6 Spots in Naha, Okinawa We Fell In Love With
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. 💖
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:
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:
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:
And here’s how the clothes change later on:
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:
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:
Around the temple you’ll also see these little stone guardians. They’re called shiisa and they’re all over the island:
#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:
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:
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:
#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:
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:
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:
Look at how orderly and neat everything there looks:
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!
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!
#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:
In Tsuboya you’ll see these creatures even on the roofs. Shops will usually put them to also showcase their skills:
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:
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 🙂