Mr. Selfish and I had originally planned to visit Okinawa to go diving. Unfortunately, when we were there, the wind was too strong, and our dive trip was cancelled. Fortunately, Okinawa has many diverse lovely sights to behold. Here are the sights that we visited in Naha.
Shuri Castle: The Palace of Ryūkyū Kingdom
Shuri Castle was the official palace of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, which ruled the islands that currently make up Okinawa from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The castle is made out of wood and burned down multiple times. The last time it burned down was in 1945 after an American battleship shelled it for three days during WWII. In 1992, Shuri Castle was reconstructed.
The grounds are quite extensive, and it is free to wander around.
If you wish to enter Shuri Castle, then it costs 800 yen per person. The castle itself is well worth the price of admission.
There is an audio tour for the inside of the castle if you can understand Japanese. Otherwise, you can just wander around and read the signs in English.
Even though Mr. Selfish and I have been to our fair share of Asian reconstructed castles, I enjoyed the architecture and design of Shuri Castle and highly recommend it if you visit Naha. The 800 yen admission fee was certainly worth it!
Tamaudun Mausoleum: The Mausoleum for the Royal Family
Nearby Shuri Castle is the Tamaudun Mausoleum, which was built around the 16th century as a mausoleum for the royal family.
Admission was 300 yen per person, which is quite steep considering how small the sight is. I wouldn’t recommend visiting it. Just stay at Shuri Castle where the grounds are free.
Shikinaen Garden: A Blend of Japanese and Chinese Design
Shikinaen Garden is located on a small hill south of Shuri Castle. It was originally built in 1799 as one of the residences of the Shō family, rulers of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. It was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt from 1975 until 1995 at a cost of 800 million yen. Luckily, admission is only 400 yen per person.
We visited fairly late in the day so it was almost entirely empty. I particularly enjoyed the two small islands with the two different bridges in the middle of the garden.
The Shikinaean Garden is a blend of Japanese and Chinese styles and, according to UNESCO, “uniquely Ryukyuan.”
The year after it was built, the garden was used for a visit by a Chinese envoy, who was shown the view above. It is one of the few views in Okinawa where you cannot see the ocean. The Ryūkyū Kingdom wanted to give the impression that it was not a small island kingdom.
I recommend visiting Shikinaen Garden if you come to Naha. In particular, you should visit late in the day like me and Mr. Selfish did, because it was wonderful to have the garden to ourselves.
Higa Distillery: A Taste of Awamori
Lastly, we visited the Higa Distillery near Naha. The distillery makes awamori, which is an alcoholic beverage unique and indigenous to Okinawa. Awamori is not brewed (like sake) but distilled (like vodka or whiskey).
The upstairs of Higa Distillery contained a museum of sorts about the history of awamori and the distillery process. No photographs were allowed, but it was quite interesting.
Downstairs is a tasting area where you can, of course, taste different awamori. I only tasted a few since awamori is typically 60-86 proof and quite strong. It had an interesting flavor but I can see how you are supposed to drink it diluted with ice and water.
If you are into strong alcohol or are just curious about awamori, I would highly recommend you visiting the Higa Distillery.
These were the sights that we visited in and around Naha. Next, I’ll go over some of the yummy food that we had in Naha.