Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Okinawa friends trip - Taikai, Shuri Castle, Hacksaw Ridge, Bingata, Aquarium, Shisa painting

A group of 8 of us (4 couples) planned a trip to Okinawa to coincide with the Uchinanchu Festival/Taikai which usually happens every 5 years in Okinawa. There's 3 of us who have Okinawan roots (myself included) and this was the first time visiting for most of us. Unfortunately, the weather forecast didn't look very good for the week we visited...

We booked an Airbnb in Naha with 3 spaces/rooms that each had beds, a bathroom and small kitchen area + 2 parking spaces. 
This ended up working out pretty well and was all nicely modernized inside including a set of bunk beds in each room. The parking was along a very narrow street but at least it was part of the property so we didn't have to hunt for parking for our two rental cars. During the times we were back at the Airbnb, we mostly hung out in one of the rooms together until it was time for sleep.  

Shuri Castle
This was our first stop on the first full day of our trip. The surrounding area was a bit crowded and with two cars, we had a bit of difficulty finding parking spots to actually enter the grounds. Once we regrouped and paid for admission to start exploring, we realized the castle had actually burned down in 2019! They're still in the process of rebuilding it, but there isn't much to see now. 
Although there is a nice view :) It was quite windy and a little drizzly on this overcast day, but at least that counteracted the humidity.

Hacksaw Ridge/Urasoe Park
Next up, after a somewhat failed castle visit, we went to check out Hacksaw Ridge (Maeda Escarpment) in Urasoe Park. This is the real life site that the Hacksaw Ridge movie is based on. Tbh I hadn't (and still haven't) seen the movie, but the story is about Desmond Doss who was a heroic WWII US. Army medic that facilitated in saving 75 fellow soldiers. This is the actual place where it happened (a steep, 350-ft ridge). 

Kokusai street & Festival opening parade
Kokusai dori was a very pleasant short walk from our Airbnb. We arrived after the streets had already been blocked off to vehicle traffic, so we were able to freely walk to and from the numerous shops on either side. It is mostly merchandise aimed at tourists, but it's still fun to explore, especially for your first visit.

We positioned ourselves near the beginning of the parade once it commenced and cheered for all the different groups and communities, especially the Hawaii people! 

Then, we continued shopping after meeting up with some of the parade members we knew and the parade had officially ended (it was quite long!). The 7-Eleven here even had slurpees!

Bingata workshop (Gusuku Bingata 城紅型染工房)
It was raining hard on the second day of our trip, but luckily we had an indoor activity planned for the morning. Gusuku Bingata offers bingata workshops that are completely English friendly. The instructor was so nice, helpful and friendly, and the material was presented in English with easy to understand illustrations as well. When we booked the workshop, we pre-selected our projects so they were ready for us upon arrival. 
The design is already stenciled using rice starch and you're also provided a sample for coloring (but of course you're not obligated to follow it at all!). First add the "light" colors and then dab on the dark colors. Paint won't stick to the rice starch long term, so no need to stay inside the lines. 
When you're done painting, the staff will help wrap up your project for transport in newspaper. It still required 5-7 days to fully dry before you reveal the final design, so we packed it as is and took care of the final steps when we returned home.

Round 1 Sports Cha 
Continuing to need respite from the rain, we occupied our afternoon by visiting this indoor "sports challenge". 4 of us had previously gone to one in Osaka, but this was the first time for the entire group together. We took advantage of it being a weekday with minimal other patrons and were able to try lots of different activities: batting cages, basketball, gun shooting, soccer penalty kicks, table tennis, mechanical bull rides, trampoline, roller skating, mini motorbikes, mini-go karts + more! 
The top floor activities were exposed to the weather a little bit and the ground was squishy and sopping wet lmao.
We got the all day ticket, so we had enough time to make a reservation for the mini bikes and the mini go-karts!
This SportsCha felt a little older and more run down than the Osaka one, but it was still fun. It was especially good that it was a lot less crowded. We barely had to wait to do anything! It was a good way to occupy our time during a storm.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium 
It was still raining on the third day when we headed out early in the morning targeting Motobu, a little over 1.5 hours away from Naha by car. We arrived shortly before the aquarium opened and carefully made our way to the entrance.
We were pleasantly surprised to learn we were visiting on the aquarium's 20th anniversary and must have been one of the first ### people to enter that day, so we each got a little gift bag that included whale shark an buns!
We continued to explore and enjoyed our time in the aquarium! 
One of the more interesting parts of this aquarium is that you can go upstairs to a viewing area above the large tank that houses the whale shark and large rays. It's netted for safety, but having that alternate POV you don't often get of the fish is really cool.
If you visit, I would definitely advise going early (near as possible to opening) to avoid crowds. It was a lot more enjoyable since we didn't have to compete to view each tank. If we had come 2 hours later, it would have been much different!

 Shisa painting activity (Maimai Shisa まいまいシーサー) 
With the ongoing rain (yup -__-), we wanted another indoor activity and found this one on the fly after we were done at the aquarium in the nearby area. You are able to select your shisa (female shisa have a closed mouth and male shisa have an open mouth) and are provided paint to decorate it. Take it home with you after the paint dries! They do seem to have some English speaking staff, but it's largely a DIY activity once they provide the general overview. 
Lots of shisa to choose from, organized by price. 
My husband's and my finished products + the freebie small item (whale shark) we selected as part of a promotion for following the shop's newsletter. We opted to just paint portions of the shisa instead of the whole body, inspired by a sample in the book provided by the shop. 

Toguchi Beach 
Last day of the trip, we finally got a little break from the rain although the skies were still a bit cloud covered. We took this opportunity to check out one of the beaches and collect some shells for our friend. This one in particular was a lot different than the beaches I'm used to in Hawaii because there were a lot of rocks and shells on the shore instead of fine grain sand! Lots of hermit crabs too. We didn't go into the water because we had a flight to catch later that day and already checked out the Airbnb, but it was nice to spend some time outside in clearer weather.

Okinawan soba 
I ate Okinawan soba every day of the trip (including the first night after arriving), each from a different restaurant. I already love noodle dishes but had never tried this specific variation before. It reminded me a lot of saimin that we have in Hawaii. The broth is often quite mild & light in a nice way and the pork accompaniments are always great as well. 

Blue Seal ice cream
This is an brand of ice cream local to Okinawa and very popular there! Lots of different shops all over the place and also lots of merchandise using its branding. We got ice cream on two different occasions and I enjoyed the selection of flavors. 
I tried the chocolate cookies swirl in a cup the first time (no regular cones available wtf) and the vanilla & cookies in a cone the second time. My husband got a beni-imo & cheese biscuit ice cream with vanilla soft serve cone!

The rain forced us into indoor activities for two full days, but we still had a great time exploring the parts of Okinawa that we made it to. (Unfortunately, we decided to cancel plans for a full day kayaking experience around the Kerama Islands.) The temperature/humidity was a lot more like Hawaii which was definitely different than the cooler weather we started to become accustomed to in Kanagawa and we used the cars almost the whole time rather than catching the train/monorail. 
We did end up missing out on more Taikai events than we planned due to the rain, but we knew we made the right decision not to force ourselves into any outdoor events during that storm - it would not have been worth it at all. 
It was great to have our group of friends to experience it with. It made a lot of the activities a lot more fun, and there was always someone with an idea of what to see, do or eat! This was my first visit but my husband's fifth (he's travelled there a lot for work even prior to moving here). I would definitely visit again - but hopefully with a LOT better weather to see more of the beautiful blue water beaches and other islands! 


  1. Is that David Ige in the parade lol?

    1. it is lol. he had a whole speech at the beginning too.

  2. thank you for sharing, I enjoyed! can't wait to your next post!