DAY TEN OKINAWA: September 14, 2013
So it was up and on the road to "Okinawa World" which reminded me of World's of Fun but without "rides." The pictures below shows the park layout which features an odd combination of things to see but are all connected to the rich cultural history of the Okinawan people. In many ways it is a tourist trap, but it is a wonderful cross section of the culture for people who are unfamiliar with it, as I was.
So our hosts 6 year old daughter was our guide for the day. She really likes coming to Okinawa World and was really excited to see her favorite things. Once through the gate we were lead straight to the Habu Museum Park. If snakes and reptiles are not your cup of tea, you might want to skip ahead quickly. The Habu museum celebrates not just the Habu snake that is indigenous to the Okinawan island, but also several other species in the museum park. Some of the pictures did not come out clear but I posted them because they are some cool animals. 1) Hermit crabs 2) Turtle 3) Snakes 4) Albino snakes 5) bat (which if you sit outside at night you can see flying past the streetlights)
Then it is inside to the museum and snake show. As you walk in the door you immediately encounter the following two tanks, and they are moving like they drank jolt cola that day. The water snakes in these tanks are a local variety and they are quite fascinating to watch swim and launch out of the water. The tails of these snakes are flat like a paddle which give them the ability to be very quick and agile in the water.
The next few pictures are from the amazing snake show. The snake handler was very animated and even though it was all spoken in Japanese, it was very entertaining to watch. Before the show started we read through the English information street that was provided and there were some very interesting passages. One of which was to remind us that these were highly poisonous snakes and if the professional handlers start running, then you also should run quickly away. The first picture is the handler with a Habu snake and the second is a cobra.
The final part of the snake show is the Mongoose versus Water snake race. According to the information sheet "In the past, the show consisted of a duel between the cobra and the mongoose, but since the 200 Okinawa Summit Meeting, the match has been discontinued from a viewpoint of animal protection. Now, the death match is replaced by a friendly swimming competition promoting love and peace" (Okinawa World Informational Handout for Snake Show). So this picture shows the swimming set up where the snake and mongoose are dropped into the water and swim to the other side. The handler takes a poll to see who wins, and the six year old leans over and tells me the mongoose always wins. So we bet on the mongoose. Indeed he is the victor because he doesn't like the water and swims with all his might to keep from drowning. The water snake, well he likes the water so he is usually pretty leisurely but the technically stronger swimmer.
Another additional tidbit of information I found interesting on the handout was this:
" The mongoose was brought to Okinawa from India to control the Habu population. Unfortunately, the mongoose is not interested in ridding the Habu, but rather, there are reports of the mongoose preying on the rare species found on Okinawa. Now, the mongoose population is the focus of control" (Okinawa World Informational Handout). The next picture is of a Habu skeleton from one the larger snakes found on the island. Then there is a a picture of the Wild Ryukyu Boar which is a native boar species and a natural enemy of the Habu, and a mongoose.
Then it was on to the other live creepy crawlies.... like a rather large hermit crab like animal and geckos which are very common and often found inside dwellings in Okinawa. In fact there were several gecko sightings while in Okinawa, but their nighttime caterwauls were the most interesting to listen to at night.
The outside area had several snake and turtle cages but due to the sun's position it was almost impossible to get pictures of all the varieties that were showcased. However, I was able to get pictures of these lovely beauties: Tiida and Chura the Aldabra Giant Turtles
Awww, aren't they cute! After the creepy crawlies our guide insisted it was time to go to the cave. To be specific, running underneath the majority of the park is the Gyokusendo Cave. This particular cave is known for being "one of the biggest cave systems in Japan with an overall length of 5,000 meters, with over a million stalactites" (Okinawa World Map Brochure). The following pictures are from some of the more interesting views but because of the dark interior of the cave, some f the pictures are not as clear as I had hoped they would be. In some you can see small stones with characters on them that almost seem like gravestones. They are not gravestones, but are some kind of special marker for formations or religious points. Many were very low hanging and required ducking or weaving as you passed them.
The next two pictures show some fossils of an extinct deer. The pink circles on the right picture are the bones that were found in the rock and the sign on the left explains what type of bones they are.
I had to include that last picture.... because seriously, how cute are we! After exiting the cave you come to the amazing Tropical Orchards which are lush, beautiful, and full of interesting plants. I will admit that I was unaware that Pineapple grew on the ground.
After the Orchard there were twists and turns that took you through the shopping districts. You could buy fresh fruit from the orchard, have a chilled coconut filled with fruit juice to sip on, look through traditional crafts, watch glass blowing, walk trough the on site brewery. As our stomachs were starting to rumble we headed to the on site buffet that had quite the variety of American and Asian cuisines.
After lunch we went for the crown jewel of the park: the Eisa performers. According to the brochure "The Eisa danced all over Okinawa in the Bon festival" in the presentation at the park they performed "arts like castanets, lion dance, and Angama" (Okinawa World Brochure). Photos were not allowed during the performance which was good and bad. Good because I was focused on the amazing artistry and dancing with the large drums, the playing of the three stringed guitar like instrument. Bad because I am not able to show you the bright and colorful dancers that amazed me. After the show we headed through more shopping areas and out into the rain. Before we left the park we stopped by the Ryukyu Ship for a quick photo in the rain.
Then it was home for the evening for us. Our hosts were encouraged to have a date night and we would stay home and babysit the kiddos. So we hung out, but after a day of walking all over bedtime came pretty quickly. Tomorrow is another day.