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From bustling markets to quiet alleyways, Okinawa’s arcades are a fascinating blend of the traditional and the modern, with old-school shops coexisting alongside trendy cafes and bars. While many travelers flock to the beaches and tourist hotspots, Okinawa’s arcades offer a glimpse into the daily life of locals, showcasing the multi-generational communities that have thrived there for decades. From the traditional shops selling daily goods to trendy cafes and bars, the arcades are a microcosm of coexistence where generations and cultures converge. With so much to discover and experience, a visit during the afternoon or evening is a truly enriching experience for travelers looking to delve deeper into the heart of the island’s culture.

Whether you’re a foodie, a photographer, or simply looking for an authentic cultural experience, here are the arcades of Okinawa that should not be missed.

Sakaemachi Arcade: Exploring the Living, Breathing Market of Retro Okinawa

Nestled in the heart of Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, Sakaemachi Arcade (栄町市場) is a living, breathing marketplace that captures the essence of the island’s rich cultural heritage and community spirit. Built in the 1950s, the arcade is home to a variety of shops and restaurants, each with its unique charm and character. The covered passageway provides shelter from the sun and rain, while the winding streets and alleys give the market a labyrinth-like feel. With multi-generational vendors and customers, Sakaemachi Arcade is a place where the old and the new coexist harmoniously, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere that is unique in Japan.

For travelers, the afternoon is an ideal time to experience the vibrant atmosphere of this bustling marketplace. During this time, the daytime shops are still open, while the nighttime shops are busy preparing to open their doors for business. Children are back from school, and the arcade is alive with activity as shop owners and customers of all ages mingle and interact. Pick up some delicious, fresh fruit from the friendly staff at one of the fruit shops, and then relax with an ice coffee at COFFEE potohoto while deciding where to head next to pick up a Blue Seal Okinawa ice cream.

COFFEE potohoto in Sakaemachi Arcade in Okinawa
Relax with an ice coffee in COFFEE potohoto, Sakaemachi Arcade.

Koza Gate Street: A Unique Artifact of Okinawa’s History and Culture

While it might not have the same charm as the historic Sakaemachi Arcade, Koza Gate Street (コザゲート通り) in central Okinawa City has its own unique character and history that is just waiting to be explored.

Koza Gate Street, a retro shopping area in Okinawa, Japan
A new generation is taking over Koza Gate Street.

A monument to the post-World War II era in Okinawa, many of the shops and establishments of Koza Gate Street display signs predominantly in English, a reflection of the area’s close ties to the American military presence on the island. The street was once the primary entertainment district of Okinawa in the 1970s, a time when the street and arcade behind it was bustling with activity and nightlife. But after the development of the American Village in nearby Chatan in the early 2000s, the Koza Gate Street area became dilapidated and is now a stark contrast to the glitz of its modern-day neighbor.

This is a fantastic spot for photographers on the hunt for graffiti and urban decay. While it hasn’t necessarily attracted the crowd of tourists needed to support commercial businesses in the area, there are signs of a generational change taking effect. Young Japanese locals are running coworking spaces and chic cafes, injecting new life and energy into the area.

AMBER HOLIC is a coffee lover’s coffee shop with single-origin beans. Dance studio GALAXY, located in the heart of Koza Gate Street, is full of teenagers rehearsing their latest rock dance moves, indicating that the area is on the verge of a local, youth-led renaissance. The street is very much alive if you take the time to look, and it’s a stunning example of how a district evolves to mirror those living in and around it.

Ginten Street Arcade: A Labyrinth of Colorful Murals

Like Koza Gate Street, Ginten Street Arcade (銀天街), a short 20-minute walk away, has a rich history. While its once-vibrant atmosphere has also fallen into decline, here, too, nascent developments hint at new life in the area.

wide angle view of Ginten Street Arcade, a shopping and graffiti rich area in okinawa, Japan
The mural dedicated to the memory of the Ginten Street Arcade.

Despite the market being long gone, a huge mural and reproduction of the original facade are testament to the significance and history of this arcade. The colorful mural adds a modern touch to the area, celebrating the unique identity of Okinawa City. Even without the arcade in place, wandering through the area still holds appeal, with shops scattered along its narrow streets giving a glimpse into how it was decades ago. Photographers and those with an eye for detail should set aside an extra hour or so to navigate its labyrinth streets on foot.

How to Access

Sakaemachi Arcade is in central Naha, next to Asato Station (安里駅). Koza Gate Street is a 45-minute bus ride from central Naha. Take bus number 23 from Okinawa Times Mae bus stop, and get off at Goya bus stop. Ginten Street Arcade is a 20-minute walk from Koza Gate Street.

Both Sakaemachi Arcade and Koza Gate Street offer unique experiences to visitors. While Sakaemachi Arcade preserves the old townscapes and showcases a thriving, interconnected community, the frozen-in-time atmosphere of Koza Gate Street reflects the area’s history and hints at its future. No matter which you choose to explore, both will leave you with a newfound appreciation for Okinawan culture and the island’s rich history.

Sponsored by: Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau

Don Kennedy

Don Kennedy

Hi! My name is Don Kennedy and I am a Tokyo-based freelance camera nerd. Having grown up in a sleepy town in rural Australia, in 2005 I moved to the world's largest metropolis and have been loving living here ever since. I’m based on the east side of the city, near Ueno, and really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, the warmth of the locals, and the history of the area. As Tokyo is such an incredibly walkable city, you might see me wandering around with a camera in hand during the day, or making the most of the amazing food options in an izakaya or restaurant at night.


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