When you spend your time visit the islands of Okinawa, whether it’s for travel, work, being a digital nomad, or family it’s almost impossible not to visit Naha. On the list of things to do in Okinawa, so many take place in this historical city. Let’s check it out!
The capital city of the Okinawa prefecture, this is where everyone on the island comes together. It’s the hub of all Okinawa and has been one of the most important and populated locations of the entire country.
It is the center of all Okinawa has to offer. It’s economic, political, and education all stems from the city. This is a must stop for any would be traveler. Other places to not miss include Osaka – so check out the Osaka Guide!
A Short History
Did you know Naha is named after a word for mushroom? Japan has indigenous languages spoken in the Ryukyu Islands, the largest of which is Okinawa. The name Naha comes from large mushroom-shaped stone that was located in the city before time wore it away.
A small city, it was soon incorporated into the Ryukyu Kingdom during its rule between the 14th to 18th centuries. Because of this it became a major commercial center of the kingdom.
After the Ryukyu kingdom was replaced by the Ryukyu Domain in 1872, Naha became the capital city. Japan fully annexed them in 1879, renaming it as Okinawa prefecture with Naha remaining as the capital city. As time has gone on, Naha has coalesced as a fascinating multicultural city.
Now, let’s look at the thing you’ve been waiting for: Things to do in Okinawa, Naha City in focus.
Things to Do in Okinawa, Naha
There is so much to do here, it was hard to narrow down the list. Making Nara a base from which to explore the entirety of the island is a great idea, so here’s some things to do just around town.
Naha City Tug-of-War
A Guinness world record breaking event. Internationally recognized across the world as the largest tug-of-war, anyone can participate in this great event.
This will get your adrenaline pumping and the divine ceremonies will have you wondering why other countries haven’t taken a page out of Okinawa’s book and have done something similar.
With Naha as a major capital city, there are many internationally known events like this that occur in Naha city (and some you may not have heard about). All of these events bring hundreds to thousands of people all over Okinawa to participate in and view.
Kokusaidori, or Kokusai Street for short, literally translates to “International Street.” This is due to its restructuring during U.S. occupation as a main entertainment and shopping center located right in the center of Naha.
Stretching for over 2 kilometers, you’ll find the streets here lined with everything a modern traveler needs. Cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, boutique, and department stores. See local street performers of Okinawan music and dance.
If you’re looking for a good location to stay a few days while visiting the city this is the place to be. You’ll also find plenty of live music playing in this area. From traditional Okinawan music to rock and even jazz. There are plenty of options to choose from.
The local markets are also nearby as you head further down. More catered toward locals than tourists, you’ll find a plentiful of fruit stands and vendors selling meats and seafoods.
Treat yourself to some Habushu. This Okinawan snake wine is a treat you’ll be telling your friends and family’s when discussing your travel stories. See the Okinawan viper fermented in the awamori before taking a sip.
An Okinawan specialty, its distinct flavor and uniqueness is a great way to realize you really are in another country. No trip is complete without this unique experience!
Shuri Castle – One of the Best Things to Do in Okinawa
The palace of the Ryukyu kingdom, it was absorbed into Naha during its growth and has become a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the biggest attraction for tourists and local Okinawans as it is a symbol representing their history and culture.
The noticeable red tiles are what separates this castle from others located around Japan, marking it solely as that of Okinawa.
Currently, you’ll only be able to visit the areas around the castle as the main halls were destroyed by fire. It’s still an Instagram worthy picture to have of the front entrance but the government has been rebuilding the damaged areas with hopes to be completed by 2026.
It is a mix of both grand ancient architecture and these more recent renovations. If you are into traveling to learn the history don’t miss out on this place.
If you’re in the mood for a little hiking, this is a beautiful shrine that overlooks a beach by the same name. The beach provides a lovely setting for some swimming.
The shrine, however, is the star of the show. The name means “the shrine above the waves” and given its perch on the edge of a cliff, the title is accurate. It’s the most important shrine in the area and has a long history of involvement in the indigenous religions of the area and Shintoism. So, a little history and theology with your views!
Enjoy rafute, delicious pork ribs simmered slowly with the meat so juicy you won’t be able to put it down. This actually used to be part of the royal Okinawan cuisine that now we all enjoy.
Of course, you’ll have all other things to do in Okinawa with international cuisines like Italian, American, Indian, Chinese, and others so don’t feel like you need to stick to only one option. Take your time to do your research and find recommendations on the local hot spots or hidden food spots throughout the city. But rafute is pretty delicious!
You might think visiting a movie theater on vacation would be wasting your sight-seeing time. You’d be wrong! You will be hard pressed to find most of the films shown here anywhere else in the world.
Frequently, this theater shows locally made Japanese films. They are all in Japanese, of course, but sometimes you don’t need English to understand the feeling behind the art. It’s a great evening activity for film-buffs and anyone interested in some unique insight into Japanese culture.
Stay in Naha for at least a week. This will give you plenty of ample time to explore without feeling rushed or pressured to hit every spot before leaving. This is a great and active city that any person making their way through a Japan tour or just Asia in general should stop and visit.
Looking to extend your globe-trotting adventure? South Korea is home to some amazing places and flights can be as short as one hour away. Check out my guide to UNESCO sites in Korea.
You’ll notice some regional differences in food between Okinawa and mainland Japan. Okinawa soba is a main staple of the cuisine here in Naha, so no trip is complete without eating soba!
There are small subtle changes include the shape of these thick noodles, preparation of the soup broth, and even the toppings. It all varies and it’s quite the fun challenge to see if you can notice the differences.
Okinawan-style tempura is a light, fluffy, and unique dish compared to other tempuras. The difference is the rich and seasoned batter used. Taste over plain deep fried bater.
Similar to Okinawa soba, the tempura has a wide variety across the different regions of Okinawa. But Naha’s version is particularly delicious.
Things to do in Okinawa: Naha Hari
Dragon boat racing is a popular sport in Okinawa with many amateur and professional boat leagues, representing local businesses and state organizations across the Island.
This event is usually held between the end of April to the beginning of May, known as the “Golden Week”. Influenced by the Chinese it has become a major part of Okinawan life and is celebrated.
Naha port holds the biggest race but there are many smaller races held all over the island throughout the year. So don’t feel if you miss this one you won’t have another opportunity until next year.
Liked learning about all the things to do in Okinawa? Check out my other posts!
Shiru Castle photo provided by 663highland