The Okinawan capital of NAHA (那覇) should, in fairness, be a place to get things done and be on one’s way. This is the only large city in a region of Japan that leans heavily on nature – despite being capital of the Ryūkyū kingdom for over four hundred years, wartime destruction and rampant commercialization have colluded to ensure that there’s precious little to see bar bland residential blocks and souvenir shops catering to a near-constant stream of Japanese holiday-makers. Yet, somehow, it’s a great place to kick back – a fair proportion of the locals you meet will be mainland Japanese, here to trade in a hefty chunk of their previous salary, at least temporarily, for a relaxed lifestyle. Foreign travellers often end up staying far longer than they planned – the weather’s great, the food’s terrific, beaches and bars are never far away, and busting a gut to get somewhere else just wouldn’t be in the Okinawan spirit of things.
There are, of course, a few things to see while you’re here. The beautifully reconstructed Shuri-jō, the old Ryūkyū kings’ small, solid castle, constitutes the city’s major sight and is well worth visiting, the Tsuboya pottery district is fun for a wander, and the Shuri area contains a moderately informative prefectural museum, as well as some original royal graves and stone-paved lanes. Then there’s Naminoue beach, a short curl of sand that would boast grand sea views were it not for the roads firing across the waves a few dozen metres offshore.