Where to Live in Okinawa (and What’s the Commute Like)?


If you’re about ready to relocate to Okinawa, or reconsidering where you currently live, it’s important to know what your options are, what’s important to you, and which neighborhoods in Okinawa best suite your needs.

Okinawa is small but has a relatively large and diverse selection of areas to live. Whether you want to live in a high-rise apartment in a bustling neighborhood or prefer a quiet house on the water, Okinawa has it all.

Okinawa has 11 cities, 9 towns, and 6 villages. Naha is the largest city with around 318,000; and Ginoza is the smallest village with around 6,000 people. Below is a list of areas that are common among the English speaking community in Okinawa:

Chatan

Sunabe, Chatan

Sunabe is a great little neighborhood along the seawall, which is about 1.4 miles in length. Many Americans live in this neighborhood, because it’s proximity to Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster and because it’s right on the water.

Sunabe is a great place to surf, snorkel, dive, and fish. It also has many small restaurants, coffee shops, hostels, and a grocery store. All of this is easily accessible by foot and bike.

Sunabe has many things to do, and as a result, housing is going to be more expensive.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB Gate #1: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Torii Station: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 45 to 60 minutes

Mihama, Chatan

Mihama is home to the very touristy American Village. You’ll find people mostly from mainland Japan, Taiwan, and China wandering the streets with cameras during the summertime.

American Village has a never-ending supply of restaurants and shopping. It also a Ferris wheel that lights up the skyline at night. Firework shows happen all the time during the summer for random events/reasons, and occasionally during the offseason.

Prices here are going to be similar to Sunabe.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB Gate #1: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Torii Station: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 45 to 60 minutes

Araha Beach, Chatan

Araha is a little quieter and more low key than Mihama. It has a good selection of restaurants, there are fewer tourists, but still close enough to the action. It’s also a pretty easy commute to either Kadena AB or Camp Foster.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB #1: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 5 to 15 minutes
  • Torii Station: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 45 to 60 minutes

Kadena

Kadena is located just north of Kadena Air Base and just south of Torii Station. As a result, many Americans live here.

Kadena also has a seawall with water access just like Sunabe. Kadena’s seawall makes it feel similar to Sunabe, however the vibe is completely different. The only reason most people have to go to Kadena, is because they either live there or they’re going diving (but most got to Sunabe).

Kadena has very few restaurants but does have a small (but old) shopping center, which has a grocery store.

Kadena is nice; it’s quiet, there are very few tourists, so the weekends remain quiet, and it’s a little more affordable than Sunabe.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB Gate #1: 5 to 15 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 20 to 45 minutes
  • Torii Station: 10 to 20 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 45 to 60 minutes

Okinawa City

Okinawa is home to the infamous “Gate 2 Street.” “Gate 2,” because the street connects to Kadena’s Gate #2 (southeast part of the base). Though it’s said to have been wild back in the day, it’s still full of bars and a couple of strip joints. Not a place to be exploring with the kids on a weekend night.

With that being said, you can easily live in Okinawa City and separate yourself from the nightlife.

Okinawa City is also home to the Okinawa Zoo, Koza Sports Park (home to the Ryukyu Golden Kings; a professional basketball team), and, of course, the massive Rycom Mall.

Okinawa city is very affordable, especially compared to nearby Chatan. Also, Camp Foster and Kadena AB are in commuting distance from most neighborhoods.

Awase District

Awase is not well-traveled by tourists, but there’s plenty to see and do in this area.

Awase is home to the Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park, which has 6 athletic facilities, cycling and jogging paths, and a pond full of coy fish.

Awase has shopping that’s great for living: Nitori furniture store (Japan’s version of Ikea), Yamada Denki (one of Japan’s largest electronic stores), Yellow Hat (auto part store), Manga Souko (“recycle shop,” a more expensive thrift store), fishing shops, and Don Quijote (a huge discount shop).

One of my favorites about Awase is Sam’s-by-the Sea, which has amazing steaks and an atmosphere that can’t be beaten.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB Gate #2: 15 to 30 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 25 to 45 minutes
  • Torii Station: 40 to 60 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 30 to 45 minutes

Goya District

Goya is nice (not to be confused with Goya, the “bitter melon” superfood). In Goya, you are very close to quite a few smaller restaurants and don’t have that far to drive to larger ones.

Goya is where the Okinawa Zoo is, nothing too big, but still something to note. And in 2019, 14 monkeys managed to escape.

There’s also a small park, a driving range, and several grocery stores.

Lastly, it’s home to “Love Hotel Hill,” which is the densest area of love hotels in Okinawa. But, don’t mix up love hotels with being seedy. I lived in Goya, right on top of “Love Hotel Hill,” for a while, completely oblivious to the fact they were love hotels.

Goya is also very affordable. And if you get a place on the hill, it’s likely you’ll have a nice ocean view.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB Gate #2: 10 to 20 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Torii Station: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 20 to 45 minutes

Ginowan

Ginowan isn’t as pretty as Chatan, but its accessibility to Camp Foster and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma makes it desirable for many Americans to live. It’s also a little cheaper than it’s touristy neighbor, Chatan.

There is a seawall in Ginowan, but the water is not very accessible, and from what I hear not the clearest. Along the seawall, the water activities are pretty much limited to fishing.

Near the south end of Ginowan is Tropical Beach, which sits inside Ginowan Seaside Park. You can swim here in the summer. There’s also a baseball field, where one of the professional teams from mainland Japan will conduct their spring training.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB #1: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 5 to 20 minutes
  • Torii Station: 30 to 60 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 45 to 60 minutes

Yomitan

Yomitan is great. It’s definitely quieter than the south-central part of the island, but still commutable (though traffic can be pretty bad) to Kadena and Camp Foster.

Yomitan has more open space, some great beaches, and there’s a good selection of restaurants.

Yomitan is gaining popularity, but things are still very affordable.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB #1: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 5 to 20 minutes
  • Torii Station: 30 to 60 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 45 to 60 minutes

Uruma

Uruma has a more spread out, roomy feel than the west side of the island. It has very few tourists and as a result, has a much slower pace. It’s not immune from traffic entirely, but it’s far less than other parts of the island.

Uruma is home to 8 islands: Yabuchi Island, Henza Island, Miyagi Island, Ikei Island, Hamahiga Island, Tsuken Island, Ukibara Island (uninhabited), and Minamiukibara Island (uninhabited).

Uruma is also home to Camp Courtney, Camp McTureous, and White Beach Naval Facility.

Camp Courtney and Camp McTureous are very close to one another and are located in the neighborhood Tengan. White Beach is a bit of a drive, about 14 km away, south on the Uruma peninsula.

If you’re going to be working on Camp Courtney, Camp McTureous, or White Beach, it probably makes a lot of sense to stay on the east side of the island, and ideally Uruma. This way you avoid heavy traffic crossing the central part of the island.

Commutes during rush hour:

  • Kadena AB #1: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Camp Foster: 40 to 60 minutes
  • Torii Station: 30 to 60 minutes
  • Camp Courtney: 5 to 15 minutes

Finding Housing in Okinawa

Here are some websites that landlords and housing agencies advertise their properties with:

There are tons of housing agencies on the island, as well. If you don’t find what you’re looking for from the listings above, you’ll notice on both of those websites it lists specific agencies. You can contact them directly, they don’t advertise all their properties online.

If you’re in the military or a dependent of someone who is, your off-base housing needs to be approved by the military. This means the landlords needed to have had it inspected and approved. The U.S. Air Force controls all the on-base housing (even if it’s on a non-Air Force base). They are also in charge of approving off-base housing.

Important Things to Consider

When deciding where to live in Okinawa, there are some things that are unique to Okinawa that I think are important to know and consider:

Traffic

Unfortunately, Okinawa has some traffic issues. If you’re working a 9 to 5 (or 0730 to 1630 for folks working on U.S. military bases), traffic is going to be a big variable in your life, and should be one of the tops things you consider when deciding where to live.

In general, traffic in the morning flows towards Naha and towards any of the main military bases, Camp Foster, Kadena Air Base, Camp Courtney, and Camp Kinser.

It’s important to note too that Americans aren’t the only ones who work on base. There is a large Japanese workforce on all bases that are employed by the Japanese government. Also, the U.S. relies heavily on local contractors to maintain and construct their bases.

So, there are a lot of people coming and going from the bases at the same time every day. And the two major bases are Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base, which are situated just 4 km (2.5 miles) apart from one another.

School

If you have kids, it’s important to consider where they will be going to school and what that commute is going to look like relative to your work.

If your kids are going to a school on base, there is a bus system the military runs; the buses are nice.

If your kids will be going to school off base, you’re going to need to drop them off in the morning or have them walk to school. So, this is definitely going to impact your commute time.

Random info: If you’re SOFA, it’s important to know that you are expected to follow military regulations. What’s OK in Japanese culture (for example, letting a 4-year-old wander the streets), is not OK for SOFA members. Best to keep up-to-date on things like the youth supervision guidelines are one of them. : U.S. Marine Corps Youth Supervision Guidelines and U.S. Air Force Youth Supervision Guidelines.

Cost

Not surprisingly, the closer you are to the water, the more expensive it’s going to be.

Also, if you look like a westerner, it’s likely the local housing agencies are going to assume you work with the military, either active duty or civilian. As a result, housing agencies assume you work for a company that offers you a housing allowance and will find an apartment above-market rent. You’ll pay more than the locals.

If you’re a contractor or someone who’s housing allowance isn’t “use it or lose it”, I recommend stressing to the housing agency that you don’t get a housing allowance.

By stressing this, you’re more likely to get a rate that is closer (but still probably not the same) as a local.

Not being a local isn’t always a bad thing though.

For example, the other side of the coin is that housing agencies are used to catering to Americans and their needs. So, things like “Key Money” (a “gift” Japanese locals are required to give landlords, which are often 1 or 2 times the amount of the monthly rent!) are often not required for westerners.

In my situation, because I have a Japanese partner, we got a great monthly rate, but it cost an arm and a leg to move in. Needless to say, we won’t be moving for a while; and most Japanese do just that, they stay put for a long time.

General Vibe and Quality of Life

Work and life obligations are important, but it’s also important to consider which neighborhood fits your personality.

Personally, I hate traffic, but I love being in the water. Snorkeling, surfing, or just a walk near the water are the main ways I take care of myself. So, though I have a bit longer commute and pay a little more to be on the water, I find it to be well worth it.

Also, if you do have a choice to live on or off base, it can be a lot to sift through when trying to decide.

Personally, I find the Japanese culture to be very comforting. I find things are very predictable and I feel very safe.

But, that’s just me.

Some people will tell you off-base is the only way to go; and then there are others who never leave the base and will tell you how unwelcoming the locals are. It’s all about perspective.

Ultimately, you’ll make a decision that’s best for you and your family. And that’s the best way to go.

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