Okinawa is one of Japan’s best vacation sites—for both the Japanese and international tourists alike. The tropical waters make for oceanic adventures, and the historical locations throughout the islands are unique to Okinawa. Festivals and culture are abound wherever you go. Okinawans are always smiling and energetic, bringing sunshine to even cloudy days. No matter what you are searching for in Okinawa, you will find priceless memories and noteworthy adventures.
Kokusai Street – Starting with the most boisterous, international place first. Kokusai Street is a main thoroughfare through Naha and brings in more than 6 million tourists yearly. Souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, stalls and even Hawaiian style shirts can be seen everywhere. Be sure to pick up some Shisa for souvenirs! These little dog-like protectors come in pairs to ward off evil spirits. Also, don’t pass up the chance to venture the back alleys at night. The bars and izakaya offer up the best Okinawan experience out there.
Shuri Castle Park – Also located in Naha is the jaw-dropping Shuri Castle, a preserved relic of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had control over Okinawan from the 15th to 19th century. In 2000, the castle was adopted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. There are festivals that take place, a museum on site, and even various art exhibitions year round.
Address: Okinawa, Naha Shurikingo-cho 1-2
Nakagusuku Castle Ruins – Despite being just ruins now, Nakagusuku-jo is one of the top 100 castles in Japan. The curved walls are unique to the Ryukyu Kingdom construction. Other places around the castle grounds include the standing rear gate made entirely out of stone, the Ufugaa well, Miituugaa (married couple) well and the south enclosure, which has places of Shuri worship that is still used today.
The Ruins of Katsuren Castle – The oldest ruins on Okinawan Island date back to the 12th century. There is not much left of the castle, but that doesn’t matter when you consider the unobstructed view from the hilltop.
Address: Okinawa, Uruma-shi, Katsurenhaebaru 3908
Ishigaki Island – Part of the Iromote-Ishigaki National Park, the perfectly blue waters are incredibly clear. Snorkelers and scuba divers will have the time of their lives here, for there is an abundance of tropical sea life close to shore. Boats sail out to the island at varying times throughout the day. Or you can enjoy a quick plane trip via the New Ishigaki Airport.
Kouri Island and Sesoko Island – Because these two islands are close to each other, it is recommended to go island-hopping and use a single day to see everything offered here. Kouri Island is famous for its sea urchin or uni, pineapples, purple potatoes (so get that purple potato ice cream), sugar cane (a popular treat) and pineapples. People are super friendly on Kouri Island, so be ready to make friends. As for Sesoko Island, you will find Okinawa’s most beautiful sunset. The water is so clear you don’t even need to dive under the water to see the fish up close.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium – There is probably no cooler looking aquarium in the world. Aside from having 77 exhibition tanks, the Churaumi Aquarium also has the “Sea of Kuroshio Current” tank, the largest of its kind anywhere. You will feel as if you are standing in the middle of the ocean as whale sharks, sunfish and dozens of other species swim freely all around you. There’s also the deep water exhibit that reproduces the environment of the abyss. Other attractions at the aquarium include dolphin shows, a shark display and tropical fish tanks full of living rainbows.
Murasaki Mura Cultural Village – Did you know that Karate originated in Okinawa? There was a time when weapon usage was banned on Okinawa by the then ruling Ryukyu Kingdom. People had to learn how to fight with their hands, and so Karate was born. Thus, Okinawa is the best place for authentic training. At Murasaki Mura Cultural Village in Yomitan, you can do just that. The one-hour lesson can be taught in English for as little as 30 USD.
Address: Okinawa, Nakagamigun, Yomitanson, Takashiho 1020-1
Bonus: At Murasaki Mura, you can also make your own Okinawan-styled crafts, Ryukyu glass making and cloth dyeing.
Mihama American Village – Missing America (or have never been)? Get a taste of real American culture at this amusement park. The shopping center is full of American brand names and fixed to a huge cinema, amusement park and bowling alleys. If you are hankering for American restaurant cooking, you will find that some favorites, like Red Lobster, have set up shop here.
The Top Places to Eat
One of Okinawa’s greatest features would have to be the food. For the longest time, Okinawan diets provided the locals with longevity and fortitude. The focus on fresh fruits and vegetables (not rice, like the customary Japanese diet) is still a huge part of the food culture today.
Makishi Kosetsu Ichiba
This place is not one-stop shops but two of the island’s biggest food markets. So if you want to try a little bit of everything that Okinawa has to offer for a fair price, this is where you go. Nicknamed “the Kitchen of Okinawa,” Makishi Kosetsu Ichiba has been in business since before WWII. Tourists and locals enjoy walks through the aisles of vendors to capture images of freshly caught seafood, chiragaa (“pig’s face” in Okinawan), and other offerings like fish cake, porcupine fish soap, soba noodles, dried sea snake and sanda andagi, Okinawan’s doughnut. The second floor is where you can bring the ingredients you buy and have it whipped up for you to eat right there, steaming hot (or cold).
Address: Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo 2-10-1
Business Hours: April to October 8 am – 10 pm; November to March 9 am – 9 pm; closed on the fourth Sunday of every month and on New Year’s.
Type: Asian, Thai
Looking for a casual setting with good and friendly service? Time to give Som Chai a try. Get acquainted with the owners and they will surely remember your face, especially if you plan on coming back. Which is guaranteed, because Som Chai is something extraordinary. If you have a gluten allergy or dietary restrictions, never fear! There are items on the menu that are made specially for you. Besides, the owners are more than happy to accommodate.
Open for dinner only. Closed on Mondays. The usual hours are from 5:00 pm to 9:30/10:00 pm.
Address: 904-0004 Japan, Okinawa, Okinawa Prefecture Chuo 1-17-14
Phone number: (+81) 98-937-2208
Kramp Coffee Store
Need a morning or afternoon pick-me-up while roaming the city? Kramp Coffee Store is a best kept secret with big flavour for not-so-much money. You can order noodle bowls (heaped with egg, bacon, and vegetables for starters), French toast, café-shop specialities like Japanese cheesecake, and of course aromatic and freshly brewed coffee. The interior is plain but calming, so you can focus on your tasty treats.
The storefront is kind of hard to see, because it is fairly plain and the letting is small. Look for a white building with black awning and huge windows. Kramp Coffee Store is written on the left side.
Address: Okinawa, Awase 5-32-2
Phone number: (+81) 98-938-0833
Type: Restaurant and Bar
Affiliated with the Okinawa Grand Mer Resort, the Sheesah Lounge and Terrace boasts epic food, drink and merriment no matter the year. If you are one of those people that get giddy at the sight of a huge, wonderfully stocked bar, you will find yourself in heave here. Previous visitors rave about the night views from the terrace as well as the openness of the staff. Food has a whiff of American influence—stacked burgers with French fries, shrimp cocktails and steak.
Address: 904-2171 Okinawa, Yogi 2-8-1
Phone number: (+81) 98-931-1585
Type: Restaurant and Bar
Highly rated by locals and visitors, the island-themed Usagi-ya is a traditional Okinawa izakaya that offers more than a culinary experience. It is a cultural one as well. First, the dishes you receive are small but packed with flavor, typical of Okinawan cooking. Here you can try pan-seared goya (sea cucumber), Okinawan yakisoba, varieties of kelp, sushi, and Japanese-style fries then wash it down with Oricon beer or another local awamori. Next, is the nightly entertainment from 7-9 PM. Entertainers come in and do all kinds of performances; and that’s when the crowds get rowdy. If you have children in tow, go earlier.
Address: 907-0023 Okinawa, Ishigaki 1-1 Nakamura Heights 102
On the main street in Ishigaki by the ward office.
Phone number: (+81) 980-88-5014