Urasoe City is located on the East China Sea, just north of Naha, in the densely populated southern part of Okinawa’s main island. Although the area of the city is a mere 19 square kilometers, the population of around 110,000 makes Urasoe the 4th most populous city in Okinawa after Naha, Okinawa City and Uruma. Urasoe also boasts the youngest average age of any city in the prefecture: 35 years old. In the aging country of Japan this is quite a rarity!
Urasoe is also the home of many of the largest companies in Okinawa, such as Okinawa Electric and Orion. These, as well as the largesse of the central government, make it possible for the city to build and maintain schools, parks and children’s centers, creating a great environment in which to work and raise children. Although the presence of USMC Camp Kinser prevents access to the West Coast, there are many scenic spots in Urasoe, particularly the area around the Urasoe Castle ruins, and it is easy to get to beaches in Ginowan, Naha and elsewhere.
Urasoe has a long history. In the 12th century it became the birthplace of the unified Ryukyu Kingdom under King Shunten. This gave rise to the name “Urasoe,” literally meaning, “ruling the surrounding areas.” Urasoe’s nickname, “Tedako no Machi” (“The City of the Sun Child”) comes from the legend that another illustrious king, named Eiso, was sired by the Sun. Ultimately, after a prosperous 200 year reign, full of trade with China, Korea and other countries, power passed from Urasoe Gusuku (castle) to Shuri. During the Second World War, Urasoe was devastated in the intense fighting, and nearly half of the civilian population lost their lives. After the war, however, Urasoe was rebuilt and in 1970 it officially became a city. It has been thriving ever since.
- Tedako Hall: Urasoe’s state-of-the-art performing arts venue was built in Spring 2007. It has a 1000+ seat hall, excellent acoustics, and a glass-walled lobby that glows with lovely natural light, particularly in the evening. The attention to detail is evident in the cushy seats, curtain designed by renowned local print artist Naka Bokunen, and special soundproofed viewing room for loud children (I’m not kidding!).
- National Theater Okinawa: The National Theater is one of only 5 in the whole country, and it is located here in Jitchaku Urasoe. It was built for the preservation of Kumiodori and other Okinawan performing arts.
- Community Centers: There are several of these in Urasoe. The Central Community Center next to City Hall has a variety of clubs (music, art, poetry tai-chi etc.), and most of the members are lovely older people. Your Okinawa JET experience is not complete unless you get to know some older Uchinanchu and listen to their stories of the old days in Okinawa. The Harmony Center, near the library and Tedako Hall, also has many clubs, and it is used by lots of high school rock bands, and an eisa group. The Community Center Annex (on Route 330 after the big bridge to Ginowan) is the home of the Urasoe International Relations Association, where you can study Japanese and other languages, and participate in fun activities with Uchinanchu and other foreigners in the community. The facilities are also used by a children’s theater group and eisa groups, so the place is always lively! If you are looking to be involved in the community, these are great places to start.
- Urasoe City Art Museum: Although it is not of the same scale as the new Prefectural Museum in Shintoshin, the Urasoe City Art Museum does not lack for charm. The permanent exhibit consists of lovely Ryukyu lacquerware, and visiting exhibitions showcase works by contemporary Japanese and overseas artists. The museum is also used to exhibit pieces by school children and others in the local community.
- Urasoe City Library: The library is located right near the Harmony Center and Tedako Hall. Most of its resources are in Japanese, but it also houses the American Information Corner, a collection of books, magazines and other materials in English. There are both fiction and non-fiction, as well as children’s books. Only Urasoe residents and foreigners registered in Urasoe can check out items at the library, but guests from outside the city are welcome to visit.
- Urasoe Athletic Park: Urasoe boasts a large public athletic park, featuring a track, indoor gyms, and a baseball field. It’s a lovely place to jog, work out, and play sports. Both citizens and non-citizens can use the facilities, although it is a tad more expensive for those not registered in Urasoe. The athletic park is also the home of the annual summer festival, Tedako Matsuri, held the last weekend of July. In February, the Yakult Swallows (great name for a beverage company’s professional baseball club!) use the facilities for their spring training, and preseason games.
- Urasoe City Hall: If you think that tax procedures and inkan registration are the most exciting aspects of City Hall, think again! Urasoe City Hall is worth a visit for the following reasons: 1) There is a fantastic view from the 9th floor lobby and observation deck (open to the public), 2) You can try to guess what the abstract sculpture out front is supposed to be, and 3) You can visit the CIR, one of a dying breed of municipal CIRs, on the 4th floor in the International Relations Section.
- JICA Okinawa International Center (OIC): The Japan International Cooperation Agency is a government organization that sends Japanese youths to teach and work in developing countries, while at the same time welcoming the best and brightest of those countries to Japan for training in their respective technical fields. The OIC is one such training center, and at any given time there are trainees from 20 to 50 different countries. Visiting the OIC is a wonderful way to meet people from around the world. Every year there are five “friendship seminars:” programs in which OIC trainees introduce their home countries. Participation is free, and talks are usually given in English with Japanese interpretation. There is also an annual festival (in late autumn), and visitors are welcome to meet OIC trainees for lunch or dinner at the dining hall. Befriend enough OIC trainees, and you will have a place to stay no matter where you travel with your JET savings!
- Urasoe Park and Uraose Yodore: Urasoe Park comprises the chain of forested hills stretching from behind Urasoe Elementary down to Makiminato and Toyama. There is a recently completed trail connecting Urasoe Yodore, the royal mausoleum, to Iso Park and the banks of the Makiminato River. This trail is dotted with observation points that look out over the city and the East China Sea.
Shopping in Urasoe
Union (Nakama – next to the Urasoe Main Post office, across from Urasoe JHS)
- Kanehide (Iso – on Pipeline Dori between 38 and Gakuen Dori, Makiminato – on Route 58 near the T intersection with Gakuen Dori, Maeda – on Route 38, just west of T intersection by Urasoe Police Station)
- Maxvalu (Iso – behind Urashiro Elementary)
- Urasoe Shopping Center (Gusukuma – between Izumi Park and Route 58)
- Machinato Shopping Center (Makiminato on Route 58 between Pizza House and Makeman)
- Barclay’s Court (Nishihara – by the American Consulate)
- Yaoya (fruit and vegetable shop – there are many of these)
- Maeda – on Route 38, just west of T intersection by Urasoe Police Station, near Kanehide
- Miyagi – on Pipeline Dori, across the street from Okinawa Bank
- Iso – first side street east of Gakuen Dori near Pipeline Dori
- Organic and natural food stores in and near Urasoe
- Nanakusa (Ahacha – across the street from Urasoe City Hall; vegetarian buffet and store)
- ANEW (Miyagi – on Pipeline Dori near Okinawa Bank; natural food store)
- Warahondo (Mekaru – [Naha] near Mekaru Elementary)
- Ecoron (Ishimine [Shuri, Naha] – NE corner of 4-way intersection north of Ishimine Ryubo)
Iso – on the corner of Pipeline and Gakuen opposite the Lawson
- Iso – across from the Geo on 38, near the intersection of Pipeline and 38
- Iso – on 38 just east of Ohira interchange (specializes in furniture)
- Miyagi – on Pipeline, 200m south of the Yafuso Post Office
- Deo Deo – in Machinato Shopping Center
- Best Denki – on Pipeline, by the Uchima Post Office or Barclay’s Court in Nishihara