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When driving on the Okinawa Expressway between Northern and Southern Okinawa, take a break at the Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park to stretch your legs and play with the kids. Offering a view of the azure ocean, the park features a ton of fun for both children and adults. The park houses a water park of sorts, replete with slides and pools. There are also a few walking trails for those who wish to admire the scenery. Other facilities include a mini-golf and tennis courts. Every February, the Okinawa Marathon begins here.
A place for all kinds of disport in Chatan Town, Mihama, or better known as American Village, can be seen from miles away thanks to the towering Ferris wheel that has become the trademark of this shopping district. American eateries, international food restaurants, and a cinema that plays both Western and Japanese films, all make up a place where travelers can get a sense of what it means to be American, from a Japanese perspective. One of the biggest shopping attractions at the American Village is Jusco, an upscale one-stop megastore, popular among tourists and locals alike. In addition to the aforementioned areas, there are plenty of other venues in the American Village such as Seaside Square and Dragon’s Palace, which offer more entertainment choices (karaoke, games, bowling, etc.) and of course, more shopping.
Though their headquarters are in Chatan Village in Central Okinawa, Reef Encounters operates marine excursions all over Okinawa prefecture, from the northern tip of the island at Cape Hedo all the way down to Yongauni Island in the Yaeyama Region. Both experienced and novice divers can choose between snorkeling, diving and fishing, and can even become certified scuba divers. The staff is fluent in both English and Japanese, and the company also offers all-inclusive tour packages. Visit the website to make reservations.
Built on land reclaimed from the US military, this museum was founded by Michio Sakima as a place for peaceful mediation on the lasting effects of World War II. A piece entitled "Figure of the Battle of Okinawa" shows visitors an artistic interpretation of the ravages of the war, impacting viewers in a way that perhaps history museums cannot. Futenma Air Base can be viewed in its entirety from the roof. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and holidays.
Built around the 12th Century, the ruins of Katsuren-jo (Katsuren Castle) sit atop a hill in Uruma, east of Okinawa City. It is an example of a gusuku, or traditional Okinawan castle. Because it lies on a peninsula bounded by the Pacific Ocean, it is also called the "Ocean Gusuku." Lord Awamari was wise, promoting trade and introducing overseas techniques and cultures to increase the prosperity of his domain. However, he was overthrown by the kings of Shuri in 1458 for plotting to usurp the throne. Many fine pieces of tile and Chinese porcelain have been excavated from the building, and it is now a World Heritage Site. The park is closed every Monday and from December 29-January 3.
Before Shuri, Urasoe was the economic and cultural center of the Ryukyu Islands and still hosts a multitude of historic and cultural artifacts. The museum specializes in displaying exquisite pieces of Ryukyu lacquer ware and pottery, heavily influenced by trade with China. If you feel inspired to create, contact the museum to find out more about their pottery and wood carving classes. The museum is closed on Mondays.
As the Ryuku nation's palace, Shurijo Castle was the economic, religious and administrative epicenter of the chain of islands now known as Okinawa. Once bound to pay tribute to China and Japan while also doing trade with Southeast Asia, the influences of all these cultures can be seen in the architecture, decor, and most of all the blazingly red walls of the castle. Since being built in the 1400s, Shurijo has served as a royal residence, a Japanese military base, and as a school. It is the only Okinawan castle to be completely restored to its 18th Century state after being bombed during World War II, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site easily accessed by monorail or bus. Traditional Ryukyuan dances are performed in the main courtyard three times daily. See the website for more details.
One of the first areas to be rebuilt after World War II, Kokusai Street was hailed as the "Miracle Mile" for its great shops, restaurants and bars. Many hotels can be found along this 1.6-kilometer stretch as well, and you'll find tourists and locals alike looking for the latest trends and fashions in the boutiques. Some notable souvenirs include bottles of star-shaped sand, or snakes steeped in jars of awamori (Okinawan sake). The summer festival also takes place on this road.
Located on the first floor of a distillery in Itoman City, awamori (alcohol distilled from Thai rice) connoisseurs will enjoy seeing how this Okinawan spirit is made. The first floor is a shop where visitors can taste and buy the various kinds of awamori, while the second floor displays the historic and modern tools of the trade. Drivers and minors are kindly asked not to partake in the sampling.
At the Busena Resort Underwater Observatory on the southern outskirts of Nago City, tourists and locals alike can go underwater without getting anything wet. The observatory looks like a tube perched off the coast of the island, and takes visitors down to the ocean floor for a panoramic view of Okinawa's marine life. Glass-bottom boats that go further out are on the beach. Tickets for the boat cost JPY1500 for adults, JPY1200 for high school and college students, and JPY750 for children. Tickets for the observatory and the boat ride can be bought together at a discount. The observatory closes half an hour earlier from March to November, and last admission is half an hour before closing.
Located in Peace Memorial Park, the exhibits at the Okinawan Prefectural Peace Museum are separated into five rooms, three of which focus on the Battle of Okinawa in which at least 200,000 people were killed, and two of which focus on pre- and post-war Okinawa. The museum has films, photos, and personal testimonies regarding the tragedies that occurred, in the hope that the pain endured during that time will not be repeated.
Nago Pineapple Park teaches pineapple lovers about the life of the pineapple, from seedling to food product. A pineapple cart takes visitors through the pineapple fields and the tropical garden, and the store sells the freshest and most delicious pineapple products on the island, including a pineapple wine. Don't leave without trying the pineapple ice cream and taking a look at the pineapple charcoal. And, if you haven't gotten your fill, try some dishes at the restaurant. Those who can't carry their prizes home can use the store's shipping service.