Naha is the main city in Okinawa and probably the main base for most people when they visit Okinawa for the first time. There are a lot of things to do but it is also very touristy. You can really feel the difference in history for Naha compared to the rest of Japan and the influences of the military not only on how things look but also in the cuisine. While many people don’t need a lot of time in Naha, I still spent quite a bit of time there and got to know the typical tourist areas as I didn’t have a car to get around.
The central area of Naha is Kenchomae. Literally translated it is in front of the Okinawa Prefectural Office Building. The main section to look at is Kokusai-dori, or International Street. It is roughly a 2 km stretch from the Okinawa Prefectural Office Building to Makishi Station. It is a typical tourist street with a lot of tourist shops. There used to be many older local restaurants but they are being pushed out by higher rents and tourist attractions that can afford the higher rents. It is a very bright and lively place but not a place that you visit if you want to see lots of locals.
Near the middle of Kokusai-dori is a Don Quijote; next to Don Quijote is the entrance to Ichiba Hondori, a shopping street that is very long and confusing. The adjacent Mutsumibashi-dori is what I would consider part of this area that stretches into the back streets of Naha from Kokusai-dori. It is really hard to explain what is in this area or what to call it as it can also be called the Makishi Public Market area or whatever the different names of the different shopping arcades are. A friend of mine was showing me around the labyrinth of streets and I was utterly lost. It was a lot of fun and interesting and was more of a Japanese tourist area than an international tourist area that is Kokusai-dori. Needless to say, I liked this area more.
Asahibashi is a relatively less visited area of Naha that has a few interesting sights to see. I didn’t find it particularly interesting but I did notice a lot of hotels in the area as well as the famous Jack’s Steak House, or as the locals call it, Jackie. I had a nice walk in this area to see some of the homes but do be aware that it can be considered a red light district if you venture far from the station. I was walking to Naminoue Beach and while I didn’t feel scared, I could see the cheap homes and what appeared to be sketchy businesses, but in the daytime there is no problem walking around here. For most people, if you are in the hotel area of Asahibashi, it is perfectly safe.
Naminoue Beach and Naminouegu is a shrine and beach complex that has the only public beach in Naha. There are a few beaches just outside Naha’s city limits but Naminoue Beach is the only one within walking distance of Kokusai-dori. It takes about 20 minutes to walk there and the beach is nice enough. If you look at pictures before you go you will notice 3 large bridges for traffic to the airport and it does completely ruin the view. The beach is nice though and if you don’t care about the view it is a nice place to relax. Naminouegu is also a really nice shrine and only takes a few minutes to visit.
If you have a car you can head to the southern tip of Naha Airport and visit Senaga Island. My friend was kind enough to drive me there and I was able to enjoy the nice views of the airport. There are a lot of different viewing points around the island and I would have loved to check out all of them. The main point of Senaga Island is the resort area. There is a small shopping area called Umakaji Terrace. It was designed to look similar to a Greek village akin to Santorini, but without the blue roofs. The small blocks of shops were mostly cafes and other places that are popular for dates but be careful on really sunny days as the off white paint can make the area very bright on the eyes. The Ryukyu Onsen and Senagajima Hotel is also really nice and worth a visit if you want to enjoy views of the ocean while soaking in the hot spring.
The main tourist attraction in Naha has to be Shuri Castle. It is a wonderful Ryukyu style castle right in the middle of Naha. It is located a good 15 minute walk from Shuri Station and worth a visit. It is always busy, especially in the morning when the buses full of school kids and Chinese tour groups come. It was hell to visit in the morning and I wish I had visited in the afternoon instead when things are quieter. There are good and bad times to visit so plan accordingly.
Naha is a wonderful city to visit and I really enjoyed it. I would love to go back again, especially in a warmer month where I can enjoy the sea. There is a lot to eat in Naha and I unfortunately didn’t get to eat all of it. You can be sure that I will be going back again in the future but at this moment I have no plans. It is definitely not difficult to get around Naha and see all of the sights and a lot of places are friendly to English speaking tourists. You just have to be careful of the real tourist areas as they may not be the best places to visit.
- Okinawa Island (Japan Guide)
- Naha (Japan Guide)
- Naha Kokusai Shopping Street (Official Site – English)
- Naha Kokusai Shopping Street (Official Site – Japanese)
- Makishi Public Market (Official Site – English)
- Makishi Public Market (Official Site – Japanese)
- Jack’s Steak House (Official Site – Japanese Only)
- Naminoue Beach Park (Official Site – Japanese Only)
- Naminouegu (Official Site – English)
- Naminouegu (Official Site – Japanese)
- Umikaji Terrace (Official Site – Japanese)
- Ryukyu Onsen & Sengajima Hotel (Official Site – English)
- Ryukyu Onsen & Sengajima Hotel (Official Site – Japanese)
- Shuri Castle (Official Site – English)
- Shuri Castle (Official Site – Japanese)