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Dacholand is Ostrich Paradise

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2003-03-15

If you're ever up in the Nakijin area, one of the most interesting places on Okinawa to check out is Dacholand--Ostrich Land. Though the drive is a long one from almost every location on Okinawa, it's well worth it, especially if this is just one of a few stops on a trip up north.

This small park is an ostrich paradise where you can watch the ostriches, feed them by hand, learn a bit about them, and even eat an ostrich steak. Some of you might be a bit intimidated by the thought of eating ostrich, but I assure you, it's no different than eating a beef steak. Regardless of whether you'd rather watch the ostriches than eat them, there's plenty of fun for the whole family just waiting for you at Dacholand.

Dacholand is a park in the style of an African savanna. From the moment you enter the zoo's gate after paying a small admission fee, you'll see dozens of ostriches wandering around in their pens, napping in the shade, and chasing each other. There's a large box near the entrance with plants for you to feed the ostriches. It's really quite interesting to feed these giant birds by hand. Though their sheer size is quite intimidating to stand up next to, they're really precise when you feed them so you don't have to worry much about being bit. Ostriches can grow between 6 and 9 feet tall and weigh between 150 and 300 pounds. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous feeding the birds, but the fear quickly went away.

I was told that if they accidentally pecked my hand, it wouldn't hurt at all. I never had the chance to find out though. The farm also had a pen of baby ostriches. These were by far the cutest of them all. They were so small and they'd just stare at you as if you were as interesting to them as they were to you.

Dacholand was created because after the 1975 Expo, this area was lacking in any other major tourist attractions and other means of attracting outsiders. The founders wanted to make the area more popular and fun. There was a lot of land available, but few people were doing anything with it. So, the creators of Dacholand decided to try and do something good and useful on Okinawa and began thinking about what other places in the world have that Okinawa is missing. They finally came up with the idea of ostrich farming.

They wanted to breed ostriches to sell to big cities. Tourists, however, can also come and pet the birds and watch them. As for the future, the owners hope that, with the success of Dacholand, more people will be able to work here and that the small business could put a dent on Okinawa's unemployment.

The story of Dacholand starts in the late 1980's. From 1987 - 1989, the owners visited Israel every year to see ostrich farms there. In May 1990, they invited Danny Schaefer, a professional ostrich breeder, to come see if Okinawa would be suitable for ostrich venture, and in October 1990, the first 100 baby ostriches were brought in from Southern Africa, and professionals came from Israel. Of the 100, only 10 survived the first year due to the cold weather and the staff's lack of experience. In April 1997, Dacholand finally opened to tourists.

A few interesting facts about the ostrich: they are the largest species of bird in the world and can run as fast as 30 to 50 miles per hour! They live 40 to 50 years, but they should be eaten in their first or second year if they are raised as food. Ostriches begin laying eggs after their first year, and their breeding time is from mid March to August or September on Okinawa. An average ostrich egg is 6 inches in length, 5 inches wide, and weighs about three pounds. All in all, ostriches lay about 30 to 40 eggs per year at Dacholand.

Since Japanese law prohibits killing ostriches for food, Dacholand's ostrich meat is all imported from Africa. "Some prefectures can kill and eat ostriches," says Masai Nakasone, an ostrich breeder/keeper who has worked at the farm for four years. "Here they are all for pets, selling, and tourism, but the law against killing ostriches for food may change in the near future."

If you feel the urge, you can also sit on an ostrich and have your picture taken for 400. However, this is not available on rainy days. On days when the park is full of visitors, the price drops to 200. Sitting on an ostrich was quite the experience. You really get a feel for how big and powerful they are. It's like sitting on a rock! The big bird was very calm the whole time and allowed me to pet it's head, neck, and back.

Dacholand also has a small restaurant serving delicious ostrich dishes and other local Okinawan meals. The ostrich steak with rice and soup can be ordered in two sizes: large (1,500) or regular (1,200). If you don't feel like making a meal out of ostrich meat and only want a taste, you can order one large order for two people. Raw ostrich sashimi is also available for 1,000, and ostrich carpaccio and ostrich tataki (half-raw) can both be ordered for (1,200).

The meat is very, very tasty! There was no strangeness at all. In fact, ostrich tastes more like beef than bird. You'll certainly be missing out if you don't try it at least once.

The admission to the park is 500 for adults 18 and older and 250 for middle school students and younger children. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday.

To get to the Dacholand, head North on Highway 58 past Nago city. After passing a large baseball stadium continue straight and about two kilometers later turn left after passing a toy store. After crossing a bridge turn left. You'll go through two tunnels. Keep to your left and you'll eventually see signs announcing Dacholand. These will lead you right up to the parking lot. For more information, check out their website (Japanese) at www.dacholand.co.jp. Their telephone number is 098-056-5608.

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