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Being stuck in a hotel room with some supplies that we picked up only yesterday, does not usually constitute an eventful day in my holiday regimes. I tend to prefer jam-packed action holidays with several sites per day visited. Unfortunately for us, due to the torrential rain and Typhoon Komatsu overhead, pretty much the whole island shut down. We spent the better half of the day eating what we had bought and watching some TV before we decided to have a look outside to see what the weather was like. Surprisingly it was somewhat calm: the sun was not out; the ground was still damp, and the wind significantly lighter than before. Our potential horror of being stuck in the hotel room for a few days on our first every Okinawa vacation didn’t actually happen! Unfortunately for us because a typhoon had just passed through, this basically meant that even though the island was calmer, the attractions did not reopen.  So we did the best next thing, we went to a local Aeon mall via car, had a look around. Driving there it was still wet, and rain continued to fall intermittently, which always makes driving less fun, but nonetheless at least we had something to do. We picked up some manga from Aeon and were happy that tomorrow we could actually continue our plans with only one day wasted.

After we finished at the aquarium and associated gardens we jumped back into our rent-a-car and headed off to Nakajin-jo (Jo meaning castle in Japanese). In English it is often called Nakajin Castle Ruins. The drive is about 10 Kilometers from Ocean Expo Park and it makes for a good site to visit if you finish early at the aquarium. At the time of visiting entry was 400¥ for the cultural museum and castle ruins. Upon arriving we were greeted with free parking which is always a plus when you’re already paying money to rent the car, potential tolls and the fuel to get you around. Parking just makes things worse. I have to say though that parking in Japan is relatively cheap compared to back home in Australia. Tangent aside, Nakajin Castle Ruins is a peaceful place that overlooks the ocean and has significant amount of wall structure that still intact. While it is no doubt ‘not-a-castle’ any more, it is still an impressive structure. Good photo spots would be sitting on the castle wall, in front of the castle information stone, and of course the enjoyable views from the top of the ruins. If you go on a clear day, the breeze hits you and you can sometimes hear military planes flying overhead. There is some picnic-ny spots that one could indulge yourself in a snack or two, such as the many stones that surround the upper areas, or under this one tree that overlooks the ocean and area. All in all a good hour or so can be spent up at the ruins, a bit more if you intend to eat something up there.

Continuing with our day we were headed to our final stop: Cape Hedo, which is the most northern point in Okinawa. It is situated about an hours drive north of Nago City and you pass through smaller towns as you escape the hustle and bustle of Nago. We arrived in one piece, and I have to say driving a car around Japan is much more interesting and enjoyable than the public transport network of Honshu. I’ll admit as amazing as that transport network is, the freedom of going where you want, went you want is unparalleled. Well lucky for Naha you don’t have much of a choice because the public transportation is most buses, so best bet is to rent a car.

Cape Hedo itself is a small cape, which you can drive up to the end of it and complete the final distance by walking. The views are absolutely stunning, crystal clear blue water, a rocky shore line that with a bit of imagination you can picture shipwrecked ancient vessels make this cape worth the 2 hour return journey. A large bird structure and sign make up the ‘memorable’ photo spots; there is a small shop area where you can pick yourself up something to eat if you get hungry. The Cape itself is completely free to go to if you take out the transportation costs, but if you have a car it’s worth the visit. Upon finishing up our photos that ended our day, the sun was starting to go down and we had a 95-kilometer journey back to our hotel at Chisun Resort on the other side of the island. Overall we had a good day with many a photo being taken.

Arriving back at the hotel we were informed that Typhoon Komatsu was coming and that it was recommended that we stay inside for the next few days. We hoped that this typhoon would pass quickly, but just in case we headed off to the local supermarket via car to pickup some supplies for potentially could be a couple days stuck in our hotel room. It wasn’t long before the winds seriously picked up and the leaves were basically being flung off all the trees, the wind was strong and one felt like they could potentially be swept away. Due to the gale force winds we hurried through the shop to get what we needed, forced our way back to the car and drove back to the hotel. The rain was heavy, the wind was strong and overall it was quite wet. Nevertheless we made it back to the hotel in one piece and prepared for ourselves for the potential dramatic holiday ruining typhoon.

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2014 Update

It has indeed been quite a while since I’ve posted something on this blog. I lost interest in it for quite a while and left my potential readers hanging without finishing off my Okinawa trip blogs. Well the good news is that I’ve decided to take this blog back up again, mainly because I will be doing a 100 day Europe trip starting this coming May and I have interest in keeping a record of my travels not only visually but also in writing. So that is definitely something to look forward to.

I intend to keep a similar writing style to my previous blogs (informative) as this style keeps my page hits consistent with those looking for information. On a side note I will be writing the blogs first in word as the spell checker is better to avoid the huge amount of grammatical errors that were through my work when I use to blog. So hopefully that keeps down the typing/grammatical mistakes.

I intend to finish off my Okinawa trip blogs, followed by another Japan Tour blog (mainly from Osaka) from when I was there in November. I hope my potential readers out there enjoy the new blogs. Happy New Year and best wishes for 2014.

Waking up the next morning, our rent a car had arrived at a nice and early 9 AM, so we made our way downstairs to the lobby of the Chisun Hotel and Resort to begin the day. Our day was filled with activities from Ocean Expo park to the northern tip of Okinawa island to Cape Hedo. To begin our day we punched in some coordinates in the GPS of our rent-a-car (unfortunately all in Japanese – if you have no one who who can speak Japanese ask the hotel Lobby to input the coordinates for you) and began our 2 hour drive North. The trip will cost you around 1000 yen in toll charges, but at the time they were trying to make tolls free in Okinawa so we didn’t need to pay. At the date of writing this blog, the tolls could now very well be free, but you will need to do your own research on that. On your way to aquarium if you are driving, there is often signs were you can pick up discounted tickets, we stopped by at a tourist office just after the Nago exit and picked up our tickets for 1800 yen. 

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is the second largest aquarium in the world and after some photo ops out front with whale shark and turtle statue/sculptures, we made our way inside for what would be one of the best aquariums I have had the pleasure to visit in a long time. I believe the only other aquarium that is bigger by volume of water held is in Seattle (possibly) but if you’re in Asia this particular aquarium is probably much closer to visit. The name itself translates into ‘beautiful – chura’ ocean/sea ‘umi’, and thats exactly the surreal experience you will get upon entering. Now unlike the Kaiyukan aquarium in Osaka, the Okinawa Aquarium does not have a large variety of animals, but rather they specialize in fish, but in saying that there is a massive quantity of fish in this aquarium. While the main highly is the tank with the whale sharks (which large would be an understatement) there are several other exhibits that are worthy of a look – these include the shark exhibit, the preserved squid, and the crustacean exhibits, but back to the main tank; The main tank holds the whale sharks (there’s actually a few of them), there is not a lot of tanks in the world that actually hold these mammoth beasts, and seeing them swimming gracefully in a large aquarium held inside by several inches think of a type of plexy glass is a pretty surreal experience. Inside the tank there is also a variety of other sharks, fish and massive shoals of tiny fish. The mood is set by the 360 degrees around the tank being dark with the tank lit up, these makes for some pretty amazing photography even with a compact camera (if you can hold it still enough). If you’re an avid fish lover im sure you would be able to spend several days enjoying this aquarium, but for the average person a few hours should suffice (allow more if you have small kids). Upon finishing up with the aquarium you can go to the dolphin show which is a few hundred metres to the left of the exit of the aquarium (I believe this is free even if you dont have an aqarium pass). But just before leaving don’t forget to pick up a souvenir gold coin which you can get for 500 yen or so just like everywhere else in Japan.

As we had jsut missed the dolphin show for that hour we made our way via golf buggy type vehicles that will cart you around Ocean Expo park for a small fee of 200 yen return or 100 yen one way, towards the Tropical Dream Center. The Tropical Dream Center is home to several greenhouses, and water features that feature flora and a small amount of fauna. It costs 330 yen if you have an aquarium ticket and it is definitely great value for money. Like most places in Japan the gardens are well manicured and make for more great photo opportunities. Before starting your journey of tranquillity make sure you pick up a stamp passport for free, as you can collect upwards of 20 stamps along the way. As you make your way through the greenhouses (one at a time – all connected in some form of path) you will find a multitude of tropical flowers, more than you probably want to see. (We made our way through collecting the stamps) A good highly for us was the tropical fruit trees, of which you can see most of the fruit growing on the trees. When you get bored of the greenhouses make your way to the tower, which is by far the main feature of the Tropical Dream Center, you make your way to the top only to be met with amazing views of the ocean and the surrounding area. If it’s a hot day, standing on the top of the tower provides a refreshing breeze that you just don’t get being at sea level. At the bottom of hte tower there is a nice tranquil water feature, where you can sit on a nearby bench and listen to the sounds of hte water come by. Finally there is also a small fish section that keeps some freshwater fish inside one of the buildings, but after seeing the aquarium this exhibit is pretty dismal compared to seeing whale sharks. Being a bit tired we spent a bit of time sitting on the benches before making our way back to the dolphin show.

If your plan is to spend a whole day at Ocean Expo Park then you can take advantage of seeing other attractions including the Oceanic Culture Museum, and just strolling around Expo Parks gardens and parks (which include a traditional Okinawan village, and brilliant ocean views), but as we had plans to visit the northern tip of Okinawa we finished up our day here at the dolphin show. Walking back to the dolphin show takes about 10-15 minutes if you walk at a leisurely pace, and on the way there is souvenir shops and large area with buildings selling food. Grabbing a bite to eat while waiting for the last 10-15 minutes before the dolphin show started, we enjoyed the tranquil music being played out of the speakers around the park. 

Finishing up this part of the day, the Dolphin show was a worthwhile attracting. The show featured several dolphins and trainers doing spectacular tricks, with some even having the dolphins jump several meters out of the air. The dolphins are trained to dance to music and the show is fun for the whole family.

Before concluding this blog, a few notes on the area: parking, the dolphin show, and walking around the grounds are all free, so if you are really struck for cash, you could spend a day here exploring the area and watching the dolphin show for free. 

Stay tuned for the second half of this hectic day to come soon.

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After a while of relaxing by the pool with a chilled glass of Orion, we felt that we were just about ready to head off and do some exploring, in what could be seen as a different country rather than just another part of Japan – Okinawa, but more on that later. Seeing as we weren’t receiving our rental car until tomorrow, we had to make use of our 1 day monorail pass that we had picked up earlier at the airport. On today’s agenda was a famous pottery district on Naha – Tsuboya and of course one of the most famous roads of the island itself – Kokusaidori. 

Jumping on the monorail we got off at the nearest station and started making our way over to Kokusaidori of which Tsuboya is a turn off about 10 minutes down the street. On the way we grabbed a bite to eat at the local Mos Burger and noticed that the Mos Burgers here had a slight variation on the menu from the mainland –  they had additional toppings of the Goya vegetable. The Goya vegetable depicted to the right is an very bitter vegetable which is extremely famous in Okinawa, I haven’t looked into the research as of yet, but many believe that the Goya vegetable is one of the main reasons why Okinawa has a staggering large amount of people aging to up and beyond 100 years old. Needless to say, in my opinion the Goya vegetable is pretty unlikable due to its bitterness and will most likely not be liked by anyone who only likes mainstream food. Fortunately for us there was a typical Mos Burger chili dog on the menu, so I downed a few of these before making our way into the entrance to Kokusaidori. 

Kokusaidori is a very famous area of Naha, and is characterized by several American related goods stores, and more importantly little souvenir Shisa gifts made from pottery and the like. The street is filled with shops where you can pick up anything from T-Shirts to Beer glasses with the local lingo stamped. There is a strong American presence on the street, and most tourists inevitably end up here when staying in Naha. To go along with this there is several bars and restaurants selling American food if that is what you’re into. Along the street there is two very notable stops, the first being Blue Seal Ice Creamery which has made itself as one of the more famous brands on the island, and the Jump shop selling unique merchandise from the Jump brand with a noticeable Okinawan difference. While not so famous, but equally as impressive in terms of taste is a small frozen Yogurt store where you pay per gram and you can choose from a wide variety of flavours and toppings. If you end up finding the yogurt store as it is not as well known as Blue Seal, definitely stop by to taste arguably some of the best frozen yogurt you could probably get your hands on. While your shopping on Kokusaidori, if you get lucky there will be some form of traditional dance and drumming along the street raising money for something. Whether you choose to give any money or not is up to you, but either way you’ll get to see some traditional arts of which you might usually need to go to some kind of festival or bar for. 

Finishing off with Kokusaidori we made our way into Tsuboya Pottery district. Getting to Tsuboya requires you walking through a long arcade with a plethora of shops on both sides as per usual Japanese style. The shops range from dried fish to souvenir stores, however you’ll know when you’ve reached Tsuboya as there will be pottery everywhere. If you can’t find your way, kindly ask people along the way and English or not they should be able to point you in the right direction if you say ‘Tsuboya’. Tsuboya starts at the end of the arcade and goes for about 1 kilometer and eventually ends up on a main road. You’ll notice the small lion type creature on most of the roofs in this area as it is the local guardian ‘Shisha’. This is probably the most popular souvenir in the area as every pottery shop having Shisha’s in all shapes and sizes or even a Shisha carved into plates. Before splurging on a pottery souvenir I suggest walking for about 10 minutes to get a taste for what each store has, as there is a large variation in price and quality from store to store. A quick tip is if you want a souvenir pick up a small Shisha statue, the guardians always come in pairs and if you get one, the other is obviously free. The best part of this is if its a gift, you can give two to friends and family for the price of one. After picking up our own souvenirs we made our way by Monorail to the DFS factory outlets of Naha.

DFS Factory outlets has a monorail stop right outside the building and if you keep your eye outside the monorail there is no way you’ll miss this building. There isn’t a lot of selection in relation to high end fashion, which is a shame unless your wallet is full of cash, but at the exchange rate we were getting at the time, everything in general cost us more than what we would of been paying back at home so we skipped out on buying a lot of nice clothes. Needless to say there is a huge variety to choose from the high end brands of Gucci, Channel, Hugo, Ralph and the like. When we were done it was getting dark and there was still a bit of rain that was coming down every once and a while so we made our way back to Chisun Hotel and Resort and called it a day, as we had a full day up at the Ocean Expo park coming up. 

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An early start to catch the Airport Limosine took us to Kansai International yet again. This airport is well known for its unique architecture and more importantly being built on a man made island. However this makes Kansai International (KIX) one of the top 5 most expensive airports to land at in the world, which has resulted in not as many airlines taking up slots, and as a further result has continued to maintain the high cost of air transportation from Japan and abroad; This however is getting better with budget airlines starting surface (Skymark) and the possibility that ANA will introduce a low cost carrier to compete with the current Shinakansen network. If you are interested there is another relatively large airport in Nagoya and there is another airport in Kobe, which more or less sums up the Kansai region for air travel. We boarded our JAL plane which was scheduled to take off at 9:00 and as it was a tropical destination with no storms predicted, the plane took off in the usual Japanese ‘on-time’ fashion. Total flight time was approximately 2 hours, and when landing all you can really see outside the plane window is ocean, giving you the illusion that the plane is coming in for a crash landing. At the very last minute you see a bit of land and your already touching down on the run way. 

As the plane taxi’s around the runway you can look farther afield and see part of Japan’s self defense air-force as there is a small Japanese airbase connected to Naha Airport. We were soon on the way to the gate before finding out we had to wait a good 15 minutes or so as there was another plane blocking our path. Being a small airport/coupled with island ‘take-it-easy’ life one would come to expect small delays. On a side note though, – a tribute to Japanese efficiency once again as our plane boarded and debarked within 15 minutes or so. Overall the flight was quite smooth and we had relatively good service even though at the time of flying JAL was still undergoing major changes as the airline had faced a lot of problems over the last few years. I do give credit to the hostesses for really putting in the effort to make the flight run smoother (from what I heard a lot of the problems were attributed to horrendous service which was partially due to bad attitudes etcetera, don’t quote me on that though)

Moving towards the domestic exit and looking out the viewing glasses onto the runway and other gates I was lucky enough to spot the infamous Pokemon Plane which usually flies this route. Even though I was unlucky enough to be on this plane and I am not too sure exactly who to book for that specific plane, I did get to see and photograph it which was a good start to the day. The Pokemon Plane in my opinion is another one of those ‘only-in-Japan’ things you get to see by visiting this very unique country. Before heading out the exit you can take advantage of the duty free in Naha Airport. Okinawa the only domestic island in Japan that allows you to purchase duty free for domestic flights, this could be attributed to the fact that the island is quite far away from Honshu and the rest of Japan. As we were flying domestic we exited without any security checks or hold ups and we were on our way to the monorail which is the only form of train system on Okinawa (in saying that it doesn’t take you all over the island either). 

The best way to see Okinawa is to take advantage of an International Drivers license and rent a car, car rental is quite cheap and provides you with the most flexibility. Alternatively you can use the bus system but with this you are confined to sticking to a time table. But more on the driving of a car to come in later blogs of this series. The monorail has individual tickets starting from around 190 yen and go up to 290 yen for the longest journey. A day ticket costs about 600 yen and go up per consecutive day. The day pass is definitely good value for money as you are more than likely to take more than 3 trips on the monorail system in a single day. If your lucky there is usually staff selling these day passes as soon as you walk into the ticketing area, which will be very helpful if you are a first timer to buying a Japanese rail ticket using the machines. 

We boarded the monorail and made our way to Asahibashi station to make our way to the Chisun Resort Hotel which is part of the Loisir group. The hotel is extremely good value at 5000 yen for 2 people per night and overall was quite homey and spacious with good facilities. The hotel is split into 3 different hotels and the Chisun Resort Hotel is the cheaper of the 3. For a small fee you can use the pool, spa and hot spring facilities which come free with the more expensive rooms and hotels (from memory for unlimited use of the pool/hot spring it costs about 1500 yen per person for your entire stay. The pool is quite nice and is surrounded by an outdoor restaurant and bar which has different styles of Japanese cuisine in most nights. It is usually quite busy so its quite good to book ahead if you want to eat here. Food ranges from Shabu Shabu to Yakiniku. I suggest grabbing an ice cold frosted glass of the local beer Orion, while soaking up some rays poolside.

One main point to note while finishing up this blog is the unpredictable weather being a tropical island. When we arrived it was sunny, a few minutes later clouds blocked out the sun, then the sun came out again and then there was sun showers. So it’s good to plan for variety of different tropical weather patterns when heading to Okinawa. Getting to Okinawa was only just the beginning and we had planned days worth of activities to fill up the week we were to stay for!

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Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 1 Part A: The Journey There.

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 1 Part B: Tsuboya Pottery District and Kokusaidori

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 2 Part A: Ocean Expo Park

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 2 Part B: Nakijin Castle Ruins and Cape Hedo

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 3: Typhoon Komatsu and a Lazy Day in a Hotel Room.

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 4 Part A: Shuri Castle, Former Navy HQ, Himeyuri Monument and Okinawa Peace Museum

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 4 Part B: Okinawa World

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 5: Shikinaen Garden, Nakagusuku Castle Ruins, Nakamurake House, and Ryukyu Village

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Restaurant Reviews: A&W All American Food Okinawa

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 6: Nago Pineapple Park, and Okinawa Fruit Land

Japan, Aug-Sep 2010, Okinawa Trip: Day 7: Back Home to Osaka

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