Built around the 12th Century, the ruins of Katsuren-jo (Katsuren Castle) sit atop a hill in Uruma, east of Okinawa City. It is an example of a gusuku, or traditional Okinawan castle. Because it lies on a peninsula bounded by the Pacific Ocean, it is also called the "Ocean Gusuku." Lord Amawari played an instrumental role in promoting trade and introducing overseas techniques and cultures to increase the prosperity of his domain. However, he was overthrown in 1458. Many fine pieces of tile and Chinese porcelain have been excavated from the structure, and it is now a World Heritage Site.
Located in Peace Memorial Park, the exhibits at the Okinawan Prefectural Peace Museum are separated into five rooms, three of which focus on the Battle of Okinawa in which at least 200,000 people were killed, and two of which focus on pre- and post-war Okinawa. The museum has films, photos, and personal testimonies regarding the tragedies that occurred, in the hope that the pain endured during that time will not be repeated.
This little strip of land jutting out into the azure waters is one of the most picturesque sights in Onna. The area round Cape Maeda is a popular diving spot in the region and attracts adventure enthusiasts. For those who simply want to enjoy the scenery, the plateau-like features of the cape offer sweeping views and leisurely hikes. Don't miss the spectacular sunset from here.
At a time when the island of Okinawa needed protection from the vicious Lord Amawari, legendary Ryukyuan commander Gosamaru built the Nakagusuku Castle. Gosamaru was one of the leaders of the army that served Ryukyu Kingdom in the mid-1400s. The castle was built in 1440, and was attacked in 1458, when it fell to the attacking warlord. Many centuries later, the famous British explorer Matthew C. Perry visited the castle and was impressed by the sturdy walls that seemed able to resist cannon fire. Sadly, the castle has since fallen into disrepair, though its impressive stonework is as imposing today as when it was constructed. The ruins have been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site and draw crowds each year that come to explore the parts of the castle that remain.
Though their headquarters are in Chatan Village in Central Okinawa, Reef Encounters operates marine excursions all over Okinawa prefecture, from the northern tip of the island at Cape Hedo all the way down to Yongauni Island in the Yaeyama Region. Both experienced and novice divers can choose between snorkeling, diving and fishing, and can even become certified scuba divers. The staff is fluent in both English and Japanese, and the company also offers all-inclusive tour packages. Visit the website to make reservations.
One of the first areas to be rebuilt after World War II, Kokusai Street was hailed as the "Miracle Mile" for its great shops, restaurants and bars. Many hotels can be found along this 1.6-kilometer stretch as well, and you'll find tourists and locals alike looking for the latest trends and fashions in the boutiques. Some notable souvenirs include bottles of star-shaped sand, or snakes steeped in jars of awamori (Okinawan sake). The summer festival also takes place on this road.
Karate was born in response to the ban on carrying weapons imposed by the Satsuma Clan when Okinawa became first dominated by Japan. This museum contains photographs of karate masters, weapons displays, and a treasure trove of knowledge in its curator, Hokama. Martial arts enthusiasts can also partake in weaponry classes. Be sure to phone in advance if not visiting on a Tuesday or Saturday.
Located just outside Kadena Gate 2 at the Kadena Airbase in Okinawa City, 7th Heaven Koza provides the area with its fix of hard, punk and alternative rock. Find a seat at the bar or one of the tables, or see your favorite artists up close from the standing space right in front of the stage. Headliners here include Mursaki and 8Ball, though DJs also spin house and reggae on occasion. The venue is only open on the weekends, so be sure to check the website if you plan to visit on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The cover charge generally includes a drink.
This historical World Heritage site has been at the top of a hill surveying the west coast of Okinawa since the 15th Century. The castle was built by a venerated chieftain of the area, Gosamaru, who tore down his old castle and reused the stones to build Zakimi-jo. Next to the site is an informational museum on the castle's history and about other historical Okinawan artifacts.
Perfect for a relaxing family outing, adults can walk around the gardens admiring the view while kids make crafts like kaleidoscopes and painted figurines to take home as a keepsake. The park as its own currency called the "slow," a product of the ivory-nut palm tree. 500 slows are given to adults upon entry, and more can be purchased at the rate of 1 slow per yen. Slows can be used to buy goods and food in the park.