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Things to do in Okinawa: 6 Spots in Naha We Fell In Love With

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The moment we set foot in Okinawa, we felt that this place is somehow different. It wasn’t the typical Japan we had visited so many times.

Up until some 140 years or so, Okinawa was actually a kingdom – the Ryukyu Kingdom to be exact. The locals are Ryukyu people with their specific culture, attitude towards life, and an atmosphere you really can’t find anywhere else in Japan.

We fell in love with this small piece of heaven?

What are some things to do in Okinawa? Here’s our quick urban trip in the capital Naha. We’ll do another photo essay on the countryside soon!

Naha is actually a rather small city by Japanese standards. However, the place is full of exciting stuff – both cultural monuments and mundane fascinations.

#1 Ride the monorail!

There are only two monorail routes in Japan. One of them is in Osaka, the other is in Okinawa.

The Okinawan route is way cuter. It’s only a ~30 minute ride but that’s enough to marvel at Okinawa from above.

I’m not joking, look at how compact and clean the little trains are:

The Monorail in Okinawa: A Clean, Exciting Ride!

They’re well air-conditioned, as clean on the inside…and so and so you need the monorail to go to our next recommended spot!

#2 Shuri Castle

Yeah, this one is an obvious pick. It’s the most popular spot in Naha, but wow was it so much more than what we expected!

You’re first greeted by a long path, surrounded by ancient stone walls:

Stone Walls Around Shuri Castle

We recommend you to check the schedule for the Ryukyu traditional dance performance. It’s a 4-piece act that combines storytelling and dancing. It’s very traditional, here’s the breathtaking attire of the first act:

Shuri Castle Dance Spectacle: Act 1 With Traditional Clothes

And here’s how the clothes change later on:

Shuri Castle Dance Spectacle

The temple itself simply makes you feel respect. It’s main palette of shades of red, gold and white is supplemented by colorful ryukyu elements:

Shuri Castle: The Main Temple. An absolute amazing building

Inside sits the throne of the Ryukyu Kings. It’s not a huge monument like what you’d see in Game of Thrones…But gosh is it beautiful! That’s intricate craftmanship:

Shuri Castle: The Throne of Ryukyu Kings

Around the temple you’ll also see these little stone guardians. They’re called shiisa and they’re all over the island:

Small guardian in front of Shuri Castle, Okinawa

#3 Makishi Public Market

Makishi is somewhat popular, but still flies under the radar for a lot of people.

It’s a two-floor open market. The first floor has various fresh produce, mainly seafood. Here are the lobsters for example:

Lobsters in Makishi public market, Naha

On the second floor you have food stands and numerous tables. You just pick the ‘restaurant’ you want, sit down and wait for your food to arrive.

It’s relatively crowded and noisy, but we loved the atmosphere:

Food stalls in Makishi market, Naha, Okinawa

Unlike most other people, we didn’t order any fish. Instead, we went for lamb and another local specialty – pig’s feet.

They look gross, probably, but they tasted amazing:

A small meal in Makishi market. Features the Okinawan specialty - pig's feet!

#4 Small shopping streets & arcades

The center of Naha is full of small shopping streets. They become our favorite as you could explore so much and find underrated places that tourist guides don’t really mention.

Usually they’re full of really small bars or restaurants, and lots of small shops for everything you can imagine:

Wandering around the streets of Naha, Okinawa

By walking around one we actually found a real blast from the past: a retro gaming arcade! If you insert 100 yen (less than $1) you can play a few games from the late 80s/early 90s:

Retro arcades are quite popular in Okinawa, it seems. This one had dozens of old school games!

The arcade mainly had boys and men, but you could see the occasional girl mashing the buttons of the arcade too.

#5 Kokusai Doori

Translated as ‘International Street’, Kokusai Doori is the heart of Naha. It’s especially beautiful by night as there are many colorful elements brightening its lively face:

Kokusai Doori at night: Okinawa's nightlife spot!

Look at how orderly and neat everything there looks:

Kokusai Street: A real gem in the heart of Naha, Okinawa. Lots of restaurants too :)

Obviously, Kokusai Doori has a massive concentration of souvenir shops and restaurants. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can grab a bottle of habushu (snake sake.) Yes, they drink that!

Habushu: Okinawa's famous snake sake. Very expensive, but also incredibly hard to prepare!

Often you can see folklore demonstrations on the street during the day. This here is a troop of ryukyuu style dancers who relentlessly danced despite the sticky heat!

Street dancers performing on Kokusai street. Beautiful, energetic spectacle.

#6 Tsuboya Pottery Village

Remember the shiisa? That dragon-like creature?

Shiisa are actually half-dog, half-dragon, and are believed to protect the household. Usually they come in pairs. One is male, and the other female.

Tsuboya pottery village is a small street with numerous artisan shops that sell a lot of shiisa. Among other things, of course. Here are some shiisa designs:

Tsuboya pottery district is full of souvenir shops featuring shiisa, Okinawa's guardian statues.

In Tsuboya you’ll see these creatures even on the roofs. Shops will usually put them to also showcase their skills:

In front of houses, on their roofs...sculptures are everywhere around Tsuboya pottery village.

It’s a very calm, serene shopping district. We were lucky in that there weren’t any tourists at all when we strolled around Tsuboya. The shops themselves are often old houses that fit our definition of ultimate coziness:

A small house shop in Tsuboya, the pottery heaven of Okinawa.

OK, that just about wraps it up! Have you been to Okinawa? Did you visit some place that you’d recommend to us or our readers?

Let us know in the comments, please 🙂

Adventures, cute dogs and traveling over the world. I like writing about whatever's on my mind. Proud to have sparked Greg's interest in digital nomading 🙂

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