Getting around Okinawa


Okinawa is not a large island, but getting around is not always easy. Most inhabitants and OIST employees opt to use a car. Public transport is available to go to almost any location, however, the service can be quite sparse in some locations.

For TSVP visitors who live on campus the closest opportunity for grocery shopping is a 20-30 minute walk away (aside from the small convenience store on campus). By car or OIST shuttle bus it is possible to go to the nearest town (Ishikawa) in about 15 min.

Driver's License

If you plan to drive a car in Okinawa/Japan, please check whether your driver's license is valid in Japan. You usually either need

  • an international driver's permit (most countries) OR
  • (only some countries!) a Japanese translation of your license (e.g. Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan). These translations can be applied for online (from within Japan), paid by credit card (4000 JPY), and printed at a convenience store in Japan, for details see the JAF website.

More details can be found at OIST's resource center page "What do I need to drive in Japan?" or at (external link).

Rental Car

You can find more information about renting a car at OIST's Resource Center website. The below page also includes information about the driver's license requirements.
It is possible to make a rental car request before arriving in Okinawa and have the car delivered to OIST campus. Please check the below link and submit the form to OIST resource center and reply to their inquiries. Especially in summer, it is necessary to make a reservation several months in advance, otherwise there may be no available cars. Outside the main holiday times, it is of course also possible to go to the Resource Center in person after you arrived at OIST.

Steps for renting a car through OIST Resource Center and pick up at OIST:

  1. Check if your driver's license is valid in Japan
  2. Check conditions and which car model you would prefer
  3. Contact Resource center through their inquiry form (or via blue button at the very top of this page: and include details like second driver, required child seats, etc.)
  4. Include "TSVP Visitor" as a comment.
  5. Respond to inquiries from Resource Center and confirm reservation
  6. Bring driver's license, credit card, and other required documents to pickup

OIST Internal rental car / buying a car

OIST also has an internal rental car service which visiting researcher can use. It requires prior registration and can only be used for 22h consecutive hours, but it is rather affordable. Note that the cars are rather small and old compared to cars from a regular rental car agency. (link accessible on campus only)

If your stay is more than three months, it is likely cheaper to buy a car. You can find information here and/or check the Marketplace on TIDA (OIST-internal link).

To/from Naha Airport

If you go to/from Naha Airport, please arrange a taxi for yourself by one of the methods described below (for long-term Visiting Scholars: we will arrange a taxi for you on the arrival and departure days).
The taxi fare from Naha Airport to OIST ranges from 8,000 to 12,000 JPY. For more information on the location of the long distance taxi stand, please check the Naha Airport official website.

There is also public transport by regular bus or highway bus several times a day, it takes approximately 1.5 to 2.5h to reach OIST from Naha airport. The earliest bus from Naha Airport departs at 8:28, and the latest bus departs at 19:45. More details:

Also see this overview of connections from OIST shuttle bus to the highway bus (link only accessible on campus).

Finally, if you have a car, you might want to park at the airport. Here you can find information on reasonably priced places to do that: .

Shuttle Bus

The OIST shuttle bus is a convenient and free way to get around once you have arrived on campus. The schedule and map of two of the lines can be found here: (only Overview/reduced information)

Detailed information on all three lines as well as the Weekend Shuttle can be found at the below link  and in the Welcome Package. (full information, link accessible on campus only)

The bus stop closest to the Tabata shopping center (groceries, electric appliances, home center) is Akasaki/Tabata, for fresh food and vegetables go to Onna Farmers Market (Onna no eki).

Connections from OIST shuttle bus to the highway bus (updated May 2024 - link only accessible on campus).

How to apply for a Shuttle Bus Pass as a family member:
IT Service Portal> BFM Service Catalog>Parking and Transportation>Shuttle Bus Pass

Public Transport

There are not many bus lines in Okinawa, but you can use them to go to Naha (airport), Nago (aquarium), etc. You will need some coins or 1000 JPY notes to pay the fare (credit cards and mainland IC cards are not accepted). You can find bus information here, or use Google Maps or similar apps. Buses are often delayed for 10-20min, so expect a little bit of waiting time at the bus stops. An alternative are buses that run directly from the big hotels in Onna village to Naha airport (or to Nago), these go on the highways and are thus less likely to be delayed due to traffic, information here:
Within Naha city the Monorail is a convenient way to get around.


Occasionally you might want to call a taxi, which can be a challenge in Japanese. Often restaurant staff can help you, in other cases you can ask the OIST Resource Center or check this website for information about taxis in Okinawa: They recommend the DiDi or JapanTaxi apps as a convenient way to reserve taxis in advance. Some apps like Uber can also be used to request (regular) taxis in Okinawa, but there might be long wait times.
Okito Taxi also has an English reservation website where you can request a taxi pickup until noon the day before: (pick the empty, last entry for "Selected sightseeing course").

In Japan and Okinawa there is also a service called "Daiko", where a driver comes and drives your car home. This substitute driving service is convenient if you are too tired to drive back or drink alcohol, since the limit in Japan is 0 and the punishment for drinking and driving is strict.
The way it works is that two drivers with a car will come to pick you up. One of them drives you home in your car, and the other driver follows behind to pick up the first driver when you get to your destination.
You will see a Daiko Service list at restaurants that offer alcoholic drinks and at pubs. Please ask the establishment's staff to call Daiko Service for you or ask a Japanese-speaking friend to do so. More information on Daiko (and other public transportation) at the bottom of this page:

OIST Bike Share

Bicycles are another way to move around the island, although getting up the hill on which OIST is located is quite the challenge, especially in summer. The volunteer-run OIST Bike Share is an easy way to rent a (electric) bicycle and is available to our visitors free of charge.

There are several bicycles reserved exclusively for our visitors, please let us know if you are interested. By using one of these bicycles you agree to the bike-share club by-laws, which state that any damage or loss of the bicycle will be charged to the user (there is no insurance).