You have to be a Japanese to be able to tell right away that these are tourist destinations in the island of Okinawa. Naha is the bigger one and is located in the southern part of the island while Nago is in the north. Although one experiences the same cultural trademark in both places, still, one notices the difference between the two.
Naha is the capital city of the Okinawa Prefecture and is home to approximately half a million Japanese. The name “Naha” was originally “Naba,” the Western Japanese word for “mushroom.” It referred to a large mushroom-shaped stone the city used to have. Through the years, that stone eventually eroded and got buried, and the name of the place gradually changed to what it is now.
Cruising along the city center, I noticed that Naha is just like any “tourist trap.” Its 1.6-kilometer main street is called Kokusai-dori, or International Avenue. It has all kinds of stores, restaurants, and bars, and is very close to a big shopping mall, the city hall, the public market, and a row of banks and big corporations.
Another interesting area nearby used to be a United States Military Housing, ceded to the Okinawa Prefecture in 1987 and later developed into an upscale shopping area with many Western-brand fashion boutiques, restaurants, and other shops.
Closest to the island’s international airport, Naha is definitely a modern city and is considered to be the political, economic, and education center of Okinawa. It may not have the very tall buildings of Tokyo or of the other major Japanese cities but you certainly will feel the buzz of business when you drive through Naha’s streets.
For those interested in martial arts, you will be pleased to know that Naha is where the “old school” form of self-defense called Naha-te originated. It was practiced by the people indigenous to the area, and it includes some form of Chinese boxing. To this day, the locals are still “empowered” by this martial arts.
Of course, the first thing I did when I landed in Naha was to partake of a serving of a real, honest-to-goodness bowl of Japanese ramen and an array of delectable sushi and maki. These culinary treats, which I devoured in no time, made languishing in Okinawa’s debilitating “Philippine weather” well worth it.
After negotiating with Naha’s leading hotels for internship placements for our students, my business in the city was done and it was time to move north to Nago, the island’s other major tourist destination.
It was about an hour’s drive from Naha to Nago, but I really didn’t mind the traveling time because it was such a pleasant, leisurely drive, thanks to the beautiful scenery along the way. There was one peculiar distinctive mark I noticed along the highway: the entire cemented road is painted red when that part of the highway slopes downhill. Our host told us that the red color reminds the driver to slow down and be careful. What a nice touch for the safety of motorists!
We passed by quite a number of housing for American military personnel, similar to those we used to see before in Clark and Subic. Their presence affirms the island’s reputation as the biggest US Military Base in Asia.
Nago’s main draw is its beaches, which could rival those of Hawaii or the Caribbean. Residents of mainland Japan traverse the approximately two-hour southbound airline route just to spend the weekend or their holidays at Nago’s beaches, noted for their pristine white sand and crystal clear water. Mindful of the holidaymakers’ safety, a part of each beach is protected with a net in the water to prevent harmful sea creatures from getting into the swimming area. This distinctive precautionary measure is present at all beaches, and people are directed to swim only within the net enclosure.
What I missed, though, due to lack of time, was Pineapple Park, an interesting tourist destination along the main highway. I was told that this is an interactive museum which shows visitors how pineapple is grown and how wine from it is made. Until then, I didn’t even know that wine could be made from pineapple. That would have been fascinating to watch.
But I was able to gather a lesser known trivia from our host in Nago. Because of its subtropical environment, cherry blossoms in the city bloom much earlier than those in the other parts of Japan. In fact, the residents hold their Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival in January, instead of the usual April celebration.
And for those who are into deep sea diving, the corals and seagrass beds of the eastern coast of Nago are home to those plump, medium-sized marine mammals called dugong or more popularly known as sea cows.
My visit to Okinawa was certainly an educational experience. I didn’t realize that this small island off the southern coast of mainland Japan has so much to offer. It is nice to know that its popularity is gaining ground among Filipino fun-lovers and our travel agents here in the country are now poised to market it as another holiday option. This is the reason why our national carrier now has plans to operate direct non-stop flights from Manila.
So, pretty soon, when you’re made to choose between Naha or Nago, take both! They’re only an hour’s drive from each other, and your enjoyable experience from both cities is guaranteed to last a long time.
YOUR WEEKEND CHUCKLE
A ventriloquist was doing a show with his dummy on his knee, and starts going through his usual Dumb Blonde jokes. Suddenly, a blonde woman in the audience starts shouting, “I’ve heard enough of your stupid blonde jokes. What makes you think you can stereotype blonde women that way? What does the color of a woman’s hair have to do with her worth as a human being? It’s men like you who keep women like me from being respected at work and in the community.” The embarrassed ventriloquist begins to apologize, and the blonde yells: “You stay out of this! I’m talking to that little shit on your lap.”
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