Flora and animal lovers will love the Southeast Okinawa Botanical Gardens

Flora and animal lovers will love the Southeast Okinawa Botanical Gardens

Near Camp Shields, plant lovers and those who appreciate greenery will enjoy Tonan Shokubutsu Rakuen, or Southeastern Botanical Gardens. The spacious grounds are home to 1,300 species of plants and trees, including rare species such as Alexander Palm, Baobab trees and Dragon's Blood trees.

In winter, the Botanic Gardens also boast award-winning spectacular illuminations. Since it is located about a 10-minute drive from Camp Shields, you may have visited this beautiful place. But if you haven't, you won't want to miss it.

Growing up in Okinawa, the Botanical Gardens were a popular tourist attraction during school breaks, but I only visited a few times over the years. It's been a while, so I recently made my way to check out the new plants and trees the gardens have offered since my last visit several decades ago.

If, like me, you want to enjoy the gardens first and then the illuminations, I recommend arriving around 3pm. The Tonan Shokubtsu Rakuen Illuminations begin at 5 p.m. and continue until May 26.

Animal feeding

The gardens are divided into two areas: aquatic and botanical. At the box office, the staff recommended seeing the animals at the water park first as they go home at 4pm

When I crossed a bridge over a lake into the central part of the park, a “bird show” was in progress. This work showed two colorful parrots flying back and forth between a hill and a stage located above another lake. I sat on the benches with other visitors to watch the show and noticed a duck napping next to me on the floor. I petted the duck and he made no effort to move or escape. It was as if he was saying that having humans around is just business as usual.

When the show was over, I headed to the carp feeding area and bought a can of feed for 200 yen. I was throwing feed over the sidewalk and noticed that the duck, probably the same duck that had been napping next to me, was right behind me on the boardwalk. It didn't take long for the bird to start pecking at my leg and making noises. Therefore, there was no choice but to share the food with the bird.

Once the food ran out, I left the place trying to escape the hungry duck, which led me to another place along the lake where two goats, a big and a little one, were staring at me. Just like I did with the carp (and duck), I bought some food (leaves) for 200 yen. I would feel guilty if I left them behind without feeding them too.

As I was picking up the leaves, the big goat pushed the little goat aside and snatched the food from my hand. Although it was a little difficult, it was fun to sneak food to the little goats while trying to distract the bigger goats.

At this point in my visit to the Botanical Gardens, I had already spent 400 yen on feeding their animals, so I decided to stop there. However, my resolve quickly crumbled when I entered the capybara Bukugo, the park's capybara farm.

The farm is located in the northwest corner of the water park, and inside the wooden fence I could see visitors happily patting the heads of the adorable furry rodents and feeding them cabbage. I couldn't resist and joined the crowd.

Amber Metcalf, who was there with her family, said this was one of the first places they visited when they went to Okinawa.

“When we have visitors, we usually bring them to see the capybara and the lights,” she said, adding that her family is also a big fan of the turtles at the park’s Kami Kami no Sato Village.

After Metcalfe and her family left, it was my turn to push and feed the capybara. While I was paying 200 yen for a cup of cabbage leaves, a capybara approached me from behind. Before I had a chance to grab a leaf to feed it, the rodent stepped on my foot as if to prevent me from moving to feed the other capybara.

The powerful animal was heavy, and though it did not hurt me to stand on my feet, its toe was bound with an iron grip. He leaned over my hips with his bucket visible. At this point, I gave up on the idea of ​​forcing the animal out of the way, and started feeding it cabbage.

Two girls offered to help me, and while it was a bit embarrassing for me, we ended up laughing about it and I quickly broke free from the friendly, aggressive capybara.

Tropical trees and lighting

Once my stash of cabbage leaves was gone, I had an hour left to enjoy the vegetable garden before the illuminations started. Nearby, dragon's blood trees, native to Yemen, were almost geometric in shape, lending a fairytale atmosphere to the place.

In the Botanical Garden section, Alexander Palms from Australia lined the walkway. The exceptional landscape was a stunning contrast to the surrounding subtropical surroundings.

At 5pm, I returned to the water park area in time to see the lights slowly illuminate the park. From one of the hills in the middle of the area, I could see the lakes sparkling with lights in the shape of lotus leaves and flowers. Against the background of the orange sky above, the lakes, wooden paths, and pavilions were shining with different colors.

The lighting was installed in the shape of flowers, a castle, a carriage, and large cocktail glasses.

There are even lights dedicated to Pokemon. I was amazed by the Pikachu, Squirtle and pokeball lights.

After the sun finally set, the garden was illuminated with beautiful lighting. The stunning plants and trees sparkle at night, a reminder of why Tonan Shukbutsu Rakuen remains such a popular attraction even after all these years.

Heading there

GPS coordinates: 26.375523, 127.806571

hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM (for daytime entertainment areas), 5 PM – 10 PM (for lighting)

Admission fees (daytime attraction): 1,540 yen (about 1,540 yen)

US$10.75, 18+), 1,050 yen (ages 13-17), 600 yen (ages 4-12)

*Entrance fees for the lighting will be 2,150 yen, 1,250 yen, and 750 yen respectively for each age group.

*For those who plan to enjoy both the sights and daylights, the best option is the one-day pass, which costs 2,800 yen, 1,500 yen, and 1,000 yen respectively.

*The lighting will continue until May 26.

Check out the videos!

Video: Okinawa's Tonan Shokubetsu Rakuen area is home to friendly animals and stunning greenery

VIDEO: There's still time to see the Pokémon Winter Illuminations near Camp Shields

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