Saturday, May 9, 2015

Okinawa, part 1

Golden Week is pretty much a 6-day period of back-to-back one-day holidays, including the weekend, which runs from May 1st to the 6th. It's one of the busiest periods for air travel, and it's when all of the airlines raise their rates. However, travel destinations will cut their prices towards the 6th or 7th because that's when everyone starts going back home. So we decided to fly to Okinawa from Kagoshima on the 5th for 2 nights, returning on the 7th (a Thursday and a working day). There is an airport closer to us, in Kirishima, but Hakata, at the northern end of Kyushu, had cheaper rates. We headed out at 9 AM for Chuo station, and took the two-hour bullet train ride up to Fukuoka, and a 15-minute subway ride to Hakata airport. The flight to Naha airport in Okinawa left around 12:45 PM, and we got into Naha just before 3. About 20 minutes later, we hopped on the city view bus and rode that through downtown Naha out to Shuri Castle, which took another hour.

Shuri Castle

("Please be careful in the store.")

Okinawa is a chain of islands extending down to Taiwan and was originally called Ryuukyuu. It was ruled by the Ryuukyuu kings from 1100 AD to 1879. The main island was invaded by Japan in the 1600's, and Ryuukyuu became part of Japan at that time. Shuri castle was the residence of these kings. However, the original buildings were destroyed in the bombing during WWII, and were later restored in the 1950's.

(Entrance gate.)

From the information sign:
"Shurei-mon Gate of Shuri Castle
Okinawa Prefecture Cultural Property (building)
Designated 12 May 1972

"Shurei-mon was formerly the second outer gate of Shuri Castle after the main gate known as Chuuzan-mon. It is thought to have been built during the reign of the Ryuukyuuan King Shou Sei (1527-55).
 The gate was first known as the Taiken-mon and later as the Shuri-mon, names attributable to the plaques bearing the characters read "taiken" (awaited wisdom) and "Shuri" which once decorated it. A plaque with the inscription "Shurei no kuni" (land of propriety) was constructed during the reign of King Shou Ei (1573-88) and decorated the gate during the stays in Ryuukyuu of Chinese investiture envoys. The gate gained its present name, meaning "Gate of Propriety", after this plaque was affixed permanently during the reign of King Shou Shitsu (1648-68).
 The gate is the product of a decorative architectural style in the tradition of Chinese turret gates. It has a three-bay structure and a red-tiled double roof of the hip-and-gable type. The gate stands 7.05 m high and the distance between the two outer pillars is 7.94 m.
 Shurei-mon was designated as a National Treasure in 1933 but was destroyed during the Second World War. The present Shurei-Mon is a reconstruction dating from 1958."

There's a small booth set up in front of the Shurei gate where people can change into costumes and have their photos taken. 2-3 women were dressed up in similar outfits and holding signs advertising the service. I asked if I could take their photo and they said "no". However, pictured above are some tourists that decided to get dressed up for the day.

The castle promotes two hiking courses, one of which is "barrier-free", meaning "no stairs". Both routes lead to the main royal buildings, but the one with stairs comes in from the left, and the one with the ramps comes in from the right.

(Dance stage)

There's a large open space in front of the main buildings, and a stage and ticket tables had been set up for Golden Week for some traditional dances. We arrived just in time for the last performance of the holiday.

It's a very slow dance, punctuated by the clacking of the castanets the women are holding.

The inner front gate. There were a few men acting as greeters at the gate, who were also dressed up in formal costumes, and they seemed unwilling to have their photos taken as well.

The barrier-free path included a route to an observation deck at the highest point on the hill, overlooking Naha. The place looks even more built-over than Tokyo.

The park area between the Shurei gate and the main royal building grounds has a few old trees that resemble the cedars on Yakushima.

The main royal building. There are two other buildings, both looking very plain, to the left and right of the photo, that are used as museums. You start by going to the building to the right, and look at reproductions of paintings of the Ryuukyuu kings. There are various artifacts and textiles, then the route goes into the main building pictured above. For the most part, photos and video are prohibited.

One place where photos are permitted is the main throne room. Here, the king sat on the dragon chair and made formal declarations on matters of law and daily operations of the court.

This is a model that was made of the main building when workers were preparing for reconstruction. It was based on existing building records.

After visiting the castle, we took the city view bus again, this time in to the American village. There, we ate a fast dinner of pork bone ramen. Then, another bus going 2 hours north to the far end of the island to the Loisir hotel, located next door to the Churaumi Aquarium. We got in to the hotel after 8 PM, when the main restaurant had closed, so we just grabbed some snacks from the gift shop and settled into the room for the night.



Komainu (lion-dogs) are EVERYWHERE in Okinawa. Often, they can be found on opposite sides of doorways, or on top of houses.

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