Okinawa is an island of stories. Its history starts from the days of the feudal lords, and it’s a place where you can find many peculiar and original things. The indoor markets sell venomous snakes in sake bottles. There are great beaches. And a Ryukyuan castle which is a Unesco World Heritage site. And this is just the beginning. 

A Ryukyuan Castle from Feudal Japan and How to Take a Bus There

We had come to Okinawa for its beaches and laid back atmosphere, so we were going to explore the island as much as we could.
First, we went to see the best sight-seeing place of the whole Okinawa, Nakijin-jo – a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is an old Ryukyuan fortress dating back to the 14th century to the time of Shoguns and Samurais.
It is a magnificent place full of feudal history so if you ever go to Okinawa be sure to pay a visit over there!

Nakijin-jo is quite easily reachable by the local busses number 65 or 66. They run around the island, in both ways. When you’re riding the bus, keep a close eye for the sign of the Najikin-jo! There’s a little walk from the bus stop, but if you just tell the driver that you want to go to Nakijin-Jo, they’ll tell you where to get off.

When you enter a bus, just grab a ticket from the machine beside the driver, and there is an electronic display at the front of the bus that has numbers and a corresponding fare that increases as the bus makes its way along its route.

When getting off, match the number on your ticket to the number on the display. The fare next to that number is what you have to pay for the bus ride. Drop your ticket and the exact fare – yen only – in the fare box. There is a change dispenser at the front of the bus that gives change for 1,000 yen bills, 500 yen coins, and 100 yen coins. The system can be a bit tricky at first but you’ll get used to it soon enough. You can find the bus maps, schedules and additional information here.

The Best Restaurants of Okinawa

The restaurant scene in Okinawa is not that big, and most of the places are in the center of Naha, the capital city. The only restaurant near our hotel was the hotel’s own. Other restaurants were all a bus or a taxi ride away. So we ended up eating a couple of times at the Lue’s Beach Resort where we lived, but it was a bit of disappointment on both times. So I’d recommend driving or taking a bus to Naha for a dinner unless your hotel has a superb restaurant.

There are some nice restaurants in Naha, even though they’re not great in numbers. The best one we visited was a buffet style, Korean barbecue restaurant called Bambohe. Their deal was ”All you can eat in 1,5 hrs”, counting from when you arrive. They had cheap beer, fantastic selection of meats, fish, sushi, desserts, etc. And because it was a Korean barbecue you could grill your meat at the grill inserted into your table. It’s worth the very reasonable price and therefore very recommendable! We ended up eating more than we could take but we were nevertheless euphoric when leaving the place!

EDIT: I’m not sure does this restaurant still exist in Naha, as it was at the time of writing this, but if it is, do let us know.

We also found a burger place a little bus ride away from our hotel at a location from where you can watch the waves crashing on the shore while you’re eating your dinner. The burgers we got were minuscule, though good. We wouldn’t have believed that those were the menu’s biggest options!

Sometimes it was also a bit annoying in Okinawa when you were ordering a pint of beer and as a woman, and you always got the half pint – if you didn’t exactly say that you want the whole pint. Also in this burger place, we got some amazed looks from the (male) waiters when we ordered the big (read: normal sized) pints. But we passed it by saying that we’re Finnish.

Sake Spiced With Venomous Habu Snakes and the Indoor Markets of Naha

In Naha, there are also indoor markets and the biggest one of them is a fun place to explore around. Everything is written just mostly in Japanese, so most of the time you can only guess what the things are. But I suppose it’s part of the thrill. Just have some courage and try something out.

We tasted some suspicious looking ”lumps” from some aunties’ vendor, and they tasted exquisite. Unfortunately, I don’t remember anymore what exactly their exact taste. One sign at the seller said walnut, though. We also bought slightly frozen pineapple slices sold in sticks, and they were very fresh and delicious.

One peculiarity of Okinawa is the Habushu sold in bottles at the markets. Habushu is a type of sake that has some venomous Habu snakes in the bottle with the alcohol, and it’s made almost exclusively in Okinawa.

Local officials say the magic of Habushu comes from the mixture of habu venom and the particular type of alcohol. I say that it’s just a bit crazy, but it adds the sales of the sake for sure. Habushu is also expensive; even the cheapest bottles can cost around 8000 Yens (80 USD). And the bottles with even more impressive Habus inside can cost hundreds of dollars. I find this tradition questionable because the Habu snakes are hunted in large numbers because of it.

Some Military History of Okinawa and Water Sports

Lastly, a couple of words about the military side of Okinawa. There are still some Americans and their military bases in Okinawa because it’s still a strategic place for the US. So maybe that’s one reason why people in Naha speak more fluent English than Japanese on the mainland. There are also some ex-military sightseeing places in Okinawa. So if you’re interested in sights like that and want to see some old bunkers and stuff, just search the internet a bit, and you’ll find plenty of things to see. We rather chose to spend time relaxing at our beach than venturing to see old army bases and such.

But there are lots of things to do on Okinawa. One specialty is water sports. You can go diving or water skiing, just to mention a few options.
Unfortunately, the waters on Okinawa are so muddy that snorkeling isn’t a good idea, the visibility being close to nothing.

But you can also just sit on a beach, sip a cold beer, and just watch the fabulous sunsets, for example. Enjoy the relaxed island atmosphere like the many Japanese people who come to Okinawa to spend their vacations year after year.