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.
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.
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 Awamari was wise, promoting trade and introducing overseas techniques and cultures to increase the prosperity of his domain. However, he was overthrown by the kings of Shuri in 1458 for plotting to usurp the throne. Many fine pieces of tile and Chinese porcelain have been excavated from the building, and it is now a World Heritage Site. The park is closed every Monday and from December 29-January 3.
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 an 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.
Nago Pineapple Park teaches pineapple lovers about the life of the pineapple, from seedling to food product. A pineapple cart takes visitors through the pineapple fields and the tropical garden, and the store sells the freshest and most delicious pineapple products on the island, including a pineapple wine. Don't leave without trying the pineapple ice cream and taking a look at the pineapple charcoal. And, if you haven't gotten your fill, try some dishes at the restaurant. Those who can't carry their prizes home can use the store's shipping service.
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.
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.
Visit the Onna Cultural Information Center to learn all you need to know about this historic seaside village. The center is spread out over three levels and has a library, reading room, information center, and observation deck. There are interactive audio-visual aids and guides to help you plan your trip and the reading room is a haven of tranquility where you can simply take a break. The Onna Village Museum is situated just next door and hosts both temporary and permanent exhibitions on the history, anthropology and culture of the village. There are meeting rooms and halls which are open to visitors.