Okinawa has free activities in some of the most unlikely places. I usually expect to pay for everything I see at an aquarium or a theme park but here you don’t have to.
If you are on a strict budget or have limited time, this list has something for everyone. So take advantage of the affordable ANA special of 10,500 yen to fly anywhere in Japan and come to Okinawa.
If you need some quiet time or want to unwind with a relaxing stroll, this is the place for you. Fukushu-En Park is a free Chinese-style garden in the Kume section of Naha, which has a long history of association with China dating back over 600 years. It was completed in 1992 to honor the relationship between Naha and one of its sister cities in China.
Head to the information window when you arrive and ask for a free English pamphlet. This will give you a map and explain the different sections of the park. There is a quaint waterfall, flowers, tea pavilions, Chinese sculptures, pagodas, bamboo trees, and ponds filled with koi and turtles that you can feed. They also have a bridge with animal statues on every post representing the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. A fun photo activity is for everybody in your group to take pictures with their zodiac symbol unless you were born in the year of the rat! There is also free parking which is shocking considering its central location.
Ocean Expo Park
The Ocean Expo Park located in Motobu consists of 3 zones – Ocean Life, Tropical Greenery, and History and Culture. The Ocean Life zone contains the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. Even though it costs 1,800 yen to see the entire aquarium, there are several places within this park that are free. We were able to see the spectacular dolphin show, Dolphin Lagoon, Sea Turtle Pool, Manatee Pool, and the Emerald Beach free of charge. The dolphin show was one of the best I’ve seen in Japan. The Tropical Greenery zone offers over 2,000 kinds of orchids and other botanical life that are found in Okinawa. It also hosts variety of events such as bass fishing and an insect exhibit. The History and Culture zone displays an old Okinawan village where tourists can experience how Okinawans used to live when it was still called the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Eisa Show at Okinawa World
This is an Okinawan theme park that covers different aspects of the Ryukyu Kingdom. They charge 1,600 yen per adult to tour the whole place; however, visitors can see the superb Eisa dance show for free. The show lasts about 25 minutes and is the most exciting thing about this theme park. The well-trained Eisa dancers entertain the audience with their acrobatic moves and drum beats. It’s also fun to see the dancers interact with the crowd.
During the show I was at, two dancers dressed in the lion dance gear pretended to bite the head of one of the school girls watching the show. I found out later that lion dancers traditionally bite the head of children to protect them against evil spirits or sickness. They also have a souvenir shop at Okinawa World where you can buy Okinawan snacks and funny T-shirts.
Okinawa Peace Memorial Park
I really enjoy learning about history, so the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park is a place I have visited many times. This park was made to commemorate the death of soldiers and civilians during WWII in Okinawa. A must-see is the Cornerstone of Peace. Visitors can see wavelike rows after rows of stones with the names of deceased Japanese and American soldiers as well as civilians engraved on each of them. There is also a library and museum where visitors can learn more about the battle fought in Okinawa. Most of the park is free except for the museum. Several gift shops within the park have some of the best deals on Okinawan souvenirs on the island.
Naha is home to the Naminoue Shrine which literally means “Above the Waves Shrine.” It is one of the more famous religious places in Okinawa built on a steep cliff right next to Naminoue beach. At the bottom, there is a gigantic Japanese gate or torii gate that leads to the shrine. The path is a little bit of a climb, so those of us who are out of shape need to keep that in mind. Once you arrive at the top, you will see a temple with Okinawan and Japanese designs. This is where worshippers pray albeit outside the temple. You will notice that they put money in a donations box, hit a bell with the rope hanging from the temple, and then say a prayer. It usually isn’t that crowded unless you happen to come by during a festival which is highly recommended. During the New Year’s celebration, it is particularly fun with makeshift shops setup throughout the area.
By Stan Byme