Museum teems with Ocean Expo’s best-kept secrets

by Reggie Canto
Stripes Okinawa

Thousands of visitors from all over visit Ocean Expo Park and Churaumi Aquarium – the world’s third-largest aquarium – annually. But many visitors to Motobu’s famed park miss another remarkable attraction – the Oceanic Culture Museum.

Why it is so easily missed is a mystery. It is in a huge, rust-colored building near the fountain at the foot of the steps leading to the main park level. Perhaps it’s because there is no prominent sign marking it, and the hand-carved boats on either side of the unobtrusive entrance give no indication of the amazing exhibits inside.

On a recent visit, one passerby admitted to noticing the structure, but said he assumed it was a storehouse or administrative offices.

But step inside and pay the modest ¥170 ($2.20) entrance fee and soon details of Pacific cultures reveal that it is no mere storehouse.

Among the displays depicting life past and present on the many islands of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia are examples of seagoing craft used by their inhabitants, including some that can be found nowhere else, according to the museum’s descriptions.

A “kula” canoe made of reeds, palm fronds and trees, used by the ancient Trobriand Islanders of Papua New Guinea’s present-day Kiriwina Islands, is one such rarity. Its use has long since ended. The “lakatoi,” a dugout double canoe, is another type of watercraft from New Guinea that is purportedly now found only in the museum.

Other boats ranging in size from small, elaborately decorated dugouts to house-sized vessels demonstrate skills that in many cases are rapidly fading from memory.

PDAs are available for free and offer narratives of the artifacts and displays in several languages, including English. Costumes, implements, and unique cultural objects used in both everyday and ceremonial situations portray the rich heritage of each area and give a good idea of the ingenuity and adaptive capacities of peoples often isolated by vast stretches of ocean.

An added bonus to visiting the museum is the planetarium just outside and above the main building. Admission is included in the museum entrance fee, and shows are scheduled frequently throughout the day.

Although the planetarium shows are in Japanese, the heavenly projections should still be quite interesting to anyone if only for the effect of being lost among the stars.

Weekends can be quite busy at Ocean Expo Park and the crowds inside the aquarium can be shoulder to shoulder, but the wise and curious can enjoy leisurely moments in this “forgotten” part of the park anytime.

Tours to Ocean Expo Park can be booked through Kadena Information, Tickets and Travel (ITT) or through Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) Tours Plus at Camp Foster, but the trek north is easy even on one’s own.

Simply take the expressway or Highway 58 north to Nago and continue on Highway 449 to Motobu. The route to Churumai is well marked.

The museum is open daily in the summer from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and until 5:30 p.m. from October to February.

 

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