By Shahida Sakeri on February 22, 2017
“Why didn’t I consider visiting Okinawa before?”
I thought to myself, after finishing the ‘Kutinggalkan Cinta Di Okinawa ‘ drama series marathon on Astro Bella and Mustika HD. This southernmost prefecture of Japan is beautiful, and comes with unique culture that is entirely distinct from the rest of the country. Read on to know Gaya Travel team’s experience discovering this prefecture.
Naha Airport located only 90 minutes away from Taipei, and two hours and a half from either Shanghai or Seoul by plane. There is no direct flight from Malaysia to Okinawa at the moment – travellers can still reach the destination using Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, ANA, China Airlines and China Eastern, among others.
1. Shurijo Castle Park
Okinawa political capital was the Shurijo Castle, an important building in Okinawa since the 14th century up till today, also recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The original structure was almost completely destroyed during one of the bloodiest battles in history, Battle of Okinawa, but later reconstructed based on records and memory.
The castle’s magnificent architecture is accentuated by a genius blend of Chinese and Japanese influences that can be seen at its main hall (seiden), Central Plaza (Una), Shurei Gate (Shurei Mon) and its high and imposing ishigaki stone walls.
My personal favourites were the throne rooms, located within the main hall; one on the first floor and another on the second floor overlooking a huge courtyard, said to be the place where the king sat during official ceremonies. Do visit on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to witness a traditional Okinawan dance performance held at the outdoor stage.
Entrance fee: ¥820 per adult and ¥310 per child
Opens from 8:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. every day. Closed on the first Wednesday and Thursday of July every year.
2. Katsuren Castle Ruins
Another gusuku (castle in Okinawan language) listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in Okinawa is the Katsuren Castle ruins. Through maritime trade, he gained wealth and power and married Momotofumi Agari, the daughter of the Ryukyuan King Sho Taikyu, based at Shuri Castle.
However, due to his anxiety towards Amawari’s growing power, King Sho Taikyu later arranged for a new castle to be built at Nakagusuku under the control of Lord Gosamaru. Awamari then deceived the king by claiming that Gosamaru was the bigger threat and gained support from the royal armies to attack Nakagusuku, which ended in Gosamaru’s suicide. Overpowered by greed, Amawari attempted to overthrow the king himself, but his plan was discovered by his wife and as a result Katsuren Castle was attacked and defeated by the royal armies.
The restoration process of the castle was complicated since all record and documentation were destroyed during the attack. Today, there is a wooden staircase that leads to the upper three levels of the ruin, which opens to the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean at the top. Remember to wear comfortable and sturdy shoes when exploring because some areas are jagged and slippery when wet.
Entrance fee: Free, but there is a charge to be paid should you need a guide.
Opens 24 hours.
3. Murasaki Mura
About one hour drive away from Naha city stands Murasaki Mura, a traditional village reviving the glory of Ryukyu period back in the 15th to the 19th century. Built in 1992, the village initially acted as a film set for a popular local TV drama “Ryukyu No Kaze” that featured life of the said period. When the series ended, the set was left untouched until the local government decided to open it as a perfect tourism product for travellers to have a glimpse on the lifestyle of Ryukyu people.
Similar to Shuri castle, the village characterises strong Chinese influence on its architecture for instance the distinctive red-tiled roofs due to Ryukyu being a tributary of Imperial China in the past. The houses today are now used as workshops for producing traditional Okinawa handicrafts that travellers can join for a fee such as Ryukyu glass blowing (¥1,800), Yachimun pottery making (¥1,500 – ¥2,000), indigo dyeing (¥1,200), Hanaori and Minsaori weaving (¥700 – ¥1,500), Bingata (¥500), candle art (¥1,000) and Okinawan cooking (from ¥800).
Entrance fee: ¥500 per adult, ¥300 per child.
Opens from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
4. Churaumi Aquarium
Do you know that an exposure to underwater settings could actually have a positive impact on people’s well-being? Besides improving one’s mood, it is also said that it can reduce people’s heart rates and blood pressure.
So when in Okinawa, be sure to spend a day at one of the biggest aquariums in the world, Churaumi Aquarium, which holds 7.5 million litres of water and features an acrylic glass panel, used to be the largest such panel in the world when the aquarium was opened in 2002. It is located within the beautifully landscaped Ocean Expo Park in Kunigami district, about one hour and a half drive away from Naha city.
A visit to Churaumi Aquarium is not only educational as it offers the opportunity to learn about the world beneath the ocean, but also awe-inspiring since it allows visitors – especially those who have never dived before – witness the marine life up close.
Be sure to make a quick stop at the ‘Life in Inoh’ area where one is allowed to touch the starfish and sea cucumber. Of course, the main highlight here is the Kuroshio Sea (featuring the aforementioned large glass panel) where visitors can watch groups of whale sharks and manta rays swimming in the ocean along with other fishes. But more interestingly, Churaumi Aquarium is a roofless aquarium, thus, visitors are bound to see natural light illuminating the underwater setting, akin to what scuba divers would normally see. Pamphlets are available in multiple languages including English and Malay.
Entrance fee: ¥1,850 per adult, ¥610 per child.
Opens from 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. (Oct-Feb) or 8:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Mar-Sept). Closed on first Wednesday and Thursday of December, every year.
5. Senagajima Umikaji Terrace
Located on Senaga Island near the Naha Airport, Senagajima Umikaji Terrace is perfectly positioned to appreciate beautiful sunset and watch planes take off and land with good food and refreshing drink in hand. Its whitewashed buildings are inspired from the typical architecture from southern Italy or Greece, complete with small restaurants, bars, sundry stores and boutiques focusing mainly on local offerings.
There is also a flight simulator available here for visitors to experience flying an aircraft. If the weather permits, live music and dance shows are performed on an outdoor stage every day. Locals usually crowd this place during summer for barbecue session with loved ones.
Opens from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. every day.
6. Giant Tug of War Festival
The city of Naha gets boisterous on every second Sunday in October, when Okinawans celebrate the annual Giant Tug of War competition on Route 58. The competition dates back to the 1600s when it was held to pray for rain and prosperity. The ropes used in the competition are typically 180-200 metre long in length and weigh 43-45 tons, therefore requiring over 15,000 participants each year to pull the rope from both sides. The game lasts for 30 minutes each time and the team that manages to move the rope 5 metres to their direction within the time limit will crown as the winners.
Almost everyone can participate in the competition, but needs to be at the venue well in advance due to the crowd. In 1997 the event was first logged in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest tug-of-war event in the world. At the end of the ceremony, participants will bring home a piece of the giant rope as a lucky charm.
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to Okinawa local government and Mabui Stone Corporation for making our trip to Okinawa a reality.