Naha, the capital of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture and its biggest city, also serves as the region’s key political, economic and transportation hub. With a fascinating past as the capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom and a working port that dates back to the 15th century, this city of 300,000 residents manages to be both a compelling city and a laid-back one.
Because it was largely destroyed during World War II, there aren’t many old buildings here; however, a few restored remains from the Ryukyu Kingdom era provide historic interest, including Shuri Castle, the royal residence, and its extraordinary gardens—both of which are included in a local group designated together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other legendary sites include the Royal Mausoleum (burial tombs set inside caves) and the Shurei Gate, so magnificent that its image appears on the 2,000-yen note.
There are also a few contemporary hotspots, namely Kokusai Street, which offers almost two kilometers (1.25 miles) of shops, cafés and restaurants, and the nearby Makishi Public Market, which has dozens of food vendors hawking delicious treats. If you want to explore farther afield, Naha is the ideal jumping-off point for excursions to the rest of Okinawa.