Enjoy Your Time in Okinawa and Naha Airport

From watching planes to visiting the shopping street, there's always something to do whenever you go to Okinawa. Read our guide on how to enjoy your stay.
Enjoy your time in Okinawa and Naha Airport

Discover the amazing things you can do in Okinawa while waiting for your next flight.

A brief introduction to Okinawa

Okinawa is a beautiful island in southern Japan. With pristine beaches and sparkling turquoise waters, it has often been called the “Hawaii of Japan.” It is famous for its stunning coastlines and generally warm climate year-round.

Okinawa Island is also home to several U.S. military bases, creating a melting pot of cultures and traditions unique to Okinawa. Even after the U.S. returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972, when the U.S. lessened its military involvement in Asia, it kept its bases on several of the islands. When you visit Okinawa, it isn't strange to see commercial flights and self-defense forces taking off and landing on Okinawa soil.

How to get to Okinawa: If you’re flying from mainland Japan, Okinawa’s Naha Airport serves most flights departing from Tokyo or Osaka. If you’re coming from China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, or Hong Kong, you can take a direct international flight to Okinawa.

How to spend the waiting time in Okinawa (Naha Airport)

How to spend the waiting time in Okinawa (Naha Airport)

When you fly to Okinawa, Naha, Okinawa’s largest airport on its main island, is the first place you will see. If you come earlier than planned or have plenty of time before your next flight, you will find many things to do in Okinawa to help you pass the time while waiting for your next flight.

Spend time on the visitors’ deck

If watching planes taking off and landing gives you a little thrill and a sense of adventure, Naha Airport lets you take that experience further. While you have plenty of opportunities to spot planes around the airport, Naha has two locations where you can enjoy plane-watching to your heart’s content.

The first location is an indoor observation hall in the domestic terminal, where you can spot local carriers taxiing back and forth. The second location is a five-minute walk from the first — an outdoor observation deck in the international terminal. You'll be able to spot various carriers — both domestic and international — while waiting on the decks.

Try various cuisines

Try various cuisines

Naha Airport is home to several delicious restaurants where you can grab a quick bite while waiting for your flight. You’ll find A&W, a hamburger shop only found in Okinawa in Japan. You can try Kuko Shokudo, which features seasonal Okinawan cuisine at reasonable prices.

If you weren’t able to eat the famous soba while in Okinawa, you have a chance to try it in Tenryu. This airport restaurant serves delicious Okinawan alcohol alongside their soba. You’ll also find a branch of Jimmy’s, a long-standing bakery founded in 1956 that allows you to buy some baked souvenirs to take home. 

If you don't have enough time to enjoy food at one of Naha Airport's restaurants, you can order your food as takeout to enjoy on your flight.

Relax in Lounge Hana

Lounge Hana is a small credit card lounge where you can stay while awaiting your next flight. You can try the snacks and drinks and use the business center to catch up on some work. You can use the lounge for free with a Japanese Gold or higher credit card. If not, you can present your boarding pass and pay a minimal fee.

If you have more time, visit nearby tourist spots in Naha, Okinawa

If it’s your first time landing in Okinawa, and you have a lot of time, why not leave the airport and go on a small adventure? There are many things to see and do in Naha, which is by far the biggest city in Okinawa.

Kokusai-dori (国際通り) — the main shopping and entertainment street in Naha

Kokusai-dori is the main tourist, shopping, and entertainment district in Naha. What was once a swampy track during World War II has transformed into a vibrant, colorful center that remains lively well into the night.

When you stroll through this street that stretches through the city center, you’ll find it bustling with life and excitement. It is lined with some of the best restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and souvenir shops in Okinawa, and there is a lot to see and do. Whether you want to sightsee, shop, or eat, you’ll find it all at Kokusai-dori.

Sample native Okinawa drinks and delicacies

Sample native Okinawa drinks and delicacies

In Kokusai-dori, several shops sell local food and beverages, including awamori, a liquor unique to Okinawa. Awamori is made from long-grain indica rice. Shiquasa, Okinawa’s version of lime, is often mixed into local awamori cocktails.

When you wander down the street and peer into shop windows, you’ll likely spot habushu or habu sake. It is an awamori-based wine with a venomous snake inside. The alcohol neutralizes the venom, however, so it is safe to drink if you wish to try it.

Kokusai–dori is also home to many delectable restaurants. Try the soki soba, a famous traditional dish in Okinawa. It contains pork spare ribs simmered in awamori, soy sauce, and sugar and is served with soba noodles. Sample the goya chanpuru, a traditional dish in Okinawa made of bitter melon mixed with eggs, tofu, and spam.

Chiragaa is another food native to the southern islands of Okinawa. It is the skin of a pork face, cut into thin slices and grilled with vegetables. It has a chewy texture, but it is delicious.

Steaks and the shime no ramen culture in Okinawa

Steaks and the shime no ramen culture in Okinawa

Some countries, like the United States, have a culture of going to dinner after drinking. Similarly, Japan has a culture called shime no ramen, which means eating ramen as an ending after drinking. In Okinawa, however, it is different, as the people finish with a big steak instead. Steak restaurants became popular after World War II due to the influence of the United States.

If you want to try a delicious steak, visit Steakhouse 88, one of Okinawa’s best offerings since the 1970s. It looks like a typical American diner, but it is spacious and comfy. Although several Steakhouse 88 branches around Okinawa and other steak places have popped up since then, Steakhouse 88 on Kokusai-dori is one of the oldest branches. They serve over 20 kinds of steaks, including t-bone, tenderloin, and ribeye. You can also enjoy their hamburger steaks and cutlets made from Ryukyu black pork.

How to get to Kokusai-dori: From Naha Airport, take the Yui Rail to Makishi Station. Walk to Kokusai-dori.

Heiwa-dori (平和通り) — a covered arcade

Heiwa-dori (平和通り) — a covered arcade

Near Kokusai-dori is Heiwa-dori, a shopping center that locals and tourists frequent. Heiwa-dori has about 200 shops for you to explore, each offering a variety of items. It is a covered arcade, making it pleasant to visit whether the weather is sunny or rainy.

You’ll find an assortment of items in Heiwa-dori — from traditional trinkets to local goods, traditional clothing, pottery, and more. You can buy kariyushi shirts — their vibrant colors reminiscent of Hawaiian shirts — Ryukyu glassware with their vivid colors, and other affordable accessories. You can also find souvenirs and food to take home. Many of the shops evoke a nostalgic feeling with the items they sell.

Close by Heiwa-dori is Makishi Public Market, where you can buy and taste unique Okinawan food and experience the energetic market environment. It is also the biggest tourist spot in Naha and has a history of 60 years. The first floor is the main shopping area of the market.

Sip freshly squeezed juice made with Okinawan fruits to quench your thirst as you roam around the aisles. Try the various Okinawan snacks and sweets, including pig ears, seaweed, sea grapes, freshly fried Okinawan doughnuts, and other unique delicacies.

How to get to Heiwa-dori: From Kokusai-dori, walk a few minutes to get to Heiwa-dori (approximately six minutes).

Tsuboya Yachimun-dori (やちむん) — featuring Okinawan pottery

Close by Kokusai-dori and Heiwa-dori is Tsuboya Yachimun-dori. Its walls and streets are still paved with stones, bringing back the charms of old Okinawa from when it was established in the 17th century. It's the perfect place for pottery shopping in Okinawa, Japan.

Discovering yachimun, Okinawan pottery

Discovering yachimun, Okinawan pottery

Yachimun is the Okinawan word for pottery, and Tsuboya Yachimun-dori has no shortage of it. Once the bustling center where artisans used to create various wares, Tsuboya Yachimun-dori features the unique traditional style of Okinawan pottery and its diverse influences from China, Korea, Japan, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The pottery designs often feature various patterns and colors native to Okinawa, such as plants and fish. Walk around the pottery workshops and stores lined along the road and admire the intricate designs the artisans create. You may even be able to find a souvenir or two that you want to take home.

Shisa — guardians over establishments

Shisa — guardians over establishments

While you make your way around Tsuboya Yachimun-dori (and even Kokusai-dori and Heiwa-dori), you may see stone statues that look like a mix of a lion and a dog. These are shisa, mythical creatures that are half lion and half dog, and stand at the heart of Okinawan tradition. You’ll often find them in different sizes, sitting outside homes and establishments. Their twisted faces may appear grotesque, but many Okinawans believe they are friendly spirits who ward off evil. You may also find pairs of shisa standing side by side. One shisa has an open mouth to ward off evil spirits, and the other has a closed mouth to keep in good spirits.

Shigandang — ornamental stone tablets

Shigandang — ornamental stone tablets

You may also be able to find shigandang in several of the shops. A shigandang is an ornamental stone tablet used to exorcise evil spirits in East Asia. It features writing and is often put up in houses, villages, roads, bridges, crossings, and intersections — often considered spiritually dangerous places.

How to get to Tsuboya-Yachimun-dori: From Heiwa-dori, walk to Tsuboya Yachimun-dori (approximately five minutes).

Visit Naminouegu Shrine (波上宮) — Okinawa prefecture’s ichinomiya (primary shrine)

Visit Naminouegu Shrine (波上宮) — Okinawa prefecture’s ichinomiya (primary shrine)

While you’re out and about exploring Naha, why not stop at Naminouegu Shrine, located in downtown Naha? Since its construction in the 14th century, the shrine has been a sacred spot where the locals have offered prayers to Nirai Kanai (world of gods). Sailors would pray for a safe voyage, fishermen for a bountiful haul, and farmers a rich harvest. It is the ichinomiya or primary shrine of Okinawa and is admired as the “primary shrine of the kingdom,” heading the Eight Shrines of Ryukyu.

During the Meiji Period in the 1800s, Naminoue Shrine was incorporated into the Japanese state Shinto system, losing several of its original features and rituals. It was destroyed and rebuilt during World War II in the 1950s and 60s. The only original structure that still stands is the torii gate that you can walk through when visiting the shrine.

• Address: 1-25-11 Wakasa, Naha City, Okinawa 900-0031
• Opening hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

How to get to Naminougu Shrine: From Naha Airport, take the Yui Rail to Asahibashi Station. Walk about 14 minutes to get to the shrine.

Explore Okinawa for a day

Explore Okinawa for a day

If you’ve always wanted to visit Okinawa, you can easily do so with a JAL flight to Tokyo. From there, you can take a ride to Okinawa and enjoy the sights and sounds it has to offer. You can also enjoy Okinawan food you haven't eaten yet in the comfort of your cabin. Because JAL doesn't offer in-flight meals from Okinawa to Tokyo, we encourage you to order Okinawan food you haven't tried yet at the airport and take it to go on the flight. Enjoy some drinks from JAL with your food during the plane ride.

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