Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ozato Castle Ruins


Ozato Castle Ruins or Shimashi Ozato Gusuku is located in Nanjo in Southern Okinawa.   Although the castle is clearly marked with signs it is not one that is often visited as it does not end up on many "castle in Okinawa" lists.


The site itself is in the middle of a beautiful little neighborhood which looks as though it was somehow shielded from the battle which happened on this part of the island (whether or not that is actually true I am not sure but that's the feel you get as you drive through). One you arrive at the castle site you will see an open field and can tell that parts of what seems to be the castle's lowest enclosure has been made into a park. Unfortunately many of the "park" elements, such as restrooms, are in disrepair but to my delight the castle site itself is in wonderful shape.


Although this castle doesn't seem to be on anyone's "things to see" it doesn't lack any of the characteristics that you might come to expect from any other castle on the island. There are clearly enclosures, utaki and other worship sites throughout the site. There is also what looks to be a tomb and even a very interesting statue which was at the bottom of a very long path down the cliff side.



If you're in the southern part of Okinawa this is a great place to visit for the entire family. Whether you want to enjoy walking along some of the paths on the site, have a great view of the surrounding city or just enjoy some time outside on a nice day while inside the walls of a 14th century castle you will find this place enjoyable.


Shimashi Ozato Gusuku in the Ozato District. This castle was built by Chief, Shimashi Ozato Aji, who controlled the SHimajiri region around the 14th century. Shimashi Ozato Gusuku's construction, with it's back to a cliff and it's strong walls, skillfully makes use of the natural landscape.

In 2003, Shimashi Ozato Gusuku was designated as an historical site by Najjo City

- Nanjo City


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chibana Castle Ruins

Chibana Castle Ruins is one of the forgotten castle sites here on Okinawa. It's location might surprise you being that it is only a short drive out of Kadena Air Base's Gate 3. Chances are you many people drive by it every day and don't even know it's there. Nevertheless with a little bit of luck you can find it.



The site is not difficult to get to and is marked with signs although they are in Japanese. Once you arrive you will see that there is a decent size area for parking. The site itself lacks the spender that you may find at other castle ruins which I anticipate is due to lack of funding, time and interest.



There are still signs in place which show what ceremonies were (and possibly still are) practiced in the area however one of the signs which explains the area is now no longer present. The sign once said:

This castle was build on a hill 88 meters above sea level in the era of Gusuku and is a site where much Chinese earthware, porcelain, etc. has been unearthed. It is an important region geologically and botanically as it is located at the point where distinctive kind of soil of Northern Okinawa edges the distinctive kind of soil found in the South. It is also the place where Uni-Ufugusuku, a martial arts expert, lived in his later years in the 15th century.


Unlike other castle ruins that you may be familiar with this site has a bit of a different layout. The first thing that you will see when visiting the castle site is a small staircase which leads up to a bed of coral and shells. If you look closely you can see that there is a small alter here. As depicted in the sign you can tell that this is an area where ceremonies take place.



You can go up the small staircase, very carefully, however it will lead you to only this small area. To get to the actual height of the castle site you will need to start down the path which is off to your right. A staircase will lead  you up through the foliage towards the top of this hill which sits in the middle of the city. There are a lot of stairs which lead to the top and the climb is not safe for children as some areas lack handrails and stairs are very steep and narrow.

Once arriving at the top you will see that there is some sort of structure. Just a few more stairs and you will find yourself at the top of the hill looking over the entire city from all sides. Like other castle ruins this is a spectacular view on a clear day, it's almost like you can see forever.



On our way back down the stairs I saw a sign which seems to indicate that this structure may have been built in the 60's. Unfortunately the kanji is a bit too difficult for me to translate entirely so I am not entirely sure but if I find out any information regarding this I will be sure to share it with you in the future.

Sites like this always make me wonder what it is that has caused them to become so deserted. After returning home I did my best to research the area but it was very difficult to find much more then I already knew. One of the interesting things that I did find, however, is that according to some of the local residents the site is haunted. As some of the information I found was in Japanese it is not entirely clear to me what the story is but there were at least 5 separate mentions. There is also mention of a house which is near the area and considered to be haunted however we found no such house on the site. There was, however, a plot of land where a house was being built. Could this be the reason that this location has become so forgotten?

As for me I have a few speculations as to why the site has been forgotten but they all seem to end with more questions than answers. For now I suppose that the Chibana Castle Ruins will remain a mystery at least to me.


This site is old, in disrepair and in some areas can be dangerous. Please proceed with caution and watch your step. I do NOT recommend visiting this site on a rainy day or when it has rained recently.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Yara Castle Ruins

Castle Week Begins: A quick note before we start.

It's the last week in February and that means that it's time for another week long of videos on the OkiNinjaKitty Channel. This week is "Castle Week" where I will feature some of the castles around Okinawa.

Generally on a whatever Week I feature 6 or 7 different locations, however this week I will only feature about 3 or 4. The reason for this is because I unfortunately injured my knee during the filming of some of these videos. Although I am fine and recovered now I was unable to film all 6 or 7 of the castles that I had anticipated I would be showing you. With that being said I will be featuring a few of the castles that I filmed and adding a few videos at the end of the week of other things which have not been featured yet.

I want to thank you for your understanding and I will do my best to ensure that I can get more videos out as often as possible. Thank you again for your understanding and I hope to see you in the comments!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Myth vs Reality: "The US Military Presence Will Ruin My Trip To Okinawa"

Believe it or not there are people out there who think twice about visiting Okinawa because of the US Military presence on the island. Of course one might assume in theory that this could be the case as there are a lot of people on the planet with a number of different views but what brought this to my attention were some people who had made contact with me regarding the subject. All of the people seemed to come from a different point of view. Some had a bad taste in their mouth regarding the  US Military. There were others that were supporters of the US Military but felt that the unrest of the people of Okinawa (mainly around the time of the Osprey and MCAS Futenma situation) would be a concern. Finally there were those that seemed neutral about the US Military itself but did not want a visit to Okinawa that was too Americanized. The concern being that you could not avoid being surrounded my US Military and therefore immersion into the culture would be very difficult.

After a few months of receiving some messages and reading comments of this nature I figured that it would be a great topic to discuss here in one of my Myth vs Reality posts. My thought is that if I can take some of the concerns that people have regarding traveling to Okinawa and shine some light in the right places, mainly the ones that remain dark to someone who has not spent a lot of time here on the island, those concerns can be eased at least a bit. With that said let's jump right in.

With the large US Military presence on Okinawa it is impossible to immerse yourself in the culture. Everywhere you will go is either a tourist attraction, English speaking or adapted to the lives of the US Military members and their families. This will make it hard to avoid being surrounded my US Military and their families therefore defeating the purpose of traveling here with the intent to experience the unique culture of the island.


There is no denying that there is a large US Military presence on the island and therefore there are a lot of military members and their families out and about enjoying themselves during the short time that they are here. Who could blame them, Okinawa is a tropical paradise! Naturally this results in some areas being more congested with US Military and their family members then others. Generally speaking these areas are around Camp Foster, Camp Lester and Kadena Air Base. However, it's not just the US Military presence which that has made these spots congested. The location being in the central part of the island is also very ideal for tourists from all over the world. Staying in one of the hotels in the central part of the island cuts down on the distance between all major tourist attractions and historic sites. As you might imagine with the bulk of tourists and the bulk of US Military other things fall into place such as English (which is spoken many times by not only the Americans but the tourists who travel to Okinawa and other parts of the world as a common language). Popular restaurants and other types of "tourist" type attractions pop up as well in these areas. For those who want to immerse themselves into the culture or those who simply are living here  these areas are, simply put, places to avoid. It's not about any group of people in particular as much as it is about the fact that at least half of the people you encounter are not from around here which can make completing daily tasks that much more difficult.

Once you move yourself away from the areas which are designed as playgrounds for tourists there is quite a bit to see on the island. Many of the traditions and much of the culture which was here on Okinawa before the war has stood the test of time. Of course like anywhere else in the world times have changed and Okinawa has become more modernized but I think you would have to be kidding yourself if you didn't think that this would happen. Even with some areas becoming modern there are others which still look as they did years ago in the northern and southern parts of the island. In some cases people do not speak Japanese and continue to use the Ryukyuan Language. Rituals and traditional dancing also continue today although like other cultures they happen during certain times of the year.

Overall if immersion and experiencing the culture is your goal this is absolutely possible if you know where to look and where not to look. The unique culture of Okinawa is still alive and well even though there have been changes to the island over the years.

There has been a lot of news coming out of Okinawa regarding the US Military in recent months. Between the misconduct of some military members recently and the deployment of the Osprey to MCAS Futenma the number of protests and unrest among the people of Okinawa seems great. Traveling to the island will result in an uncomfortable situation because as I am American (or of European descent) Okinawan's won't distinguish between me and the Military. This may result in a negative experience.


There is a lot of history between the US Military and the people of Okinawa. Simply put: Some people are not a fan of the US Military and others are. No, not everyone is happy with the US Military bases on the island especially when governments (both US and Japanese) don't do what they promise they will do. When things get heated the people of Okinawa, much like people in the US, voice their opinions with things such as protest, stickers, posters and pretty much any way that they can.

Although there are people who have these feelings in my almost seven years (and yes there have been a lot of protest and unrest during these years) I have never been treated negatively because I was an American. This is not to say that you aren't going to experience the same types of strange looks that you might experience regardless who you are traveling through Japan. There are people out there who are going to see that you're an American and have thoughts regarding the stereotypes and experiences they have had with Americans in the past. However, what you will absolutely not find yourself being the target of aggression because MCAS Futenma didn't move to Guam like it was schedule to nor because of the recent misconduct of a Marine.

Understandably the idea of going over seas and being caught up in some sort of protest is still a bit nerve wracking so there are some things that you can do which will assist you in avoiding those protests. Most of the time the protests are centered around the main concerns such as MCAS Futenma, Kadena Air Base and the proposed location of the base at Henoko. All of these locations, believe it or not, can be avoided without hindering your trip to Okinawa. Another helpful thing to remember is that in many cases the protests are announced in advance which will allow the bases to prepare and others to gather in protest as well. This information can usually be found at various places on the internet and I find myself posting them on my ONK Facebook page as often as possible as well.

When All Is Said And Done:

Your experience in Okinawa is going to reflect your approach. If your approach to a trip to Okinawa is that it is going to be ruined because of the US Military presence on the island then it without a doubt will be. Yes if you curse every plane that flies by you will find yourself missing out. . . on a lot. Yes if you find yourself annoyed by every American family who is just trying to experience the island for the first time and isn't 100% accustomed to the culture you will not enjoy yourself.

The key is to approach Okinawa with the understanding that like yourself many others are trying to enjoy a place that is new and unique to them. If you keep that understanding and gear your trip to what it is you want to do, such as avoiding heavy traffic tourist areas, you will find your experience in Okinawa pleasurable.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vegetarian in Japan? Yes You Can!

While making dinner the other night I was contemplating the possibility of living here in Japan, specifically Okinawa, as a vegetarian. I myself am not a vegetarian nor do I have the desire to become one however I do have an understanding of what it is to be a vegetarian and have had vegetarian friends here on Okinawa so I think it's a safe topic to at least give you my thoughts on that way if you happen to have made the lifestyle choice of being a vegetarian you know what to expect once you get here.


Fresh Produce Please

One of the great things about living on Okinawa is that there is always fresh produce. Whether it comes from the main island of Okinawa or one of its outer islands grocery stores and farmers markets are always stocked with what's fresh at reasonable prices. This makes the local grocery stores and farmers markets the place to be if you're a vegetarian. Although there are large supplies of fresh produce available it's important to consider that being in Japan the selection may be different from what you are familiar with. There will undoubtably have to be a slight change in your diet if your main source of nourishment is vegetables making it more in line with what you can find here.

Another thing to consider is that sometimes the fruits you may be familiar with from back home such as watermelon, berries and applies can come with a hefty price tag. This makes things such as a good old fashioned fruit salad a pretty rare dish for those of us living here on Okinawa.

TIP: Just because you can't make yourself a bowl of fresh fruit salad doesn't mean you can't enjoy it once in a while. Some grocery stores sell fruit cups at an affordable price. They are perfect for an "on the go" snack or to put in the fridge and much more affordable than making one yourself. 

Totally Tofu

If you're the type of vegetarian who really likes tofu you're going to be in tofu heaven. There are various styles of tofu in all price ranges and sizes at pretty much every grocery store out there. Oh and go ahead and throw what you know about tofu out the window. This is not that nasty flavorless stuff that you can't stomach unless it's mixed and seasoned 10 ways to Sunday.

TIP: The best tofu out there is the local stuff which is fresh and delivered multiple times each day to the local grocery stores. Usually you can find a sign showing what times the tofu is delivered each day. If you're lucky and get there as the shipment arrives you can get tofu that's so fresh, it's still warm. This is by far the best tofu I have ever had. 

Eating Out - Absolutely No Animal Product 

For those who have chosen a completely animal product free vegetarian (or vegans may also find this information useful) lifestyle eating out in Okinawa is going to be a challenge. The reason for this is because in many cases some sort of animal product is being used in order to cook your food. Most often this product is fish based such as miso soup or even the fish cakes which are put into your bowl of ramen. Eggs are also often used in many dishes.

Unlike in the US specialized orders aren't very common either. I suppose you might say that it is an unwritten rule that menu items are non-negotiable which can make it difficult if you're just wanting to avoid one simple item. The good news is that there are restaurants out there which offer vegetarian menus, however, they are far and few.

I do want to make it clear, however, that just because you choose not to consume animal products does not mean that you would have to retreat to a cave while the rest of your friends and coworkers are out on a Friday night at an izakaya. Even at the most non-vegetarian places in town there are options which would allow you to enjoy your time with your friends and hold you over until you could get home and have a completely animal free main course.

TIP: Some restaurants offer a special menu which was designed to offer muslim tourists the chance of eating Ryukyuan food without the use of traditional animal products such as pork and other meats. 

Eating Out - Some Animal Products Are Ok

If you are one of the many who are a bit more lenient with the vegetarian lifestyle and allow yourself to consume some animal products such as eggs, fish and milk you will find that you have a great deal more options then if you were to keep animal products out of your diet all together. For example allowing fish into your diet, even if you were not to eat a fillet but allowed yourself to consume broth made from fish, you would be opening a number of opportunities.

Is Being A Vegetarian In Okinawa Realistic

Yes. You can realistically be a vegetarian in Okinawa. However, there should be a clear understanding that the vegetarian lifestyle (especially the one that is completely void of all animal products) is not something which is common here in Japan. This being said you're going to find yourself in a position where you are doing more work to sustain the lifestyle then you might have to do in places like the US where options may be more readily available.

Are you a vegetarian living in Japan or Okinawa?

What are you experience?

What do you think?

Let us know in the comments below!

Disneyana From Japan: Pins

If you love all things Disney, like me, you'll find that Japan is a gold mine of Disneyana. For those who might not already be familiar with the term Disneyana are collectable products produced by the Walt Disney Company. There is a wide range of products which fall into this description but for the sake of this post we're talking about pins.

Unlike in the theme parks around the United States the concept of Disney Pin Trading didn't really take off here in Japan. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't a bunch of Disney collectable pins out there for you to enjoy and collect. Throughout the time that I have been here in Japan I have searched diligently to find some of these pins because I figure that even though they are not your typical Disney Trading type pin they are still fun to have in my collection.



One of the great things about being in Japan is that the Japanese people really seem to embrace things that are cute and therefore Disney is pretty much everywhere. That being said there have been a number of Disney pins which have been released over the years. The sets come in all shapes, sizes and can be obtained in any number of ways. Some may be prizes in UFO Prize grab games where as others may come with the purchase of a drink or candy.

Pluto Egypt


Don't let the fact that these come with a drink of the purchase of a candy bar fool you either, these are collectors items and are usually part of a set. For example the Pluto pin above featuring Pluto in Egypt is part of a 26 pin set which features the Fab 5 in various countries around the world dressed in iconic wear from the area. Much like other collectors sets some are more common where as others are harder to find.



Although these pins might not be eligible for trade at the Disney theme parks as part of Pin Trading they are certainly something interesting to add to your collection, especially if you are a fan of Disneyana. So how do you get your hands on something like this? If you're here in Japan keep a keen eye out while you are shopping especially at convenience stores. you never know what you might find. If you're outside of Japan there are various sellers on ebay who sell some of these items.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Itoman City Market


In a recent trip to Itoman City to observe some of the Lunar New Year celebrations we stumbled upon the Itoman City Market. The market place consists of 3 or 4 buildings all featuring various goods. There is a fish market, farmers market, souvenir shop and food. I was quite surprised to find the location so I thought that it would be something interesting and fun to add to the blog if you happen to find yourself in the area.



There's no denying that the Itoman City Market is out of the way unless you happen to live in the immediate area. The only other scenario that may lead you in this direction is if you happen to have a late flight and are looking to kill some time or are just exploring in the southern part of the island.Either way I hope that this information will help you decide whether or not you want to make a stop here if you happen to pass by.

Itoman City Market - Souvenir Shop 

The first shop which is likely to catch your eye is pictured above. This shop contains various souvenirs from around Okinawa. Everything from pottery, shirts, salts and soaps can be found. There are also a variety of child friendly items which you may also find at convenience stores in the resort towns on the island.

Although there were a number of products which I have seen a million times between convenience stores and Kokusai Street alone there were also a variety of other goods which were unique. Like many other places where you can pick up something to remember your trip on Okinawa prices vary depending on what it is that you want to purchase. There were items for every budget ranging from the child on a school trip successful business men.

Fish Market 

Itoman is known for being a fisherman's town and so it seems like a great place to pick up some fresh fish. Like other fish markets here on Okinawa it's hard to say what to expect because one day the market could be overflowing and the next not so much. What I can say is that there was a relatively large selection at least on the day that I was there.


No market place would be complete without a nice helping of some local quick service favorites. The Itoman City Market is no exception. Here there are a variety of food stands serving up different options to enjoy. Unfortunately, between being on a diet and the large crowds enjoying their early dinner, I did not get a close look at what was available for food options although I do distinctly remember Okinawa Soba and rice bowls of various kinds.


Farmers Market 

The last building that we visited was the farmer's market. Farmers markets here in Okinawa tend to look very much like this with wooden shelves holding plastic bind of produce and other goods. They also tend to be set up like a standard grocery store with aisles as pictured above. There was a large selection at this particular market although being there at the end of the day (any time before 4PM) means that the shelves were almost picked clean of many items.

We strolled through the aisles to see if there was anything we needed for our dinner table. Produce looked very good however we found that although some items were selling at a lower price then we might find at a grocery store in our area some prices were significantly higher.

Other Offerings

Aside from what was in the buildings there were a great deal of vendors outside as well. One of the most notable was a flower and potting supply vendor. They were selling a variety of goods to include various flowers such as hibiscus and orchids. They were also selling potting supplies and flower care products. The prices were certainly reasonable and I would have purchased from this vendor if I had the need. The flowers themselves were also in great shape and well maintained.

The Important Stuff

Now that we've talked about all those things that the area has to offer let's talk about those important details. First and foremost the Itoman City Market has a great deal of parking making it easy for you to avoid wasting time driving in circles. There is also a restroom area in the event that nature calls. On hot summer days you can enjoy a cold drink from one of the many vending machines in the area. For those families which stumble on this market there are grassy areas for the kiddles to play while mom or dad goes to grab something from inside a shop and even tables to rest and enjoy a snack.

Should You Go

If you happen to be in the area and are either looking for something to remember your trip to Okinawa or want to get some fresh veggies for tonight's dinner I say "GO FOR IT"! However, I would not necessarily say that this is a sight to see on it's own so if you want to check it out but aren't already in the area I suggest planning to see some of the surrounding areas as well so that the trip is worth your while.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Springtime Flowers in Okinawa

Recently cherry blossoms and orchids have been the topic of conversation but Okinawa has a lot of beautiful flowers blooming during the spring time. Unfortunately springtime flowers here in Okinawa don't get their own festivals, aside from the cherry blossoms and orchids that is, so I thought that I would take a moment and share with you some of the flowers that I found today while enjoying some time in the sunshine.


This is by far the best flower that I saw today and one of my favorite flours that I have ever seen around in Okinawa. (Sorry red powder puff you're now number 2.) This pink flower almost looks like a lily and shares it's characteristics as well. The color is bright pink, so pink in fact that the image I am posting doesn't do it any justice. What really caught my eye, however, was the pattern on the inside of the flower. It almost looks like leopard spots.


This little yellow flower doesn't get the attention that it deserves. They are very small and no you're not going to get a vase full of them on Valentine's Day. In fact you might classify them more as weeds then flowers but for me they are a cheery reminder of spring. My favorite time to see these flowers is when they are growing along a coral wall.


Here's another one that I very much enjoy. These little white flowers grow in bunches. They are white and simple but very beautiful.


These are common flowers here on Okinawa. We saw these today while walking around a stone path. The small bunches of purple flowers added a splash of color to the dull path.

Now I know what you are thinking and no these flowers might not seem like much. However, they are one of the many things that puts a smile on my face and many people just walk by them every day without a thought. Next time you're out take a moment to look all around even at the little things. You might be surprised by what you see.



Snack Corner: Curry House CoCoICHIBANYA Chips


Ask any of the Americans here on Okinawa about their favorite places to eat on island and you're sure to hear about CoCoICHIBANYA. CoCoICHIBANYA, or CoCo's as it's often referred to, is a curry house here in Japan. The restaurant serves up various curry rice dishes with a variety of toppings but the curry itself is what makes mouths water.



A few months back while we were on an adventure we found ourselves getting lunch when we stumbled upon these chips at a local FamilyMart. Neither of us could resist and so we picked them up and figured we would give them a try. The chips are CoCoICHIHAN Katsu Curry flavor. Katsu is made of pork or chicken which is usually tenderized and then breaded. The meat is then fried and sliced into strips. Also, since we're on the topic of talking about things which you might not be familiar with at first glance, here in Japan chips are sometimes served in these cups. You won't find potato chips similar to "Lay's" in this type of container but you may find other stick shaped potato snacks or even "Fritos" style chips.

Much like other snacks in Japan they taste exactly like the package suggests; katsu covered in curry. I apologize that I can't describe it better but those of you out there who have ever had CoCo's curry know just what I mean. The texture is very crunchy and a bit flaky like katsu is. They are pretty good and if you're into CoCo's curry you're going to like them so I would give them a try if you happen to stumble on them.



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Double Decker


Double Decker is one of the many places on Okinawa that you might miss if you don't know where it is. The Caffe and Bar or what I suppose we might simply refer to as a pub, is located in Mihama's American Village nestled behind the Sega Amusement Building. Just follow the paw prints on the ground and it will lead you to the unique looking entrance.

Double Decker Buss:

The restaurant gets it's name for the double decker buss which is parked right around the corner and retrofitted as part of the restaurant offering tables and booths. The restaurant itself is warm and welcoming. The walls are covered with memorabilia from various time frames and the ceiling is covered with playing cards. The bar itself I can only describe as "what a bar should look like".


Another thing I absolutely love about Double Decker is the staff. They are incredibly friendly and laid back. This is not one of those places where you're going to feel rushed or pressured to finish up and move on with your night. It's a place for relaxing, laughing and enjoying yourself. On a side note I also like how pressed and well dressed the bar tender is. Every time I have gone back it has been the same bar tender, at least as I remember it, and he is always looking his best which in my opinion adds to the ambiance.

Good Eats: 

Ok, enough about the look and feel, let's talk about the food! Double Decker has what I would call an extensive menu, at last for Japan. You're not only going to find bar food here but also a variety of other options for every taste and occasion. You can find options such as Salad, Rice Omelets, Rice Casserole, Rice Bowls, Pasta, Pizza, Sweets and a great deal of Appetizers on the menu. You can also find chicken wings, which were an addition made in recent years, that are absolutely delicious.



Portion sizes are that which you might experience at other pubs or bars. They are not too big to enjoy with a beer but not to small to split family style with a friend or two. In fact I would go so far as to say that enjoying this meal family style is the way to go, especially with friends.


Pricing for Double Decker isn't too far off from what you might get at other sit down restaurants. In fact you could say that it is relatively affordable with your average entree coming in between ¥700 and ¥900 yen. As with anywhere else appetizers range in price depending on what it is you are ordering with some topping off around ¥1000. Overall this is one of those places where a party of 2 can order drinks, dinner and appetizers and walk out for under ¥5000.



Healthy Options: 

You don't have to cringe if you're watching what you eat either. Double Decker has about 4 or 5 salads, among other healthy options, which are not only on the healthy side but are absolutely delicious! Read more about that here.

Don't be mistaken, This is a bar: 

Double Decker is a great place to enjoy dinner and drinks with a loved one but it is not a place for kids. Don't be mistaken by the extensive menu or double decker buss, this is a bar. And no I don't mean like Pub 99 or Chilli's where there is a bar in the restaurant. This is a bar that serves food. There will be smoking and there will be drinking. Does this mean that you will be turned away if you go with children? No. But this is because here in Japan there is a different mentality with izakayas and pubs then there is in the US.

Give it a try: 

Next time you're looking for something interesting to do on a Friday night why not give Double Decker a try?


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Healthy Options: Double Decker

Date night can be tough when you're watching what you eat. Luckily there are a lot of healthy options out there for those who are looking for them. Last time we took you to the Churaumi Aquarium where we talked about some options you can enjoy on your day out and about but what about when you want some quality time with the special someone?



You might miss Double Decker if you don't know where to look. It's a small door at the end of a trail of paw prints in Mihama's American Village. It's nestled behind the Sega Arcade so look closely or you might miss it.

Double Decker offers a pretty good menu from both the kitchen and the bar and pricing is reasonable. However, seeing as how this is a healthy options blog post I really want to highlight the salads. There are a lot of places out there which offer salads but there aren't many places out there where I would go specifically for the salads. Double Decker is one of those places I go for the salads.



There are about 4 or 5 salad options available at Double Decker. Above is the Toast and Camembert Cheese Salad but other options included a Caesar Salad. The salad is comprised of a variety of greens which have always been fresh tossed in what can only be described as a home made dressing. The dressing is not too strong but not too light and perfectly compliments the other elements of the salad. This particular salad also included slices of camembert cheese and toast.

Pricing is not bad as far as eating out goes. One salad was about ¥700 yen which yes is on the pricy side compared to what you could get at a Subway or make at home but then again you're out to dinner enjoying yourself. Not to mention it's delicious.

Double Decker is one of my favorite restaurants and with good reason. It's tucked away, quiet, affordable and delicious. It's also a pub which means it's a great place for a date night. (Sorry kids.) The ambiance is great also but more about that in the Double Decker post.

Starbucks Japan: Familiar coffee with Japanese flare.

Starbucks is arguably Okinawa's most popular coffee shop, at least amongst the American community here. Like at other chains you will find a variety of coffee blends as well as specialty drinks which are available throughout different times of the year. One of the flavors comes during spring and brings a Japanese flare to otherwise familiar drink; The Sakura White Chocolate Frappuccino.


The Sakura White Chocolate Frappuccino (or latte if you're looking for something hot) is a tasty treat with a light but distinct flavor.  In fact a few years back when it came out for the first time there was some mixed feelings among the American community. Sakura, as you may know, is another word for cherry blossom. The flavor is sometimes used in sweets in Japan and as I mentioned has a bit of a distinct floral flavor. This flavor can be strange for those who are new to Japan and not familiar with the "natural" tastes that are featured in traditional sweets.


If you want to give the sakura flavor a try you have a few options. Much like other seasonal flavors there is a Sakura White Chocolate Frappuccino as well as a hot latte. The frappuccino has sakura flavored white chocolate flakes on the top which are absolutely delicious. Of course this is not featured on the latte. There are also a variety of different pastries to enjoy as well. In the past there was a danish which featured a sakura mochi center and this year they had sakura flavored cake (Not pictured. I'm sorry I don't know what I was thinking.).

Pricing for these sakura flavored treats are the same as other Starbucks offerings which, as are other specialty coffees, are expensive. It's worth it though especially if you're wanting to try something new or just add a dash of springtime to your next trip to the coffee shop.


If you're tried Sakura White Chocolate Frappuccino let us know in the comments below!

What did you think?

Japanese Soaps and Soups: Saving Space and Money

There are a lot of things done here in Japan that are useful to say the least. One of those things is how products, particularly liquid products, are sold. As you already know Japan is an island which has a relatively large population making space limited especially on little islands like Okinawa. Recycling is very important as it sorting trash to ensure that everything is disposed of in as efficient of a manner as possible. In some ways Japan goes above and beyond to ensure that this can be done easily by it's residents and consumers.

One of the ways that Japan handles this situation is offering refill bags for the liquid products sold in stores. Liquid products include shampoo, conditioner, window cleaner, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, and so much more. These bags contain the same product but rather than coming in a hard plastic container which cannot be condensed down they come in a plastic bag which can be flattened down after the contents have been removed therefore taking up much less space when thrown away.

These bags are not only available for select products either, they are out there for everything that is liquid soap and on the shelf. There are also other products which have similar refills, such as air fresheners, which come in bags like this. You also may find that Japan uses the same type of bags rather than cans for foods such as pasta sauce and soup.

How do I use it: 

When you go to the store you'll see that although these are refill bags you can still find plastic bottles. These plastic bottles are usually a bit more expensive then the refill and are meant for the initial purchase of the product. If you are purchasing the item for the first time you would purchase the plastic bottle of the product. If you find that you like it and would prefer continuing to use this product then simply buy the appropriate refill bag the next time you go to the store.

If you would rather save a little bit of money or (if you're like me) would rather have a cute container for your shampoo and conditioner instead of using the plastic bottle produced by the company you can go to any of a variety of store around Japan and purchase an empty pump bottle. I personally have a Gachapin and Mukku for my shampoo and conditioner. This will allow you to skip purchasing the plastic bottle all together and just buy the refills.

Using the refill bag: 

Actually refilling your bottle is easy. A small tear off area is at the top of the bag and can be easily removed. You can then pour the contents of the bag into your appropriate bottle. In some cases you may even have a bag with a special design allowing you to insert part of the bag into the opening of the bottle to prevent spilling.

Give it a try: 

I think that these bags for refilling your favorite products are just great and worth giving a try. One thing's for sure, you certainly use less space in the trash can and avoid having a huge pile of bottles around the house.

Have you even tried products like these? Let us know in the comments below.

HELLO KITTY: Oh my god it's everywhere!

Everyone knows Hello Kitty. She's that cute little white cat with a bow in her hair and no mouth. Although she is a world wide sensation people often immediately associate her with kawaii Japan culture and Japan enthusiasts can't get enough of her.

Unlike other things marketed as "Japanese" in the US, Hello Kitty is just as popular here in Japan as the Japan enthusiasts think she is. Hello Kitty merchandise is everywhere. From clothing for all ages including men to pasta at the grocery store there is really no escaping this little mouthless kitty. The merchandise is not any more expensive then other merchandise either. You can even purchase actual Sanrio licensed Hello Kitty products from your local 100 yen store as well.

Hello Kitty AAA

Aside from being a super cute little cat Hello Kitty or Kitty Chan as she is known here in Japan is very much a fan of dressing as popular culture icons. Above she is depicted as a member of a vocal group known as AAA but she has also been seen dressed up as Elmo, Gachapin, AKB48, and that's just naming a few. She can also be found in various outfits such as traditional Japanese outfits  to cute Christmas dresses. In fact she almost reminds me of Barbie who can be anything and everything although I have yet to see Business Woman Kitty Chan. . . . I wouldn't put it past her though.

Whether you love her or hate her there's one thing that's for sure: you can't avoid her while in Japan.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Yesterday's News: PET Bottle falls from Osprey

It seems as though there is always some type of military related news going on recently in Okinawa. Whether it is the position of the people related to the Osprey or the misconduct of a United States Military member it seems like there's always something. From my experience there are foreigners (as well as some Japanese people who do not live in or travel to Okinawa) out there who seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around why some of these issues are concerning to those who are in Okinawa. For that reason I figure that I would take a moment to share with you my thoughts on the topic as someone who lives here long term as a non-military person.

PET Bottle falls from Osprey - The Facts: 

According to an article in JapanToday on Tuesday February 5th a PET bottle fell from an MV-22 Osprey during a training flight near Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan City. The bottle was 22cm long bottle (aprox. 8in) and was said to have landed outside the base. Officials from the prefectural government of Okinawa then delivered a letter of protest to the US Marine Corps which urged them to ensure that this type of incident does not happen again.

Before we go any further I want to take a moment to explain some  of what you just read above. Firstly I think it's important to explain just what a PET bottle is. A PET bottle is a recyclable plastic bottle with a twist cap. In the US we usually just call them plastic bottles but here  in Japan they have a name of their own. Just like in the US they come in various shapes and sizes. As mentioned above the article the one that fell from the Osprey was about 8 inches in length.


Second I want to take a moment to talk about Ginowan City. Ginowan City is where Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is located. The city quite literally hugs the entire base with neighborhoods immediately outside the fence line on all sides. The city is also quite dense for such a small island with about 12,500 people per square mile. In comparison that's about the same population density of Boston Massachusetts which has about 12,700 people per square mile.


What's the big deal: 

One would think it common sense that an object falling from a plane would be a big deal or at least something to raise an eyebrow at. Unfortunately for some people out there this is not the case. Now, I am not going to get into a science discussion about the amount of force and what damage could or could not have happened as a result of this PET bottle falling out of the plane. In my opinion there are too many details such as the actual weight of the bottle and how much contents were remaining to even begin making those kinds of exact estimations. However, I do feel that it's safe to say that an object such as a PET bottle would have some type of impact when falling from an aircraft which, if I remember correctly, can fly at a minimum of 500 feet up.

Under the (relatively safe)  assumption that a PET bottle falling from a plane at a minimum height of 500 feet in the air could potentially cause some sort of damage and/or injury there are concerns that those living in the area have. One of the concerns is what would happen if some type of damage had been caused. Unfortunately this is an area which is made very grey. If you're living in the Ginowan area chances are your lease contains a clause stating that the housing agency and/or landlord is not responsible for damage due to military aircraft. This may also be the case elsewhere, however, I have only lived in Ginowan during my time here. On the other hand you may think that this is because the US Military would compensate for any damages however this is most likely not the case. In fact this has been a topic of discussion for some time here in Okinawa based on various agreements as stated in the Status of Forces Agreement however it is most recently noted during the time that the Osprey were first deployed here to Okinawa. Prefectural Officials of Okinawa voiced their concerns however they were not answered and the story got little coverage.

Is this really an Osprey Issue: 

There's no denying the fact that this PET bottle having fell from an Osprey just added fuel to the already blazing fire. However, there is no denying that a bottle falling from a plane could have happened from any of the many military planes we have flying above us here in Okinawa. I even found myself chuckling at the statement in the JapanToday article which mentioned that the incident was due to "human error". Of course it was human error, I mean I'm not Osprey engineer but I'm thinking that the PET bottle falling was not a result of poor construction of the aircraft itself.

It happens: 

What it all boils down to is that this was an accident. I honestly don't believe (although I suppose it's not entirely impossibly) that a Marine was up in the Osprey wondering the uproar he or she would cause of they dropped a PET bottle out the rear hatch. This being said just because it was an accident doesn't mean that there is no reason for concern from the residents. It's the same type of concern a mother has the first time that she lets her teenage son drive his little sister to ballet class. As they say "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye".

I also don't believe that this accident should be disregarded by the US Military either. After all, they are under scrutiny with the Osprey as it is and it would be in their best interest to ensure that they go the extra mile so that they do not cause any more reason for the people to dislike them. Unfortunately even in the short time that they have been here on the island that has not been the case.

See the articles:

JapanToday: Okinawa's gov't complains after PET water bottle falls from Osprey

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day In Japan: The Good and Bad News


Ahh Valentine's Day. The one day of the year when women anxiously await receiving something which is delicious now but let's face it, is going to make us insecure about out butt later. The chocolate, the flowers, the sweets. . . . oh how delicious.

Like many other holidays which can be made commercial and cute in any way Japan observes Valentine's Day. However it is not the same Valentine's day you have in mind. In fact rather than men anxiously scouring the shelves trying to find something for the ladies in their lives the rolls are actually reversed.That's right ladies, you're the ones who are responsible for getting something for the men.

Generally speaking the gift of choice is chocolate of which there are two main types. The first is basically obligatory chocolate (Giri Choco). This is something that you would give to all the men that are in your life, even not in the romantic sense. For example your coworkers would receive Giri Choco. For those who are important in your life such as a love interest you would give them Honmei Choco or "True Feelings Chocolate". This usually is the "king size" to Giri Choco's "fun size" if you know what I mean. Prepackaged Honmei Choco may be larger then what you give to those out of obligation and in many cases has some hand made element.

Now before all the men sit back in their chairs with that sly grin on their faces you're not off the hook. There's another day next month called "White Day" were you're going to return the favor. More on that later!

Overall the tradition seems very much to me like what grade school children do during Valentine's Day by bringing in small candy treats and cards for everyone in the class. Of course if there is someone special they might bring something a bit more but everyone feels the "love".


Rain or Shine: Every day is a good day for an umbrella in Japan!

When coming to Japan there are bound to be a lot of things that catch your eye. One might be the use of umbrellas. Rain or shine it seems as though every time is a good time for an umbrella and everyone has one.

Why an umbrella and not a rain coat: 

If you're from America like me chances are the idea of using an umbrella is a bit oldfangled. Why carry an umbrella around when you could just wear a rain coat right? I thought the same thing myself at first but it wasn't long after one rainy season when it all started to come together. Rain coats are cumbersome, hot (especially during the warm summer months here in Okinawa) and they never seem to really do the job for anything above the neck. Rain coats are also expensive and unlike an umbrella they are not one size fits all.  On the other hand you have the umbrella which is affordable, available almost anywhere you go and there's no need to look as though you had your head dunked in a toilet once you get where you're going.

How inexpensive are we talking: 

Umbrellas are incredibly inexpensive. Just today I picked one up for a whopping ¥37 although you an also find them for varying prices with the most topping off at about ¥300 for a standard clear "keep the rain out" umbrella. Of course there are other fashionable umbrellas that can be purchased at a higher price such as the Gachapin umbrella that I have in my car just waiting to save me from an unannounced rain storm but overall you won't find yourself spending too much money on one of these.

Where can I get one: 

Umbrellas are all over the place from your local shopping center, grocery store, convenience store and even those little specialty shops that sell souvenirs. No matter where you go, you're going to have an umbrella available for purchase.

Wait a second. . . did you say umbrellas in the sun: 

The umbrellas that you see people using in the summer sun are not your standard umbrella. In fact about 90% of the time they are parasols the other 10% of the time it's someone who is actually using an umbrella meant for rain to shade them from the sun but that's an entirely different story all together. These parasols are not like you might be familiar with from Japanese style art or photo sessions. They are lace rather than paper and are usually lined with a special material which is designed to block UV rays. (You'll hear more about UV rays being blocked by various fabrics in other posts and videos I will make leading up to the summer.)

Although it might seem silly, the idea of carrying around a parasol in the summer that is, they are very effective in shading you from the sun and keeping you cool. Here in Okinawa the sun can be very hot and using one of these is very helpful.

How much do parasols cost: 

Unfortunately parasols are not as inexpensive as the rain umbrellas. They can run anywhere from ¥500 although it's safe to assume that you can get one or ¥1500. As I mentioned there are various styles of these which come in lace, other fabrics or even in just standard black which will effect the price. You can also find some parasols which work both to block sun and rain. These tend to be on the higher price side.

How Japan accommodates umbrella users: 

One of the great things about being in Japan is that if you want to use an umbrella you're not going to find yourself trying to figure out what to do with it once you're in a facility and trying to accomplish a task. One of the most common sites, especially outside of small shops, is an umbrella stand. Rather than carrying your umbrella around with you when you shop you can put it in the stand and let it drip dry until you're done.


Another device which you may find at places such as resorts and the museum allows you to put your umbrella in a rack which is locked with a key. Simply place your umbrella in your slot of choice, lock it, remove the key and be on your way. At the end of the day or stay at the facility simply use your key to unlock your umbrella and you're done.

Something else you will find, and is probably more common, is the "Umbrella Condom". Ok that is obviously not what this is called in actuality but what fun is life if you don't have something to chuckle about right? Using this device is free and easy to use just stick your umbrella in, pull it towards you and BAM it's wrapped in a plastic bag so it doesn't track water all over the place.

To get an umbrella or not to get an umbrella: 

Look umbrellas aren't for everyone but they are a great way to stay our of the rain and even the sun. While you're here in Japan why not give it a shot? What have you got to lose?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lunar New Year In Okinawa



When most people think of the new year the first thing that comes to mind is "December 31" which is the end of what is known as the Gregorian Calendar. In other parts of the worls, however, the year is determined by the cycle of the moon. The end of the year as per this type of calendar is generally referred to as the "Lunar New Year" or the "Chinese New Year".

So why talk about the Lunar New Year on a blog which focuses on Okinawa? Well, that's because at one time the Lunar New Year was also celebrated right here on our tiny little island and in some places still is.

Before "Okinawa": 

Okinawa has a long rich history but not all of it is as "Okinawa" and a lot of it isn't as "Japan" either. Before Okinawa got it's modern day name it was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. This probably sounds familiar to you as the word "Ryukyu" is still used often. These islands which make up the Ryukyu Kingdom were what one might describe as a nation of their own which was heavy in trade. This is why many people today refer to Okinawa as the "Other Japan" and are often baffled by the cultural differences between Okinawa and Mainland Japan. One of the very many differences between the Ryukyu Kingdom and what we know as Okinawa today was the celebration of the Lunar New Year rather than the Gregorian New Year.

Misplaced or possibly misunderstood history:

As with many things throughout history a transition had to have taken place between the Ryukyu Kingdom celebrating the Lunar New Year and Okinawa celebrating the Gregorian New Year. Researching this aspect of history became a bit difficult as does researching any part of Okinawa's history, in English, which is not WWII related. I started to get mixed results. Some of which mentioned that the transition came following WWII others stating that it came before that time.

My assumption based on what I read is that this transition really started to take effect at some point during World War I. Although Japan had annexed Okinawa well before this time this is when some of the transition started to take place from being Okinawa to actually being a "cohesive" part of Japan. With the knowledge that I have regarding other transitions that happened during the Word War I time frame I feel as though it's an educated guess to say that this transition happened during thins period as well.

Where the tradition is preserved:

Even though some of the history remains unclear as to when the Lunar New Year fell out of fashion one fact that we do know is that some of the traditions which were celebrated all those years ago are still preserved today in a place called Itoman.

You may be familiar with Itoman because of some of its World War II related attractions to include Peace Prayer Memorial Park and the Himeyuri Museum and Memorial. Itoman is also known for it's fishing and being one of the main ports used in trade with China throughout Okinawa's history. One of the less known facts, however, is that Itoman has had a tight grasp on tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year even when others were strongly against it. Some local news papers and journals at the time (1920's) even went to far as to call the people of Itoman "barbarians" and "criminals" simply based on their observance and open celebration of this Lunar New Year.

With what I imagine took a great deal of perseverance the people of Itoman continue the tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year although it is without a doubt less popular of a celebration nowadays as it was during the times of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Even so you can still find small celebrations throughout the city to include enjoying foods, especially those which include pork and flying colorful flags off fishing boats.


The Experience: 

For someone like myself who gets a kick out of being somewhere historically significant making the trip to Itoman was well worth it. As we drove closer to the Itoman Road Station, the location of some scheduled performances and events, you could start to see the fishing boats decorated with colorful flags which seemed to pop against the grey overcast sky. Once arriving at the road station itself we could see where the performance of the PACAF Band (who was scheduled this year to perform earlier in the day) had been and various vendors were along the walkways. Vendors were selling everything from food to hand carved toys and plants.

This event is not for those who are looking for a huge to do with all the fixings of a festival that you might experience during the Gregorian New Year or Cherry Blossom viewing. Even after driving around the entire area we were unable to find anything of the sort. This may be due to bad weather although I gather that this is more of a time to spend with friends and family then out on the streets. Even with this being the case there were people walking along the docks taking photos of the fishing boats and the colorful display of flags.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Farmers Stands: What are they and how do I use them?

During your time here in Okinawa if you venture off the beaten path you might find yourself on winding roads that run through the farm lands. On occasion you might even see one of these:

This is a farmer's stand. I am sure that it has a specific name in Japanese but for all intents and purposes I assume that "farmer's stand" will do the job just fine. They are more common in some parts of Okinawa then others which can make them a rare sight but they are out there nonetheless.

What do they look like? 

It's pretty easy to know that you've stumbled upon one of these farmers stands because they all share some basic characteristics. Generally speaking these stands are made of wood (at least all the ones I've seen), have a cover to protect from the elements and have at least two shelves. They are also usually located on the side of the street making it easy for passers by to check out what they have to offer. Finally you'll notice some type of locked container with a slot in it. In each stand you could see any number of veggies or even fruit which is grown in the immediate area. I have seen kabocha (or what you might know as Japanese Pumpkin), mikans, cabbage, eggplant and more. Sometimes the produce is in a basket like in the picture above or other times it might just be on the stand itself.

How do I buy something? 

Buying something from one of these stands is relatively easy. If you happen to see something you like or that would make a great addition to tonight's dinner table go right up and take a look. There may be price tags on each item itself or you may see a large sign with a price above the stand itself indicating that everything in the stand comes with a price tag of "X" number of yen. Once you know what it is you want put the appropriate amount of yen in the slot and that's it. . . you're done.

It's important to note that you obviously cannot get change which is why in many cases the prices are in the one coin range (¥500, ¥100).  You also don't want to pay with anything other than yen.

There are some who say that it's also common courtesy to say "Arigatou" out loud so that the person who the stand belongs to can hear that you have made a purchase. I think that this is a great idea although you may find that this is best suited for stands which are closer to a person's residence rather then ones like what was pictured above and surrounded by nothing but fields.

How is the quality?

You can expect pretty decent quality when purchasing something from one of these stands. In the past few months alone I have passed by a few of them and although I did not make purchases at all of them I did take a close look to see what was available and it all looked really good. I can honestly say that if I was living in an area where there was one of these stands down the road I would take the time to see what they had every day and work those items into the menu. You also can't beat the price either!

Where are they? 

Unfortunately for people like me who live in the city these stands are usually found tucked away in the farm lands of Okinawa. I have seen a few just outside the major cities but have yet to find any in the south central area. You're more likely to find these types of stands in the more north and south ends of the island where the cities have some space in between for farmers to do what they do best. You can also find stands like this on some of Okinawa's smaller islands which can be accessed via car.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Healthy Options: Ocean Expo Park



There are some people out there who feel as though Okinawa is a place that people come and gain a lot of weight because there is nothing to do but eat. Obviously as you can tell from my over 700 videos and various blog posts there are a few things to do OTHER than eat but I digress. Anyway, even the best of us find ourselves in a position that splurging is not an option and so we need to make a choice whether we want to make a change or not. Don't get me wrong, this is not a "let's be healthy" type of post. There are already enough people out there shoving those types of ideas down your throat on the internet. (How ironic.) My intent is to share some options that I found for myself while trying to eat on the healthier side with those who are looking for what healthy options will be available to them. If you want to splurge. . . do it!



Today we headed to the Ocean Expo Park and since I have been on a strict diet in an attempt to lose a few pounds I was very cautious of what I ate. With today's trip focusing on the aquarium in particular I headed over to see what the food options were there online. Unfortunately there were not too many listed so I made sure to have a healthy breakfast that would hold me over at least until lunch time.



There was only one food option within the aquarium itself. The small cafe style restaurant is located near the large tank. There is limited seating and so depending on the time of day you visit this may not be an option but they had a few different picks to choose from. The menu changes but one of the things that we found consistent were the teas available.



As we arrived at the aquarium early in the morning we were out of the main building and headed towards the dolphin show well before lunch time. There was a slight rumble in our tummies and so we headed over to the Okichan Shop where we found some different food options. The options here were pretty standard: Taco Rice, Pizza Bread, Shrimp Burger, Hamburger, Hotdog and other options. Unfortunately this did not leave us with many options and so we found ourselves making the decision to split something just to hold us over for a short time. For ¥300 we grabbed a Shrimp burger. Of course it was a tough call but based on our other options the lightly breaded and fried burger seemed reasonable to split between the two of us at least until we could walk our way back to the car. (NOTE: Yes I realize the inappropriate nature of eating a shrimp burger outside an aquarium.)



After this it was time to head back to the car and make a choice of what it was that we were going to eat for lunch. Of course it was still early and we were obviously in need of an actual meal so we made the call to jump into the car and head down the road. After a bit of discussion we decided that we were going to stop at a convenience store on our way home. It seemed like the safest option.

Now before you get those images of hot dogs and slush machines in your head it's important to remember that convenience stores here in Japan are just like going to a miniature grocery store. When searching through the merchandise you can use words such as "fresh", "healthy" and "delicious". When was the last time you used those words when at a Cumberland Farms?



Our lunch choice for today included a sandwich and some tea. This is our "go to" meal while on the run during our travels here in Okinawa. There are different types of sandwiches available at each convenience store and although they are all pretty much the same people like my husband could distinctly tell you what sandwich came from where. The tea is something that we also enjoy. Other options at the FamilyMart that we happened to visit were salads with and without toppings.

The best part. . . . This lunch costed us a total of 340 yen. That's it! You can't beat affordable. Although you could argue this is not the best meal when you're trying to be health cautious it's much better than curry rice.

So next time you're looking for a healthy option and find yourself at a tourist attraction coming up short why not try grabbing something from a local convenience store.


Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium [沖縄美ら海水族館]



Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is undoubtably Okinawa's most popular tourist attraction. People not only from Okinawa, but from many different countries travel to the tiny island to witness what is widely known as one of the largest aquariums in the world.


The aquarium's main attraction is its largest tank known as the Kuroshio Sea. The tank holds 1,981,000 gallons of water and features a massive viewing window which measures 24 feet by 74 feet. (You can actually see how this was built on a past episode of Modern Marvels.) This part of the aquarium is absolutely breathtaking which is why in many cases the Kuroshio Sea overshadows everything else in the aquarium. In fact I can't remember the last time I saw a photo that wasn't of this large tank specifically featuring a whale shark. (Note the lack of whale sharks in the image I posted.) With that being said I'm going to show you everything else that the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium has to offer.

When To Visit: 

Before we start talking about fish and other creatures of the deep let's talk about the best time to visit. Being that this is a very popular tourist attraction there really isn't any off season meaning that there are going to be crowded days at the aquarium all throughout the year. This doesn't mean that you have to struggle through masses of people to enjoy the fish though. For the best experience you're going to want to head to the aquarium first thing in the morning. That's right! I know it's not always fun to get up early during vacation or on your day off but trust me it is well worth it. Even during my most recent trip which according to the website was during the more crowded time of year I found myself not having to wait in line to purchase tickets, see fish, use the restroom or take a photo in front of something interesting. By the time that we had gone through the entire aquarium at our own relaxed pace the crowds started rolling in and we were on our way back to the car.


The Aquarium: 

There is a lot to see at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and the fun starts right as you pass the ticket gate. Those who are hands on can touch some sea creatures in an open top tank. You can spend some up close and personal time with a few different kinds of star fish as well as some sea cucumbers. Once again this is an area which during previous visits was almost impossible to even approach but because we went to the aquarium early going right up and showing those critters some love was no problem.  Once you have washed your hands it's time to head towards the many tanks that the aquarium has featuring beautiful fish from the various habitats in the ocean. Through the various viewing windows you can see a great deal of different colorful and at times funny looking fish.

HINT: Even though the various viewing windows may look into the same tank don't pass by too quickly without looking carefully to see the fish which might be hiding just out of sight of other windows.



As you continue to move through the aquarium there are various exhibits which offer helpful information regarding the sea creatures which you might encounter here on Okinawa. One of the exhibits shows some of Okinawa's dangerous fish to include the lion fish, stone fish and crown of thorns star fish. Interactive displays show what they can do if you happen to get too close.


Tanks of all shapes and sizes showcase everything from the cute to the . . . . well let's just say some of the fish looked pretty scary. There are even tanks which showcase some of Okinawa's fresh water creatures which can be found throughout the island.


One of the interesting and educational parts of the aquarium is the Shark Research Lab also referred to as The Sea Of Dangerous Sharks. In this section you can lose yourself learning about some of the 500 known shark species in the world. The large tank located in this room features a number of sharks which you are probably familiar with but the one which caught my eye is the Bowmouth Guitarfish.


You can also find yourself taking a look at various shark jaws which are around the area, fetuses of various large creatures in the aquarium and even touch the skins from various large creatures that you see in the aquarium.

Finally once you will find yourself taking a look at the Kuroshio Sea. To be completely honest this is one of those things that you simply have to see in order to experience because nothing that I describe here in words will do it justice. Once you take a look at the tank from a distance on the available ramps go ahead and move towards the floor and take a closer look. You can really get a sense of how large these creatures are when you are looking up at them.

HINT: The large view of the tank is breathtaking and can be enjoyed for quite some time as the various creatures swim amongst each other. For the best view of the overall tank head to the back of the room. You can sit on provided chairs and take it all in.



HINT: Although the large view of the tank is something you're not going to want to miss you can also enjoy a more up close and personal view of the fish just around the corner in a room which resembles a tunnel. Here fish swim not only in front of you but right above you.


Overall this is a great place to visit and a must see if you are here in Okinawa. And guess what. . . . This post only covers the aquarium itself not even the many other things to do and see at the Ocean Expo Park. Check back in for more on that later. Until then check the video below to see some more of the fish at the aquarium.