Friday, 24 November 2017

Onna Part 2: Ryukyu Village and Diamond Blue Cafe

Apart from Castle ruins and amazing views of the coast, Onna also has something called the Ryukyu Village (English Site). The Ryukyu Mura is a theme park about Okinawan culture. In a way, it's like the cultural village of Okinawa world, but if we're just comparing the culture part, I prefer the Ryukyu village more (unfortunately it does not have any caves or snakes). 

Location-wise, they're near the Zakimi castle ruins. I know I blogged about it in a different order, but I actually went to Zakimi, then to Ryukyu Village, and after that to Manzamo Cape, stopping at the Blue Diamond Cafe before I went back to the hostel.

Tickets are 1200 yen for adults (16 years old and above) and 600 yen for children (age 5 to 15). I think they were trying to keep track of where their foreign visitors are coming from too, because the ticket machine had options for "Korea", "Taiwan", etc (Singapore comes under "Other"). Prices stay the same no matter which country you choose.

There are actually two sections to this place. The first is Champuru, which is free to enter. It has a food court and lots of things to do, such as painting stone lions:

Customising your own beach slippers:

And trying on a Kimono!

The experience starts from 1200 yen for a simple try-on photo session (comes with one free photo and the soft copy). If, however, you want a more complete experience, you can opt for packages like the 4000 yen one, which includes one hour of walkabout time and a photo. In the end, I opted for the cheapest package because if I did the walkabout, I knew that I would pay extra for hair + makeup (which costs more) and that would make me exceed my budget. 

Personally, I'm quite happy with how things turned out: 

I got one big photo, one smaller photo, and a soft copy! The whole process was a big too fast, though, because it was over in five minutes.

After trying on the Kimono, I decided to go into the village.

The village itself is very big and there are loads of things to do! I actually liked just wandering around because all the houses were really beautiful.

I saw a weaving house and you can try it out for an additional fee too.

There were also free samples of tea (blended and exclusively sold here):

There was also a trying on Kimono experience. If you just want a photo, taken with your own camera, it's 1000 yen. If you'd like to walk around the village for 45 minutes in the kimono, it's 2000 yen. So this is slightly cheaper than the Kimono experience outside, but I don't think you get a printed photo (which I wanted too).

There are also many performances. When I looked at the schedule, it was about one every hour, so do check and plan your visit accordingly.

This was the pottery area:

And the water buffalo for the sugar cane mill.

The gift shop has a large variety of items and I picked up three types/packets of brown sugar for 1000 yen. If you're looking for a dose of Okinawan culture, this is definitely the place to go. 

The last thing I did on my drive around Onna was to go to a cafe. I really, really wanted to go to a cafe with a view of the ocean, and one name I saw repeatedly was the Diamond Blue Cafe. To be honest, I wasn't really sure where it was, but when I realised that it was on the way back to the hostel, I made the impulse decision to visit. 

The cafe is right next (literally on the right) of Okashigoten Onna.

You have to descend down two flights of steps - just follow the sign and you'll see the cafe.

The beach in front is small, but the waters are such a lovely blue!

There are seats on the inside and outside, but for the best views, you should sit outside.

I ordered a mocktail and some garlic bread and they were both really good (despite the fact that I took a long time taking photos).

I would definitely recommend that you come here if you're looking for a place to sit back and relax in Onna. It's got beautiful views and the food is good (and if you want more snacks or souvenirs, you can buy some at the Okashigoten next door). 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Book Review: Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Llyod Parry

This is another NetGalley book, one that I wished for and was granted to me. I'm thankful that I got to read this because it's a heartbreaking account of the effect of the March 11th tsunami. Instead of trying to show all the destruction, Ghosts of the Tsunami focuses on Okawa Elementary School, where a series of heartbreakingly wrong decisions led to the deaths of 74 out 78 students and 10 out of 11 teachers.

Desperate for some answers and frustrated by the actions of the school and the principal, a group of parents took the brave step of bringing things to court. But this is not a legal drama. The book takes an intimate look at the lives of all those involved by talking to survivors and relatives of victims to build an account of what happened and what happened after, including the court case.

There are many heartbreaking moments in this book, such as a grandfather unable to recognise the body of his granddaughter, whom he lifted out of the mid, because of the state she was in.

Or the words of this mother:
"We used to think that we were bringing up our children," said Sayomi Shinto. "But then we discovered that it was we, the parents, who were brought up by them. We thought that the children were the weakest among us, and that we protected them. But they were the keystone. All the other pieces depended on them. When they were taken away, we realised this for the first time. We thought that we were looking after them. But it was the children who supported us."
And by making sure the book isn't too narrowly focused on the court case, instead following the lives of the parents and one of the surviving children, Richard Lloyd Parry managed to convey how the community of Tohoku reacted. For example, the way the community divided into two regarding what to do with the school - preserve it or not - reflected how they chose to deal with grief; whether they wanted to face it and talk about it or to hide it away.

There was only one moment in the book that made me double take. Someone was talking about the size of the tsunami and the words "twenty feet" was quoted. I suppose that this is to make things easier for Americans to understand, despite the fact that all but three countries in the world use the metric system, but I didn't like it. If you're quoting someone, I would prefer that the translation be as accurate as possible, and yes, meters to feet is a small change but if I doubt the small things, then I might end up doubting the important things too.

Overall, though, this was a fantastic book and one of the most powerful things that I've read this year. If you're going to read one book on the 3/11 Tsunami, this is it. By the way, if you want a sneak pic, the Guardian has a good excerpt that you should read.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Onna Part 1: Zakimi Castle Ruins and Manzamo Cape

After Naha, my sister and I traveled up to Onna. There, she spent two days diving while I explored the area. Since we rented a car, I drove around for the two days. Parking was free everywhere I went, and I didn't really see buses or train stops, so I would advise that you rent a car if you're heading to Onna.

Zakimi Castle Ruins (座喜味城)
My first stop was Zakimi Castle ruins. The castle is believed to have been built in the early 15th Century by a Ryukyuan lord named Gosamaru. It overlooks the nearby town and apparently it's a really good location for a fortress. It's also designated as a UNESCO world heritage site on December 2nd, 2000, along with other Gusuku ruins (including Shuri castle).

As you make your way to the castle, you'll pass through some trees

And then through the door.

The only things left are the walls, which are curved. It's a good place to wander around and is pretty peaceful (there was one tour group but the place is big enough that I could avoid them if I wanted).

I believe that at certain times in the year, Zakimi castle ruins are lighted up at night. For more information, you can look at this page, which also has information on how to get to the place (Japanese only).

You can also climb up and walk along part of the castle walls!

This is the view of the castle:

And this is the view on the other side:

If you like castles and nature, you should come and visit the ruins! Of course, if you're pressed for time and can only choose between this and Shuri castle, I would vote for Shuri castle because it has more things to see.

There is also a museum next to the place. Unfortunately, the museum was undergoing renovations when I was there, so I can't give any information on what it's like. The entrance does have some pamphlets about Zakimi castle ruins so you might want to stop by before visiting the ruins to grab some reading material.

They had a copy of the UNESCO world heritage certificate at the entrance!

Manzamo Cape (万座毛)
Manzamo cape is a scenic point in Onna, and one of the top tourist spots (according to Google). There are plenty of signs pointing to Manzamo, so it's pretty easy to find.

The car park has shops on both sides selling various omiyage, clothes, and juices.

There's basically a walking path along the cape.

The views are truly breathtaking, although my sister claims that the views while diving is even better.

You can even see a few resorts at one point.

I also saw a few signs warning about habu (poisonous snakes) so be careful when venturing off the path. I saw a lot of tourists who were taking photos next to the sign, but I'm not sure if they knew it was safe or if they just didn't see the warning signs.

If you're a fan of nature and scenic spots, this is definitely somewhere you'll want to go when you're in the Onna district.

For all the posts about my Okinawa trip, please look at the masterpost.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Shopping in Southern Okinawa

My sister and I didn't plan to do much shopping in Okinawa, but we did visit two pretty nice shopping places so I thought I'd share them! Also, I'm heading to Malaysia soon so this is just a quick post(:

Ashibinaa Outlet Mall (English Site)
This is pretty famous and was a stop of several day tours of South Okinawa that we looked at. It's basically an outlet mall like Marinoa in Fukuoka. Parking is free, if you're thinking of driving here. It's quite far from the nearest station, but there are buses.

Quite a few brands are high-end brands but there are a few mid-range shops. My sister managed to pick up a pair of shoes at the ABC mart there.

There's also a tax-exemption for tourists. I'm not sure if every shop is like this, but for ABC, we had to pay tax at the register and then get a refund at a specific location in the outlet mall. So you should factor that in, especially if you're pressed for time.

And if you see this sweet potato cart, you should definitely buy a sweet potato! It's sold by weight and the potatoes were extremely sweet and very, very soft.

Haebaru Aeon Mall
The word "Aeon" may sound really pedestrian, especially if you live in Singapore/Malaysia, but this was a surprisingly good shopping place. As with Ashibinaa, parking is free and there are tons of shops.

We found a big Uniqlo shop (which oddly, we didn't see near Kokusaidori), and the shop list included Best Denki, Daiso, Village Vanguard, GAP and many more. There are also a lot of restaurants and even a foodcourt, if everyone has different ideas on what they want to eat. Not to mention the Aeon supermarket and drug store, which is perfect if you want to buy snacks like kitkats, pocky, senbei, or facial products, makeup, and the like. It's great if you want to get omiyage at a lower cost or just buy some snacks for the hotel room.

And that covers everything my sister did in Naha and Southern Okinawa. The posts from now on will be about Onna and the northern part of mainland Okinawa (click here for the masterpost)