Translated by Lester Somera
7 Things To Do In Naha, Okinawa
Written by miya-nee（みやねえ）
Naha, the most densely populated city in Okinawa, is a thriving area with restaurants, hotels. This article covers different sightseeing spots and recommended activities to make your Naha trip one to remember.
Enjoy a Stroll and Cuisine in Okinawa, the Former Ryukyu Kingdom
Naha, Okinawa, where Naha Airport is located, is home to the Shuri district, an area with strong vestiges from the kingdom of Ryukyu (*1). Naha also contains International Street, bustling with tourists, and Naha Shintoshin town planning project.
It is a sightseeing area with a metropolitan feel, letting you stroll through a nostalgic and historic town. Visitors can maneuver through city using the Okinawa Urban Monorail.
There is also a port with boats that service the outlying islands, which is very convenient for staying at a different locations during your trip. This articles introduces the places we recommend visiting in Naha.
*1: Ruled by the Ryukyu dynasty. The kingdom of Ryukyu existed for 450 years, from 1429 to 1879.
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1. Explore the History of the Ryukyu Kingdom at Shuri Castle Park
Located 20 minutes away from the Shuri monorail station on foot, Shuri Castle Park, a registered World Heritage Site.
This was the court of the Ryukyu dynasty, which ruled over what is now Okinawa for 450 years. Pass through the Shurei Gate, a famous photo spot, and head to higher ground to arrive at the impressive vermilion-lacquered main building.
For an admission fee, you can go inside for up to 60 minutes to see the king’s throne and queen’s chambers, as well as art objects and other items, as you experience the history of the Ryukyu dynasty era.
2. International Street, A Shopping Avenue Busy with Visitors
Picture courtesy of Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau
Naha’s International Street was known post-WW II as the miracle mile for its almost-instantaneous reconstruction. With rows of souvenirs and restaurants, it is a staple sightseeing spot for visitors to Okinawa.
Popular spots to visit include the central Makishi Public Market, dining establishments and the Don Quijote, Japan’s largest discount store.
If you’re going for a stroll at night, there are izakaya where you can listen to performances of traditional Okinawa folk music and shamisen players.
Access: Ten minutes away from the Kentencho-mae or Makishi stops on the monorail on foot
Homepage: International Street
3. Okinawa Nature, History and Culture at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum
Picture courtesy of Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum, designed to look like Okinawan castle ruins, is located in the part of Naha known as Naha Shintoshin.
Here you can view exhibits on Okinawa’s subtropical nature, its culture and history during the Ryukyu dynasty, as well as when it was under control by the United States. You can also learn about Okinawan folklore and archaeology.
At the art museum, there are primarily displays of artwork relating to Okinawa from artists inside and outside the prefecture. The exhibits change seasonally, and you can also view old Japanese-style kominka homes and art pieces outdoors.
4. Food and Drink at Makishi Central Market
Picture courtesy of Naha
Enter the main market street off the central part of International Street and you will arrive at the Makishi Central Market. The first floor sells fresh fish and meat, with colorful fish and unusual seafood, pigs’ feet, and other products.
The second floor has rows of restaurants serving Okinawan cuisine and seafood.
The area’s retro vibe makes pleasant to stroll through back streets, and the standing bars and izakaya allow you to enjoy get a glimpse of daily life in Okinawa.
5. Experience Traditional Okinawan Art with Tie-dye
Picture courtesy of Shuri Ryusen
At traditional Okinawan dyed cloth workshops and some tourist establishments, you can try your hand at tie-dye. Choosing a pattern and dyeing cloth is a popular activity, and you can bring home your finished product.
At Shuri Ryusen in Shuri, you can try your hand at original sango-style dyeing, an activity taking about 40 minutes.
Shuri Ryusen has a workshop allowing you to observe the dyeing process and also see displays of antiques like lacquerware and ceramics related to the Ryukyu dynasty.
6. The Local Shopping Center, San-A Naha Main Place
At San-A Naha Main Place, a major shopping center frequented by local residents, you can check out major electronics retailers and Tokyu Hands. It is also convenient for buying foodstuffs in bulk. On the first floor there is an Okinawa souvenir corner that is notable for its snack variety.
Ingredients for the Okinawan dish taco rice, instant soba, Okinawan seasonings and other items used by the local community of Naha can be purchased here. It is thrilling to walk through the spacious supermarket.
7. Take a Keepsake Photo Dressed in an Okinawan Kimono
How about having a photograph in an Okinawan kimono to remember your trip by?
There are shops on International Street and around Shuri Castle with spots to take photos. These kimonos, called ryuso, were worn during the Ryukyu Dynasty. Today, they continue to be used in Ryukyu dances, primarily within Okinawa.
Women wear colorful traditional dyed kimonos and hanagaki conical hats, while men wear kimonos with splash patterns and hachimaki headbands. Sometimes you can simply put the kimono on over your clothing.
It takes about 15 to 30 minutes in total to get your picture, from choosing the kimono to taking the photo.
Tips for Enjoying the Night in Naha
We recommend staying for a night in Naha if you arrive at the airport in the evening, or spending an evening sightseeing in Naha before returning home. The monorail from Naha Airport to Shuri Station is cheaper than in other regions (around 550 yen/1.75km), and allows for convenient travel when paired with taxis.
If you’re taking a boat to an outlying island in the morning, you can get to the port quickly via taxi.
Get dinner and take a stroll on International Street, see the lit-up Shuri Castle from Shuri Station on the monorail, and enjoy the Naha night view. With a half day, you can see a different side of Okinawan, visiting Tsuboya Yachimun Street, with ceramics and antique goods, Makishi Central Market, the Shuri district, and retro back alleys.
Try Popular Regional Cuisine
Okinawa soba is something you absolutely must try tasting. The thickness and shape of noodles varies by island and region, and each shop prepares their soup in a different way. The soup stock is derived from sources like pork bones and bonito flakes. One recommendation is the soba at Okinawa Soba Eibun.
Two popular local staples are rafte, slowly-simmered pork ribs, and champuru, a mix of stir-fried bitter melon and tofu. We recommend the traditional-style izakaya Urizun for people who want to enjoy Okinawan cuisine.
Some more unusual dishes include tebichi, simmered pig’s feet with collagen, and goat dishes like goat sashimi and pungent goat broth.
At Oden Todai and Maruman, you can have delicious meals. Light and fluffy battered Okinawa-style tempura, seaweed, sea grapes, and rakkyo pickles in early spring, are popular and tasty examples of Okinawan food.
To try Okinawa-style tempura, we recommend Goyatempura-ya near the the Makishi Public Market.
Souvenirs You Have to Get In Okinawa
Chinsuko, purple yam tarts, sata andagi
Okinawa-style chinsuko cookies, and Okinawa-style fried donuts known as sata andagi are staples if you’re buying souvenirs from Okinawa.
Traditional art products with modern touches, as well as products in simple packaging made with local ingredients, are popular. Take a stroll down the supermarket aisle to discover Okinawan food you can only find locally.
Have a Memorable Trip in Naha
Naha is a prospering economic center and Okinawa’s largest city. The area has much variety to offer, with Shuri, etched in Ryukyu history, retro neighborhoods around the public market, and the metropolitan Naha Shintoshin. Its rows of restaurants and shops make it a perfect place for sightseeing.
With Naha Airport being close by, it is easy to enjoy the city of Naha during the day and at night and be entertained by the mixture of old and new landscape in Okinawa.
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