Shuri Castle, Churaumi Aquarium, Manzamo, etc.

Trip Start Jan 25, 2009
1
5
Trip End Jan 27, 2009


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Where I stayed
Tokyo Daiichi Hotel

Flag of Japan  , Okinawa,
Sunday, January 25, 2009

I had never been to Okinawa before this trip, although it is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Japan. Honestly, it didn't look so attractive to me, because I thought Okinawa was just a beach resort and there was nothing I was especially interested in. However, when I made a decision to travel for three days, which were the longest holidays I could take at the time, I came up with the idea to travel to Okinawa. Besides, my 75 year-old mam was eager to travel to Okinawa at least once in her life, even though she didn't know much about tourist attractions of Okinawa. All the cost of the three-day travel was about JPY 42k per person with ANA tour program, which was not bad.

On day 1, just after we arrived in Okinawa at half past one, we headed for DFS Okinawa in Omoromachi where we were supposed to rent a car. The monorail from the airport to DFS was comfortable, although we were starving because we had planed to eat a flight meal, but it was not served. So we bought some Chinsuko, Okinawan sweets, at the monorail station and filled in our empty stomachs. Anyway, the rental car prepared for us was better than that we expected. I hate to say this, but that was the first time to drive a car with a car navigation system, because I don't drive in an unknown area so often. At first, it confused me a couple of times until we got to Shuli Castle, but I got used to it immediately and it became a must during our stay in Okinawa.

The first destination was Shuri Castle located in Naha, which is the most touristy castle of Japan. It was rebuilt in 1992 and the original foundation parts are still under the ground. So the castle building itself is new and beautiful. Compared to the other castles of Okinawa, it is easy to imagine what original Okinawan castle was, because the other castles were all ruins without the main buildings. After we parked in the parking lot near Shurei-mon Gate, we walked up to the main buildings. In front of the gate, there was a stage which had Okinawan traditional dance shows. The shows were interesting, but we didn't have enough time to watch all the shows. Paying 800 yen per person for a admission ticket, we passed the gate to the main buildings. Immediately, we found the most picturesque building of Okinawa there, which had completely different appearance from those of Japanese castles. It was mainly colored in red and closer to the palaces I had seen in Korea and China. We took a break in the tea room of a building there, having traditional Okinawan cookies and viewing the castle garden with limestones. In the main hall, we could catch a glimpse of the remnants of the foundation wall, which explained the castle was destroyed by fires and the battle of WWII and rebuilt on the remnants. As a matter of course, the remnants were just ruins which never attract a lot of tourists like the rebuilt building do, but even the glimpse a little bit excited me, because that was a proof of the existence of the original one. Usually, I prefer ruins to rebuilt ones, but this time both parts were seen and rebuilt parts were also interesting. So, all in all, Shuri castle was definitely worth a visit to me.

Shuri Castle Videos
http://www.wonder-okinawa.jp/001/006-e/index.html
The site also has an image archive.

It was almost six in the evening, when we left the castle. So it was time to go to our hotel, Tokyo Daiichi Hotel, in Okinawa City which was one hour far from the castle. The hotel was located on a hill, so the night view of the city from the 13th floor where we stayed was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was not convenient for shopping in Okinawa, even in a big city like Okinawa City. Leaving my baggage in our room, I went out for a convenience store around the foot of the hill and walked about half an hour, which resulted in a waste of time. Instead, I found a take-out diner. On my way back to the hotel, I tried a shortcut, although a crew member of the diner told me the best way to the hotel. Luckily, I got there in 10mins without being lost, but I should have realized that Okinawa was not so convenient to live in.

On the second day in Okinawa, first of all, we visited Nakagusuku Castle. We paid 300 yen admission fee and, just after that, we found cherry blossoms, Kanhi Zakura, blowing in late January in Okinawa, much earlier than the other parts of Japan. To tell the truth, we didn't expect it in Nakagusuku Castle, but in Nakijin Castle. That's why we decided to skip Nakijin Castle later. The castle was a beautiful ruin but much less popular than Shuri Castle, although it is also a UNESCO's World Heritage Site. However I guess some people like it better, because it inspires our imagination. Especially, the farthermost area of the castle park seemed like a real ruin, not restored part, and I liked it. The view of the Pacific Sea from the top of the castle wall was also wonderful.

The second destination on day 2 was Southeast Botanic Garden. I was not sure if it was fun for us who had visited tropical botanic gardens in Japan and overseas many times. "Unfortunately", however, we had advance tickets for the garden, which was originally included in our tour program, and the garden was situated just on the way to the next destination, Ryukyu Mura. So we tried it, found out it was enjoyable for children or a family, not for us, and left for Ryukyu Mura immediately.

Ryukyu Mura was more attractive with the world's thickest rope, buffalo working to mill sugar canes, Okinawan traditional sweets, and Eisa dance. In the restaurant, we tasted Okinawan buckwheat noodle soup, which had some ingredients of Chinese noodle soup. They also gave us tumblers with some drink coupons in exchange for ANA coupons. We had a good time there even for one and a half hour visit.

Manzamo is said to be the best natural beauty of Okinawa. It is a cliff shaped like a elephant trunk and a vast field on it. However, we didn't have to spend much time in seeing everything in there, so that we left twenty minutes later than we arrived. In my opinion, it was not a must-see, but still the scenic site with the coral reefs.

The last but not least, the final destination on day 2 was Churaumi aquarium. Before I went to Okinawa, I thought we didn't need to go there, because we were able to see fish in any aquariums. In addition, aquariums are generally more expensive than other attractions. The aquarium was far from other attractions and that was another reason why I didn't want to go. Anyways, I didn't know why it was so popular among tourists. However, my coworkers told me to go there definitely, even if they had never been there, because of the world's largest tank and whale sharks, the largest living fish species. In fact, there were only three aquariums in the world where whale sharks were reared as of 2005 and one of them was this aquarium. I took a chance against my will. I drove 53kms from Manzamo and reached the aquarium at 4 o'clock. It was Monday, but there were a lot of tourists, probably the most tourists in Okinawa. To get tickets in exchange for our coupons at the entrance counter, they gave us some money back, because the admission fee was discounted after 4. Needless to say, the best attraction was whale sharks swimming in the largest tank with 60cm thick acrylic panel. I took so many pictures in front of the tank until I got the best shot. I can't say I fully enjoyed the aquarium, but it is sure that I took the most pictures there of the all the attractions in Okinawa.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium Official Website
http://oki-churaumi.jp/en/index.html
This is a very elaborate and informative website. You can get any information you expect.about the aquarium.

Feel the Wind Okinawa video from JNTO
http://www.youtube.com/user/visitjapan#p/u/199/NSugcCIk0Zw
This is a PR video of Okinawa. It doesn't include narration. 
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