Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium oh and bridges too

Travel ?? Comments Mon 08 December 2014

We had always planned to head to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium - part of the Ocean Expo Park in Motobu - on Saturday, the largest aquarium in Japan and one of Okinawa's biggest attractions. In fact, the largest aquarium in the world until it was surpassed by the Georgia Aquarium in 2005.

The only problem; this was the first weekend we were unable to book the OIST car.

We toyed with hitchhiking, but the odds of finding someone who speaks English and happens to be going to Motobu (almost 30km north of Nago) appeared almost astronomical. Plus, there were four of us - Me, Michael, Tania, Diana (Tania's housemate from Colombia). This left us with three options:

  1. Take a bus - requires a change of bus in Nago and a four hour transit.

  2. Take a taxi - transit time is cut to about an hour, but at the same time \$$$$.

  3. Hire a car - possibly the most cost-effective; ¥4320 for a 12 hour hire. Plus, Orix Car Rentals drops/picks up the car at OIST! Sold.

And even though Michael didn't end up coming (sleeping in beat a 9am start), I was pretty excited with the car rental.

Because for the first time since I arrived in Japan, I wasn't driving a kei car.



No more struggles driving uphill! No more feeling like I'm driving a turbo-powered lawnmower! The seats themselves even felt like luxurious business class upgrades in comparison to the kei cars.


The aquarium on the left, situated right on the oceanfront, with animal theatres to the right



We arrived at the aquarium and headed straight to the dolphin show. And even though it was conducted entirely in Japanese, the dolphins were captivating. From jumping 5 meters in the air, throwing fish treats in a vaudevillian farce back to their trainers, 'singing' on command, and blowing balloons with their blowholes, you couldn't help but watch on fascinated. Although it did spark some conversation on whether their captivity was humane - does the potential educational/conservational impact outweigh the fact that these dolphins are kept in small tanks literally meters from the open ocean?


The dolphins were amazing

For what it's worth, and I know this is just blatant anthropomorphism, but they seemed to enjoy themselves.

Next up: the sea turtles and the manatees. The sea turtles were just as captivating - I could have watched them for hours, they were massive - even though their tank was a bit depressing in terms of size/decoration (just rocks, that was it).



om nom nom

Finally, time to hit the aquarium. I have to admit, I was pretty pumped for everyones favourite aquarium feature - the underwater (travelling) tunnel. It should be mentioned that everything we had seen so far (dolphins, sea turtles and manatees) were free, you could just walk in. The aquarium however, the main attraction, requires a ticket purchase.


The main tank, holding whale sharks and manta rays


View from the top; it was pretty massive.


Shark eggs



We were nearing the end of the aquarium, we could feel it - natural light was slowly starting to leak around corners, beckoning us further.

The tunnel can't be that much further. Perhaps around this corner we told ourselves, but I had a sinking feeling - goddammit, the proverbial gift shop. Perhaps our expectations were a little too high after hearing about the aquarium the past two weeks.

Out of all the exhibits, I was most impressed by the deep ocean displays; deep sea life is just bizarre. From a preserved giant squid to bioluminescent fish, giant crabs, giant isopods and more - I could have stayed in that exhibit for ages, just staring.


Tania looking up restaurants, not impressed by a traditional Okinawan house

We tried to explore some of the other parts of the Ocean Expo Park, but ended up just wondering briefly through a reconstructed native Okinawan village (we almost visited the Okinawan Culture Museum until we realised it was actually an Oceanic Culture museum - tipped off by the giant Maori display out front). Our hunger was too much by this stage, and we retreated to the car to search out some authentic Okinawan food.

And, we found a pretty cool place just up the road in Motobu!


Local restaurant - cheap, traditional, and delicious. Note the pig woodcut in the bottom right corner; one of many, many others.

It was here that I finally realised how ingrained pork is in Ryukyuan cuisine.

'Uh, watashi wa butaniku o tabenai. I don't eat pork, which dishes don't have pork in them?'

The waitress seemed puzzled, and after inspecting the menu I started to point and guess.

'Is this pork?'

'Pork hai, butaniku.'

'This one?'

'Hai, eto, in the broth.'

Finally we narrowed it down to one dish.

One dish on the menu that wasn't pork; fried fish with rice. And even then, the soup it came with I left to one side - it looked (and smelt, I think) suspiciously like pork broth. But hey, the fish was delicious regardless!


The taco rice was also potentially pork free, but I was too excited after finding a fish dish to keep asking


Delicious fried fish


although, slightly awkward to eat



Tania's squid ink soba in, you guessed it, a pork broth

I know I promised you bridges, but I've just realised how long this post has become, so I better move over to a new post.

If that's not enough to convince you, I can guarantee you this: as bridges go, this is one pretty damn fine bridge.

Note: various photos courtesy of Tania

Tags: japan okinawa japanese food