Visiting Okinawa – A City Guide
The Japanese island of Okinawa is known for its beaches, mountains and prime scuba diving spots in the East China Sea. The bustling capital city, Naha, attracts shoppers, diners and culture lovers. Smaller central villages like Onna are set amid spectacular coastal scenery.
Okinawa: city layout and top attractions
Okinawa is the main island in a larger chain of the same name. It lies more than 1,500 km south of Tokyo. Its subtropical climate, clear waters and picturesque coastal mountains make it a popular Japanese holiday destination. Near the south of the island, Naha has shops, bars and restaurants along its central thoroughfare, Kokusai Dori.
The island’s rich history is preserved at nearby attractions like Shurijo Castle and Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum. There are Okinawa hotels along the scenic west coast, where Onna serves as the gateway to a marine park. You can watch the sunset over the East China Sea from Cape Maeda and Cape Manza, a dramatic rock formation with hiking trails and tidal pools.
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Eating Out in Okinawa
Okinawa has its own distinctive cuisine, blending dishes from the Japanese mainland with Chinese and American influences. Stir-fry and pork belly are served all over the island. Okinawans often add koregusu, a spicy condiment of hot peppers, and awamori, a local liquor distilled from Thai rice.
Some Naha hotels are known for their restaurants. The city’s main street, Kokusai Dori, is lined with noodle shops and izakayas, taverns with extensive menus of small dishes. At nearby Makishi Public Market, you can pick out fresh fish from one of the stalls and have it fried, grilled or cut into sashimi at a restaurant upstairs. In and around Onna village, you’ll find upscale seafood restaurants with views over the East China Sea. The beachfront has plenty of casual dining options, including American-style burger bars and steakhouses. On hot days, you may see long lines forming at local sweet parlours for shaved ice.
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Shopping in Okinawa
Okinawa’s shopping mirrors mainstream Japanese trends, especially in the upscale malls and boutiques of the capital. But the island also has its own native craft shops, many specialising in local glassware, lacquerware and pottery, known as yachimun. Naha’s Tsuboya neighbourhood is known for its ceramic artisans and workshops. It has colourful pottery stores along Yachimun Street.
You can shop for designer fashions in the city’s trendy Shintoshin district, which has high-end malls at Naha Main Place and Omoromachi Station. Smaller island villages like Onna have local retail centres around their main stations. Near Onna Beach, you’ll find dive and surfwear shops.
Things to buy in Okinawa
Culture & Nightlife in Okinawa
Okinawan art and culture is rooted in the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Its traditions are preserved at the reconstructed Shurijo Castle, where festivals and rituals celebrate Ryukyu music and dance. Near Onna, Yamada Castle and the Nakadomari Ruins are part of the Kunigami hōsei kaidō, a historic trail of Ryukyu Kingdom sites along the west coast.
On Sundays, Naha’s Kokusai Dori is closed to traffic for parades and street performances. After dark, the street becomes the hub of Naha nightlife, with many busy bars staying open until dawn. The Shintoshin district has more upscale spots.
Even smaller island villages like Onna have bar scenes. Here, beachfront and clifftop venues provide live music and scenic backdrops for sunset cocktails.
Leisure in Okinawa
Okinawa is known for clear waters and soft, sandy beaches. Naha has its own city beach at Naminoue. It’s also a jumping-off point for day trips to nearby islets like Gahi Jima and Agenashiku Jima.
The west coast attracts sunbathers to sheltered spots like Manza Beach. The waters off Cape Maeda are especially good for snorkelling and diving. It’s an easy hike up Mount Onna for panoramic views over the village and shoreline.
Okinawa day trips