April 26, 2016
Today was our long awaited aquarium day. We booked a tour to go to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is on the opposite end of the island from Naha. We left the hotel at around 7:45am to walk to the closest hotel pick up point and waited for the tour bus to arrive.
Tim found this tour online and it was 4,800 JPY per person. It included admission to the aquarium, lunch, admission to a butterfly garden, admission to a pineapple plantation and a stop at a Ryukyu glass shop. It was a good price from where we’re staying since a bus that would take us to the aquarium would be over 4,000 JPY round trip, plus we would have to pay 1,850 JPY admission.
We were at the second hotel pick up point, but as we continued north the bus eventually filled. The tour guide was a middle aged Japanese lady and we later realized that a lot of tour guides here are older ladies. The tour is in Japanese, but on the ride up there would be English commentary on the speakers as we passed by points of interest, which was helpful. The bus ride felt like it took forever. There was a lot of traffic and stopping at multiple hotels made it longer. On the bright side, as we continued on route 58 (the same road as yesterday to Chatan), the scenery was beautiful. The East China Sea was to the left and the lush green forests were to our right. Since we stopped at a bunch of hotels, we saw some really nice resorts. I thought the ANA Intercontinental at Manza Beach looked really nice. Maybe on a future trip to Okinawa.
We eventually arrived at our first destination, Ryugujo Butterfly Gardens at 11:20am (was a 3 hour bus ride from Naha). They served us lunch in the restaurant upstairs, which looked like it was mostly for tours. For lunch they served us Okinawan style soba noodles, which was in a pork broth and had a piece of pork and a fish cake. Lunch was tasty and simple. The noodles reminded me of noodles they use in Taiwanese beef noodle.
Ryugujo Butterfly Gardens is located just down the street from the aquarium in Motobu. The gardens are right on the coastline so the views were quite nice. It was a sunny and hot day today, so being outside was a bit draining. It was probably a good idea that we were going to the aquarium today, where it would be air conditioned.
After lunch and the butterfly garden, it was time for the main event. We had 3 hours at the aquarium, which was just enough time. I think an extra half an hour would have been nice. The aquarium grounds are nice as it backs on to the East China Sea. The aquarium is also part of Ocean Expo Park which has dolphins, sea turtles, and manatees.
The main reason why we wanted to come to the aquarium in Okinawa was because they have three whale sharks. They are the largest known fish species. On our honeymoon, Tim and I took a whale shark excursion hoping to snorkel with them in the Maldives. But unfortunately, there was only one sighting and by the time we all dove into the water the whale shark had dove too deep. After seeing these amazing creatures in captivity, it would’ve been really awesome if we had seen one in the wild. Awesome but kind of scary because they are huge!
We spent about an hour in the Kuroshio tank area just admiring the whale sharks as well as everything else in the tank. It’s the largest aquarium tank I’ve ever seen. We both took so many pictures and videos, it’ll take some time to sort through the good ones.
We had about an hour left before we had to go back to the tour bus. We quickly went to see the turtles outside and got a seat for the dolphin show.
We headed back to the bus on time and made our way to our next stop, the Nago Pineapple Plant. This was like Okinawa’s Dole Plantation in Oahu. We were guided through a short path of Okinawan pineapples and then lead into a store with all sort of pineapple products: wine, juice, vinegar, cosmetics, and cookies. Each product had samples so we got to try everything. Originally, Nago Pineapple Plant is supposed to give people on the tour actual pineapple samples but they had a sign saying that there is a shortage of pineapples this season so help yourself to pineapple juice instead. This was a bit disappointing, but the pineapple juice was really delicious. Tim and I both had 3 (small) cups of it.
Most people on our tour bought a lot of products from the store. They came back with bags except for us. We just had our soft serve. Our last stop on the tour was over was an Okinawan glass shop. This wasn’t that interesting since it was just a store. We did see them make a jar, which was pretty cool. I don’t think anyone bought anything from this stop – everything was quite expensive. Only some glass products were still made in Okinawa, the majority of them are made in a factory in Vietnam.
On the way back into town, the tour guide said a bunch of stuff in Japanese, I’m guessing it was her closing remarks and she started to sing for us (which was nice). It was nice that after the pineapple plantation and the glass store, she gave us all gifts from each. She gave us all cups of pineapple sorbet and a small glass chopstick holder. Most people ended up sleeping on the way back. I passed out and when I woke up half the bus had been dropped off already and it was raining outside. We still had about an hour to go before getting back into Naha.
Tim and I decided to get off the bus at a hotel stop closer to Kokusai Street (International Street) to look for a restaurant for dinner. Kokusai Street is strip that has a lot of souvenir shops and restaurants in one area. It’s nicknamed, International Street, and it sort of reminded me of the International Market area in Waikiki. The streets were mainly filled with Hong Kong tourists as I mainly heard Cantonese.
After walking along Kokusai Street for about 15 minutes, we finally decided on a place to eat. It was called “Jango Jango” and all the menu items were 500 JPY = $5.68 CAD. We were his last customers of the night and got seated at the counter. Tim ordered Okinawan soba (just to compare it with what we had at lunch) and I had taco rice. Both dishes were good. The soba was similar to the soba from lunch except the pork was more of a stewed pork than a single slice. There was also more garnishes. The taco rice was more simple than the one we had yesterday. It was also more similar in taste to what I would make at home. Overall, we were really satisfied with dinner and it only costed 1,000 JPY = $11.36 CAD.
After a fairly long day, we headed back to the hotel. We’re taking it easier tomorrow and just staying around the Naha area. We want to see the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman and the Shuri Castle. It’s our last day in Okinawa tomorrow before heading to Sapporo on Thursday. Our time in Japan is almost over. I’ll definitely miss the food and overall pleasant nature of the country. I know we’ll be back again!
Steps today: 15,000