Golden Week: What is it and why should I know about it?


It here in Okinawa you’re probably wondering what is all the hullabaloo about Golden Week. A lot of travel websites will tell you that it’s a holiday and that there are events but no one seems to ever want to tell you what the actual holidays are. So hey I thought that I’d make a quick blog post telling you all about Golden Week, or as you’ll see it in print GW.

GW is a weeklong celebration of holidays. Throughout the entire week family’s travel and do all the things that we do as Americans for Christmas and New Year’s. They go and visit other family and friends, go visit famous tourist attractions, and enjoy lots and lots of good food.

So what holidays are celebrated during GW? There are four holiday is celebrated during GW. One on April 29 then May 3, 4 and 5. the days in between and sometimes the days prior to and after GW are also treated as holidays depending on where the dates sit on the calendar. April 29 is Showa Day. On this day the former Apple’s birthday is celebrated. May 3 is constitution day. On this day in 1947 the new postwar constitution was put into effect. On May 4 is greenery day which celebrates the environment and nature. This holiday was created because the Emperor love plants and nature. It is almost like Earth Day. Finally on May 5 is children’s day. On this day families pray for the health and future success of their sons by hanging carp streamers and displaying samurai dolls which symbolize strength power and success in life. Although this particular holiday celebrates boys there’s also a festival that celebrates girls in March.

Because GW is such a popular time of year to travel there are many deals and special events to participate in over the course of the week. This is especially true on May 4 and 5 when many children are allowed to participate special events for a discounted rate for even free. You might also find special deals at department stores and restaurants who even offer special menus during GW.

So why do you need to know about GW? Enjoying Okinawa is great during GW however it can also be a nightmare. If you want to avoid crowds and being around a lot of tourists GW is not the time to come here. However, if you are here in Okinawa already and want to take advantage of some great discounts GW may be a great chance for you to do that. There are some other things you might want to consider when coming to Okinawa on GW. The first is that because many tourists visit the island during this time there are many cars on the road and lots of traffic. When driving here during GW be sure to pay close attention. Many other drivers may be confused and trying to read directions making it dangerous if you don’t pay close attention to those who drive in front of you. Also remember that during GW some places will be overly packed with tourists who want to take advantage of the great discounts. If you want to avoid people try not to go to those places that are very popular among tourists like the aquarium and Okinawa world. ‘s with a little bit of consideration and planning GW can be a lot of fun.

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Neo Park – Walk With The Animals


Neo Park is one of the places that I have driven past hundreds of times, fully aware that it is there but never visiting for one reason or another. However, this week during an on island vacation we decided that there was no better time than now to go on in and see what the park had to offer. For my husband and I the first step to enjoying a location is researching information ahead of time. Researching ahead of time not only gives you a clear understanding of what it is that you can expect from the attraction but can also give you a clear understanding of costs and how much of your day will be spent there. To be honest I would say that in general not researching before visiting attractions in Okinawa is putting yourself at a great disadvantage and you’re more likely to be disappointed with your visit. Taking just a few minutes to look at Neo Park’s website allowed us to see that general admission was ¥630 for adults, ¥315 for Juniors and ¥210 for children. There were also other options which would allow you to enhance your experience at the park such as a petting zoo (¥300 each) and a research center (¥300 each). There is also a train ride which is ¥600 for adults and 400¥ for children. If you plan on taking the train ride you can also buy a combination ticket which offers a slight discount and includes general admission as well as the train ride. This option for adults was ¥1000 but prices may be subject to change. I also found that on some blogs and review websites there were some negative comments. These mostly came from English speaking sites so I looked up some Japanese reviews and an entirely different picture was painted. I will briefly touch upon these negative reviews throughout the post when appropriate but overall it’s safe to say that most of them came from misunderstandings and unreasonable expectations as far as I could tell. DSC02625 We arrived at Neo Park around 11:00am which was just a few hours after opening (9:00am). Even though it was midday the park was relatively vacant most likely because it was a Monday during the off season. We purchased out tickets and it was off to the second floor where we would wait to take our train ride. The train ride takes about 30 minutes and will take you around the outer perimeter of the property which gives you a great chance to see what the park has to offer. The ride includes narration regarding the various animals throughout the park however it is in Japanese. Although this ride was a lot of fun (and knowing Japanese I had a basic understanding of what was being said)  you could easily opt out of taking the train ride and save a significant amount of money especially if you are traveling with a large group of family.  Because of our timing we were able to get on the train with minimal wait, however, the area outside the train offered a variety of opportunities to keep yourself entertained while waiting for the next train. A small display area featured images and information regarding Okinawa’s train which was destroyed in WWII. There was also various other train related items to include two large models, tickets and stamps. For the little ones there were also a number of small amusement type rides which could be enjoyed for ¥100 to ¥200 each. Turtles, flowers and tables were also available for those just wanting to enjoy their short wait. DSC02640 Once arriving back at the train station we took a moment to use the restrooms and then we were off to the area which was covered by general admission. Before entering this area there was a small station where you could purchase bird food for ¥200. I imagine that this is not necessary because the birds were friendly enough but who doesn’t want to feed the birds? Once entering this area you will find yourself surrounded by birds of all shapes and sizes. When I say surrounded I want to be absolutely clear. . . you are inside a huge area which with a netted “ceiling”. The birds are free to roam and fly around you. Chances are unless you are in some type of specialized career field or have the opportunity to travel to strange and exotic places this is the closest you will ever get to these beautiful species. DSC02644 DSC02653 We found the birds to be very friendly. Even though I didn’t have food I was able to walk straight up to the birds and take photos. We spent a lot of time in this part of the park because it was just so much fun to feed the birds and to get a close up look at them. I also found it amazing to see the details that would have otherwise been lost if you were looking from afar. DSC02676 Finally we decided to move on to the next part of the park. As we continued to move down the path way, birds following close behind, we had a new perspective on the large wetland area. You could see scores of birds nesting in the trees above and even more resting along the side of the water. We also saw a variety of fruit trees which lined the pathway leading to a caged area with double doors. This is the way of ensuring that animals say in their designated areas. DSC02684 We continued on and found ourselves walking down a tree lined path leading to more beautiful birds. Being that it is still spring there are not a lot of flowers in bloom but during the summer months I imagine that this path would be lush with plant life and flowers. DSC02704 One thing that visitors should take into consideration when at Neo Park is that the animals are free to wonder which means you may see them up closer or you may see them from a far. This beautiful bright colored bird was one of those that we didn’t get a chance to see up close until just one of them happened to notice us and came over. The rest were resting up in a tree. I imagine that if you did not take the time to carefully examine the area as we did you might miss out completely. DSC02722 After going through a tunnel and seeing some fish it was time to visit the petting zoo area. As I mentioned above the petting zoo is not included in general admission and costs ¥300 each to visit. Here you can spend some time with dogs, a pony, goats, Guinea pigs, bunnies, capybara and tortoises. Food can be purchased for the dogs, bunnies and Guinea pigs but it’s not necessary. You can also feed the tortoises and capybara for no charge. DSC02743 DSC02737 The petting zoo was very much worth the price of admission and we had a great time. The animals were well kept, the area was well kept and everyone was well fed as far as we could see despite some negative reviews. Unfortunately I feel that these types of negative reviews come from those who make quick judgements and don’t fully understand the situation. For example the dogs are stationed on stakes in various locations all of which offer shade throughout parts of the day. They are not actually tied down to each stake and the leash can be removed and the dog walked. The same case was true for a small goat. Also it’s important for visitors to understand that dogs are not all young forever. A few of the dogs at the park were getting up there in age and although they were in good condition weren’t as bubbly as a younger puppy might be. It’s also important for visitors to understand that just because the animal isn’t necessarily cared for at the moment that you are there doesn’t mean that they aren’t cared for at all. We happened to be there during a lull after a few families had left and the woman running the area took the dogs for a quick walk around, refilled water, cleaned the goats area and checked on the little bunnies and Guineas. DSC02741 After washing our hands at the bathroom located in the petting zoo area and receiving a spray of disinfectant on our hands before leaving it was off to see the rest of what the park had to offer. This is where you will have the opportunity to grab a quick snack and maybe even ride on a swan boat! This small snack shack has drinks, shaved ice and some other snack items which can be enjoyed during the remainder of your trip. There are benches and small areas to relax for a moment as well. DSC02773 DSC02769 DSC02754 Continue on and you’ll find yourself among some more beautiful animals. This area is also where you can see some bats but unfortunately during our visit they were not around, again a hazard or being in an open air attraction such as this. DSC02783 Last but not least we visited the research center. This is a large building which has been mistaken by a number of non Japanese speaking visitors as the “cafe” because inside it has some tables and drinks for sale. Visiting the research center will cost you ¥300 each which is not the cost to eat here in fact they don’t even serve food as far as I can tell. I imagine that if you wanted to purchase a drink you could have simply explained that you wanted something but did not want to see the exhibit but then again I didn’t ask. DSC02815 In this area you can see various species which are being cared for as a conservation effort. One of these is the Okinawa Rail which I have yet to see in the wild and so I was very interested in seeing one even if it was in captivity for the purpose of research and conservation. There were three rails in this area all of which were very beautiful. DSC02828 One thing to keep in mind about this area is that as it is a conservation research area the animals are kept in cages rather than allowed to roam free. There are a few exceptions but for the most part this is the case. There are two ways to view the animals, from the outside where you can see them through the cage or from the inside where you can see them unobstructed by a window. I chose to view both ways because I had a better opportunity to enjoy them from all sides. Overall we had an absolutely great time at Neo Park and recommend it to anyone who is coming here to Okinawa and wants to have a unique experience unlike any other. There are some things I would recommend, however: – Avoid Summer Months: Everyone wants to do these types of things during the summer but they rarely take heat into consideration. The summer months can be hot here in Okinawa not just for the visitors to the park but also for the animals. Birds may lost some feathers and in some cases animals may even be shaved to help them stay cool. This does not mean that they animals are sick or diseased. – Easy On The Food Bags: This one is mostly for parents who are taking kids. The bags of food are pricy if you’ve got a few kids who all want to toss some handfuls to the birds. Consider bringing small containers for each of your kids and dividing one bag of food among them. This will also avoid the impulse of your kiddle to toss the entire bad out in one shot and you will have a longer experience.  – Skip The Train: Although it’s fun to take a ride on the train if you’re looking for a good time but to save some cash skip the train. With the combo ticket the train ride costed us about ¥400 which would have been ¥600 if we had purchased them separately. Although it was fun because we understood the narration for the most part (in Japanese) all of the areas we saw in the train were areas we walked through later. Simply skipping this area gives you and your family plenty of cash for an ice cream on the way home!

Japanese Public Restrooms – A love hate relationship


Sooner or later everyone’s got to go. In a number of cases, especially if you’re traveling through Japan, this means finding the closest public restroom. Public Restrooms or Public Toilets are one of the many things here in Japan that I have a love hate relationship with and so I thought that today I would share with you some of the good, bad and otherwise about Public Restrooms here in Japan.

What you probably already know: 

If you’ve found yourself researching Japanese toilets you’ve probably become familiar with two types of toilets the first being the squat toilet and the second being the electric toilet. First and foremost let’s take a moment to talk about the squat toilet . The squat toilet is something which could be considered “traditional” or “old fashioned” by some but is still very common today throughout Japan in modern buildings to include tourist attractions and shopping centers. This type of toilet is used by squatting over it which can be great because no contact is made with the actual toilet itself, however, if you have any sort of trouble squatting or suffer from any type of injuries to your hips of knees (like I do) then this toilet can be a nightmare. They are also not often as clean as other toilets because despite being “traditional” in nature I am not convinced that Japanese people actually know how to properly use these squat toilets or prefer to use them. This could honestly be one of those things they keep around to see how tourist react as far as I am concerned because to this day I have never seen a Japanese person actually go into one of these stalls willingly.

The second type of toilet which is known for being popular in Japan is the electric toilet. This is easily identifiable by the 10 to 30 buttons available both on the toilet seat and sometimes on the wall. These toilets will spray, mist, air dry and even sing while you do what you have to do. They can be found in a number of places as well. Although there isn’t really anything scary about these electric toilets they can be a bit of a challenge for parents with young children who are now using the “big girl/boy potty” and like to push buttons. I say this because little bums don’t cover the area which would normally be covered by big bums and sometimes this can result in mommy coming out of the bathroom covered with water.

The awesome stuff you probably don’t know: 

So we know about the toilets but there are also some other pretty awesome things about Japanese public restrooms that you probably didn’t know. First and foremost the cleanliness needs to be mentioned. It’s safe to say that most public restrooms you visit in Japan will be the cleanest that you have ever been to. The floor is usually dry, it doesn’t stink to high heavens and you’re not going to look like you spilled water on your lap if you accidentally bump into the sink. For me this is one of the things that I absolutely love about Japanese public restrooms.

For the fashionistas out there you might even find that in public restrooms located in large shopping complexes the stalls are outfitted with changing stations. This is a small fold down platform which you can stand on while changing outfits. I first saw this in Tokyo while in Sunshine City but then a few years later its way down to shopping centers here in Okinawa.

Parent’s also have some special features they can take advantage of in public restrooms for when nature calls. One that I imagine would be most useful is a child seat which is located in the corner of the bathroom stall. This small seat unfolds offering you a safe place for you to set your child while you take care of yourself. At least one of these stalls can be found in almost every public restroom. Potty training children or those who are trained but have small bums don’t have to worry about falling in as they have a special seat which is child size and can be folded down over the adult size toilet seat. You might even find a child size urinal in the restroom (both mens and women’s).

Something else that is pretty awesome, at least I think so, is the use of co-ed bathrooms. These can usually be found at convenience stores where there is a women’s restroom as well as a men and woman’s restroom. This give women the option of using either of the toilets but unfortunately doesn’t offer much for men. . . sorry guys. This is great for cutting down wait time for the restroom when 3 or 4 women are in line but don’t want to use a toilet because men happen to go in there. I on the other hand could care less.

Some not so great stuff you probably don’t know: 

Like everything else in life public restrooms in Japan have their negatives. One of the things that I find not so great about public restrooms in Japan is the size of the stalls. Although some stalls are large like you might find in the US it is not uncommon to see stalls which are smaller than your average airplane bathroom. What do I mean by small? So small that you have to stand on one side of the stall just to get the door open because there is only about an inch or two of clearance between the door and the toilet bowl. The worst part about these small stalls in my opinion is because there is just no room. It’s like all you can do is stand up and turn around.

Another thing that is not so great about public restrooms here in Japan is the lack of paper towels. Don’t get me wrong it’s true that there are hand dryer machines in some bathrooms around Japan but there are also some without hand dryer machines or paper towels. This usually leaves you with your wet dripping hands wondering what to do next. Do I wipe them on my pants and look like a mess or just walk out of here hands dripping? At times like these I usually find it helpful to bring along a towel of my own. Not only is it something I have on hand during the summertime for various reasons but as a last resort it can be helpful in this type of situation as well.

Finally is the toilet paper. For some reason public restrooms in Japan like to stock up on one ply toilet paper which can make life. . . unpleasant. This is one of the reasons that if I am out for a long day of exploring or traveling I like to bring some toilet paper of my own. Now I realize that this might sound crazy to some of you out there trust me it makes long trips out and about much more enjoyable and worry free especially if you’re going to less traveled places where toilet paper might not be accessible.

 

The Love Hate Relationship 

When all is said and done I have a love hate relationship with Japanese public restrooms. There are some really good things about them and then some not so good things. At the end of the day when you gotta go. . . you gotta go!

The name “pineapple” comes from the words “pine” and “apple” – Pineapple Park


Chances are if you’ve done any type of research on travel through Okinawa you’ve seen something about Pineapple Park. This small but popular attraction seems to weasel it’s way onto a number of tourist “Top 10” lists and so despite what I had read and learned from friends who had visited the attraction I, after 7 years, made the trip.

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Even after having written about such topics as controversial military related issues and Okinawa’s unique history I can’t seem to find a place to start with Pineapple Park so I suppose that the cost of admission will have to do. It’s going to cost you ¥600 for admission if you’re an adult and as often is the case children are less. Once you have paid your admission then it’s through the entrance and off to the right where you will wait in line.

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What’s at the end of this line? Well you’re opportunity to pay anywhere from ¥600 to ¥1200 on a picture of your family with a pineapple character of course! Say “cheezu” for the camera and then it’s off to another line. This line, slightly less anticlimactic than the last, leads you to the infamous pineapple go-cart. This is a standard golf cart which is outfitted with a giant pineapple on the top.

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Once boarding your go-cart you will be given the language option (English, Japanese, Chinese or Korean) and off you go in your self driven go-cart. During your journey your virtual tour guide will in your language of choice give you riveting facts like “The name pineapple comes from the words pine and apple”. . . . . There was also something about ferns which were similar to those featured in the movie Jurassic Park.

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The ride continued on through a variety of different areas all featuring flowers and other jungle type growth which can be found around Okinawa. One nice little area also included a shisa which was standing just before a camera was set up to yet again take a picture of you and your family this time while riding inside the go-cart. You don’t know it yet but this one will also cost you  ¥600.

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Finally we turned a corner and reached the climax of the ride. . . . the king of the pine. . . at least it’s one giant fiberglass pineapple in a field of what seemed to be recently picked or underdeveloped pineapples. I imagine that this would be a site to be seen if you have never been to any of the areas of Okinawa where these are grown for as far as the eye can see. Then in a blink of an eye it was over and we departed out little pineapple go-cart and entered a small gift shop where you could purchase your photos as well as a variety of other items and chow down on some fresh slices of pineapples.

After this first shop it was off to a room which was filled with shells which have been collected from Okinawa as well as other parts of the world. They were quite beautiful and certainly interesting. Personally this could be considered one of the most interesting parts of the entire experience although it has nothing to do with pineapples.From there it’s off to another gift shop where you can purchase a variety of shell related goods as well as the standard tourist type things which you can find in shops all around Okinawa.

The next stop is the part where they make pineapple wine. A small series of cartoon images on the wall illustrate the process (no english here though sorry) and then you can take a sneak peak inside the factory itself. A few more steps and you’re reached the final stretch of shops. In here you’ll see a variety of pineapple related items as well as again your typical items which can be found at other locations around Okinawa. There were cakes and wines which for me did not seem very interesting as they can be purchased elsewhere on island but one thing I did find interesting were the pineapple charcoal facial scrubs and other cosmetic type items. If nothing else they were interesting.

Once you’ve reached the end of these shops you’re done.

Overall I think I can say that this “attraction” is everything I expected: a typical tourist trap. To put it as simply as possible you’re basically paying to enter a series of gift shops featuring items which are available at other main attractions throughout Okinawa such as Kokusai Street. I have skipped Pineapple Park for the entire 7 years I have been here and can honestly say that I wasn’t missing anything.

TYPHOON SEASON PREP: Stocking Up On Supplies


During a storm it doesn’t really matter where you live on Okinawa you are undoubtably going to experience high winds and are at risk for losing power. This of course means that there are some supplies that you should have in your house during typhoon season. Here is a bare minimum list of the things that I personally keep in my house at all times:

– Flashlights 

– Spare batteries 

– Groceries plus 4 days (More info on this below)

– Radio 

– Bottled water

–  Bungie cords and/or tie down material

The list is not long or extensive because it honestly doesn’t have to be. There are really only a few things which are very necessary to ensure that you can get through a less than desirable typhoon situation. Before we move on let’s talk a little about these things because I am sure that there might be some readers who have questions.

Flashlights are pretty self explanatory. They can be very useful when the power goes out especially at night or if you happen to live in a house which does not have access to natural light. I recommend having one flashlight per family member as well as an extra one. It’s also very helpful to ensure that when you hear a typhoon is on the way you take the flashlights and put them in a place which is easily accessible by any and all family members before you lost power. This will ensure that if and when the power goes out you do not find yourself trying to find flashlights or other items in the dark.

As important as having a flashlight may be it is also important to ensure that you have spare batteries so that you can actually use your flashlights. As simple as this might sound I find it important to ensure that you are taking the batteries into consideration when purchasing your flashlights. I recommend getting something which can use standard batteries rather than purchasing some of those big bulky lights which require that huge square battery which no one ever sells or if they do it is very expensive. Personally we have a Maglite which takes D batteries and everything else takes AA so it’s pretty easy to stock up on spare batteries and you can always find what you are looking for.

Now let’s talk about food, the most misunderstood area of typhoon preparation. There are two main reasons that you need to put food at the top of your typhoon prep list. The first is because in some cases a storm can last for a few days which can mean you really can’t head out to the local store and get something to eat. The second is because depending on the severity of the storm food shipments (be they from local farmers or from somewhere else off island) may not make it to the grocery stores. Of course it is also good to have food that won’t spoil and doesn’t need to be cooked if the power goes out but that’s just part of why this area of typhoon prep is important.

So what type of food should you have on hand if a storm is on the way. I strongly recommend 4 days of food (for each family member) which does not require cooking and has a long shelf life. This could be anything from canned foods to granola bars as long as it can be purchased and kept on hand for at least the duration of typhoon season. These items should not be eaten unless absolutely necessary.

You should also ensure that you have enough groceries in your house to get you through the typhoon itself as it has been forecast. This is something that can be done at the first signs of a typhoon in the area and does NOT need to be completed last minute. One thing I like to do is go to the grocery store and purchase items which are easy to make ahead of time and require little clean-up. An example of this would be sandwiches, hotdogs and pasta. I can then prepare them ahead of time and individually wrap them so that I do not have to worry about cooking when the rest of the storm preparations need to take place.

radio is also a helpful tool to have around as it ensures that you can get updates on what is happening with the storm. Here in Okinawa there is an Armed Forces Network here which is in English and can give updates that those who either don’t speak Japanese or might want the comfort of Ensligh updates the information they need throughout the storm. This is something I find moderately useful because most of the updates are TCCOR conditions (which I will discuss in a later post) but it is better than nothing.

Bottled water is also important to have on hand as it is during any storm for a number of reasons. You can choose to go out and purchase bottles of water or do things like fill your bathtub. I prefer to do the bottled water and fill my bathtub only if absolutely necessary.

Finally another item which is often forgotten is the bungie cord and/or tie down material. If you’re living in a house where you’ve got stuff which might go flying through the air with the greatest of ease during a storm then it’s important to have the materials to tie it down. When you actually purchase as tie down material will vary based on what it is that you have around the house. In my case I do not purchase any type of tie down material because I have the ability to bring everything inside the house during a storm but for those of you who have things like trampolines or even the play houses that your kids can’t get enough of out in the yard it is important to ensure that you can get them secured so that they do not cause damage to your property or your neighbor’s property.

As I said this is a short list, simple and to the point but it can only be truly useful if you use it the right way DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE FIRST TYPHOON OF THE SEASON TO GO OUT AND PURCHASE THESE ITEMS!!! I am sorry for the yelling there but it’s really the best tip that I can give any of you who are proactive enough to be reading this. Most people who get here wait until last minute to run out and pick up these things which often leads to last minute panic buying and of course stores running out of necessary items. Last year, for example, there were reports of items no longer being available to those liv ing off base and then shortly there after other stores ran out of stock as well because they could not keep up with the last minute demand. This can all be avoided by getting things early. It is also a good way to not find yourself spending money on things you didn’t need but purchased because you were in that “last minute shopping” frame of mind. I can’t say it enough, all this can be avoided by doing this shopping now. 

What are some things you consider “must have’s” for typhoon season?

Let us know in the comments below.