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.
The subtropical climate of Okinawa allows for a fantastic botanical garden where you can examine tropical and subtropical plants and beautiful blossoms. The main aim of the South East Botanical Gardens is to provide knowledge and research about the plants and environment through its two gardens; namely botanical and aquatic. One of the features you can't miss is the pond that flows amidst the garden and the carp fish that swim right up to the surface for feeding. The two gardens also offer their venue for private parties and events.
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.
Take a peek at life as it would have been in Okinawa's celebrated past. The erstwhile kingdom of Ryukyu has intrigued many and this facility gives a fantastic chance to see what it was like. Formed in order to protect Okinawa's ethnic cultural heritage, Ryukyu Mura is a living village that exemplifies the history and traditions of ancient Okinawa. Visitors to the village have a lot on their hands from exploring the sterling structures and watching artisans at work, to partaking in the various festivals and events celebrated here.
Before Shuri, Urasoe was the economic and cultural center of the Ryukyu Islands and still hosts a multitude of historic and cultural artifacts. The museum specializes in displaying exquisite pieces of Ryukyu lacquer ware and pottery, heavily influenced by trade with China. If you feel inspired to create, contact the museum to find out more about their pottery and wood carving classes. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Right across from the Oceanic Culture Hall in Ocean Expo Park, this historical village depicts daily life as it was for people of the Ryukyu Kingdom from around the 17th and 18th Centuries. Visitors can see and touch the Utaki (sacred place), Ugamiga (sacred spring), and the house of worship. Located within the village, the Omoro Arboretum has 22 species of plants that are mentioned in the Omoroi Soshi, Okinawa's oldest anthology of folk songs. Those who are interested can also participate in folk dances and try playing the shamisen, a Japanese lute. The exhibit is free for all, and open for thirty minutes longer from March to November.
The Okinawa Kids Discovery Museum has enough activities to keep the most inquisitive of children occupied. Facilities in the museum include an interactive space where children can play with the exhibits to create art, a zoo with a petting area, and a reading corner. Last entry is an hour before closing, and the museum closes half an hour earlier from October to March.
Located near the American Village in Mihama, Chatan Park Sunset Beach is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the gorgeous sunset after a long day of sightseeing. Admission and parking are free, and lifeguards are on duty. Coin lockers are available for JPY200.
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.