Naha is the capital city of the Okinawa Prefecture, the southernmost prefecture and a popular starting point for tourists wanting to explore the sub-tropical part of Japan. Naha is by far the biggest city in Okinawa, home to 60 per cent of the main island’s residents. It is also home to Okinawa’s only public rail system, and the Okinawa monorail provides an easy route through the city to the old capital of Shuri. The city of Naha boasts an ancient castle, a vibrant shopping street, and many other attractions that make it well worth a visit.
Shuri Castle was built in the 13th century and served as the administrative centre and residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries until Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879. It is one of four castles designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Shuri Castle has been destroyed many times over the centuries, each time rising again from the ashes. The castle stands on top of a hill, providing a commanding view of Naha. The interior of the main building has been restored in its original style, while the North and South Halls have modern museums inside.
Activities: Castle visit Fee: JPY 400 Time required: 1 hour
Shikinaen Royal Garden
Built in the second half of the 18th century, the Shikinaen served as a secondary residence for the Ryukyu royal family and a reception hall for Chinese envoys. Surrounded by a gorgeous Japanese style landscape garden, the buildings’ architecture is a blend of Okinawan and Chinese elements which features relatively simple, wooden palace buildings with red tile roofs. While the garden is designed in a style seen elsewhere in Japan, the architecture and flora give Shikinaen a uniquely Okinawan flavour. (Image via Visit Okinawa)
Activities: Photo stop, Garden visit Fee: JPY 400 Time required: 30-45 minutes
Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum
This prefectural museum is a must-see for those who want to learn more about the nature, history, culture, and arts of the Ryukyu Islands. It walks you through the past of the region and its inhabitants, with its large collection of scale models and reproductions of historical artefacts, as well as some originals, and video documents. Other facilities include a cafe on the 3rd floor, and a media centre and a souvenir shop selling exclusive goods on the 1st floor. (Image via Official Website)
Activities: Museum visit Fee: JPY 530 (museum); JPY 400 (art gallery) Time required: 30-60 minutes
Fukushuen Garden was first opened in September 1992 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Naha and the Chinese city of Fuzhou. Everything, from the planning to the construction, was conducted with cooperation from Fuzhou workers (natives) to create an authentic Chinese style garden. Several bridges in a variety of styles extend over the pond, which houses koi and turtles, a symbol of longevity and wisdom in Chinese culture. Various flowers were chosen for their aesthetic qualities which allow the garden's appearance and atmosphere to change with the seasons. (Image via TripAdvisor)
Activities: Photo stop Fee: JPY 200 Time required: 30-60 minutes
Tsuboya Pottery District
Situated right in the centre of Naha, the historic potters’ district of Tsuboya offers a glimpse into the city’s past. The main street, Yachimun-dori, with its many cafés and pottery shops selling local “Tsuboya Ware--Okinawa's most famous pottery type. Okinawan pottery dates back to the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom before Okinawa was incorporated into Japan. The picturesque street of Tsuboya is lined by a multitude of shops purveying many different types of wares from crockery and cutlery to vases and even urns. (Image via Okinawa Travel Info)
Activities: Shopping, Photo stop Fee: None Time required: 30-45 minutes
Kokusaidori (literally "International Road") is Naha's main street, stretching for roughly two kilometres through downtown Naha. The familiar brands, chain stores, phone shops and convenience stores that are a familiar sight the world over are also present on Kokusai-dori, but the true atmosphere of the street is created by the many local stores, eateries, street vendors, covered markets, and performers. Many shops remain open until 10 pm, and live Okinawa music is played at several restaurants. (Image via GaijinPot)
Activities: Shopping Fee: None Time required: Minimum 1 hour
Sonohyan Utaki Ishimon
Sonohyan-utaki Stone Gate was built in 1519 and used as a prayer spot for the royal family. They prayed for a safe journey when the king went outside the castle. They also prayed here before embarking on pilgrimage and before the accession ceremony for the highest rank of a shaman, called Kikoe Okimi. The stone gate is made from Ryukyu limestone, except for the wooden door. This stone gate one of several sites which together comprise the UNESCO World Heritage Site officially described as Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. (Image via OKI Park)
Activities: Photo stop Fee: None Time required: 10-15 minutes
Undoubtedly Japan’s best aquarium, Churaumi introduces Okinawa’s marine creatures, starting with the naturally lit Coral Sea tank, which exhibits a large selection of coral reef. The enormous, dynamic Kuroshio Sea tank is where you can observe the world’s biggest fish as well as whale sharks and manta rays, which, in a world first, the aquarium has succeeded inbreeding.