A Weekend in Okinawa (沖縄)

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Traveling is one thing I can say I would invest on when I have the time, chance and some pocket money. A lot of people have asked if I am a secret agent, rich or if I am a professional traveler but I am none of that (although the last one sounds amazing). I started traveling since I was little as much as I can to broaden my horizon and to fulfill my own little curiosity. I prefer to spend some time in a certain place than a couple of days in order to really experience what the place is all about but that, of course, always up to time, money and for sure, some luck.

That say, this time I had a special 3-day-weekend holiday, a department holiday which is although short, I decided to spend this holiday on the beach and explore another interesting place I had never been in Japan – Okinawa.

Okinawa (沖縄) is a prefecture with group of islands located in the southernmost of Japan. The islands can be grouped into three: Okinawa islands where the main island (本島) with its capital, Naha (那覇市) is, Miyako islands (宮古島), and Yayeyama islands (八重島). It is also a site for American military bases even after WWII. It is said to be the Hawaii of Japan. Okinawa is also known as Ryukyu islands for its own culture, art, and language of the Ryukyu native culture which is very interesting.

I planned the trip quickly right after my move to Osaka in April. I got a package from HIS, paid for the trip, and then prayed for the good weather. May is supposed to be a rainy season in Okinawa which starts earlier than other parts of Japan. After May, it is the typhoon season which may easily blows off my plans. Whichever the case, May 24th – 26th was the travel date, and it was all set! I kept checking the weather and it seemed to be raining almost everyday but then suddenly, the weather for Friday May 24th changed to cloudy. I was very lucky. The weather was nice the entire trip. 🙂

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Our hotel is located in Onna-son(恩納村)or Onna village in the main island of Okinawa (本島 Hon-to) which is around an hour by bus from Naha airport (那覇空港). We flew from Kansai airport which took around 2 hours. We got to the hotel in early afternoon and the first thing we did after checking in was finding information on marine sports. We went out snorkeling just half an hour after we arrived. Our hotel is called ‘Hotel Moon Beach’; it is a beautiful resort with various marine activities and a warm indoor pool.

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This was the first time I went snorkeling with a wet suit. I was quite surprised since in Thailand, we never have to wear one except for diving. 画像 2522The fish in Andaman sea of Thailand are visible even within one meter deep water (I miss Thai beaches!). We got all the equipments, and then they started explaining how to use them. Then, we got out to the sea! The water was unexpectedly cold…like Titanic-cold as I am so used to the warm water in Thailand. The wave was quite strong. We got out and started snorkeling…so much fish life! We gave out some bread, saw more fish, and then back to the port. It was quite an exercise but definitely fun! Our hotel offers so many marine sports such as diving, para-sailing, snorkeling, canoe, and something called fly boat & so much more!

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Cool, isn’t it?

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Snorkeling time 🙂

We went out to dinner that day at an Okinawan food restaurant called がちまい(Gachimai). I found the food to be quite different from everywhere else in Japan. The variety of food and drinks were interesting. I had more than just a fun time trying all the food and drinks. 😉 The guava drink, the famous shikuasa drink (シークワーサー), and so much more yummy things that should be sold widely in Japan!

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Yummy fried crabs

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Okinawa-only ice creams

Not only the food I found different, it was the people and the dialect, too. めんそれー!(Mensore) meaning welcome as in general Japan would say いらっしゃいませ(irasshaimase) was visible almost every tourist places I went. 画像 2642The people, too, looked different from Japanese people in general. Some of them even looked like foreigners. I have heard that Okinawa people or Okinawans are actually native Ryukyu people with different cultures and dialect they had formed way before Okinawa islands became part of Japan. I do not know much about this but it is very interesting and I would definitely find out more about it.

The next day, I visited Ryukyu Village (琉球村) to explore more into the Okinawan culture. We took a taxi from our hotel for about 15 minutes.

When got there just in time for Ryukyu dance show. There was a parade, song, and then a dance I had never seen before. They used some kind of wooden instrument to make sound when dancing. Their heads and faces were so still… After the dance, they all got us dancing, too!

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We had the famous そーきそば (so-ki soba) there. It is a famous Okinawa soba with pork and flat yellow soba. The pork was so soft and tender…delicious!画像 2598

Inside the village, there were small cottages with some exhibitions in each one, for example, silk making, Okinawan musical instrument, pottery, and others. All of this, you can pay a small fee and do a trial session by yourself. Then, there were the famous water buffaloes which is quite unusual to be seen in Japan and then some goats! We explored a bit and got back to the hotel. I saw later at night that the hotel also offers a day trip to 4 different places with one lunch meal and the cost is only 4,700 yen. This is definitely worth it if you want to visit many places.

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After Ryukyu village, we got back and went out on a dragon boat (ドラゴンボート)! I am not quite sure about the difference between a dragon boat and a banana boat. In other places, it is called banana boat, a boat people ride with the intention of the driver to make it flip so that people fall into the water. However, the banana boat has only one row while dragon boat has two. So I guess that is the difference.

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Our tour package includes a buffet Yakiniku (焼肉) dinner at Okinawa Beer Garden (沖縄ビール園). What could be better than this? I couldn’t think of any. A guy from the restaurant picked us up by car to the beer garden. That good thing about this place is the free pick up. Then, everything went pretty quickly…next thing we knew, we were strolling on the street in front of the hotel trying exercise a bit after a huge meal.

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The next morning was the last day. We had the buffet breakfast, headed out for a walk on the beach and left for the airport. We had a wonderful time. Definitely a great place to visit. There are so many places in the main island to visit such as Nago pineapple park, Churaumi aquarium, Ryugujo butterfly garden, and so much more. Next time, I would love to go to other islands in Okinawa especially Ishigaki island (石垣島), an island a bit far from the main one with deep blue ocean. 😉 Time was limited, but it was a great trip.

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Airport Okinawa themed Purikura

More information on Okinawa

Travel guides:

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Late Night Conbini Run – 11PM Opening, First 50 Customers

How many of you can say you have been to a convenient store ‘Grand opening’…at 11 pm at night?

I don’t think there are many of us who have done so.

I live in my company’s dorm in Osaka not so far from the company, close enough for me to walk to work everyday. It is a pretty fancy place but that’s another story for another post. The area around the place I live is mostly covered by my company’s facilities: our office, factories, hospital, dorms, employees club, gym and other facilities. So, besides these, there are not many things despite being located only one stop from Universal Studio. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, forget about walking in a mall after work. Thus; when something new opens around here, we all get excited (I guess?).

This time, it’s a convenient store – Family Mart! Convenient store = Conbini コンビニ in Japanese, shortened from コンビニエンスストアwhich is a direct katakana translation from English. This new Family Mart is right in front of my company. It was built and decorated in less than a month. Then, when it’s finished, they put up a sign ‘OPEN 5/22 at 11PM – First 50 CUSTOMERS GET FREE PRIZES!’ We saw a lot of people stopping to read that sign and we got interested, so we set up a goal to be one of those 50 first dates customers! As odd as this may sound, this is probably one of the funniest moments since I’ve been in Japan and one I’ll remember…

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Something to do before going out to get the prizes!

9:30 PM, we gathered at one of my coworkers’ house right next to the new Family Mart. While waiting for the time to come, we managed to snack ourselves, laughed, and played Wii!! 😀

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Some snacks for the Wii night.
POPCORN PAPA and Umai 〔うまい)

At 10 PM, we went out to see our ‘competitors’. About 10 people were already there! We got a coupon from one of the Family Mart staffs to exchange our presents. She said although the coupon says 5/22-5/23, 5/22 11 PM- midnight is the only time we can use. So YAY! We surely can get the prize now. Went back to play Wii with peaceful minds!

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Present exchange ticket

Then, it was pretty much like what pictures tell. So funny being there, coming out to a conbini at 11 pm. I kept laughing while standing in line.

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10:45 pm
LOOK LOOK..There are there already!!

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10:50 PM

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Photo for memory… 😀

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We were not the only ones looking forward to this ‘grand opening’

The place was surprisingly packed. Believe it or not, some people brought their babies. Even at this time of the night. First thing we were handed when we went in was this little bag.

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The prize for the first 50 customers!

Then, we bought their Fukubukuro 〔福袋) or Happy/Lucky bag just for fun. In my head echoed (YAY YAY YAY!).

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Family Mart Happy Bag – 500 yen!

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The store got so packed…

I started laughing till my stomach hurts seeing everyone, including myself, got all excited over a new Family Mart. I have to admit, it was kind of…fun.

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Store front: The open sale

We got back and opened the bags. Both bags were filled with snacks and drinks.

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Stuff in the lucky bag!

I guess I got my breakfast…

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The first 50 customers bag

やった!YATTA (Finally).

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11 PM Convenient store opening
CHECKED!

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WOO HOO!!

This was just a very funny night. Made me thought of my time as a college student in Beppu city 〔別府市) when I would walk outside at night to the only McDonald’s and have a few laugh with some friends while devouring the M size french fries. Everywhere, city or suburban, there are always things and events to enjoy and laugh about. ❤

[UPDATE] Yaki Tate Melon Pan (焼きたてメロンパン)

From a few posts before, I wrote about Yaki-tate melon pan which is a fresh-from-the-oven melon bread sold in bakery vans. It is not widely sold but the soft hot bread is worth trying and definitely not a regular hard sugary melon shaped bread sold in any supermarket.

In Tokyo and Yokohama where I used to live, the bakery van chain I always bought melon pan is called ‘Happy-Happy‘. Happy-Happy has a few flavors if I remember right: Hokkaido, butter, original, and probably more.

After finding one melon pan van around my place here in Osaka, I have been going there almost every Monday and Thursday according to their schedule. Now, I have tried every flavor! Original (オリジナル), butter(バッター), strawberry(ストロベリー), caramel(キャラメル), and strawberry chocolate(いちごチョコラー)!

And what’s the best flavor? Guess…*drum rolls*……..The ORIGINAL! 🙂

Caramel and butter are also yummy. Strawberry and strawberry chocolate are so-so. But still, original is always the best!

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A Visit to Osaka Aquarium -Kaiyukan (海遊館)

20130520-111233.jpgOsaka Aquarium or Kaiyukan 〔海遊館) is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Osaka and probably in the whole Japan for aquariums. It is located in Osaka bay area. This aquarium is famous for its various displays of marine life which is organized in a very impressive way.

When I was living in Beppu city (別府市), Oita prefecture (大分県), I visited an aquarium called ‘Umitamago(Umi 海 = ocean, Tamago卵 = egg). 20130520-143913.jpgThe aquarium is obviously not as big as others in the bigger cities but the fish tanks were arranged nicely and with its location on a scenic beach, the atmosphere is great. I got to shake hand with a cute seal when I was on an outdoor stadium for a show and had club sandwiches in the terrace near the beach. The entrance fee was free that day because we got two tickets from the owner of the place by chance. 😉 I had a great time. It was a lot of fun even in a small city aquarium so I had high expectations for this well-known Osaka Kaiyukan.

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Outdoor show at Umitamago

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My friend observing marine life inside Umitamago

I went to Kaiyukan with the same friend I went to Umitamago with. The difference was that we are a few years older; both have graduated and now working in a different country. Since my friend decided to visit from Korea, I was especially excited to spend the day catching up and having fun. This was actually my second time at this aquarium. The first time was 5 years ago although I could barely enjoy the place or remember much having been so sick and fainted inside the aquarium (no joke!). So this time was sort of like my first time there. It was a rainy day so we thought we could enjoy the day being inside.

We started from Osaka station and took a train to Bentencho station (弁天町). From there, we took Osaka municipal subway Chuo line (中央線) toward Cosmo square to Osakako station (大阪港 Osaka port). It took only about 18 minutes. Then, we walked to the aquarium in the rain, had some ice cream (soft cream ソフトクリーム), paid for the entrance and went in. There were tons of people inside!

20130520-111804.jpgThe exhibitions were divided according to the Pacific Rim or the Ring of fire from Japan forest to Antarctica to The Great Barrier Reef and others. There were various kinds of sea animals; dolphins, penguins, sharks and so many others we are familiar with or some that we had never heard of. With the massive amount of people, it was hard to view the animals at first but there seemed to be less people as we moved along the route. The aquarium has 8 floors which go in spiral once we move forward so we could observe marine life from many angles. The central tank is one of the main attractions. It is 9 meters deep and is visible along the route.

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I could observe so many sea animal activities; dolphins playing water polo (in their way), penguins community gathering, huge Japanese crabs showing power, jelly fish floating up and down, and so many other interesting marine life.

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Right before the exit, there is a big fish tank which contains mainly sharks and stingrays. They allow people to touch the fish in this tank with a warning of Do not touch the sharks in the head, please only touch the back. I tried…but failed. 20130520-111221.jpgI blame the announcer who kept announcing the warnings. 😛 Despite the fact that there were so many people, I did enjoy the place although I could say that 2,300 yen for the entrance is a little bit expensive. The only thing I wish they had is an outdoor show. Apparently, there are other attractions besides the exhibitions, too. There are cruises, Ferris wheel and other activities you can enjoy. This place can be really good for families with kids for a day out activity.

The most surprisingly thing that happened there was that there was a wedding inside the aquarium! We were walking along the route when we heard someone ringing the bell and shouting ‘現在海遊館の中で結婚式を行っております’ (genzai kaiyukan no nakade kekkonshiki wo okonatteorimasu) meaningThere is currently a wedding inside Kaiyukan at the moment. Then, we saw a couple wearing a suit and a wedding gown walking out with some people following behind. What a very strange place to get married but I’m sure it is something they’ll never ever forget.

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A couple having their wedding at the aquarium

Access:

Take Chuo Line and get off at Osakako (Osaka Port) station.
Approx. 12 min. from Hommachi (Midousuji line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 18 min. from Umeda (or Osaka in JR line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 35 min. from Shinosaka (Shinkansen JR line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 37 min. from Universal City (JR line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 75 min. from Kansai International Airport to Osakako station by JR line and Subway.

Operating hours: 10 am – 8 pm

Entrance fee (one time – adult): 2,300 yen

Website: http://www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng/index.htm

Discount ticket from Klook -> here! (free bonus credits when downloading their app and input this code: L2AI9)

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Shibazakura Viewing at Hitsujiyama park, Chichibu – The Colorful Carpet of Flowers!

Golden week had quickly come and gone. In Japan, there are a few long holidays; one of those is Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク). Golden week starts around the end of April till the start of May. This year, April 29th and May 3rd – 6th are holidays; hence, the holidays are divided to 2 parts of 3 days and 4 days with 3 working days in between. Some people may be lucky and get 10 consecutive days of holidays from April 27th to May 6th! My work schedule was a little different. I got holidays on May 1st-6th so I used this time to visit Tokyo again. 🙂

On May 2nd, I visited the famous shiba-zakura (芝桜) park in Chichibu city(秩父市), Saitama prefecture(埼玉県).

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Shiba-Zakura (芝桜) season comes around mid April till mid June, a bit after the sakura season. Shiba-zakura is called moss phlox in English. It is a plant that is similar to shrub-type plants which grows to a height of about 10 centimeters with long leaves and small vividly pinkish flowers. Due to its appearance that is similar to cherry blossom, it has been called ‘shiba-zakura’. I have never seen shiba-zakura before but I have heard wonderful things about it, so I decided to visit the nearest park to Tokyo in Golden Week.

20130507-102602.jpgChichibu city (秩父市) is located in the Northeast of Saitama prefecture(埼玉県), a neighbor prefecture of Tokyo. It is famous for shrines and nature especially for outdoor activities such as flower viewing, picnic, barbecue and strawberry picking. There are also many festivals such as Chichibu night festival in which decorated floats are lighted up at night in a shrine. There was a festival on the day I went as well but time was limited so I couldn’t stay long enough to see. The easiest way to get to Chichibu is by train from Ikebukuro station. I took Seibu-ikebukuro line (西武池袋線)from Ikebukuro station (池袋駅) to Seibu-chichibu station (西武秩父駅). The trip took about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Apparently, there are express trains as well but the tickets were all sold out for the day due to the amount of people visiting during holidays. So, make sure you get the tickets beforehand if you plan to go on holidays.

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When we arrived at seibu-chichibu station, it was around 11 AM. The weather was extremely hot! We followed the crowd and walked up the hills to Hitsujiyama park (羊山公園). Occasionally, we would stop and buy some cold drinks to keep our body cool. We paid a small fee for the entrance and entered. This park is one of the renowned spring destinations with amazingly colorful shiba-zakura that are not only planted in different rows for each color, but also in different shapes making the whole field appears to be an incredible carpet of vividly attractive small flowers. Sometimes, this place is also called ‘Moss Hill‘. I found it very picturesque and just spectacular, similar to a scene from a lively musical movie! There are flower rows in pink, light purple, purple, light blue, white and some are planted in circular or heart shapes. I had to fight the urge to jump into the flowers! At that time, it felt like a thing to do…

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One of the things I love most about Japan is that Japan has a way to make nature very attractive and Japanese people sure know how to appreciate it. They create an event out of what is around and make everything exciting. All year round, there are always new events, things to see and places to explore. It is obvious that this shiba-zakura flower field was well designed and surely has become a great tourist spot out of the wonderful nature. It is just very impressive. In Japan, people definitely have a great sense of beauty.

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There are some other places to view Shiba-zakura as well. One is on the foot of Mount Fuji. Just only imagine a colorful flower field with amazing Fuji view on the background, I could tell it is worth it. Also, there are some other similar places in Hokkaido. (Click here to see other shiba-zakura destinations.)

Shiba-zakura festival near Mount Fuji -> http://www.shibazakura.jp/ (Japanese), News in English -> click here!

Other than Hitsujiyama Park, there are also other places in Chichibu city. I got to visit another park called Chichibu Muse park (秩父ミューズパーク)which is famous for poppies. I took a free shuttle bus from Hitsujiyama park to Muse park and a free shuttle bus to Chichibu station before heading back to Tokyo. However, this time the poppies were not in full bloom yet, so we got 50% discount for our tickets. Despite not being to view the poppies, the park was beautiful. I could see different kinds of flowers which I don’t know what they are but it really didn’t matter since everything was beautiful. I also found a small two-storied stadium on top of the mountain where we can see scenic mountain views. The scenery was breathtaking.

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If you plan to visit these places, don’t forget to bring a hat or a UV umbrella. The weather was so hot that it got me a very bad cold. *boo* So yes, prepare well and enjoy spring! 🙂

Hitsujiyama park official site -> http://navi.city.chichibu.lg.jp/flower/shibazakura/ (Japanese)

Nearest station: Seibu-chichibu station

Muse park official site -> http://www.muse-park.com/ (Japanese)