Hands down, Okinawa's most well known and beloved tourist attraction is the Churaumi Aquarium. It's an enormous, well kept facility which features incredible ocean views and several impressive gardens. The aquarium is known for being one of the largest in the world and for housing several whale sharks which has made the aquarium quite famous throughout Asia. Although I myself am not totally a fan of aquariums, I'm definitely a crazy Blackfish watching animal lover, even I couldn't resist the opportunity to see some of natures most incredible sea creatures.
Ben and I decide to finally make the trip up the Churaumi Aquarium with another couple who just moved to island. We decide to take them our favorite scenic Oki drive which snakes up the west coast along the East China Sea. The drive is long, two hours in total, and much longer than the Expressway route but the never ending views of the greenish blue sea make the extra minutes on the road well worth it. It's November in Okinawa, which means that the humidity is low, the skies are clear, and the weather hovers between a comfortable 70-75 degrees. After enduring a brutal six month long stretch of insane heat and humidity, weather this gorgeous made exploring the outside grounds of the aquarium one of the highlights of this trip. The aquarium itself is built high above sea level, which gives it a stunning ocean backdrop and views of the neighboring Ie Island. The Ocean Expo Park grounds (the official name for the aquarium and the adjacent gardens) also featured some perfectly crafted hermit crab shaped shrubbery which were super "kawaii" (Japanese for cute!) If it wasn't for my unfortunate ability to get sunburned in under 15 minutes, I could've spent the majority of this day meandering the expansive grounds of Ocean Expo Park.
The highlight of the interior of the Churaumi Aquarium was undoubtedly the whale shark exhibit. Although I still question how humane it is to have so many whale sharks in one small enclosure... It was admittedly breathtaking seeing these enormous, graceful giants swimming peacefully alongside sharks, manatees and other mammalian and fishy sea life. While most visitors looked around each exhibit for a minute or two, there were dozens upon dozens of people who firmly planted their feet at the base of the whale shark tank and could not peel themselves away. Even Ben and I found ourselves standing motionlessly, shoulder to shoulder, mouths gapped, wide eyed, staring at the whale sharks for an endless amount of time. It was a sight that was definitely worth the pricey $18 admission fee.
On the same day, the four of us had lunch at a completely off-the-beaten path café up in the area of Motobu. This café was one of the first where we all had to remove our shoes and wear house slippers that were provided. In Japanese culture, outside shoes are absolutely forbidden from being worn inside because it is considered disgusting as they bring outside dirt inside (which actually makes a lot of sense). Many homes, temples and some businesses offer special "house shoes" for guests that they can wear inside if they do not prefer to go barefoot. This restaurant also had separate bathroom shoes that you wear when using the restroom which also helps to prevent contamination from spreading into the living quarters. Although I was a little iffy about putting on slippers that other people have worn, I unashamedly always get excited when we have an authentic unplanned cultural experience so I slipped those babies on!
There were no English speakers nor English menus at this café which meant that we would have to take a leap of faith and order our meals blindly. To our delight, what we ended up being served was a classic Okinawan meal (with subtle differences in everyone's main meat dish). This set consisted of tea served in beautiful tea infusers and many small side dishes, some of which were pickled, jellied, and unidentifiable. Although we weren't totally a fan of it all (the brown, hairy jelly was very questionable) it was fun and thrilling blind taste testing a variety of Okinawan delicacies. It's important to note too that this café had some of the cutest pottery I've ever come across; I might just have to make another visit sometime to stock up on their beautiful mugs!
One thing that's certain is that Ben and I NEED to plan another trip up to Nago. It might just be the most beautiful part of Okinawa...
We're Kara, Ben and baby Zoe also known as the Lesniaks. We’re a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Yorktown, Virginia after a three year tour in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together!
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