Museum gives in depth look at life in Pacific

Museum gives in depth look at life in Pacific

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Sitting in the shadows of the popular Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and its gigantic whale sharks at Ocean Expo Park, is an attraction that receives little fanfare but is big on providing an in depth look into the lives of Pacific Islanders.

Located in the huge, rust-colored building near the water fountain that leads to the main level of the park, the Oceanic Culture Museum features numerous exhibits, countless articles, a state-of-the-art video mapping display and planetarium that gets you lost in space.

“This museum enables you to physically experience the lives, achievements of Pacific Islanders and learn from their wisdom,” said museum guide Ayako Omine.

Omine said you can gain an appreciation for the Pacific Islander’s way of life and how they navigated across the Pacific Ocean thousands of years ago. Included in the exhibits, which feature Japanese and English descriptions, is original clothing, fishing equipment and canoes.

Locally-built canoes are really unique and the most important part of exhibition, according to Omine. “Among the displayed canoes, a must-see is a Micronesian canoe called Lien Polowat,” she said.

The Lien Polowat that is housed in the museum was actually built a couple of years ago by Polowat locals using the island’s traditional shipbuilding methods. Part of the museum’s renewal project when it was refurbished and reopened in 2013, the canoe successfully sailed 500 miles to Guam using traditional Pacific Islander. No GPS or other modern navigation system was used during the voyage, Omine said.

You can take a close look at this monumental canoe on the second floor, where you can also see a floor-wide map of the Pacific Ocean and wide-screen monitor display. The wide screen and floor map show various dynamic video stories using high-tech projection mapping.

The projection mapping makes it look like dolphins, turtles and schools of fish are popping out of the screen, exciting children who visit, according to Omine, who said a free 20-minute guided tour (in Japanese) is also available.

The most popular attraction in the museum, according to Omine, is its planetarium. The cutting-edge hall shows you breathtaking skies with 140 million stars on a large dome screen. Just sit back in one of the comfortable reclining chairs and gaze at the shimmering splendor during one of the several 30-minute shows that run throughout the day.

One of the shows, Okinawa nuchura Bushi (Beautiful Stars of Okinawa), reproduces stars and constellations that can be observed while on Okinawa. Another, “Adventure of Roy and his friends,” gives you a close look at the Micronesian “star-navigation” method the Polowat team used during its 500-mile voyage to Guam in the Lien Polowat.

These planetarium shows can be enjoyed not only in Japanese, but also in English, Pekingese, Cantonese and Korean. Before going to your seat, be sure to a free English earphone-guide. Comments are carefully timed to coincide with the action on the screen.

On weekends and holidays, the museum offers an art class where you can make colorful masks and a star chart of the Okinawan sky.

“Since the reopening, I have often heard visitors saying ‘this is the most beautiful museum in the world,’ Omine said. “I am sure you will like this museum when you visit.”

Oceanic Culture Museum

Hours: March – September, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., October to February, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Admission: Adult 170 yen (discount rate is applied to groups of 20 or more people)
Location: Within the Ocean Expo Park, 424 Ishikawa, Motobu-cho, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa
Tel: 0980-48-2741 (Ocean Expo Park Management Center)
How to get there:
Take the expressway or Highway 58 north to Nago and continue on Highway 449 to Motobu. The route to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is well marked.

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