With less than a month to go until the start of the world Budosai, IOGKF members around the world are ramping up their training as they prepare to come before supreme master, Sensei Morio Higaonna. But the Budosai is not all work, there is plenty of time to play and explore the wonder that is Okinawa during this special week of traditional Karate celebrations.
Taking the time to plan your trip in Okinawa will help you to make the most of your stay in the birthplace of Karate. Whether you have been to Okinawa before or you are journeying there for the first time, there is plenty to see and do regardless of your previous experience.
Here are our 15 places (in no particular order) you must see when you visit Okinawa:
1 – Shuri Castle
Shuri Castle is a wonder of construction and history. Originally built around 1300, this castle played a pivotal role in unifying the island. Wars and fires during its many years since being established have seen it be destroyed numerous times. The most recent incident of this being during WWII during the battle of Okinawa. The castle became the epicenter for Japanese generals at one point and it’s walls saw the events leading to the end of WWII.
Today it is a marvel that everyone must see. The castle has been recognised as a world heritage site by UNESCO and is a tourist’s delight. When you arrive you at the castle, you will pass under the Shuri mon gate, an impressive structure only surpassed by the castle itself. Most days the castle runs demonstrations of traditional dance and other Okinawan cultural displays for all visitors to watch. Entering the court yard in front the castle, immediately you will know that you are somewhere very special. Entering the castle will again reaffirm this as you view architecture like nowhere else in the world.
Taking the monorail to the Shuri Station (the complete opposite end of the line to Naha Kuko – airport) and following the local signage is the easiest way to get the castle. Some walking is involved so be sure to take good shoes and water with you.
2 – Churaumi Aquarium
It is referred to as the best aquarium in the Japan, but many would agree that it is the best in the world. Incorporating the Ocean Expo park display where you can see live Dolphin shows and the like, the Churaumi aquarium is a monster collection of some of the world’s rarest species and one of the largest tanks in the world.
How big is the tank? Big enough to comfortably fit three whale sharks! The Kuroshio tank is roughly three stories tall, with plenty of viewing areas and a restaurant for you to enjoy the display with. You will literally feel like you are sitting on the bottom of the ocean.
You can book tickets to travel to the aquarium through the Budosai website or you can visit the information centre on Kokusai Dori for information on how to arrange travel there – bus is the best method and will take around 90 minutes.
3 – Okinawan Prefectural Museum
The prefectural museum is well worth taking a look at while you are in Okinawa. A place as ancient as Okinawa is always going to have a rich historical story and this museum tells it best.
From sailing and trading begins, right through to WWII and the International popularisation of Karate, not to mention an earthquake, typhoon and tsunami map simulator, this museum has it all.
To get to the museum it is best to take the monorail to Omoromachi station and following the signs to the museum from there. If you have an issue finding the signs, just ask a local as they are usually more than happy to help point you in the right direction.
4 – Heiwa Dori and Street markets
Busy, energetic and a lot of fun. The street markets of Okinawa will provide you with a great experience as you make your way through the countless and seemingly never ending stores. From souvenirs, to anything you could ever need while staying in Okinawa, the Heiwa Dori and linking street markets are well worth a look.
The shopkeepers are very helpful and many restaurants serving delicious local cuisine are also located in the same complex. If you are a seafood lover, be sure to check out the fish markets and eatery as well.
The entry to Heiwa dori is located in Kokusai Dori, directly across the road from the local star bucks store and close to the local McDonalds restaurant.
5 – Tsuboya Pottery District
This is a walk back in time. Tsuboya is the area Chojun Miyagi Sensei lived in and this is also close by to the Higaonna Karate Dojo. Pottery has always been a large part of the financial survival of Okinawa, dating right back to early trading days and through to the modern era where ‘Shisa’ are sold in almost every shop you will visit.
The pottery museum also does demonstrations on how to make the unique pottery and you might even be able to find yourself a nice set of Nigiri Game to take home with you.
The easiest way to find the Tsuboya pottery district is to walk through Heiwa dori markets to the end furthest from Kokusai dori. You will exit the markets at the beginning of the pottery district.
6 – Peace Park and War sites
A moving place that brings a feeling of calm in an area where one of the bloodiest battles of world war II took place, the peace park is well worth a visit. At the main memorial of the peace park you see the many names of all of those killed during the battle (an estimated 200,000 people in just three months). There is a beautiful clock tower at the base of peace hill, with pathways leading to the main memorial through well-kept gardens.
Another place rich in history is the former underground naval headquarters where many Japanese generals ended their lives towards the end of the battle of Okinawa. The evidence of their actions is engraved in the tunnel walls and is a stark reminder to the hardship Okinawan’s have faced.
Bus routes can easily take you to all of these locations and seeking advice from the tourist information centre in Kokusai dori will help you get their easily.
7 – Kanryo Higaonna Sensei & Chojun Miyagi Sensei monument
IOGKF may be the largest dedication to Goju-ryu founder Chojun Miyagi Sensei and his teacher Kanryo Higaonna Sensei. But the Okinawan government and public has also paid tribute to these Karate pioneers with a public memorial.
The large stone monument is a wonderful tribute to our founders, with their names and other details engraved in stone on a large tablet. When you get closer you will also notice wonderful engravings of drawings like those in the Bubishi document, showing various fighting positions. This is located close by to the Fukushu-en Chinese gardens and is an inspiring tribute that all IOGKF members should see.
8 – Fukushu-en Chinese Gardens
This is a very impressive site. The gardens were created as a tribute to the friendship and legacy of the relationship between Naha and its Chinese sister city, Fuzhou – the place where Goju-ryu Karate can trace its origins too.
Featuring beautiful paths, surrounded by ancient Chinese scenery, architecture and an amazing waterfall, these gardens are a peaceful place to wind down in after a hard day of training or a remarkable backdrop for pictures for your dojo. Kencho-mae monorail station will put you in the same suburb and the gardens are around a 10 minute walk from there.
9 – Pineapple Park
Japan is known for it’s unusual theme parks and Okinawa is no different. Pineapple park is a very small theme park dedicated to everything to do with the Pineapple!
Despite what you’re probably thinking, Pineapple park is actually a lot of fun. You will board Pineapple carts and travel through plantations of Pineapples and see some kinds you didn’t even know existed! Following this, the massive Pineapple store sells everything for great foods, to wine and more for you to sample and take home as a souvenir.
Pineapple Park is located in Nago city, much further north than Naha. It is best reached by bus and is worth working in with a trip to the aquarium as they are both around the same general area.
10 – Tokashiki Island
Tokashiki Jima is a beautiful tropical island and a part of the Ryukyu chain that is extremely popular with tourists. It’s crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches have made it a choice for many IOGKF visitors to Okinawa for years now.
The island is best reached by a ferry trip that takes about one hour. The tourist information centre can aid in helping you to obtain tickets and find the dock for your departure. The IOGKF Budosai travel agents are also offering tickets to the island, but don’t delay these will sell out fast!
11 – Okinawan prefectural Budokan
Something you will definitely see if you are attending the Budosai, but be sure to walk around the entire building and take in the appreciation for this magnificent structure.
The ultimate dojo; the main arena and the other three stories of Dojo’s are incredible and awe inspiring. The outside of the Budokan is shaped like a massive samurai helmet and you can usually spot this on the way in from the airport if you take the monorail into Naha.
12 – Okinawa World
Okinawa world is a tourist theme park set up with the goal of helping you to experience traditional Okinawan culture. It features a craft village, traditional cave which stretches over 5 kilometres long and a snake park dedicated to the deadly Habu – Okinawa’s very own extremely venomous snake.
Okinawa world is located south of the airport and is best reached by bus. Tourist information centers in Kokusai Dori can assist you in catching the correct bus.
13 – Beaches
There are countless beaches throughout Okinawa, capable of making plenty of memories on. Every beach has beautiful waters and clean sand. Most are also suitable for snorkelling too.
Make your choice using the official Okinawan beaches guide by clicking here.
14 – Kokusai Dori
The busy central district of the entire island, Kokusai Dori (literally meaning International Street), has something to suit everyone. Restaurants, shops, markets, convenience stores, information centres and more, all await you in this amazing place.
Be sure to wonder into the shops and markets as some time the best buys can be found at the back of the store. Kokusai Dori’s many shopkeepers are more than happy to welcome you.
15 – Mihama American Village
With the mark of the war left on Okinawa, there is still a very strong American military presence still located on the island. As you can imagine, American culture has slowly made its way into Okinawa resulting in the creation of the American village complex.
The village has a huge Ferris wheel, American shops, food and even a cinema showing American movies. It is good for a day out and is the village can be reached by bus and once again tourist information centres can assist you in getting there.
Regardless of what you decided to visit, just walking around any part of Okinawa is a unique experience and you can always feel the culture and the world renowned warmth of the Okinawan people. Plan your trip and make the most of your Okinawan experience.
For many other sites in Okinawa please click here
- The most dangerous man in Japan, in a real fight.