Link direct to Sigtravels – http://www.sigtravels.com.au
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.
Posted in Blogs, Japan | Tagged Asia, Chisun Hotel and Resort Okinawa, Dolphin Show, Flowers Okinawa, Japan, Largest Aquariums in the world, Ocean Expo Park, Oceanic Culture Museum, Okinawa, Okinawa Dolphin Show, Okinawa Expo Park, Okinawa Flora and Fauna, Okinawa Tropical Flowers, Okinawa Whale Sharks, Tropical Dream Center, Whale Shark in captivity | 1 Comment »
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.
Posted in Blogs, Japan | Tagged Asia, Asia Travel, Blue Seal Creamery, DFS Okinawa, Japan Island Adventures, Japan Islands, Japan Travel, Jump shop Kokusaidori, Jump Shop Okinawa, Kokusaidori, Kokusaidori Street, Naha, Okinawa, Okinawa and the Goya Vegetable, Okinawa Monorail, Tsuboya Pottery District | 1 Comment »
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!
Posted in Blogs | Tagged Asia Travel, Chisun Resort Hotel, Getting to Okinawa, Japan, Kaneda Airforce Base, Kansai International, Kansai to Okinawa, KIX, Loisir Group of Hotels, Okinawa, Okinawa Flight time, Okinawa Monorail, Okinawa Monorail tickets, Pokemon Plane, Ryukuu Islands, Travel | 1 Comment »
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
The Daimonji Gozan Okuribi (Daimonji Matsuri for short) is a bonfire festival held in Kyoto City. Although Daimonji Matsuri is a short form of the festivals full name, it shouldn’t be confused with the Daimonji Matsuri in Akita Prefecture of Northern Japan. The festival is held in Kyoto City in Kyoto Prefecture every 16th of August, and you can view the bonfire sites from several locations around Kyoto City; ranging from the side of rivers to prepaying for dinner in a high rise restaurant. Obviously the first way is free, and the second can really take a chunk out of your wallet. To get there, you need to go to Kyobashi station, and change to Keihan private railway group and get off at Demachiyanagi Station. Upon arriving at Demachiyanagi Station just stay with the thousands of people in the crowds that make there way to the best viewing sites. There are also volunteers and police officials giving out information and fans with advertising on them. I strongly suggest picking up a fan because it can be extremely hot.
If your an avid photographer I recommend coming hours before the first bonfire is lit to get your tripod in position. If you come late there’s a good chance all the good spots will be taken. The main bonfire is the character meaning ‘dai’ which means large. This is the character that is most commonly viewed however there are about 5 other characters/pictures that are also lit up on their corresponding mountains. The fires are controlled for safety and for the viewing pleasure of the tourists and locals alike so that things dont get out of hand. As usual with any festival there is plenty of festival food scattered around the viewing sites to keep you full and thirst quenched while you wait.
The Daimonji Gozan Okuribi like any festival attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year and is a good place to head to if you are in Kyoto on the 16th of August. If you want to learn more about the origins of the festival The Japan National Tourism Organization has a good page on the event.
Continuing on our path to get back to Osaka by nightfall and still see a few sights; Kurashiki was the next stop. Kurashiki is a quiet little city about an hour from Onomichi and within a few stations of Okayama. It is easily accessible from both of the aforementioned cities. We jumped on a train still using our Seishun 18 ticket’s and headed toward a Japanese city, arguably most famous for its canals and ivy square. Kurashiki is definitely worth visiting if you have a JR rail pass as it shows a slightly different kind of Japanese city that is significantly different from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo or Osaka.
Upon arriving we walked on the main street for about 500 meters then had to turn left for the main sightseeing area. You’ll know you arrive as you’ll see long stretches of canals lined with trees on both sides. The canals are home to many turtles, swans, Koi and several other animals that make this small waterway their home. The canal is lined with local sweet and delicacies that make good presents to take back to someone at home. When your finished taking photos in the canal area there are two notable stops in this area: Ivy Square and the Trick Museum.
Ivy Square is home to many buildings and I believe a hotel where all the walls are lined with ivy plants, for a more apt description you would best take a look at the photos in the slideshow. The area is quite nice and peaceful as you walk through admiring the ivy that has overrun all the walls. The final stop in Kurashiki was the Trick Museum. The trick museum is a small gag museum that has made its home here in Kurashiki. It is home to several trick art and illusions and a small haunted mansion. The museum also gives a bit of history of osme local folklore.
If you are interested in architecture and museums there is more than enough to provide, the canal is lined with severla bridges and msueums are literally dotted accross the canals. Kurashiki makes for a decent side trip out of Okayama or just a stop of on your way to Hiroshima. Its definitely not a waste of time to visit here, but just don’t expect a bustling city with game centers on every corner. This ended our Okayama to Onomichi trip and we made our way back to our base at Amagasaki. Stay turned for more individual blogs from my August-September Adventures, plus my blog set from Okinawa will soon follow.