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Spectacular fireworks displays highlight Summer Festival

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-07-15

There’s only one place to be this weekend on Okinawa!

Summer Festival 2005, hosted by Ocean Expo Park northwest of Nago, is promising the island’s largest ever fireworks extravaganza Saturday night. It’s all happening at Emerald Beach in the park. Festival activities run throughout the day, but the real excitement begins in late afternoon.

A four-hour Sunset Concert kicks off at 4pm, featuring a half-dozen bands each performing 25-40 minute sets. On stage will be Heartsglow, Asami Yonetaka, New Towner, Reebus, Hot Dog, Diamantes and High and Mighty.

Organizers say entertainers will take center stage in the order listed. Admission is free, and Summer Festival 2005 planners have built in plenty of food booths to whet every cultural appetite. They also note there’ll be plenty of cold beer to quench the beach thirst. The fireworks are what everyone looks forward to, though, as it is the year’s most spectacular entertainment on the island. This year more than 7,500 pyrotechnics will be launched into the bay off Emerald Beach in a dazzling show that will run more than an hour.

Spectators wanting only the music and the brilliant bursts of exploding fireworks need only plan an afternoon in the Ocean Expo Park. Officials warn that traffic will be heavy, and parking tight, because of the tens of thousands who each year make the fireworks performance their personal mecca.

They recommend that travelers park at the Fishing Port in Nago City, then ride the free shuttle busses to the festival.

We’ve a better recommendation.

Make a day of it at Ocean Expo Park and take in the breathtaking marine life at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. The park opens at 8:30am, well before the festival crowds begin gathering. There’s so much to see at Churaumi, you’ll be amazed at how much can be learned about ocean life in a single day. An early start promises good parking places, although that may prove a mixed blessing as crowds prepare for the drive back to the cities.

An operating note on the Aquarium. Beginning next Thursday, and running through the end of August, the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium extends its hours to accommodate vacationers. The park will open daily at 8am and the aquarium at 8:30am. The aquarium closes at 7pm, while the park will then close at 7:30pm.

Admission is nominal, particularly given an introduction to one of the world’s largest deep water tanks filled with thousands of marine species ranging from the most tiny creatures to the huge whale shark. General adult admission is Y1,800, Y1,200 for high school students, and Y600 for elementary and junior high school students with identification cards. There are group rates available, and also school special packages.

Start the aquarium journey with an examination of the world of coral reefs. There’s a touching pool that’s popular with children of all ages, including the adult ones. Move on to a water observation tour that allows visitors to explore Kuroshio Tank, looking at the gigantic whale sharks and manta rays from an overhead perspective looking into the water.

The eye opener is the Kuroshio Sea Tank, one of the largest in the world. It’s 7,500 tons of water is home to many hundreds of sea species. As you walk the ramps alongside the tank, descending to the depths, you’ll see the seascape and its marine population change. Kuroshio, by the way, means black current.

Churaumi Theater offers a 20-minute show on its high definition screen, with shows running on the hour. A big plus is that there’s English, Korean and Chinese audio interpretation offered by asking the theater staff. We’d also note that you can check out Personal Digital Assistants, if you make arrangements one day in advance, which allow you to explore the entire museum with an “English language guide” seemingly leading you by the hand.

Simply call 098-048-3740 to make a reservation for an English language PDA.

The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is offering many lectures and programs on tropical fish, the aqua lab, exploring the Kuroshio Sea, and dolphin habitats. They are in Japanese, but are fascinating to watch the video and graphics even without understanding the language. Lecture times are posted at the aquarium entrance.

Dolphins are a highlight, especially for children. There are several Churaumi areas with dolphin programs. The Okichan Theater runs four 15-minute programs daily, the Dolphin Studio three shows, and the Dolphin Lagoon has a 20-minute show at 1:30pm. The dolphin tanks are open to public viewing 9:30am~5:30pm.

In the same area as the dolphins there are tanks and exhibits of sharks, turtles and other marine creatures, including the manatee. Cameras are permitted. Strollers are available at no charge, and electric tour cars run routes within the park throughout the day. The one-day excursion ticket is Y200.

Getting There

For most, the route to Ocean Expo Park is north. Take the Expressway to its northern terminus, Kyoda, a run that willl take about an hour to hour-and-a-half. Expressway toll is Y1,000 from Naha to Kyoda. Upon exiting the Expressway, continue north on Highway 58 through Nago City to Route 449, Prefectural Highway 114. It will bring visitors direct to the park. There are also English language signs to guide along the way.

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