Okinawa is known for its tropical beaches, the rich Ryukyu culture and its lush jungle forests. With an island that offers so much culture, nature and sightseeing, a lot of visitors come and see Okinawa. Many rent cars or take the local buses to reach the famous sights. The island does not have a subway so I have always gotten around by car or bus. But there is actually an alternative to the bus if you shop, sight-see or run errands in Naha.
Naha is the capital of Okinawa prefecture and the largest city on the main island. It inhabits about 316,000 people. For tourists, much shopping and cultural shops are located around the mall called Naha Main Place or on Kokusai Dori, the "international street" of Okinawa. To go visit these sights and to go around Naha for shopping or even work, you have the opportunity to ride the prefecture's own monorail. Since August 2003, the Okinawa Toshi Monorail ( 沖縄都市モノレール), also known as Yui Rail (ゆいレール) operates in Okinawa's capital as the only public rail system in the prefecture and the first rail line on Okinawa since World war II.
Yui Rail consists of 15 stations, which are spread across a 12.9 km length in southern Okinawa. It takes 27 minutes from the first station (Shuri, in the east) through Naha to the Airport in the south side, which is the last station. The train is made up of two cars and can hold a total of 165 people. The rail runs on an elevated track above the ground, which gives you an incredible view of the city area of Naha and the bay area near the airport. I recently found out that the Yui Rail company is building an extension of the train tracks for another 4 kilometers north to Urasoe which makes going into Naha more convenient for many people since Urasoe and Ginowan are densely populated areas with many people who would usually take their cars down south.
So two months ago it was actually my first time taking the monorail. I have been in mainland often and have taken trains in Japan countless of times so I was quite surprised to get the same train station feel here in Okinawa. As myself and my friends were walking up the stairs to reach the ticket counters I couldn't but notice the great view over Naha from up there. Like in the mainland you can use your Suica or Pasmo cards to pay or get normal tickets at the ticket machines. After climbing the stairs to the train platform you find a quite ordinary train station, and you notice the slight difference of how high up it is. As we were waiting I was trying to snatch a picture of the train when it came in and immediately got a personal "get out of the way" honk from the train operator. Oops. Of course everyone in the station knew that it was directed towards me, since I was leaning over the railing.
As a few passengers were shuffling into the train it seemed not as packed as mainland trains but that changed when we got to the more popular station Omoromachi. It felt just like mainland now. The view outside the window was breath taking by the way. It took us about 15 minutes to our destination where we spilled out of the train, careful not to miss the ledge to the waiting area. Oh yes, you can see how far it goes down underneath the train. A bit scary but quite the experience. We travelled seven stations and paid 300yen for it, which is pretty good, compared to some train prices in mainland.
If you visit Okinawa, make sure to include a trip with the monorail: It's a cool experience, especially with that amazing view of Naha during the whole ride. I really hope they extend the monorail throughout Ginowan and Yomitan. It would make travelling the island so much more convenient.