For the continuation my previous post, you get our trip to the north portion of the main island. Naha, where we were staying, is the capital. However the aquarium and a bunch of other cool places to visit are a little further north near Nago. The bus ride took about an hour and a half, but it was well worth the time spent.
Fun Day 2 – Bus Tour
For today’s Japanese lesson, we are going to learn something about “bens.” Japanese, like any other language, has a variety of dialects that are in use throughout the country. The “normal” Japanese you hear on the news, and generally in anime, is based around Tokyo. The most famous counterpart to Tokyo’s dialect is “Kansai-ben”, which is used in places like Kyoto and Osaka. Okinawa, naturally, has its own “ben.” One of the most common phrases you’ll hear people not from Okinawa say in that dialect is “なんくるないさ” – basically the Okinawan equivalent of Hakuna Matata.
We embodied that phrase as we woke up at 6:30 am to make our 8 am bus to the aquarium, to the pouring rain that had been promised but withheld all weekend. We chose to take a tour rather than go on our own, because the tour was significantly cheaper. Just getting to the aquarium on bus round trip would have been about 5,000 yen, and the tickets were 1,850. For the tour, we got to go to the aquarium, Pineapple Park, and a glass-blowing workshop, all for 4,800 yen. So worth it.
For those of you thinking of tracing my footsteps (I say as though there are people reading this blog,) you will want to keep in mind that the tour is entirely in Japanese. You don’t really need to listen to the guide on the bus, and the aquarium and Pineapple Park both have signs in English, but you are missing a bit of the experience.
The aquarium was really, really cool. There are four areas of the aquarium, on top of the other exhibits that we didn’t see, like the butterflies. First were the manatees which are so cute and frankly my spirit animal. Then were the sea turtles, which I have a soft spot for because let’s be real, I am a child of Finding Nemo.
Then was the main attraction – the DOLPHINS. If you remember from the previous post, our high school mascot was the dolphin, so we had to go see the dolphin show and take pictures with the dolphins.
The show was frankly, amazing. Dolphins are so smart! They trained the dolphins to sway and spin to music, to squeak relatively in time to a song, to jump up on a platform and slide to a stop… even to blow air out of their blowholes when they were explaining that dolphins breath differently than humans! It was phenomenal. And of course, the jumps were super cool too. It is amazing how high they can get. I wonder how much fish the trainers go through teaching the dolphins this stuff.
Then it was into the aquarium. I have always liked aquariums more than zoos. I think it is because at some level I feel like fish are more likely to be happy in tank than animals are in a cage. Also they smell significantly less. This is a pretty awesome aquarium though. Of course, since it was a Sunday, it was packed with people. But the Churaumi aquarium solved the problem of crowding by just building a humongous tank. Its soothing and awe inspiring to watch all the fish swim around, while you feel like you are in the tank itself. There were also quite a few fish I had never seen in person before, which made for an excellent learning experience. That and reading all the kanji on the signs – no better way to tell how far you’ve come than by reading about life under the sea.
The aquarium also had a really nice beach called Emerald Beach that we decided to take a walk in. The water was relatively warm for May, and I can can only imagine how beautiful it would look (and how fun it would be to swim in) once the rainy season was over. I have to go back to Okinawa and scuba dive sometime. As it was, there wasn’t the time, weather, or money to do it. But the aquarium made up for it a bit.
After having the bus almost leave us, we headed to Pineapple Park. Did you know that there are 2,000 varieties of pineapple, but only 200 are edible? I didn’t! Did you know that there is a “Snack Pineapple” variety that you can just pull chunk of pineapple out from the skin, as though it were an orange? I didn’t either! Pineapple Park was super fun. I tried Pineapple wine, pineapple tart, pineapple chocolate… everything but actual pineapple since there was a shortage. Instead I got pineapple juice, which was delicious enough I am willing to overlook the lack of actual fruit. Pineapple, and all fruits except for bananas really, is super expensive in Japan, so I didn’t buy any fruit. However as my last omiyage, I bought a pineapple tart for my host family. It’s torture not eating it by myself.
After that was the glass-blowing house, then we headed back home. We finally got to chill in the living room, and met an Australian who was traveling around Japan for two months. She said if we ever visited Melbourne, she would let us stay at her house. Little does she know I am DEFINITELY taking her up on that. I have an airfarewatchdog and skyscanner price alert out as we speak. In return for her company, we left her our matcha sake, which was about as good as you think it was.
Travel Day 2 – Back to the Grindstone
The trip back was much smoother than the flight there, probably because it had started to clear up a bit weather-wise. We got to the airport super early, and hung out with the gift shop guy who is the first person in Japan who isn’t invested in being my friend or hitting on me who when I said I spoke Japanese, continued to speak to me in Japanese. Bless him. We gave him some tips on his English script for “Would you like to try some?” as opposed to “Please take them” for his samples. I would like to further give a shout out to the Peach Airlines guy who saw we were all over weight by about 3 kilos each and still let us on the plane.
Then I took the same bus back to Tokyo Station, and we parted ways for the rest of our respective trips. I started studying kanji on the train again, grabbed some Mos Burger for the first time in 5ever, and then came home and just faceplanted on my bed and passed out until it was time to wake up and do homework.
All in all, Okinawa could have been a disaster.Four people, who each in some capacity did not know at least one person, living and traveling in close quarters with time and money as stress, in the middle of the rainy season, in a country where all of us spoke the language with varying degrees of fluency. But the weather held out for us, everyone got along, and I ended up having a really great time. If I go back I would definitely go during the winter or late summer and go whale watching, hiking, or scuba diving. We couldn’t really do the nature-y stuff but now that that’s out of the way next time I visit I will be prepared. And also hopefully more employed and less broke.
As far as trip cost, the plane was 12000, the hostel was 7500, the tour was 5000, and we spent about 3000 on food a day. So the whole trip was probably around 400 bucks from door to door, including omiyage and transportation to and from the airport in Naha and Tokyo. Not bad at all. It’s a pretty great start to my last month of study abroad!