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Okinawa World presents midsummer thrills

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2012-08-24

A 300,000-year-old cave, intentional meetings with the deadly Habu snake, and a chance to walk the streets of ancient Shuri Castle town are all awaiting visitors to Okinawa’s foremost theme park, Okinawa World.

Okinawa World located south of the prefecture’s capital city of Naha is more often referred to as Gyokusendo, particularly among natives, but by either name, it’s a place worthy of a full day’s visit. The park’s primary attractions are the cave and the Habu Park, but there’s plenty more to excite –and even thrill—a visitor.

Gyukusendo is actually the name of the 5,000—meter-long cave formed some 300,000 years ago. The nation’s third largest cave, Gyukusendo now has an 890-meter-long promenade open to the public. It’s a beautiful walk –sturdy shoes are strongly recommended — with glimpses at the pools, stalactites and stalagmites that form dozens of different patterns. The inside of the cave is well maintained, and the walking paths are well lit and comfortable.

Habu Museum Park is a multi-faceted adventure. Totally safe, educational and even a bit scary. Habu are Okinawa’s venomous snakes, and the Habu Park has panoramas, exhibits, displays and pictures to explain the slithery creatures to visitors. To fully enjoy the Habu adventure, plan on at least an hour to explore. Entry is ¥600 for adults and ¥500 for those under 18.

The Habu performance shows are conducted daily at 11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The show’s staff is comprised only of females nicknamed the “Habu Girls”. They treat Habu as friends and pets, also showing the battles of old between habu and mongoose. Once fierce battles, the efforts of animal protection associations ended the confrontations, but Habu Museum Park now has swimming races between the two traditional enemies.

The Snake Darkness House is an often overlooked side of the Habu Park, with its exploration a mere ¥300 per person. Visitors wander the dark room with only a flashlight, meandering among the snakes who are moving about freely. None of the snakes or turtles are poisonous, but they are everywhere, including overhead. The Snake Darkness House is open only until September 2nd. The five-minute walk is available throughout the day except during the animal rest period from 1 p.m. ~ 2:30 p.m.

The Ryukyu Kingdom Village is an insight into old time Okinawa, with everything just as it was during the Ryukyu Kingdom. Employees are dressed in traditional Okinawa kimono called bingata, and are available for photographs. Visitors can watch workers making Ryukyu glass, original bingata clothing, weaving, dying, paper making, an insight into making the traditional Okinawa Sanshin musical instrument, Shi-sa pottery, and goods from brown sugar. The buildings are all traditional with red tile roofs, built to resemble a Shuri Castle town.

Traditional Okinawa Eisa performances are four times daily, at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. The more powerful dramatic performances are the two early programs. Aside from eisa, look for the Shishimai or Lion Dance performances, kachashi dance and folk songs live. Best of all, guests get to join in for portions of the program. Each show lasts approximately a half-hour.

Okinawa World’s easy to get to. Take Okinawa Expressway towards the airport and get off at Haebaru Minami exit, then take left onto Tsukayama by-pass (Route 507) that turns into Route 77. Continue straight until the end of the road, which is about 30-minute drive. Turn left and follow signs to “Cave.”

The theme park is open 365 days a year, from 9 a.m. ~ 6 p.m. Last entry daily is at 5 p.m. Admission is ¥1,600 for a pass to all attractions and ¥600 for children, ¥1,200 for adult entry to the cave and village only and ¥600 for kids, ¥1,100 for adults and ¥550 for kids to the Kingdom Village and Habu Center, ¥600 for entry to the village only, and ¥600 for entry to the Habu Park only.

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