In Okinawa, the main city is Naha. By “main,” I mean the place where the most number of people concentrate. Here you can find all you need and have good time.
I lived for more than one year next to downtown Naha. From my apartment it took me only 10 minutes on foot to go to the city. If you are so inclined, and if you have quite strong legs, you can walk throughout the city, because all the places of interest are near each other.
When people arrive in Okinawa, the first place they want to visit is Kokusai-dori or “Internationl Street.” For the Japanese, this one-mile area is to Naha as Broadway is to New York. Well, not exactly the same, but here you can find whatever a tourist need: souvenirs shops, traditional Okinawan restaurants with dance shows included, and a lot of bars that remain open until early morning.
If you want high quality souvenirs of traditional Okinawa handcraft like Sheesa, the mythological Okinawan lion that protects people from evil spirits, or other pottery handcraft goods, the right place is the Tsuboya pottery district. This area is situated next Kokusai-dori, at the end of Heiwa-dori. The Tsuboya pottery museum displays ancient masterpieces, historical artifacts of Okinawan pottery and also describes the history of this art. From here a lot of handmade pottery shops are located next to each other, selling original handcraft goods to the more elegant and refined tourists.
But if you aren’t searching for anything so traditional, or you just want to spend some time window-shopping, there is no better place than the shopping mall called San-A. Situated in Omoromachi, here you can find a big food supermarket, an electronic goods store, countless fashion stores, famous sports brand stores and a lot of different restaurants. In the same building there is also a multiplex cinema that shows all kinds of movies, from Hollywood blockbusters to Japanese and other Asian productions. I only went once, because the price of the ticket is too expensive, something like 1,600 yen, sometimes more.
If you are interested in something more sophisticated, you can visit the DFS (Duty Free Shop) Okinawa just out of the Omoromachi monorail station. In the same area, if you aren’t a big fan of shopping and crowded places, try Shintoshin Park. Here you can play tennis, basketball, soccer, baseball, skate, or sit under a tree and relax reading a book or just watching people running.
But in Naha there are other places where you can relax away from the crowd, even just for a while. Personally, when I was living in Naha, I had my favorite spots. Sea lovers without a car can’t enjoy completely Okinawa’s beautiful beaches, and using a bus is expensive and tiring. But fortunately just a few minutes’ walk from downtown Naha is a beach, albeit artificial and not very wide. This is Naminoue beach and here you can swim and do all the things you do at a normal size beach, because it’s fully equipped. And nearby there is a park where you can relax after swimming or organize barbeques booking the tables you need.
Another of my favorite spots when I was in Naha is Fukushuen Koen garden which is a symbol of the close relationship between Okinawa and China during the Ryukyu kingdom. It was built in 1992 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the bond of friendship between Naha City and China’s Fuzhou City. Here there is an artificial pond, where you can see koi (carp) and turtles and a few pavilions that are ideal to relax in, offering a peaceful view of beautiful flowers and threes. From the top of one pavilion, you can enjoy a view of the sea. I used to go there to relax and take pictures of colorful flowers and interesting perspectives. Alone, with friends, or for a romantic date, it is the perfect spot.
Naha has also a nightlife that is most active on weekends. The main spot is around Kokusai-dori, where almost all the clubs are concentrated. In the clubs you will see more foreigners that you ever thought, and not only Americans. I am not a big fan of these places because they tend to be the same all over the world, and the prices are quite expensive too. I prefer bars, where you can drink and talk with people without screaming. In Naha, you will find bars even in places you would never think they’d be. And that’s cool.
In Japan, Okinawa is the place to relax and chill out, even if you don’t have too much time. For only 10,500 yen, ANA can help you chill out.
By Carlo Fornari