Gateway to the paradise of Japan's southern islands
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: Okinawa (Naha)
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. There are plenty of restaurants serving up Okinawan food, and spots to cool off with a scoop 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, 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 pleasant 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 for strolling.
State of the art
The Okinawa Prefectural Museum opens in new window delivers a double-whammy of art and history. Exhibits cover the prefecture’s unique history and culture, including the folklore and crafts of the native Ryukyu, as well as the 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.
Distance to city centre 5km
Taxi A taxi to the city centre takes around 15 minutes and costs about JPY ¥1,000.
Monorail The airport monorail opens in new window takes 27 minutes to Shuri Station and costs around JPY ¥330.
Bus Take bus 111 opens in new window to Naha Bus Terminal to connect to other parts of the island; the journey takes about 20 minutes and costs JPY ¥220.Back to top
When to go
Naha is quite warm year-round, with temperatures rarely reaching the low teens, even in winter (though it can be a bit chilly for swimming). Summer sees daytime temperatures above 30ºC. April to June is rainy season, though with 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 opens in new window, connects travellers to most major tourist sites. One- and two-day passes offer unlimited rides and discounts on tickets to several popular attractions. The island’s bus system opens in new window is extensive but may be tricky to navigate without some Japanese.Back to top