Naha - Port Guide
Where is the ship/how to get to the sights?
Winter Oct-Feb, a not too cold 10-18 degrees Celsius, with no snow. Spring: Mar-May 18-24 degrees. Summer: 24-30 degrees. This is Japan’s sunny southern island.
Sights & Sites
- Fukusyuen Gardens – Costs 200 yen (just under $2). This is the closest attraction to the ship at the most a10 minute walk away. It is on the city map, (attached below) which you can pick up free in the terminal. They are beautiful gardens, very pleasant and peaceful to walk around. There is info on the leaflet attached below (you can pick these up free at the gate too on the way in). There are lovely ponds with carp, altars, small shrines and bridges, which are very pretty and well worth seeing. It is possible to see these gardens even if you only have an hour or so off the ship.
- Ocean Expo Park with beach – you can take bus here if you have whole day, but you need to take two buses. The first one takes an hour, then the second another 40 minutes. It is a large famous aquarium and theme park. It is popular so could be a good choice if you have a lot of time. It is possibly available on guest tours.
- Shuri-Jo Palace – Visit the palace and its complex (see attached map). This is the major historical site in Naha. The entry cost is 800 yen. There is the actual castle but also the beautiful gardens around it and the whole compound to see. This is worth visiting if you have some time to spend at it, I would suggest allow at least 90 minutes at the castle.
- Peace Park – This is free to visit, (shown on attached map). It is a serene, pretty place.
- Kokusai-Dori – This is Naha’s Main Street. It is situated only about 10-15 minutes walk from the ship, (just follow the attached map). In the terminal they will give you maps of town too for free. It is filled with lots of shops, souvenir stores, restaurants etc.
- Makishi Market – This is a covered market open from 10am-8pm, situated at the East end of the street, opposite the Mitsukashi store.
- Tsuboya District – This is the oldest area of the town, and is where you can find the traditional Naha pottery, which is an ancient art form in this area. The craftsmanship is exquisite, and lovely to see even if you do not intent to buy anything. There are many small family run art galleries where you can actually watch the artists and artisans working on their pieces. They are not cheap, but are very beautiful and nice for a special gift for someone.
Pottery is the best local product to buy here. Head to the Tsuboya District to see the artists at work in their small, family run traditional studios then take home an authentic, gorgeous piece. Kokusai-Dori is the main drag, and is home to many tourist souvenir shops so is the place for general shopping and gifts. Makisi Market is the place to find small gifts and possible bargain souvenirs, as well as some hand made kimonos.
Shisa is the dragon protector of Okinawa, and you can buy him, usually in pairs, for your home to ward away evil spirits. Shisa is found in every souvenir shop and in Makishi Market in the form of large or small statues, all the way to tiny ornaments and key chain size. The healing mud of Okinawa hot springs out in the countryside has even been put to use in Shisa facemasks, which make you look like a dragon while purifying your complexion.
If you only have two hours
Head to Fukusyuen Gardens and enjoy the tranquility there, for only 200 yen (just under $2). Or if you want to check out the town centre, take a brisk walk to Kokusai-Dori, which will probably take only 15 minutes from the ship, and enjoy a wander around the stores and sights there. Note that Makishi Market is on the East end of the street, which is the opposite end from the ship entry point, so a little too far to get to in this time walking, so if you are keen on the Market and don’t have too long, you can take a metered cab from the ship terminal. There is free Wi-Fi in the ship terminal so if you need to catch up on anything online, the speed is quite decent there to use it without having to go further out.
What is it known for?
Naha is known for being the main city on Okinawa Island, and the capital of the ancient Ryuku Kingdom. Okinawa has a milder climate than the rest of Japan, being the southernmost island. Okinawa is known as having the longest life expectancy in the world, with many people living over a century, due to their healthy way of life. Many Japanese people, as well as foreigners come to Okinawa to vacation for the warmer climate as well as the onsens, sea, and slower, healthier pace of life.
Food & Drink
Ryuku dishes – Ryuku is the ancient kingdom that lived on Okinawa Island for hundreds of years and is now new Japan. However the cuisine is still here, and is very good. If you can, try the local curry, Ryuku curry, it is not strong in spiciness, but delicately and perfectly flavoured with herbs and spice and is very delicious. It is without a doubt, my favourite curry I have ever tasted. I highly recommend sampling the real deal of it while you are here.
Mont Blanc, the Parisian chestnut cream topped desert that made a splash in Japan since the 70s has made a huge comeback and it wonderful. Try it at local bakery Edelweiss, just off Kokusai-Dori.
Pork and beef are very popular and high quality in Okinawa. Try pork in the soft fatty pork soups, and beef in steak form. Noodles, including yaki soba, are delicious too.
Wi-Fi is available in most restaurants and bars, and in some spots around the city in the street too. The ship terminal also has free Wi-Fi.
As usual in Japan, things are very well organized and there are several main banks, ATMs, and money exchange places as well as Western Unions spread throughout the city centre.
Karen’s Top Tip
Try as much local food here as you can, including pork soups, local fish, Mont Blanc chestnut deserts and especially Ryuku curry, it is delicately delectable!
My experience here
I have been to Naha once so far, and had a really cultural, interesting and delicious day.
I started in the Fukushen Gardens, and spend about 20 minutes waling around this small, but very pretty excellent example of a Japanese flower garden, complete with coy carp ponds, which also had turtles in them, shrines and plenty of pagodas. At just 200 yen for the entry ticket, it is very reasonable. We continued the stroll towards Kokusai-Dori and on the way found a local bakery that made a desert delicacy we’d heard of, called Mont Blanc. This Parisian treat was discovered and made popular in Japan in the 1970s, and then Japan put its own twist on it. My friend Jonathan, who was with me on this outing, had told me about it, so we walked to Edelweiss Bakery to sample it. The Mont Blanc has several layers of fun, with a delicate merengue layer in the centre with chocolate cream, topped off with many layers of delicately piped chestnut cream. The chestnut flavor danced on our taste buds and it became very clear why this is a favourite. Nick and I shared one, and Jonathan tackled one solo after having had a longer build up of excitement about the treat. From here, we walked on to Kokusai-Dori, and briefly looked at the souvenir stores, and restaurants while on a mission to find the local Makishi Market. While slightly misreading the map, we accidently stumbled upon a small, but quirky ‘Cat and Dog Festival’ instead, which was being held to raise awareness and money for local animal shelters, with stalls of pet paraphernalia for sale beside stall of jewelry and clothes hand made, and food trucks, along with many live animals ready to be adopted, while a film crew got footage for the local news channel. It all felt very Japanese and quirky and fun, the way it was organized. This is where I sampled Ryuku chicken curry. From one of the food trucks at this somewhat bizarre event I had the most incredibly tasting curry of my life. My only regret here is only having one between the three of us (myself, Nick and friend Jonathan), as we were still not lunch-hungry after our Mont Blanc. From here we found Makishi Market, which was the original goal, and browsed it’s souvenirs and handcrafts, as well as fresh fish and meat sections, where you can even purchase a pig’s face. Pork and beef, wagyu, are popular and famous in Okinawa, and are of very high quality and taste. Upstairs from the market are small restaurants with local Ryuku dishes, noodles and rice favourites.
We decided to continue our food tour or Naha stopping at a small café just outside the market in the small winding streets behind it. Nick ad I shared a lunch special menu, which consisted of a fatty pork and pickled vegetable soup, noodles in broth, the local sun fish cooked with a lemon glaze and garnished with seaweed and carrots, and a small dish or soft tofu (which was the only one I didn’t actually enjoy, it being the fermented soft tofu and me not knowing the fermented part before sampling due to our not perfect menu translating skills). We topped this off with a coffee, and Nick and I shared this. I tasted each part of the dish and my stomach was sadly done, but content having thoroughly enjoyed the various tastes of Naha.
After this final food tasting of the day, we followed the map towards the Tsuboya District, where the famed Okinawa pottery is made. On the way there, we passed the world’s largest tug of war rope, took the obligatory photos, and found the artists area. There are several streets filled with small artist’s studios/shops with the actual artist selling his fine wares to tourists. This is not the place for a bargain, this is the place for real art. I fell in love with the beautifully painted clay pots, cups, and plates, particularly admiring the famous Okinawa fish designed ones, which is to pay homage to the fishermen of the island and how its success has always relied on the sea. After convincing Nick, we purchased two Okinawa fish cups for our home, which I am very much looking forward to using.
From Tsuboya, we ventured back to Kokusai-Dori on the way walking back to the ship. It was Easter Sunday, so there were more celebrations and events happening. Upon reaching the start of the East end of the street, we saw the last few minutes of a televised seaweed eating contest, and a street festival going on with families everywhere enjoying the toys laid out in the street for the children to play with, giant bubbles being blown and street performers amusing everyone. I really felt again, like this could only be in Japan, and loved every minute of it, before I had to scarper back to the ship for all aboard time.
My Most Memorable Moment
I have been a big fan of all types of Japanese food since I first started tasting it as a late teen, and the variety of regional specialties in Okinawa was just wonderful. Going out in a group, small or lager, with foodie friends is an excellent way to try more dishes and tastes by sharing so having small tastes of each item. This was definitely what we did in Naha. In one day, I tasted a Mont Blanc chestnut desert, beef Ryuku curry, fatty pork soup, sunfish, fermented tofu, and local noodle broth. The day was a ‘real taste’ of Okinawa.
I accidentally stumbled upon a Cat and Dog “festival” whilst trying to find the market. There was a local gathering of animal lovers who were raising awareness, and money for local animal shelters by having stalls selling locally made jewelry and crafts, food trucks with healthy salads as well as delicious Ryukyu curry, and tented areas filled with cats and dogs in carry cages there to meet each other as well as potential fosterers. The feeling of just being in Japan, at a sort of bizarre, rather quirky in its set up, very Japanese event, complete with local TV crew and many live animals, was wonderful. I love the moments when you feel like what you are experiencing is really something characteristic of the country you are in, and this felt like that to me.
Nick and I adventuring all over Japan trying as many delicious Japanese dishes as possible.