Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
The Churaumi Aquarium of Okinawa continues to be the pride and joy of Okinawa due to its massive Kuroshio exhibit and dedication to marine biology research.
The Kuroshio sea exhibit is said to contain up to 7.5 million litres of water which are held back by 60 centimetre thick acrylic glass panels. Visitors can often be seen by the droves approaching the massive glass pane to take pictures of the two whale sharks contained within the aquarium. The larger whale shark of the two boasts a weight of 5.5 tonnes with a length measuring about 8.6 metres long. Alongside the whale sharks in the aquarium, one can expect to see giant groupers, manta rays, yellowfin tunas and a host of other underwater marine life. Approximately 70 different species of marine life can be found inside the Kuroshio aquarium.
If you’re looking to interact with marine life, the Inoh touch pool at the entrance of the aquarium would allow you to interact with gentle marine creatures such as sea cucumbers and starfishes. The word Inoh in the Okinawa dialect actually means “Coral reef lagoon” and housed within these exhibits are gentle creatures which are safe to touch and interact with.
The Churaumi Aquarium was once the largest aquarium in the world before it was surpassed by the Georgia Aquarium in 2005. It is located in the town of Motubu and is approximately 2 hours away from Naha City.
Representing the heart and remnant of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the Shurijo Castle constructed around the 14th century was the political, economic and cultural heart of the Ryukyu Kingdom formed under the leadership of King Sho Hashi.
This world heritage site offers deep insights into the feudal periods of Ryukyu and was the seat of power for the Ryukyu Kingdom for about 5 centuries. The path to the castle itself is littered with many sites of interest for visitors. Among them are the Sohohyan-utaki Stone Gate, the Ryuhi spring and the Bankoku Shinryo-no Kane Bell (Bridge Bell of Nations). The Sohohyanutaki Stone gate was a place of prayer for the royalty before embarking on important journeys and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the lingering legacy of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Further up into your journey towards Shurijo Castle, in front of the Zuseimon gate, one may also find the Ryuhi Spring which was a source of fresh water for the royal family and the Chinese emissaries called “Sapposhi” to Ryukyu. As a symbol of its prospering wealth and prosperous trade with Asian countries, the Ryukyu Kingdom constructed the Bridge Bell of Nations to immortalise its prominence in maritime trade with the South Seas.
The bell is recognised for its inscription emphasising the spirit and friendship upon which the prosperity of the Ryukyu Kingdom was based. The current bell, however, is a replica of the original 721-kilogramme bell which currently hangs at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum.
Up ahead past the Houshimon gate is Shuri castle which features a huge courtyard called the kushino-una and the castle’s main hall called the Seiden. The Una Plaza was generally used for huge ceremonies in the past like the coronation of the king and the celebration of the new year. Exhibits in the Seiden include the King’s throne room, crown and royal seals which should not be missed for historical buffs.
The Shurijo Castle constructed around the 14th century was the political, economic and cultural heart of the Ryukyu Kingdom
Shuri Ryusen Coral Painting
Be inspired to bring forth your inner painter when you visit the Shuri Ryusen Coral Painting centre. Using naturally beached shaped corals, visitors are encouraged to let their imagination run free to bring forth beautiful designs on either t-shirts, tote bags, or head-scarfs. Painting methods here are simple. By simply tying down fabric pieces on coral shapes with rubber bands, visitors can imprint magnificent looking corals onto the fabrics with different mixtures of colour.
The coral painting centre emerged as an effort to revive traditional painting of the Bingata, a traditional resist dyed cloth which was popular in the 14th century. Shuri Ryusen was formed under the direction of Koto Yamaoka, a dyer and cultural promoter of the traditional art in 1973. Bingata dyeing techniques were said to have been developed as a synthesis of Indian, Chinese, and Javanese dying processes. Whether one aims to create their own rendition of art in Shuri Ryusen or purchase any one of the remarkable pieces created on site by the local artisans, the store is sure to bring a refreshing appreciation towards this preserved art of Okinawa. Pieces of art or original kimonos are available for purchase at 50,000 yen onwards.
Himeyuri Peace Museum
The Himeruyi Peace Museum is a stark and gruelling reminder of the cost of war when 222 students and 18 teachers from the Female Division of the Okinawa Normal School and the Okinawa First Girl School were inducted into units at the Okinawa Army Field Hospital. Following the invasion of the US Army into Okinawa, these students were forced into harrowing working conditions which necessitated them to take care of wounded soldiers, secure water and bury the dead.
Of the total 240 students and teachers who joined these armies, a reported 227 perished and only a handful of the survivors remained to tell the tale. While nearly 7 decades have
“Of the total 240 students and teachers who joined these armies, a reported 227 perished and only a handful of survivors remained to tell the tale”
passed since the Battle of Okinawa, many of the remaining survivors are still haunted by the horror of the pre-world War 2 militaristic education which drove the students to serve in the army. Towards the end of the Battle of Okinawa, due to the indoctrination of militaristic education, many Okinawans including the students themselves were organised into the army corps to wage “a war of attrition” against US Army forces.
Before entry to the museum, one should stop by the “Iwamakura’ stone which bears the work of noted Japanese school teacher and World War 2 survivor, Seizen Nakasone. A Japanese poem called ‘Iwamakura” can be seen carved onto a black piece of stonework which expresses sympathy for the classmates who perished on the uncomfortable rocky grounds of the caves.
The Himeyuri Peace Museum was formed as an effort to appeal for world peace and to put to rest the souls of those who have perished.
Escape from the cosmopolitan world of sophistication and return to the simple life in Yomitan Village on Okinawa Island. Located
just 28 kilometres from Naha City, Yomitan Village and its friendly homestay community will surely draw you in with its agricultural and cultural charms.
The little village continues to maintain its ancient roots especially those related to farming and pottery. Visitors to the village should take the opportunity to visit its pottery mecca called the ‘Yachimun no Sato’. The pottery village was established thanks to the effort of the late potter Jiro Kinjo who established it in 1972.
Yomitan is also known for its pristine beaches in Cape Zanpa which features a 30-meter tall lighthouse. This offers an astonishing view that should not be missed.
Brave the subterranean and cavernous pathways of the Gyokusendo cave located in Okinawa World which is littered with spectacular formations of stalagmites and stalactites formed over thousands of years. These remarkable stone formations only grow at a rate of 1 mm every 3 years. The temperature within the cave is a comfortable 21 degrees Celsius and only takes about 30 minutes to complete.
While the length of the pathways only goes up to about 890 metres, Gyokusendo is actually one of the largest caves in all of Japan stretching up to over 5 kilometres. For those looking to journey deeper into the cave, the summer periods from July to September would be the best times to visit Okinawa World as special cave tours are conducted to bring adrenaline-hungry seekers deeper into never before seen locations. These special tours may take up to 90 minutes long so visitors should be warned that the trail involves getting wet and traversing small streams and waterfalls. The streams and waterfalls within are said to have taken shape over the passage of 300,000 years. Impressive blue hued lighting colours some of the streams to create a somewhat dream like experience for those who venture through.
At the exit of the cave is the famed Okinawa Kingdom Village which is a replica of a traditional Okinawan village. If you’re looking to pick up a local artisanal skill, this would perhaps be the best place to do so with a variety of workshops for glass blowing, pottery, weaving, dyeing and even snake wine brewing. The Japanese breweries here are actually famed for making ‘Habushu’ or Okinawan Snake Wine believed to have certain medicinal properties.
Grand Mer Resort
A trip to Japan without the experience of great tasting sushi is akin to visiting Germany without enjoying a brew or missing out on Swiss chocolates while in Switzerland. Like it or not sushi remains an integral part of the identity that shapes Japanese food. Taking the experience of enjoying sushi to the next level, the kind individuals at Grand Mer Resort have included the experience of making it alongside master sushi chefs who offer quick tutorials in the preparation of sushi. The fairly simple process first involves grabbing a handful of cooked vinegar rice and spreading it evenly onto a flat sheet of Nori seaweed. Choice ingredients such as lettuce, salmon, avocado and chicken slices can then be placed on the rice layer and rolled up using a bamboo roll. The roll is then sliced into smaller portions to form sushi pieces. For inquiries on sushi making sessions, please look up Grand Mer Resort at www.okinawa-grandmer.com
THIS PAGE BELOW The ‘Kuroshio Exhibit’ which holds 2 adult whale sharks and 70 different species of marine life
Sharks and manta rays roaming the shark exhibit
THIS PAGE FROM ABOVE Entrance to Churaumi Aquarium
THIS PAGE ABOVE The Una Plaza of Shurijo Castle used for special occasions
LEFT The Royal Seal of the Ryukyu Kingdom
The Royal Crown of the Ryukyu King
Coral painting works of art and other exhibits for sale at Shuri Ryusen
THIS PAGE FROM TOP A worker from Shuri Ryusen demonstrating how coral painting is done
TOP A tribute stone to the students who gave their lives in the ‘Battle of Okinawa’
LEFT The iconic lighthouse of Yomitan Village
RIGHT The ‘Iwamakura Stone’ which houses the poem of noted WW2 survivor, Seizen Nakasone
LEFT The welcoming entrance to Gyokusendo cave BOTTOM LEFT Fossilised dear bones to be found within the cave
BOTTOM OF PAGE Magnificent stalactite formations shaped over thousands of years