Get to Know Naha
These three themed tours are the perfect way to explore Okinawa’s capital
The city of Naha is multifaceted. It was the main port and trade hub in the heyday of the Ryukyu Kingdom, where cultural elements from mainland Japan, China, Korea, and other parts of Asia were blended into something distinctly Okinawan. It continues to be the vibrant heart of Okinawa’s main island, with tons to see and do. With an extensive monorail system and a taxi just a hail away, exploring different aspects of the prefectural capital is easier than ever. Dive deep into Okinawan culture with compact tours of its history and culture, its art scene, and its vibrant culinary traditions.
Naha has many locations with direct connections to the Ryukyu Kingdom, where visitors can revel in the atmosphere of a bygone era. Follow this itinerary to journey back through Okinawa’s rich history.
Thanks to many generous donors, the Naha City Museum of History has a large collection, ranging from National Treasures like documents related to the Ryukyu kings, to arts, crafts, and other historical artifacts. It is conveniently located in Palette Kumoji, the department store near the Okinawa Prefectural Government Office. Take a quiet moment away from the clatter of the city and learn about how the unique culture and identity of Okinawa and its people developed through its history.
From the Naha City Museum of History, ride the Yui Rail from Prefectural Office Station to Shuri Station to visit Tofu Shop Beans. This hole-in-the-wall cafe-restaurant specializes in yushi dofu, a soft, creamy type of tofu commonly used in Okinawan cuisine, and sometimes as a topping for Okinawa soba. The menu features tofu-centered dishes in a range of styles and flavors, from traditional Okinawan to Chinese- and Korean-inspired dishes. All of the tofu served is made in-house.
From Tofu Shop Beans, it is about a 5-minute walk to SHURIJO CASTLE PARK. Shurijo Castle was the center of politics, diplomacy, and culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The castle’s Seiden main hall, and some of the surrounding structures were lost in a fire on October 31, 2019. Since then, the park has steadily expanded areas for visitors to view, taking firm and positive steps on the road to restoration. The park grounds are perfect for a pleasant stroll. There are many interesting spots to see, such as the Sonohyan Utaki Stone Gate (Sacred site), which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, among others.
Just five minutes on foot from Shurijo Castle Park, SHURI RYUSEN is the first bingata dyeing research lab in Okinawa. It was established in 1973 with the objective of preserving and innovating the art of bingata dyeing. While there, visitors can try their hand at traditional dyeing experiences, or pick up some traditional textiles to take back home.
From Shuri Ryusen, hop on a 15-minute taxi to visit the Shikinaen Royal Garden. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Shikinaen was the largest secondary residence for the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom, who used it as a retreat and to entertain visiting foreign envoys. This garden is a strolling garden, with a large pond in the center constructed in the shape of the Chinese character for “heart.” Take a rest at the elegant gazebo on the small island in the center of the pond, and appreciate the peaceful atmosphere of this natural oasis in the middle of the city.
This second itinerary is for those who want to explore some of Okinawa’s traditional arts and crafts, and maybe take a piece home with them.
Start your journey at the RESORT DEPARTMENT STORE OKINAWA (*only in Japanese), which sells specialty goods from across the islands. It is a place to find great gifts, souvenirs and a variety of items to meet every lifestyle, from novelty items to bespoke works of art. Adjacent to the department store is Rakuen Cafe, which serves a delightful vegan menu of Okinawan food and drinks
All that shopping is sure to have worked up an appetite. Walk 15 minutes to Shokudo Faidama (*only in Japanese), a restaurant conceived to “deliver the scents of the islands to the streets of Naha.” The extensive menu at this foodie paradise (faidama actually means “foodie” in the local dialect) is served on beautiful pieces of Okinawan yachimun pottery.
Just a five-minute walk from the restaurant, Select Shop GARB DOMINGO sells a range of products handmade by different artists. The merchandise includes pottery, lacquerware, bingata dyes, textiles, glassware, and more. These items incorporate traditional style and beauty, but at the same time, are designed to meet the modern lifestyles. The proprietors aim to create a shop that sells merchandise that connects with the climate, atmosphere, and unique characteristics of Okinawa. They want the shop to be a point of interchange where people dispersed around the world can find and collect bits and pieces of Okinawan culture.
Another short walk away, Fukurasha (*only in Japanese) is on the second floor of Sakurazaka Theater, a well-known independent theater in Naha. This shop sells a selection of arts, crafts and sundries that are both traditional and modern. The shop’s motto is “to continue our pursuit of items with Okinawan soul, and to bridge artisans and people.” Incidentally, the name of the shop comes from the lyrics of Kagiyade-Fu, a classical Okinawan music piece, from the line, chu-nu fukurasha (which means “today’s pride”). True to its name, Fukurasha proudly offers items born from the unique culture of Okinawa, such as tsuboya-yaki pottery pieces, a wide selection of textiles made with distinctive dyeing and weaving techniques, and hand-blown glass pieces.
A 10-minute walk from Fukurasha, Okinawan cafe BUKU-BUKU (*only in Japanese) is located along the charming, stone-paved road called Yachimun Street in Tsuboya, an area with numerous shops offering beautiful Okinawan pottery. The teahouse serves buku-buku cha, a unique Ryukyuan tea. Okinawan people enjoy buku-buku cha during special celebratory occasions, and to bid someone a safe journey. Its distinctive feature is the highly aromatic foam placed on top of the tea. The teahouse is also known for their zenzai, a sweet bean dessert that brings out the best of the local Okinawan ingredients, all served from carefully selected yachimun pottery tableware. In the gallery next to the teahouse, yachimun pottery, Ryukyu glass, bingata dyes, and various other merchandise are for sale.
Another 10-minute walk, Gallery-shop RENEMIA (*only in Japanese) stands in a quiet area facing the lush greenery of Makishi Park, and offers a variety of arts and crafts. The husband-and-wife owners are local Okinawans, and an artistic power couple who work as a designer and an illustrator. They treasure the feelings they share with producers, creators, and makers of the arts and crafts. The shop offers merchandise from pieces they co-worked designing and developing to a selection of works by artists based in Okinawa. The shop also holds art shows and themed exhibits.
This trip will take travelers through Naha’s winding streets on a journey to sample the unique flavors of Okinawa.
Start your culinary journey at Makishi Public Market, a place that locals refer to as the “Kitchen of Okinawa.” Soak in the market atmosphere while browsing fresh-caught seafood, delicious meats, local produce, ready-to-eat foods, and more! Take your purchases to the second floor, where the staff will cook you a hearty lunch.
Walk along the narrow Ukishima Street near the market, where there are shops that offer a wide selection of merchandise, as well as numerous cafes and restaurants. Step in and browse the shops that appeal to you, and enjoy your time looking for something that catches your eye.
From Ukishima Street, head toward the Heiwa Street shopping arcade. This retro shopping street is chock full of stores, and a great place to pick up a souvenir. There are many bars and restaurants in the area that offer senbero specials, which typically include drinks and an appetizer for only 1,000 yen.
Keep walking to reach Kokusai Street’s Yataimura (*only in Japanese). This is a great area to enjoy delicious local food prepared with ingredients and original recipes from the smaller islands of Okinawa. The area has many yatai food stalls for customers to enjoy. Savor delicious dishes and tasty drinks while you enjoy live music, dance, and other entertainment on a small stage.
From there, hop on a 30-minute taxi to Umikaji Terrace senagajima, on the outskirts of Naha in Tomigusuku. Here, the shop-lined terraces of Senaga Island offer spectacular views of the nearby seaside. There are over 40 shops, some of which serve delicious gourmet dishes and various types of sweets with fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients that are uniquely Okinawan.
Ryukyu Onsen Senagajima Hotel is located on the top of the hill over the Senagajima Umikaji Terrace, featuring a spa with a natural hot spring. The facility is open for the general public, not just the guests of the hotel. You can take some time out to enjoy a bath in the waters of the hot spring.