I'm a teacher, musician, blogger and uni student living in Sydney and always dreaming about living & experiencing a new corner of the world. Visit my blog at www.jessiejournals.wordpress.com.
Published May 7th 2015
Find many perks in exploring this island
Top Things to Do in Okinawa When one hears the word Japan, we don't normally associate it with crystal clear water. Little do we know that the two dozen or so islands of Okinawa (also known as Ryukyu) arc through crystal-blue tropical waters from southern Japan to Taiwan.
The peak tourist season runs from July to September, though the tail end of that period coincides with the dreaded typhoon season. Times to avoid travelling there include the rainy season in May and June, especially Golden Week- the first week of May- when many mainland Japanese come to Okinawa as an annual get-away.
Why do Japanese people treat Okinawa like it's their backyard? It's because getting there is becoming easier with flights running multiple flights a day from most of Japan's major cities. Flights to Okinawa also operate from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and China.
The seas surrounding Okinawa's islands are considered among the world's most beautiful with coral reefs and abundant marine wildlife. Consequently, snorkeling and scuba diving are among Okinawa's top attractions.
Okinawa is further divided into three major island groups. Unfortunately, I only had time to visit the main island, but even then, I was able to experience a taste of Asian paradise. Here are a few spots on this island that I'd recommend:
Churaumi Aquarium The Ocean Expo Park (see #2) includes many tourist attractions within, but the most popular one is definitely the Churaumi Aquarium. This aquarium is spread out over three floors with the entrance on the third floor and the exit on the first floor. Directly after the entrance there is a pool where visitors can touch living starfish and seashells with their own hands (always a great activity for the kids!).
Then, there is a tank with the world's first large scale exhibit of living coral. After that is a gigantic tank, which has a volume capacity of 7,500 cubic metres. Visitors can also view this tank from multiple directions, for example, from the Aqua Room through the large acrylic window. Here was where I sat for a long time watching the world's biggest fish- whale sharks- in multiple numbers swim by. Churaumi Aquarium was the world's first aquarium to have multiple whale sharks in captivity. Churaumi Aquarium was also the first to succeed in keeping multiple manta rays (which can grow to around 7 metres) and successfully reproducing them in a tank (Note: If you're lucky you might also spot some dolphins in this tank). My journey ended with a section of 'into the deep sea'. (To view Churaumi Aquarium's website, click here)
There are other sections within the Ocean Expo Park (that are free!!), which unfortunately I didn't have enough time for. I did however see a lot of the other marine-related sections. For example, there are seven species of sea turtle, and this Ocean Expo Park has 4 of them!
I also watched a dolphin show, which had two types of dolphins in it. I've watched a lot of dolphin shows before in at least 5 different countries, but what struck me about this one was that they had a species called false killer whale, which I've never seen before. I may be a little biased, but these false killer whales were, I believe, able to jump a lot higher than their show-partners- bottlenose dolphins- and were also able to do more creative tricks.
Shuri Castle was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom built in the 1300s before it got destroyed during World War 2. Fortunately, it had undergone reconstructions in 1992 and now is the #1 tourist destination in Okinawa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This site has many gates that eventually lead to a plaza on a hilltop surrounded by three buildings (Seiden, Hokuden and Nanden). The interiors of Hokuden and Nanden are now museums which exhibit the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom as well as its interactions with mainland Japan and China. Historical artifacts, both made on the island and received during foreign trade, are also on display. The interiors of Seiden had been reconstructed to replicate its original style, which visitors can feel like a king and even see a replica of the throne and crown.
Southeast Botanical Gardens
Southeast Botanical Gardens is an expansive park of about two square kilometres that showcases a myriad of plants, ponds and animals. Due to Okinawa's subtropical climate, the garden is able to grow a wide variety of species with origins from around the world. This garden is separated into two parts- botanical and water. Because the main part is the water garden, I spent most of my time there walking along the hillside trails and taking in the picturesque view.
I have to admit, I also really enjoyed seeing the small animals they had, which ranged from Okinawan pigs to rodents to goats to monkeys. These areas were perfect for the kids! Not to mention the friendly staff members who offered us some food to feed the animals wherever we went! The staff at this place were honestly the most genuine and helpful people I've met. When it started raining suddenly, one staff member even went around the garden and gave every visitor an umbrella and led them to a restricted entry spot just to get shelter!
Okinawa World is a theme park that encompasses all aspects of the Okinawan culture. The park's main attractions are its natural cave, craft village and snake museum. Because this is a theme park, I was able to fulfil my day by watching some traditional Okinawan performances, snapping a shot with me holding a python and spotting traditional crafting skills such as glass blowing and pottery. There were also a lot of hands-on experiences for those who want to try!
My personal favourite was however the Gyokusendo Cave. The inside of the cave is beautiful with countless numbers of stalagmites and stalactites. The only criticism I have is that I would've preferred it to be more lit, especially for those elderlies who visited the cave (and there were a lot of them!).
Shikinaen Garden was built in the 18th Century as the second residence of the Ryukyu king. It is relatively small and simple, with a traditional Japanese landscape style including a central pond. While the garden is designed in a style similar to elsewhere in Japan, the architecture and flora are uniquely Okinawan. It also got destroyed in World War 2, and took about 20 years to restore. In 2000, it was added onto the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.