Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ocean Park Expo, Motobu-cho, Okinawa

Forget the rod and reel. This is one amazing fish story.

On the northwest coast of Okinawa, Ocean Park Expo is the site of the second largest aquarium in the world.

Peer into the 2 million gallon water tank. It feels like standing at the bottom of the sea. Home to thousands of fish and marine mammals, schools of fish shimmer in the natural sunlight. A giant manta ray slides up the side of the 2-foot thick acrylic glass panel. Suddenly a whale shark glides by. At a length of 26 feet, it’s the largest species of fish, and one of the few living in captivity.

Dip your hand into the cool waters of the tide pool exhibit and feel the rough skin of a starfish or the delicate spines of a sea urchin.

Sit under the shaded canopy of the outdoor theater to watch whales and dolphins fly through the air during one of the 15-minute water shows presented 5 times a day. Nearby there is a sea turtle pool, ocean nursery, dolphin lagoon and manatee house.

Then, walk through a reproduction of a native Ryukyu village. Thatched or clay roof wooden buildings blend into the tropical garden setting. Inside you’ll see authentic furnishings, kitchenware and even a shrine.

Ocean Park Expo is open daily from 9:30 am to 17:00 pm (later in the summer). Admission ranges from 600 yen for children to 1800 yen ($20 US) for adults. The park can be reached by car or bus. It's a 2-1/2 hour trip from Naha City, along the Okinawa Expressway. The complex overlooks the East China Sea.

From the water surface to the ocean floor, you’ve just visited the waters of Okinawa, and didn’t need a towel.

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