At last, the final set of photo's from my trip to Okinawa. :)
March 9th we planned to go to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, the world's largest tropical aquarium. Because we've been told regular bus fares to the aquarium are expensive, we took an organised tour which also included several other attractions, lunch, and was still cheaper than a normal bus ticket. The tour first took us to Cape Manza, a very nice cliff. After this we had lunch at a hotel (very fancy lunch, very nice) and then went to the aquarium. The aquarium was very impressive indeed, especially the main tank. They had very large manta rays, more than 2 metres across! They are beautiful animals, and they look almost like birds with the swimming motion they make. This can be seen in the video attached to this post.
After the aquarium we went to some castle ruins nearby, not incredibly impressive, and finally to a pineapple park. I think this was mainly a commercial agreement between the bus company and the park. Anyway, they had pineapple ice cream (very nice, although the nicest ice cream flavour we discovered during this vacation: that title goes to sugar cane ice cream, and sweet potato ice cream is also high on the list), and you could taste (and buy, of course) pineapple wine (also very nice) and eat as much pineapple as you liked.
On March 10th, we went whale watching in the morning. Although we did see plenty of whales (or two of them, very often), they didn't jump out of the water, so it was only backs and tails unfortunately. After this we went to the Sefa Utaki, a holy grove, one of the most sacred places in Okinawa apparently. Unfortunately it started raining pretty hard. The end of the day was spent on Kokusai-dori (international street), a big shopping street where we'd been before but hadn't looked around properly yet. This also gave me the chance to buy some sweets (Okinawan brown sugar of coure, what else) which I could take to the lab (it's a custom in most Japanese work places to bring souvenirs (usually food) if you've been on a trip). I think you could survive in Okinawa purely on the free samples they have on this street. :)
The final day, March 11th, is poorly represented in the photographs because my camera's battery died. We visited the peace park and the associated museum. The museum provided great insight into the Japanese involvement in World War 2, and of course the Battle of Okinawa in particular. Most impressively, the museum was very objective, painting neither side of the conflict as good or bad guys. One of the better war museums I've ever visited, on par with the one in London. It's truely amazing the horrors the Okinawan population went through (at the hands of both American and Japanese soldiers) during that battle, where the Japanese attempted to draw out the battle as long as possible to give the mainland forces more time, and were told to fight to the last man rather than surrender. Some 120,000 Okinawans died during the battle.
After the peace park we visited a nearby memorial dedicated to a group of more than 200 middle school girls who were forced to become nurses for the army. The memorial museum paints a horrible picture of how the lives of these ordinary girls were destroyed by the war. They were forced to nurse the wounded soldiers in horrible conditions until they were suddenly discharged near the end of the battle and sent outside into the crossfire. Many were killed, and many simply pressed a grenade to their chest and blew themselves up. Only a handful survived. Reading their stories and seeing the pictures was a very emotionally powerful experience for me, and it was quite obvious the same was true for most visitors.
Finally, we went to the airport to take our flight home. Because we hadn't realised just how late this flight would arrive in Tokyo we were a bit concerned we might not catch the last train, but everything went very smooth, we got our luggage back in no time and had more than half an hour to spare in the end.
And thus ended a fantastic vacation, my longest tourist trip so far in Japan. I've got a feeling this won't have been the last time I've gone to Okinawa (if not during the rest of my stay in Japan, I will certainly return at some later point in my life).