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A prewar photograph of the Naha skyline
  • Japanese/Okinawan: 那覇 (Naha / Naafa)

Naha was the chief port city in the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, and the center of much mercantile and diplomatic activity. Historically consisting of the four districts (O: yumachi) of Higashi, Nishi, Izumisaki, and Wakasa, the city also (geographically, but not administratively) contained within it the community of Kumemura. Today, having absorbed the former royal capital of Shuri, the farming village of Mawashi, and a number of other municipalities into its borders, Naha is the capital of Okinawa prefecture.


It is not fully known at what time Naha emerged as a settlement and a port, but it is presumed to have formed as a matter of course in the late 14th century when Chinese and Japanese ships (among others) found the site a convenient waystation.[1] The port was already burgeoning by the 1420s, when Shô Hashi united Okinawa Island, founding the Kingdom of Ryûkyû and establishing the first Shô dynasty.[2] He then made Naha the chief port of his united kingdom, where Tomari and Makiminato had served that purpose previously.[3] In the previous century, increased piracy activity around Korea, along with revolts by Fang Guozhen and Zhang Shicheng, caused Japanese merchants to take a different route to China, passing through the Ryukyus and making their way to Fuzhou, rather than traveling to Ningpo via Hakata, a more direct route.[4]

In addition to serving as the chief port for the kingdom, Naha was a major transshipment port, one of the most major trading hubs in the entire Southeast & East Asia region, during its height in the 15th-16th centuries. Many Japanese merchants operating within the shuinsen system made port here or even maintained homes and families in Naha, as did a small community of Korean merchants involved in trade with Java and Siam.[5] The port served as a transshipment point for a great many goods, including metals, aromatic woods, silks, porcelains, ivory, and the like, as well as for silver. Though the kingdom itself did not send its own trading ships anywhere in Southeast Asia after 1570 (the final trading mission to Siam), the government did hire or contract Japanese merchants (and presumably others) to perform both mercantile and diplomatic duties on behalf of the kingdom. To name just two examples, Taira Nobushige of Hakata traveled to Korea in 1471 as an envoy of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, and Kawasaki Rihee of Sakai set sail for Southeast Asia in 1598 to engage in trade on behalf of the kingdom.[6]

Trade declined dramatically in the 17th century, due to heavy restrictions imposed by Satsuma, the imposition of maritime restrictions (kaikin) in Japan (which brought a severe decline in Japanese maritime activity), and a variety of factors concerning trade relations with Southeast Asia. But Naha remained the chief port city, and along with Shuri, the chief economic, cultural, and political center in the Ryukyus, from that time through today. Major efforts to dredge the harbor and revitalize the port were undertaken in 1717, under the direction of Tamagusuku Chôkun as waki bugyô. It is said 70,000 men were involved in the effort, and a stone still stands today in honor and memory of the event.[7]

Naha was home to one of four sets of scholar-aristocracies in the kingdom, along with Shuri, Tomari, and Kumemura. Members of the Naha aristocracy were selected for certain governmental positions - largely those related to managing trade and the administration of Naha itself - often alongside scholar-officials from Shuri, while other positions were filled exclusively from the Shuri and Kumemura families. The highest position attainable for a member of the Naha scholar-aristocracy was that of Omonogusuku osasu-no-soba, head of the Omonogusuku, the royal storehouse located out in the harbor. The administration of the port town itself was headed by the Naha satonushi (O: Naafa satunushi), who had under him some ten to twenty officials. Two Naha hissha and two Naha kari hissha, whose position might be translated as "clerk" or "secretary," oversaw official records and archives, under the authority of the Omonogusuku osasu-no-soba, and a number of Naha yokome served as inspectors, investigating local civil cases, under the jurisdiction of the jitô of the neighboring port town of Tomari.[8]

The three neighborhoods of Tsuji, Watanji, and Nakashima served as the kingdom's chief pleasure districts. Tsuji and Nakashima were created as officially designated pleasure districts in 1672, and prostitutes previously operating illegally were gathered there, and became authorized.[9] A third pleasure quarters was built at Watanji later on.[10] According to one source, there may have been as many as 3,000 courtesans operating in Naha at the beginning of the 19th century. The establishments were mostly, if not entirely, run by women as well, and to a certain extent the districts were self-contained entities, with their own distinctive administrative structures and community customs.[9]

Model of central Naha in the 1930s, Naha City Museum of History. Note the City Hall (shiyakusho) and clock tower center; the City Auditorium (kôkaidô, right); and blue-roofed post office in the foreground.

Following the fall of the kingdom in the 1870s and its annexation as Okinawa prefecture, Naha absorbed Shuri and became the prefectural capital. Combining with Kumemura and Tomari, it was first designated Naha-ku (Naha Ward), and then in 1921, after absorbing the towns of Kakinohana and Makishi, was named Naha City.[3] As the city modernized, Higashi and Nishi remained the center of political and commercial activity through the prewar period, and into the 1940s. In the 1920s to early 1940s, the main avenue of the city center was Ufujômee dûi (大門前通り, J: Ômon mae dôri, lit. "Avenue in front of the Great Gate"), which ran roughly along the border between Nishi and Higashi, at a diagonal to today's street grid. The street took its name from the Kumemura Great Gate (O: Kuninda ufujô, J: Kumemura ômon) Three of the chief landmarks along the road were the Naha City Post Office (today, the Higashi-machi post office), Naha City Hall (built on the former site of the Tenshikan),[11] and the Yamagata-ya department store. The neighborhood immediately around the City Hall was also home to the Naha City Auditorium (那覇市公会堂, Naha shi kôkaidô), police and fire stations, banks, theatres, and numerous notable shops and businesses. This incarnation of the Naha City Hall, designed by Takeda Goichi, was completed in 1919, in what Takeda termed a "tropical Spanish mission style." This was the first building in Okinawa to be built in steel-reinforced concrete, and was the tallest in Naha; its 23-meter tower, which quickly became a landmark and symbol of the city, was used as a watchtower by the local fire department, and featured sirens which would be used to announce the time.[12]

The Naha branch of the Yamagata-ya (the head location being in Kagoshima City) was the first department store opened in Okinawa. Nearby was the Hirao branch store (平尾分店), opened in 1892 by Nara native Hirao Minokichi and selling both Western and Japanese clothing, and various other goods, as well as the Namikawa Hardware Store (並川金物店), run by another Nara native, Namikawa Kamejirô, who opened his shop in 1900. The nearby Nakandakari clothing shop (仲村渠呉服店) was one of comparatively few clothing stores run by Okinawans. Immediately east and south of the Yamagata-ya were the Aoyama Bookstore (青山本店), run by Aoyama Sôkichi, a man from Kagoshima who specialized in Okinawa-related books; the Meishidô (明視堂), run by Yamashita Tokuzô, which sold a wide variety of items, including eyeglasses, smoking pipes, cameras, and radios; and the Okinawa Book Company (沖縄書籍株式会社), famous for its headquarters, which was said to resemble a museum. Other notable shops included the Kasuri-ya, a Ryukyuan textiles tailor's run by Nakasone Sôon; a restaurant called Mannin-ya, opened in 1929 by Nakazato Seijun and specializing in Okinawa soba, sushi, donburi, and Western-style dishes; a pharmacy known as Seiseidô yakubô (生盛堂薬房), run by Gushiken Tôru from Motobu; the Okinawa Products Display Hall (沖縄物産陳列館), selling various local products; the headquarters of the Ryukyu Textiles Union (琉球織物同業組合); and a major telephone exchange station (telephone service began on the island in 1910). Electric street cars ran from Ufujômee-dûi all the way to Shuri beginning in 1914, but were shut down in 1933 due to overwhelming competition from the city bus lines.[12] Meanwhile, a series of light rail lines were opened beginning in 1914, connecting Naha with Yonabaru and Itoman to the south, and Kadena to the north; known popularly as the "Keibin," this rail service connected through a one-story, wooden, red-tile-roofed Naha Station as its main hub, located in the Izumisaki neighborhood of Naha. The rail lines and stations were destroyed in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, and were never rebuilt; the Okinawa Monorail (aka Yui Rail), running from Naha Airport to Shuri, is the only rail line in the prefecture today, leaving Yonabaru, Itoman, Kadena, and the entire rest of the prefecture to be served by bus as the only form of public transport. Naha Bus Terminal was built on the former site of the Naha train station in 1959. Renovation work at the bus terminal in the late 2010s uncovered the old railroad turntable of Naha Station, the only such turntable in the city.[13]

Some 90% of Naha City as a whole was destroyed in the October 10, 1944 Air Raid (十・十空襲); the city suffered further in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. Under the postwar American Occupation, the area immediately surrounding the former City Hall and Ufujômee-dûi was made off-limits to Japanese or Okinawan civilians, due to its proximity to the port facilities, then being actively used for military purposes. As a result, the areas of Tsuboya and Makishi, which had historically been on the outer edges of the city, now became the main center of activity. New government buildings, department stores, theatres, and the like were established along a new main avenue, called Kokusai-dôri, or "International Street," which remains the chief center of activity today.[12]


Throughout most of the time of the Kingdom, Naha consisted of six neighborhoods or districts, all but two of them located on a small island called Ukishima, which sat in the harbor, surrounded on three sides by the Asato, Kokuba, and Kumoji Rivers, which separated it from the "mainland" of Okinawa Island by a short span. It was the flow of these freshwater rivers into the harbor which suppressed coral growth, thus helping it to be such an ideal harbor.[14]

Kumemura was located in the southern part of this island, closest to the "mainland," facing the neighborhood of Izumisaki across the harbor, while the neighborhoods of Higashi and Nishi were located to the west. Wakasamachi, occupied the northern or northeastern section of the island, and finally, the port of Tomari was located just across the way, to the east of Ukishima, on the Okinawan "mainland." The Chôkôtei, a narrow, kilometer-long earthen embankment built in 1452, connected Tomari and Ukishima.[15]

The body of water separating Ukishima from the Okinawan "mainland" was at some point filled in, uniting the city more fully into a single section of land.


Main Article: Kumemura

Kumemura was the chief center of Confucian learning in the kingdom, and was home to a number of Chinese-style Confucian and Taoist temples. Government officials and administrators were almost exclusively drawn from the residents of Kumemura, and small numbers of the top students/scholars from Kumemura enjoyed the opportunity to study in Fuzhou and Beijing. Though the community was quite walled off initially, by the 17th century, the embankments or walls between Kumemura and the other districts of Naha had disappeared.

While Chinese (and some Koreans) formed distinctly separate neighborhoods for themselves, including, most prominently, the walled-in district of Kumemura, Japanese[16] lived alongside Ryukyuans throughout the other four districts.[17] The majority of Japanese coming to Ryûkyû in the 16th century are believed to have come from the Kansai region, especially the port city of Sakai, including many monks or lay monks associated with Daitokuji. Japanese coming to Ryûkyû in the 17th century were chiefly, as might be expected, from Satsuma han.

A small hill located between Wakasa and Kuninda was known as Maachû-yama 松尾山, or Matsuo. A land rezoning project, accompanied by property and tax reform, was conducted across the city from 1899 to 1903, and at that time, a collection of educational and medical facilities, and residences for public officials, were constructed at Matsuo. These compounds were all destroyed in the 1944/10/10 air raid; after the war, a new school was established on the site, along with residences for members of the Occupying forces. Today, the area is known as Matsuyama Park, and is home to the Chinese gardens Fukushûen (i.e. Fuzhou Gardens, built in 1992), and to Naha's chief Confucian temple, rebuilt in Matsuyama in 2013.

Main article: Tomari

Traders and those coming to give tribute from Yaeyama, Miyako, Amami and other outlying islands within the Ryûkyû Kingdom generally made port in Tomari, and lodged there.[18]

A number of important economic and diplomatic institutions were located in the main port areas of Higashi and Nishi. The Oyamise (O: weemishi) was the chief governmental trading center, and later came to serve as a kind of city hall or municipal affairs office as well. Markets were often held in the open space before the Oyamise, which was quite close to the temples, and to the Tenshikan, a mansion for visiting Chinese investiture envoys which is said to have rivaled Shuri Castle itself.

The shoreline of Nishi-machi, running from Mii gushiki to Su-nu-sachi (in the Tsuji area), was historically a popular waterfront recreational area known as Nishi-nu-umi ("the beach of Nishi," or "the sea of Nishi"). After the fall of the kingdom, land reclamation efforts were undertaken to expand this area. Three new neighborhoods were created, called Nishi Shinmachi ("new town") 1, 2, and 3-chôme. These new areas became home to storage warehouses, theatres, guesthouses, and other institutions, including the Taisho Theater and the Shintenza, where a man named Tamagusuku Seigi formed the Sango-za theatre group.[19]

Wakasamachi, which according to oral tradition was founded by Japanese, lay to the north of Kumemura. Here were located temples to Ebisu and Jizô, established by Japanese monks, and the Naminoue Shrine. Zen monks from Japan also founded the temple Kôganji, which was the site of the chief Japanese cemetery in the city. Wakasamachi Ôdôri ran through the district from northeast to southwest, intersecting with Kume Ôdôri near the center of Ukishima, and connecting directly into the Chôkôtei on its eastern end. While Chinese envoys stayed in residences set aside for them in Higashi/Nishi, Wakasa was home to a residence set aside for those from the Tokara Islands.

Port & Harbor

The entrance to the port, to the west of Ukishima, was guarded by a pair of fortresses built in the early 1550s on spits of land extending out towards the sea. These two fortresses, Mie gusuku and Yarazamori gusuku, had a large chain strung out between them across the water, which could rather effectively block ships from entering the harbor. The fortresses were quite successful in repelling wakô raids on several occasions, but proved ultimately useless against the 1609 invasion of Ryûkyû by forces from Satsuma han, who simply made landfall elsewhere and approached Shuri by land.[20]

Beyond these fortresses lay numerous small islands in a body of water - all but completely filled in today - which stretched as far south as Madanbashi. Many of these tiny islands were home to either government buildings, such as the warehouses Omono gusuku (O: umun gushiku) and Iô gusuku (O: yuuwa gusuku), or sacred spaces, such as the shrines or utaki of Gânâmui, Rinkai-ji & Oki Shrine (Oki-gû or Oki-no-tera, O: Uchi nu tira), Watanji, Sueyoshi Shrine, Chinpe, and Ibinume.

The construction of the Chôkôtei and inter-island roads connecting Mie-gusuku to Rinkai-ji & Oki Shrine, and Yarazamui-gusuku to Ibinume and Sueyoshi, along with other structures, altered the flow of the waters in the area, and the port began to silt up. By around 1700, Lake Man (Manko) had shrunk considerably, and many of the small islands grew to intersect with one another, joining into larger (though still quite tiny) islands within Naha Harbor. For example, where Iô gusuku and Watanji had previously occupied separate islands, their two islands had now joined into one. By 1868, Onoyama, the largest of these small islands, had grown considerably. Public works landfill projects began in earnest in the Meiji period, continuing through the pre-war and early post-war periods, filling in this section of the harbor and transforming these many small islands into fewer, larger islands, and eventually connecting them to the "mainland" of Okinawa Island completely. Today, Onoyama Park encompasses much of the area that used to be tiny islands or the water separating them; Omonogusuku stands apart as one of the few of these sites still surrounded mostly by water, though it too is now connected to the "mainland" by a spit of land, rather than sitting on its own separate island.

Efforts were undertaken in 1907-1915 to expand the harbor, to make it accessible for steamships. By 1915, the harbor could handle three 1500-ton ships at once; later, it was further expanded to accommodate 4500-ton ships. Meanwhile, Osaka Shôsen, a company founded in 1884, began running regular passenger ship routes between Osaka and Naha in 1885; other companies soon joined in, connecting Naha to Kagoshima, Tokyo, and other cities, and enabling the rise of Okinawa's tourism industry.[21]

Other Areas

Around the year 1500, King Shô Shin had a great many pine trees planted along the main road from Shuri to Naha. A stele erected there in 1501 by Shûkei, abbot of Enkaku-ji, indicates that this was done to ensure a source of lumber for upkeep and repairs of that temple, established the previous decade.[22] The stele further cautions against the crime of doing anything to disturb this most important lumber supply.[23] The area came to be known as Ufudô Matsubara 大道松原 (O: Ufudô machibara; roughly, "field of pines at the great road"), and is mentioned in the classical Okinawan song Nubui kuduchi, which narrates the journey envoys to Kagoshima traveled, starting from Shuri and passing through Ufudô Matsubara, Azato Hachimangû, and Sôgenji on the way to the harbor. The neighborhood today, to the east of Azato Station, is known as Daidô, a standard Japanese reading of the phrase Ufudô ("great road"). Few pines remain.

A small area of tidal flats or mudflats known as Jikkaunji 十貫瀬, located near Sôgenji and the Kumoji River, was dried and reclaimed as land in 1733.[10]

Yogi Park, up until 2018 the home of the Okinawa Prefectural Library and still today the location of the Naha City Public Library, is located just south of the Makishi Market / Heiwa-dôri shopping arcade district, on the former site of an agricultural research station. The station was established in 1881 on a space of some 7,900 tsubo in what was then Kohagura village, Mawashi magiri; sugar cane, rice, wheat, indigo, palm trees, turmeric, and other crops were grown there experimentally, and various projects researching innovations into sugar processing and production were conducted there. Over the course of the 1910s-20s, various aspects of the research station were broken off and relocated to sites elsewhere on the island, including in Nishihara, Nago, and Futenma. In 1928, Okinawa prefecture purchased roughly 105,000 tsubo in the Yogi neighborhood of Mawashi village and established a main (central) research station there. The station was destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, but was reestablished in 1946. Sugar cane and other crops were grown, and pigs, goats, and cows raised. However, as the city grew, the station was relocated in 1961 to a site in the Sakiyama neighborhood of Shuri; its former site in Yogi was transformed into a public park, and public facilities such as a library and a hospital were built nearby.[24]


  • Plaques at Onoyama Park.
  • Uezato Takashi. "The Formation of the Port City of Naha in Ryukyu and the World of Maritime Asia: From the Perspective of a Japanese Network." Acta Asiatica 95 (2008). pp57-77.
  1. Uezato. p73.
  2. Uezato. p57.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Naha ma~i" 那覇ま~い. Pamphlet. Naha City Board of Education Cultural Properties Division 那覇市教育委員会文化財課, 1989.
  4. Uezato. p58.
  5. Geoffrey Gunn, History Without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800, Hong Kong University Press (2011), 217.
  6. Uezato. p71.
  7. Hokama Masaaki 外間政明。”Nahakō no seiritsu to sono kinō iji” 那覇港の成立とその機能維持。Shimatati しまたてぃ 13. Okinawa Shimatate Kyōkai 沖縄しまたて協会。July 2000. pp5-7.; "Monument of Construction of Naha Port," gallery labels, Okinawa Prefectural Museum.[1]
  8. Naha shizoku no isshô 那覇士族の一生 (Naha: Naha City Museum of History, 2010), 14.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Ono Masako, Tomita Chinatsu, Kanna Keiko, Taguchi Megumi, "Shiryô shôkai Kishi Akimasa bunko Satsuyû kikô," Shiryôhenshûshitsu kiyô 31 (2006), 233-234.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Watanabe Miki 渡辺美季, "Ryûkyû Shuri no zu, Ryûkyû Naha zu: Koga rekishi hakubutsukan zô Takami Senseki kankei shiryô yori" 「琉球首里ノ図・琉球那覇図ー古河歴史博物館蔵 鷹見泉石関係資料より」, Tôkyô daigaku shiryôhensanjo fuzoku gazô shiryô kaiseki sentaa tsûshin 東京大学史料編纂所附属画像史料解析センター通信 90 (Oct 2020), p11.
  11. Plaque at former site of Naha City Office, Naha Kumoji 1-chôme.[2]
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Shôwa no Naha fukugen mokkei," pamphlet, Naha City Museum of History, 2014.
  13. Plaques at Naha Bus Terminal, Izumizaki.[3][4]
  14. Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 23.
  15. Uezato. p61.
  16. Though there were doubtless many people of genuine Japanese ethnicity/descent living in Naha in the 15th-17th centuries, records from that time likely include in the term wajin (倭人) people who simply adopted Japanese identities or customs, and wakô, maritime smugglers and raiders of a variety of ethnicities/origins who came to be known throughout East and Southeast Asia as "Japanese" (wa) pirates ().
  17. Uezato. p60.
  18. Uezato. p62.
  19. Plaques at former site of Nishi-nu-umi.[5]
  20. Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai Capture a King: Okinawa 1609. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2009. pp29, 41, 46.
  21. Gallery labels, Naha City Museum of History, August 2013.
  22. The stele is known alternately as Sashikaeshi matsuo no himon サシカヘシ松尾之碑文 and Ufudômô no himon 大道毛之碑文. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 139.
  23. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 139.
  24. Plaque on-site in Yogi Park.[6]