July 24 – An Unexpected Party

okinawa-island-mapToday was a day spent in the north of Okinawa. For those of you that haven’t been doing your own research in support of my trip (shame on you) – Okinawa is a vertically aligned island. My hotel is in the main city of the island, Naha, at the south end of the island.

Having two full days here – I wanted to take one day to explore the north of the island and the next day to explore the south.

Today, we head north.  Once you get to the top third of the island, it is very lightly populated, mostly because the terrain gets quite harsh.  I started by heading to the very tip top of the island – Hebo Point.

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Cape Hedo

ajuly24-okinawa-01011Cape Hedo is located at the very top of Okinawa. Getting there required driving for about two hours. It’s amazing how much easier it is to drive a car from the opposite side when you aren’t in a bustling city with things poking out from the lanes next to you. Especially on this Sunday, the roads were wide open once I got about halfway up the island.

One problem I had was that cell phone service sort of stopped after Nago City. This was an issue because while my car’s GPS spoke in English (and was actually pretty cool for some things) – programming a destination was all in Japanese.  I tried many different combinations of ways to make it work, but it wasn’t having it.  Thankfully, there aren’t many roads up there and plenty of signs directed me to where I wanted to go.  There were a bunch of motorcyclists enjoying the wide open roads this morning.  If you are looking for some Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift action, this is the place to come (not Tokyo – that place is flat!)

At the Cape itself I was treated to some great views of the coast and Pacific Ocean.  Okinawa is at the same basic latitude as Miami, FL is and provides a much more tropical feel than the mainland (which provides a sauna-type feel).

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Hiji Waterfall

Leaving Cape Hebo, I headed south for a short distance to find Hiji Waterfall. I will admit that it did take me a few attempts, as all of the road signs are completely incomprehensible to me. At one point I had to drive down a narrow road that I thought was one lane only (and not in the direction I was going) so I turned around. As it turns out, it was the actual path to the waterfall.

ajuly24-okinawa-01021After finally finding the place, it was a 1.5km hike to the falls themselves.  Along the way I was treated to some very nice tropic forest views and views of the river below. The path was fairly up and down but eventually I arrived at the falls – which were very nice!ajuly24-okinawa-01042

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Ocean Expo Park

I knew what to expect from my first two stops of the day. This second stop…all I knew about this park was that there was a very good aquarium here, and it’s on the beach.

This place is awesome!  Ocean Expo Park is a park (that’s free to enter) that contains…

  • An aquarium
  • Planetarium
  • Traditional Okinawan village
  • Dolphin shows
  • Free public beach
  • “Tropical Dream Center”
  • Arboretum

Everywhere you look – there’s something new.

My first stop was the aquarium.  I had read that this was the best in Japan – I’ll be the judge of that!  Warning – fish pictures ahead!
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The massive clear panel in the first picture was a sight to behold! Inside here a ton of giant fish all swimming around having their tummies looked at.

The aquarium was incredible – they did a very good job showing the ocean creatures common to Okinawa.

I then went down to see the Dolphin show.  They actually have a few dolphin shows…some involve a close by watching trainers interact with the animals.  During one of these, divers were in the water with the dolphins showing different parts of the dolphin’s body.  During a demonstration of the bottom of a dolphin, the dolphin decided to answer the call of nature – quite a humorous reaction from the kids and adults!

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The larger dolphin show featured stadium seating with a huge number of people (the park was packed, it was Sunday after-all).

Let me tell you what – those crazy fish can jump!  During the entire show they played what sounded to me almost like Japanese bluegrass.  Everyone was clapping along as the dolphins jumped around and did their flippy-flops.

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I spent a few more hours wandering around the site, taking in more that it had to offer.  It seems like a great place to take a family – although some little kids were having the predictable meltdowns in the scorching heat!

ajuly24-okinawa-01203ajuly24-okinawa-01156This is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

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Sidenote…in Japan, everyone backs into parking spaces. Now – I can do it in the best of times, but driving from the wrong side of the car isn’t the “best” of times. I want you to behold this amazing parking job.  It’s strange that no one wanted to park to the other side of my car…


American Village / Party Time!

For my last stop of the day, I had planned on visiting an area called “American Village”.  This is an area close by many American military bases and I thought it would interesting to see a Japanese perspective on America.  As it was, it looked alot like all of the other shopping places, only this was an outdoor shopping mall (not common to Japan).  There wasn’t much that struck me as “American” except for a store that looked like Cracker Barrel on Acid full of wagon wheels, cowboy hats, and silly street signs.

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It was nice to see the American Hood Quarters

I thought this was a bit of a bust until I heard some drums from the beach down the street.  If I’ve learned anything from Japan it is that if you hear drums, something cool is probably going on!

I walked down to a beach that was PACKED with people.  Apparently they were having some Japanese Taiko Drum competition.  Groups of 20-ish high school (maybe) aged guys would dance around while playing drums, accompanied by a few people on stage playing some stringed instrument.  It was awesome!  All around the beach there were food stands selling Japanese festival foods!  My plans to eat at an American restaurant were out the window!

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Just when I thought it couldn’t get any cooler – the fire people walked out.  Three guys danced around with flaming swords, flaming staffs, etc…  At the end of most of their performances they spit fire out making a giant fireball.  During the last song, they did some dance with first while another guy was on stage playing music from a flute.  JAPAN!

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Tomorrow (actually today) is my last full day in Japan. I have conflicting emotions on going home. I have certainly enjoyed myself on this trip and have learned a TON! This is a great country and I’m sure I’ll be back at some point.

On the other hand, going around in a country where there is no chance of understanding a lot of the language (written and verbal) is a bit draining.  I also don’t exactly travel in a restful manner – I’m always jetting from one thing to another.  I’m excited to get back to the States and order a meal without having to point at pictures on a menu by the cashier.

Tomorrow – last full day in Japan. I will be in the south of the island exploring several sites important to the Battle of Okinawa during WWII. Hopefully I will get to see some underground headquarters of the Japanese during the ground war.