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.
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.
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.
Built on land reclaimed from the US military, this museum was founded by Michio Sakima as a place for peaceful mediation on the lasting effects of World War II. A piece entitled "Figure of the Battle of Okinawa" shows visitors an artistic interpretation of the ravages of the war, impacting viewers in a way that perhaps history museums cannot. Futenma Air Base can be viewed in its entirety from the roof. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and holidays.
A place for all kinds of disport in Chatan Town, Mihama, or better known as American Village, can be seen from miles away thanks to the towering Ferris wheel that has become the trademark of this shopping district. American eateries, international food restaurants, and a cinema that plays both Western and Japanese films, all make up a place where travelers can get a sense of what it means to be American, from a Japanese perspective. One of the biggest shopping attractions at the American Village is Jusco, an upscale one-stop megastore, popular among tourists and locals alike. In addition to the aforementioned areas, there are plenty of other venues in the American Village such as Seaside Square and Dragon’s Palace, which offer more entertainment choices (karaoke, games, bowling, etc.) and of course, more shopping.
Home to a municipal head from the 18th Century, the Nakamura Family Residence contains the most iconic features of Okinawan architecture, namely the red tiled roofs and the shisa (lion-like statue that wards off evil). Stone walls and tall trees protect the house from Okinawa's frequent typhoons. Visitors to the residence should also consider visiting Nakagusuku Castle, which is close by.
When driving on the Okinawa Expressway between Northern and Southern Okinawa, take a break at the Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park to stretch your legs and play with the kids. Offering a view of the azure ocean, the park features a ton of fun for both children and adults. The park houses a water park of sorts, replete with slides and pools. There are also a few walking trails for those who wish to admire the scenery. Other facilities include a mini-golf and tennis courts. Every February, the Okinawa Marathon begins here.
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.