If you would’ve told me I’d ever touch a snake in my lifetime, I would’ve said you were crazy. But that’s exactly what I did in Okinawa.
After visiting the Shuri Castle and then grabbing a quick udon lunch in Naha, my family and I boarded our private tour bus and traveled roughly 8 miles to a city called Nanjo to check out Okinawa World, a tourist attraction featuring native snakes, caves and cultural shows.
Upon arrival, we first bought tickets to see a habu show — or a snake show. Habu is a species of venomous snake endemic to the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.
Apparently, the habu museum at Okinawa World used to have a habu vs. mongoose show in which the two creatures would fight to their death. However, due to animal cruelty issues, the show had been discontinued.
However, there was still a habu show in a small theater, where a couple of presenters showed off different types of snakes and performed some exhilarating albeit cheesy demonstrations. Speaking strictly Japanese, I struggled to figure out what the female and male presenters were saying as they calmly held and passed snakes to each other.
Instead of a habu vs. mongoose brawl, another demonstration pitted them against each other in a swimming race, with the creatures scampering across separate water-filled tubes.
After the show, I followed the crowd out of the theater and waited with my Uncle Kenzo for the rest of my family.
We perused the exhibit for a bit, examining the different reptiles native to Okinawa.
Five minutes passed. Then, 10 minutes.
Where was everyone?
I went back into the theater and saw that almost my entire family and been waiting in line … to take a photo with a snake around their shoulders! Were they crazy?!
As I approached them in a line that went up the stairs, my Uncle Jin asked if I wanted to take a photo with a snake too. He had to have been joking, I thought!
After mulling it over for a few minutes, I decided, what the heck! You only live once, right?
Plus, this snake was obviously nonvenomous.
I joined some of my cousins for the photo as the two presenters helped drape the snake over our shoulders.
If you were curious as to what it’s like to have a snake on your shoulders … it’s probably unlike anything you’d ever experienced before, so the best way to describe it is that it was heavy, cold and rubbery.
Feeling quite accomplished, we then walked over to an amphitheater, where we watched what’s called Eisa — a vibrant traditional Okinawan dance — as well as a Shimshimai lion dance. Both were accompanied by taiko drumming.
(Side note: Photos and videos were not allowed.)
On the way to our next destination in Okinawa World, there was a booth outside for visitors to take photos with another giant python. So of course, we stopped for the photo op, because, why not?
Then, we made our way to the Gyokusendo Cave, the longest cave in Okinawa and one of the longest in all of Japan at 3 miles.
There’s a walking path with railings, making the trek through the entirety of the cave generally easy for most. However, I do have to caution anyone thinking of checking it out to watch your step as the walking path may be a little slippery because of how wet it is inside. And obviously it’s dark, but there is enough lighting to help with navigation.
But on the other hand, this cave experience was also a cinch compared to my last cave experience at Manjanggul Cave on South Korea’s Jeju Island, where it was much darker, wetter and also did not include a walking path. So not only was the ground unstable — it was almost like walking on rocks — but it was also really slippery.
The Gyokusendo Cave, however, felt much safer and more pedestrian friendly. I’d take this cave over the Manjanggul Cave any day.
Walking through the interior, there were spectacular stalactites and stalagmites at every turn of the head, and fountains with underwater lighting that created a beautiful blue glow.
After exiting the cave on what was quite possibly the longest escalator I’d ever been on, we headed back to the bus and made our way back to the hotel to get ready to end our day with a delicious yakiniku meal at my cousins’ uncle’s restaurant.