For Okinawa, the best way to get around is to rent a car. Which … we did not do. Driving on the wrong side of the road in a place where I wouldn’t be able to read the road signs sounded all kinds of stressful, so we opted to make do with public transportation, tour buses, and taxis.
The airport is in Naha, so I found us a hotel in Naha. There is a monorail, but it’s pretty underwhelming compared to the trains we rode in Tokyo and Osaka. The monorail would have taken us from the airport to our hotel (I planned it that way!) but we opted for a taxi because managing our bags on public transportation didn’t sound like a fun time. It was just a 10 or 15 minute ride away, so the taxi fare wasn’t bad.
We took the monorail to Shuri Castle. Or … to close to Shuri Castle, anyway.
We mostly walked to Kokusai Dori street, but we tried out the monorail once. I think it was just one monorail hop from the hotel to Kokusai Dori, so it wasn’t a huge savings in steps for the youngish and healthyish.
We took the Hip Hop Bus to the Churaumi Aquarium and American Village.
And it was a day of taxis for the WWII sites and Okinawa World. There are city buses that will take you there (and our hotel was right across from the bus station!) and the Hip Hop Bus has a tour that goes to Okinawa World, but we wanted a specialized day of touring, so taxis it was! Split across 4 adults, the fares weren’t terrible (though I can’t quite remember what they were?)
Taxis in Okinawa: the drivers will tell you they speak no English. But then half way through the ride will start whipping out grammatically correct English sentences! So they are overly modest. If you stick to simple sentences (like even just the location name of where you want to go) then you should have no problem. (Now that I think about it, one of our taxi drivers really didn’t speak English. It was a lot of him typing stuff into his phone to translate into English, and us typing stuff into our phones to translate into Japanese. Technology is awesome!)
There is a taxi app I downloaded to call taxis, and we did use it to call our first taxi on our taxi day. But then we were able to pick up taxis at the taxi drop off area at the other stops. So it wasn’t necessary to have (the hotel could have called us a cab if we hadn’t been able to hail one on our own), but it gave me comfort that I could call a cab if I needed to and we wouldn’t get stranded 15 miles from our hotel.
So: Okinawa without a car is totally doable. If you are scared of foreign-driving: buses, taxis and monorails will get you on your way!