Okinawa's largest city and its transportation hub, Naha is the gateway to paradise
Naha is the sister city of Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, and you could be forgiven for confusing the two. Not only do they share similar climates and geographies, but Naha is also home to several US military bases and the majority of the US forces stationed in Japan, which means that English is heard around town nearly as often as Japanese. Visitors are treated to an interesting mix of Japanese, American and the local Ryukyu culture when it comes to food. Try taco rice or Spam musubi if you’re feeling adventurous. Several stretches of sand are readily accessible via public transportation, including Manza, Moon and Zampa Beaches, and on rainy days there’s local art and history to discover at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum.
Things to do
Nearly every tourist in Naha takes a trip up the coast to Churaumi Aquarium opens in new window, which is considered the best in Japan. It’s home to one of the largest tanks in the world, big enough to hold whale sharks, manta rays and schools of their aquatic friends. In addition to the usual aquarium exhibits, there’s a hands-on tank and an outdoor arena for dolphin and sea lion shows.
Hit the road
Kokusaidori, literally “international road”, is a major thoroughfare and a great place for shopping, people watching and dining. Check the covered arcades branching off from the street for bargain-priced souvenirs and habu-sake, a local liquor with a pickled pit viper inside. Yunagi is said to dish some of the best Okinawan food in town and Blue Seal Lick Bit offers a place to cool off with a serving or two of the local ice cream.
Shuri was the capital of Okinawa’s native Ryukyu Kingdom and Shuri Castle opens in new window on the east side of town is a reconstruction of the home of their kings. From its hilltop perch, the castle offers eye-catching views of the city and the ocean beyond, and well as well-curated information on the history of the Ryukyu and a wealth of related artefacts.
Leaf it all behind
If you feel the need to escape Naha’s bustling crowds of shoppers and throngs of sunbathers, Fukushu-en Park opens in new windowmakes for a nice getaway that’s still within easy reach of the downtown area. The traditional Chinese garden, built in 1992 in honour of sister city Fuzhou, China, is free to enter and offers lots of shady nooks, soothing waterfalls and paved paths to stroll.
State of the art
The Okinawa Prefectural Museum opens in new windowdelivers a double-whammy of art and history. The history exhibits cover the prefecture’s unique history and culture, including the folklore and crafts of the native Ryukyu, while the art exhibits focus on homegrown creators of contemporary art. There are outdoor displays of traditional architecture and native flora and a hands-on exhibit where kids can play and learn at the same time.
Travel time 15 minutes
Taxi Approx JPY ¥1,000
Monorail to the city costs from JPY ¥230 to JPY ¥330
Bus Take bus 111 to Naha Bus Terminal to connect to other parts of the island; The journey takes about 20 minutes and costs JPY ¥220.
Airport Limousine Bus available from the airport to major resort hotelsIf you’re connecting to other parts of the island, take the 111 bus to Naha Bus Terminal for JPY ¥220. There’s also an Airport Limousine Bus to the major resort hotels. Ask at the information desk for fares to your hotel.The 15-minute journey to the city by taxi costs about JPY ¥1,000.Naha International Airport is linked to the city via monorail. Fares range from JPY ¥230-330, depending on where you disembark. Back to top
When to go
Naha is quite warm year-round, with temperatures rarely reaching the low teens, even in winter. However, clouds and rain can make it a bit too chilly for swimming in the winter months. Summer sees daytime temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.
April to June is the rainy season in Naha, though this tends to bring scattered showers more than sustained downpours. Avoid the Golden Week crowds at the end of April and typhoon season in September.
Some notable festivals in Naha are the 10,000 Eisa Dancers Parade in early August and the Naha Great Tug-of-War, registered as the world’s largest tug-of-war event, in October.Back to top
The Okinawa Monorail, also called Yui Rail, connects travellers to most major tourist sites. There are one- and two-day passes (JPY ¥700-1,200) that offer unlimited rides and discounts on tickets to several popular attractions.
The island’s bus system is extensive but can be hard to navigate without some Japanese. If you plan to travel beyond Naha, it may be worth renting a car.Back to top