I suppose the best comparison I can use to describe Okinawa is that it's the Hawaii of Japan. Tropical beaches, warm temperatures, palm trees, and a culture that is very distinct from overall Mainland Japan.
Okinawa was called the Ryuukyuu Kingdom, previous to it's Japanese annexation during the Meiji Period. The Ryuukyuu Kingdom had a tributary relationship with China, and was strategically located between Japan and China, making it a thriving trading island.
After Okinawa was annexed by Japan in 1872, it was labelled Ryuukyuu-han and became a prefecture of Japan in 1879.
Later, after the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, in which one-fourth of Okinawans died, America set up millitary bases on the island.
The result of all this tulmultous history is an island with a mishmosh of faces, unique characteristics and languages. For example, "menso-re", not "yokoso", means welcome.
The architecture of Shuri-jo, an Okinawan castle, is distinctly Chinese styled.
Shishi-inu, or Chinese Guardian Lions stand proud at the entrance to many buildings.
And yet if you go just a few miles past Kokusai-dori, you end up at a boardwalk-styled "American Village", complete with a ferris wheel and an A&W's next to a sushi restaurant, hearing English and Japanese.
It is this blend of culture that makes Okinawa so special. Even the music is distinct, called "Shima Music" or Island Music. This sort of folk music is very popular, and you'll hear it interspersed with pop music on the radio.
Also unique is the main instrument. Called a sanshin, it is an earlier version of a shamisen with three strings and covered in snake skin. It is often accompanied by taiko drums.
But while Okinawa may be different from mainland Japan, it is still Japan. In fact, I found the Japanese regional accent easier to understand than Osaka-ben!
The one caveat I would say about Okinawa is that the infrastructure is like South Jersey. Many strip malls, small sidewalks, highways that don't make sense, and lots of traffic. There isn't any train system. And if the distance is too far to walk, that means that the only real method of transportation is taxi or bus.
But the view is more than worth it.