Thinking of visiting the islands of Okinawa? With great weather, gorgeous beaches, delicious food and a fascinating mix of cultures, Okinawa is entirely unique from the rest of Japan and well worth the trip. Naha is home to the main international airport in Okinawa meaning you will likely pass through during any trip to Okinawa. While not famous for its beaches, this modern, clean city of white buildings is worth budgeting a few days to explore. Read on to find out a few of our favorite things to do when in Naha.
Do some shopping on Kokusai Dori, Heiwa Dori and surrounding shopping streets
Naha has some remarkably large and varied shopping streets in the central city with food, drinks, art, souvenirs, clothing, beauty products and much more. One of the most well-known of these is the touristy Kokusai Dori, a wide main street with cool souvenir shops alongside relatively pricey tourist-targeted restaurants. Heiwa Dori is a busy shopping arcade with no vehicles allowed lined with stores, also largely geared at tourists but a lot more charming than Kokusai. We would suggest visiting both, but also exploring the parallel shopping streets and small lanes to see a slice of local life. Heiwa Dori is also more interesting for its mixture of local food stands, restaurants and bars mixed in with shops waiting for you to discover a hidden gem. You can visit Kokusai Dori and Heiwa Dori and see shops open from 10 am until after 10 pm at night, but many shops will close earlier than this when it gets dark.
Visit Pottery Street
Just a hop-skip and a jump from Heiwa Dori is Pottery street (Yachimun Street), a 300-meter street home to around 45 pottery makers. These shops largely showcase beautiful, traditional arayachi (unglazed, original used for liquor storage) and joyachi (glazed) style pottery pieces for serving food and as ornamental art, but you can also find modern pottery too. Aside from admiring and buying pottery, pottery-making classes are offered in some stores, and a visit to the Tsuboya Pottery Museum can give you some history about the area. The whole street is very photogenic with pretty buildings, pottery displays and as a bonus it’s is home to some cute cats, so bring your camera! The museum is open between 10 am and 6 pm and the pottery shops have similar hours.
Get inside the remarkable Gyoku Sendo Caves
Not far from Naha is a must-see natural wonder, the seemingly endless, 300,000-years-in-the-making Gyoku Sendo limestone caves. To get inside, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to Okinawa World, a touristy theme park famous for its snake show and traditional handicraft village. The caves are vast with 850m open to the public with amazing stalagmites and stalactites that have been thoughtfully lit up for your admiration. The cave remains a comfortable 21 degrees all year round, making it the perfect midday escape when it gets hot. The path to walk through the caves is well-maintained (but wet due to dripping water) and not strenuous. Remarkable cave features are helpfully sign-posted to draw your attention to them too. You can access the caves between 9 am and 6.30pm with an entry ticket to Okinawa World Theme Park (1,700 JPY or 15 USD for adults, 850 JPY or 8 USD for kids)
Try some local delicacies
If you’ve never had the chance to sample it, Okinawan cuisine might surprise you its unique flavors. Taco rice is one such dish and is essentially Tex-Mex-style taco filling (ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and salsa served on rice). Bitter melon (goya) also features heavily in traditional Okinawan cuisine with a popular dish being stir-fried egg, spam, and goya with rice (goya champaru) described as Okinawa on a plate. Pork is also popular in the cuisine with many pork soups like the extremely popular Okinawa soba – thick wheat noodles with slow cooked pork ribs and clear soup. Rafute is also a popular dish of pork belly simmered in sugar and soy. Umi budo is a must-try vegetable side-dish – called sea grapes in English. Umi budo pops in your mouth when you eat it with a distinct salty flavor and is great with tangy dipping sauce. Not to forget the sweet tooths among us, sata andagi, or Okinawan donuts, are a popular crunchy, deep-fried treat with a cakey center. These come in many delicious flavors such as sweet potato and black sugar.