Over the new year break, I got the opportunity to spend almost a week in one of the northern villages of the Okinawa main island called ‘Nakajin’, in the Kunigami district. It’s about a 90 min drive from Naha airport via the Okinawa expressway.
Nakajin is famous for its UNESCO listed castle ruins, called Nakajin Gusuku (Gusuku = Castle in the Okinawan dialect). It also consistently serves as one of the first locations to celebrate and view the blossoming of cherry blossoms in Japan.
If you travel further west of the castle ruins, you will find the Churaumi Aquarium. Chura is Okinawan for ‘Beautiful’, and Umi is standard Japanese for ‘Sea’. Churaumi until 2008 held the guinness world record for the largest acrylic tank. The title has since been taken by Abu Dhabi, then Atlanta but none the less the Aquarium is huge. I was able to see two whale sharks and a handful of manta rays swimming around in the tank.
If you take a walk outside through the entrance facing the sea (shown directly above), you will be able to see other various marine life on display such as sea turtles, dolphins and manatees at the Ocean Expo Park.
One of the things you might notice in your travels around Okinawa is that every building has clay guardians resembling a lion-dog creature. These guardians are called Shisa, and are wards to protect the dwelling from bad spirits. When in a pair, one Shisa, known to be female, will have her mouth closed and the other Shisa, a male, with his mouth open. The female’s mouth close is said to keep in the good spirits, and the male’s open mouth to scare away the evil.
If you make your way down south, about 25 minutes by car to Nago, you are able to make your own Shisa at the Shisa Park Ryukyu Gama Kiln. They also have premade Shisa for kids to paint, and professional statues for you to purchase if you’re not interesting in creating your own.
Right next door, there is a Ryukyu glass factory called Mori no Garasu Kan (translates to Glass House in the Forest). Here you can purchase affordable Ryukyu glassware and even create your own.
(Photo taken from Trip Advisor, where you can get more details about what they have to offer)
Okinawa is the perfect place if you wish to escape the winter cold, and you’re welcomed by the kind faces of the Okinawan people.