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March 15, 2013

Enchanting Okinawa

By Chris Boyle

Shuri Castle, Okinawa, Japan

Shuri Castle, Okinawa, Japan

As the beach season approaches, Okinawa is gearing up to welcome visitors to its sub-tropical atolls in southwestern Japan with a variety of accommodations and the chance to experience its natural beauty.

Okinawa’s public beaches open every year in late March, drawing beach vacationers and lovers of marine sports from all over Japan. Recently, international travelers have also caught on to the charms of the Okinawan islands.

Although it’s hard to ignore Okinawa’s unique natural offerings, visitors shouldn’t overlook the cultural offerings afforded by Okinawa’s capital city of Naha. Shopping, dining and museums are just some of the activities awaiting visitors who take advantage of this thriving urban center, which has recently undergone a rejuvenation and offers even more choices in city hotels. The new accommodations are perfectly located for business travelers and vacationers alike, just steps from a fun monorail system that links the airport to downtown Naha city and a variety of local stores. Although there’s plenty to do just in Naha, visitors may wish to explore the main island’s many other attractions, including its many white sandy beaches, museums and memorials related to World War II, and the outstanding Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium with its whale sharks and manta rays. Although there are public buses departing Naha for most destinations, travelers might find it more convenient to rent a car (international driver’s license required) or hire a guided taxi.

DoubleTree by Hilton Naha

One of Naha’s newest properties, opened in May 2012, the DoubleTree by Hilton boasts 226 guest rooms imbued with the heartwarming hospitality of Okinawa and guestrooms are equipped with American DoubleTree brand amenities. Offering all-day meal service with a choice of international dishes and Japanese and Okinawan cuisine, the hotel serves as the perfect base for enjoying various activities in Naha.

Mercure Okinawa Naha

This major French hotel chain opened its property in Naha in April 2012 with a nice blend of French style and Okinawa’s regional colors. French chic is apparent in both decor and cuisine, and every room has a large-sized window for Okinawa’s sunny view. In the spacious Bistro de la Mer, with floor-to-ceiling windows, hotel guests can opt for French casual dishes prepared with full of Okinawa’s local ingredients and paired with selections of wine.

What to do in Naha

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Shuri Castle is Okinawa’s iconic treasure, the center of the Ryukyu Kingdom that ruled over Okinawa for 500 years. Because of its unique design and historic implications, the indigenous Kingdom’s royal palace was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000 and Naha’s top attraction.

Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum: Okinawa Prefecture encompasses some 160 islands, making this the best place to see all that Okinawa offers. You’ll learn about Okinawa’s history, including the Ryukyu Kingdom and the World War II Battle of Okinawa, as well as Okinawan culture and crafts. Visitors should make this a first stop.

Kokusai-Dori Street: Okinawa’s colorful and charming souvenir shops are lined up along this 1-mile long street, where you can buy locally made glassware, pottery, lacquerware and even Okinawan-style flowered shirts. There are also many restaurants along Kokusai-Dori Street serving both international and Okinawan meals.

Makishi Public Market: Local markets are always the best showcase of local culture and cuisine. Located near Kokusai-Dori Street, it offers stalls selling Okinawa’s unique vegetables and ingredients used in preparing Okinawa’s famous cuisine, thought to promote longevity.

Naminoue Beach: Okinawa’s main island has no shortage of white sandy beaches, but for a quick fix, this beach is located right in Naha.

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