taxi.

Taxi cost usually starts at ¥550 to sit down and around ¥240 per kilometer after that (around $5.00 to sit down and $3.53 per mile).

More on how to get a taxi here.

Car

Okinawa is car culture compared to mainland Japan, where it doesn’t make as much sense to own or use a car. In Okinawa though, especially outside of Naha, I highly recommend getting a car. Life with a car is much easier, especially during the summer month or rainy season.

If you’ve never driven in Japan before, the thought of driving can cause some anxiety. From my experience, because drivers are so polite and forgiving, and because the speed limit is so low, driving in Okinawa isn’t so bad being a foreigner.

In Japan and Okinawa, you drive on the left side of the and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. Don’t worry about the gas and brake pedals, they’re in the same setup, regardless of the country you’re in. The blinker and windshield wiper controls, however, are switched. And for most foreigners, it takes some time to get used to not hitting the windshield wiper switch when actually wanting to hit the blinker.

More info on driving in Okinawa here.

Important Things to Know Driving in Okinawa:

  • Don’t use (or even touch) your cell phone while driving. In December, 2019, Okinawa increased the punishment for drivers caught using their cell phones: a heavy fine and possible jail time for certain (vaguely defined and very dependent on the police officer’s judgment) situations. Too risky for my taste. Just don’t do it.
  • .03 is the blood alcohol limit. That’s not much! Many drivers get in trouble the morning after. They drink heavily the night before, thinking they’ve slept it all off, and the morning after get pulled over and blow over a .03. Ouch! My rule of thumb, if I have a sip, I don’t drive for 24 hours and use a daiko (a taxi cab system that shows up with two drivers: one to drive the taxi and one to drive your car home).
  • Honking is rare. I recommend avoiding it altogether, with exception to warning someone to avoid a possible fender bender (for example, someone backing up in a parking lot).
  • All vehicles involved in a car accident share fault. In the U.S., when a car accident happens, according to the law, there’s one person to blame. In Japan, everyone involved shares responsibility. Even if you get rear-ended! The only exception to this is if your car is parked and gets hit. Other than that, you’re going to share some of the responsibility. So, it’s best to avoid a car accident altogether. The, “I’m not at fault here,” won’t fly in Okinawa

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