How to see the best of Okinawa in a day
Naha is the entrance to the Japanese Prefecture Okinawa and there's so much to do in this city with the World Heritage-listed Shuri Castle a must.
- September 2018
Sub-tropical beauty, local flavour and Ryukyu heritage merge in Okinawa’s main city Naha.
9am Catch Some Sun
You can’t do Okinawa, oft dubbed the ‘Hawaii of Japan’, without visiting a beach. Beat the crowds and the midday sun with an early-morning trip from Naha to Cape Zanpa, a 30-minute drive to the north. The beach here is one of the prettiest on the island, with fine, soft sand and clear, blue water. Anti-jellyfish nets, lifeguards, a beach house for snacks and showers, rental parasols and activities such as banana boat rides make it especially good for families.
11:30am Work Up An Appetite
Head back to central Naha for the Makishi Public Market, just off the main thoroughfare Kokusai-dori, to discover some of the weird and wonderful produce that makes Okinawan food so distinct – from tropical fruit and a vibrant array of seafood and seaweed through to pigs’ ears and trotters. Don’t miss the food court on the second floor for casual Okinawan comfort food such as soki soba (a bowl of noodles in hot broth topped with pork-rib meat).
1pm Beer O’Clock
Check out the colourful shops on Kokusai-dori, which range from touristy to traditional craft outlets. If you need a beer to cool down with, try Helios. Its five year-round brews include a refreshing German-style lager and a British pale ale, plus the signature Goya Dry, which packs a kick from its use of Okinawan bitter gourd (goya).
2pm Potter Around
For a very different vibe take a short walk to the Tsuboya pottery district. Start with the Tsuboya Pottery Museum to get a sense of the variety of locally made Tsuboya-yaki and its deep roots here, then browse the ceramic shops on Tsuboya’s main drag.
4pm A Touch Of History
Okinawa was an independent kingdom called Ryukyu from 1429 to 1879. Take a short trip on the metro out of central Naha to Shuri Castle, a mix of ruins, reconstructions and other attractions, and one of the more interesting Ryukyu sites on the main island. The hilltop location affords great views back over Naha, and although the current structures are 1990s replicas of the late 1300s originals, the vivid red design is strikingly different to castles elsewhere in Japan.
7pm Regional Specialties
Before leaving Shuri, eat at Ashibiuna, which specialises in classic Okinawan flavours. It occupies a storied wooden building on land that has a history stretching back to the 15th-century Ryukyu Kingdom, with low tables looking out onto a landscaped garden. If you are feeling brave, try the mimiga (vinegared pig ear), tonsoku (stewed trotter) or raw goat washed down with some of the fiery local awamori spirit. At the very least, try the goya-champuru (a stir-fry of bitter gourd, pork, tofu and egg).