Running through the centre of downtown Naha, Kokusai Dori, or ‘International Street’, is your one-stop shopping area for everything Okinawa.
Nicknamed ‘The Miracle Mile’ because of its rapid growth following World War II, this bright and colourful street is always full of action. It’s a great place to stroll around eating, drinking, and finding local items.
On Sundays, Kokusai Dori closes all traffic access to become a pedestrian zone, making it easier for people to walk around and explore the shops. Open until well into the evening, you’ll find loads of Okinawa restaurants and bars often playing live music. It’s also a wonderful area to stay for a night, with a fun and lively atmosphere, and lots of hotels lining the strip.
What to see
If you start your walk at Makishi Station, you’re sure to pass a local landmark, the Saion Ufu Shisa statue. And as you walk down Kokusai Dori, you’ll notice shisa absolutely everywhere, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy some too.
Just off of Kokusai Dori is Tsuboya Pottery District, a cobble-stoned alley with quaint pottery shops selling beautiful handmade designs. Most of the pottery doesn’t come cheap, but you can find some great prices, especially from the bargai bins at the entrance to the shops.
In the middle of Kokusai Dori is the Makishi Market, a covered shopping arcade with local shops selling souvenirs, food, and other items. (Note: Makishi Market is currently under reconstruction, and most shops are closed at this time).
The Naha City Tourist Information Centre is a treasure trove of information and guidance for visitors. Pop in here to get maps, brochures and coupons, exchange money, rent lockers for suitcases, and use the free wifi. Bonus tip: In front of the Info Centre you’ll see a huge flat screen; stand on the designated spot (you’ll see two footsteps to stand on), and watch as a huge shark bites your head off, or swim with the whale sharks.
What to buy
Kokusai Dori is the best place to buy amazing and unique souvenirs. You can’t leave Okinawa without buying something with a shisa on it. This Okinawan icon can be found on top of every building and outside every gate, on t-shirts and bags and mugs, on pencil cases and earrings, and, of course, in tiny statues. Make sure to take a pair of them home, not just one, to keep evil spirits away.
You’ll also find lots of shells, magnets, Okinawa blown glass, and goods made with local bingata designs. A number of souvenir shops have a DIY area, where you can make your own goodies to take home.
Though shops line Kokusai Dori, wander through the covered shopping arcade areas to find great bargains.
What to eat and drink
There’s no shortage of places to eat at Kokusai Dori. You’ll find lots of traditional Okinawa restaurants serving local specialties, like Oki soba, umi budo, mozuku, jimami dofu, and taco rice. Some of them have regular live performances of Okinawa song and dance, meaning you’ll be full, and entertained too.
You can also find American-influenced cuisine, like at the popular Steakhouse 88, which is guaranteed to give you the meat sweats. For dessert, the local brand, Blue Seal Ice Cream, is a must. In smaller cafes, try zenzai, a local ice treat with red beans.
There are also lots of bars to drink. Stroll through Yatai Mura, a chic new bar zone with tiny drinking holes and izakaya. Or head to the ever-popular Rehab Bar, a tourist-friendly watering hole. One of the weirder bars along Kokusai Dori is the Monkey Bar, which actually has live monkeys, and serves izakaya style food, like gyoza.
Kokusai Dori is close to two monorail stops, with Prefectural Office Station at the south, and Makishi Station at the north.
If you’re driving, you’ll find lots of paid parking both on Kokusai Dori itself, and on the maze of tiny streets that surround it.