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.
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.
Designated a World Hertiage Site, this is the first site a Ryukyu King visited after ascending to the throne, and also where Ryukyu's supreme priestesses were ordained and performed rituals. In legend, the ritual site was created by Amamikiyo, the goddess who created the Ryukyu Islands. Prayers are made facing Kudaka Island, the place where Amamikiyo first descended from the heavens. Two giant stones form the entrance to the prayer area.
What is now the massive Okinawa Prefectural Museum and the Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum began humbly in 1945 as an effort to acquaint the United States military with Okinawan culture, and served as a replacement to the museum that was lost during the battle. Now, this museum houses extraordinary exhibits regarding everything Okinawan, focusing particularly on the impact of the ocean on Okinawa's distinctive culture. Fossils of ancient sea creatures and the 18,000-year-old Minatogawa Man are also on display. Kids will love the Touch and Experience Room, where they can study and touch items that are linked to the main exhibits. Rooms in the museum can also be rented out for events. The museum is closed on Mondays.
As the Ryuku nation's palace, Shurijo Castle was the economic, religious and administrative epicenter of the chain of islands now known as Okinawa. Once bound to pay tribute to China and Japan while also doing trade with Southeast Asia, the influences of all these cultures can be seen in the architecture, decor, and most of all the blazingly red walls of the castle. Since being built in the 1400s, Shurijo has served as a royal residence, a Japanese military base, and as a school. It is the only Okinawan castle to be completely restored to its 18th Century state after being bombed during World War II, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site easily accessed by monorail or bus. Traditional Ryukyuan dances are performed in the main courtyard three times daily. See the website for more details.
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.
Located in a renovated movie theater in Okinawa City, Rock Theater is another addition to Okinawa's rock scene. Rock Theater can hold up to 420 people for their indie rock performances. Shows generally take place on Saturdays, and ticket reservations can be made via email. See the website for prices and details.
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.
Near MOD'S in Chatan, Salt & Pepper Performance Venue adds to the concert experience with a full bar on the second floor and an expansive stage where performers can rock out. The third Monday of each month is known as Monday Lovers nights, where singles and couples can come and mix to the sounds of reggae and soul. Go to the website to purchase discounted advance tickets to events and to check the schedule.
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.