The 160 or so islands of Okinawa hold 39 designated national historic sites, of which 9 are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The two most accessible from Naha are the Shuri Castle, and Seifa-Utaki (斎場御嶽), a religious ground.
Shuri Castle was the residence of the Ryukyu king who unified the kingdom, and was the center of political and religious happenings. It was almost destroyed in WWII but has since been restored. The castle is closed at night, but it is nicely lit up and people may be seen taking moonlight strolls there.
Seifa-Utaki, most well-known for the triangle wall rock, was a prominent site for worship of the Shinto high priestess Kikoe-Ogimi. There is a spot among the rocks that overlooks Kudaka Island, which is the sacred island that the god which created Okinawa descended upon. Back then, it was common for men to take on roles such as fisherman, and women to hold religious power. It was smaller than we thought though, and it took just half an hour to walk through all the 5 spots.
*Another noteworthy attraction, even though it’s not on the UNESCO list, is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It is one of the largest aquariums in the world, and one of its main attractions are the whale sharks! In my opinion, snorkeling or diving to look at marine life is definitely better, but, of course, whale sharks are the exception!
Okinawa is a military base for the US Army and Marine Corps, so naturally there is a little town for the workers to hang out at, as well as to showcase some localized American culture to the Japanese and foreign tourists! There is a ferris wheel, American franchise restaurants like Tony Roma’s and the Red Lobster, various outlet stores, memorabilia stores, as well as a pretty stretch along the waterfront called Sunset Beach. As inferred from the name, the dusk colour palette of red, orange and deep violet paint a beautiful scene. The beach is exceptionally shallow as it lies on a U-shaped bend of the shoreline, sheltered from the crashing waves of the open sea. On a side note, we were hoping to see some American soldiers and were disappointed for a little while before some military jets flew by!
The Ryukyu Mura (琉球村) is a place to discover more about the Ryukyu culture and their way of life. They were tribal people who loved singing and dancing; the performances are available to the public here. The Sanshin (三線), a 3 string banjo-like instrument is is one of the main stars of Ryukyu traditional music. Learning about the kings, lords, castles, customs and practices of the Ryukyu people brings more knowledge and helps to visualise the local land from back 15th to 19th centuries.