During our recent stay in Naha City for the Okinawa International Movie Festival there was a small window of opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing. Time was restricted so we couldn’t venture too far out to see the prefecture’s most picturesque islands like Ishigaki and Taketomi; however, there was a chance to check out some historic, spiritual and tranquil locations in and around the main city. Here are the highlights.
Fukushuen Garden A ten-minute walk from lively Kokusai Dori in the heart of Naha City is a delightfully serene Chinese garden set around a large carp and turtle-stocked pond. Opened in 1992 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Naha’s friendship with sister city Fuzhou, it was constructed by Chinese and Okinawan architects. Boasting some colorful flowers, two pagodas, traditional Chinese keyhole gates and some bridges, it’s a charming spot for an easy stroll. The centerpiece of the garden is a magnificent waterfall with an observatory deck on top. Next to the waterfall is a statue of the famed Chinese poet Li Bai. The garden was free when we visited, but from May there is a ¥180 charge for adults. The garden is open from 9 am to 6 pm and is closed on Wednesdays. http://en.okinawastory.jp/facility/fukushu-en-park
Sefa Utaki Officially Okinawa has one UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of nine distinct components. Sefa Utaki is one of them. Located in a sub-tropical forest on a hill overlooking Kudaka Island, it is a spiritual place with six points of worship, starting with a huge uplifted rock known as “Ufuguui.” The main trail – which would have been walked by priestesses for centuries – ends with a narrow triangle-shaped opening formed by two gigantic rocks leaning against each other called “Sanguii.” There are many utaki (sacred places) in Okinawa, but most are closed to the public. Sefa Utaki is the big exception. In the past many religious ceremonies led by women took place here and men were forbidden from entering. It’s about 45 minutes by car from central Naha and entry is ¥200. Tickets can be purchased at the car park. There is then a seven-minute walk uphill to the site. Before setting into the forest it is worth watching the video in the reception area to get a better idea as to why this is such an important destination. http://okinawa-nanjo.jp/sefa/en/
Okinawa World Next up on our little adventure was a stop at Okinawa World, a touristy theme park that is a relatively short drive from Sefa Utaki. The main attraction here is undoubtedly Gyokusendo Cave. Formed 300,000 years ago, it is five kilometers long (850 meters of which are open to the public) and features dramatic stalactites and stalagmites. Going further down the cave the turquoise blue pools of water gives the place a romantic and mystical appeal. A comfortable 21 degrees all year round, it’s a comfortable walk along metal pathways that are well lit. Going at a casual pace it took around 35 minutes. Then after exiting up the escalators it was time to look around the Kingdom Village. A replica of a traditional Ryukyu Village, the destination offers a number of workshops, introducing Okinawan crafts like weaving and glass blowing. For ¥1,600 you can purchase a pass that includes entry to the cave, the village and the Habu Museum which features a number of poisonous habu snakes. This didn’t really appeal so we decided to just go for the Cave and Village set at ¥1,200. http://www.gyokusendo.co.jp/okinawaworld/en/
Naminoue Beach OK, so it’s not one of the most alluring beaches in Okinawa. In fact compared to some of the prefecture’s stunning ocean views it looks a bit second rate, but what Naminoue Beach does have going for it is convenience. Near the city center and just a 15-minute drive from the airport, it is a useful spot for those people who are in Okinawa on a business trip or who only have a few hours left before departure and want one last swim. It does feel a bit strange to be sat on the soft golden sand while looking out at a highway running over the top of the clear blue water, but in a strange way it gives the place a kind of unique appeal. The beach area has expanded in recent years and you can now enjoy activities like diving and snorkeling as well as a family barbeque. While you are there it is also worth heading up to the Naminoue Shrine that overlooks the beach. http://en.okinawastory.jp/facility/naminoue-beach
Main Image: Sefa Utaki