Visiting a place like Okinawa would not be complete without learning about its rich culture and history and the Okinawa Prefectural Museum is great place to give you an in-depth understanding of the island.
The permanent exhibitions there carefully chronicle all things Okinawan, in areas of Natural History, Archeology, Arts and Crafts, History and Folklore.
It is best to start with the General Exhibition, which provides a detailed history. It takes you on a journey from the rise and fall of the Ryukyu Kingdom from the 15th to 19th century, the annexation of Okinawa prefecture to Japan, the US occupation after World War II, the reversion, to the Okinawa of today.
The interactive multimedia map in the middle of the museum lets you learn about the Ryukyu archipelagoes, the sea routes traders took and other interesting things that gives you a good overview of the kingdom.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore all the galleries on the fringes of the main exhibition (especially if you plan to pop over to the Art Museum too, which is housed in the same building as the Prefectural Museum) but if your time is limited, the museum has mapped out the exhibits labeled as a “Must See” and you can get a copy when you purchase your tickets. One of these items highlighted is the Bell of the State Hall, which was casted in 1458 and the inscription on it describes the Ryukyu Kingdom as “the hub of the trading nations”.
On your way out (or maybe before you enter), do walk around the Outdoor Exhibition Space where you will find a traditional Okinawan house, among other things.
It would be ideal if you could arrange for a visit to the Museum as one of the first things you do in Okinawa to give you a good solid background before you visit other places of interest. Your knowledge from the museum will help you develop a better sense of appreciation for those place as the Okinawa Prefectural Museum covers Okinawa’s culture, nature, heritage and tradition in a more holistic and comprehensive way than any commercial tourist attraction can offer.
The museum is located on Route 251 in Naha near the Omoromachi Nichome bus and monorail stations. Admission ranges from 150 yen for children to 410 yen for adults. Operating hours are 09:00 ~ 18:00 daily with extended hours until 20:00 on Friday and Saturday.