Shuri Castle complex

We arrived in Okinawa at about noon. This was my first trip to Okinawa, and one of the first thing that impressed me was all the orchids in the airport. They were all over the place, and they were beautiful - the first reminder that we were in a subtropical place.


Ryukyu LunchWe took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, and checked in, and then we took a taxi to Shuri,  where we had lunch. Ryukyu cuisine is delicious, and we enjoyed it everywhere that we ate it, but this was one of the best meals that we had. We were introduced to some of the basic ingredients of Ryukyu cuisine, including pork and sweet potatoes.



Shuri Castle roadOkinawa limestoneAfter lunch, we walked up to the Shuri Castle complex. The road we walked on was an old, traditional one, paved with Okinawa limestone.Not many remnants survive from before World War II in Shuri, but this road does. Shuri Castle is at the top of a hill, so the hill was steep. On the way, we walked a little way off the road to see six old trees. There used to be many of these old trees in and around the Shuri Castle complex, but now few remain.



Shurei GateWhen we got to the castle complex, we saw Shurei Gate, which is a symbol of Okinawa. Shurei Gate was the second gate of the castle on what was the main road leading up to the castle. (The first gate no longer exists.)


Kankai GateThere has been a castle on this site from the 12th century, but it became especially important when the three separate kingdoms on Okinawa were united in the early 15th century. The architecture shows a strong influence from China. During World War II, most of the castle castle wallsbuildings as well as the walls were destroyed, but in recent years, many of the structures have been reconstructed.The castle is entered through a series of gates. We first went through the Kankaimon. RokokumonThere was an open area, where we got a view of the surrounding area and also saw a sundial. Next we went through the Roukokumon and then the Koufukumon and finally the Houshinmon, which led into the courtyard in front of the "Seiden" -- the main hall.The courtyard has stripes on two sides of an aisle. HoushinmonBased on the models that we saw, these lines were where the court officials lined up during ceremonies. We entered through the Nanden, which had displays about the castle and its history, and walked through to the SeidenSeiden, the main part of the castle.We entered through the Nanden, which had displays about the castle and its history, and walked through to the Seiden, the main part of the castle. CourtyardWe saw the throne of the King of the Ryukyus on the first floor. On the second floor, we saw two more thrones, which faced an opening overlooking the courtyard.ThroneThis was where the king and queen sat during ceremonies that took place in the courtyard. Finally we went through the Hokuden. It had more displays, and also an audiovisual program which showed how the castle was reconstructed.  HokudenThey used the same techniques used by the original Ryukyu craftsmen, which did not use nails.



Ryukyu DancingAfter we explored the castle, we saw a performance of traditional Okinawan dance. It started with "Yotsutake," a tradtional court dance and also had various kinds of other dance. One thing that I noticed was that all the dancers were women, even those wearing men's costumes. I don't know if it is a tradition that only women dance in these dances or if men are not particularly interested in learning traditional dance.



EnkakujiBenzaitendo After the dance, we walked around in the castle park and saw some other structures, including the Sonohyan-utaki gate, from which the king departed the castle, and the main gate of the Enkakuji Temple. Also, we saw Enkanchi Pond, which has a small island with a shrine on it called Benzaitendo. It was originally built to house Buddhist sutras that were a gift from the king of Korea. There is a nice arched bridge that connects the island to the shore. We walked along the shore of the pond and then along the shore of Ryutan Lake, which was very pleasant.



TamaudonTamaudonWe also visited the Tamaudun Royal Mausoleum. It was a building with three sections. In the center section, the body of the dead royal family member was left in the center part of the building until they decayed, and then the bones were washed.The bones of the kings and queens were stored in the room on the right, inside ceramic boxes, and the bones of the other members of the royal family were stored in the room on the right side. TamaudonIn addition to the building itself, there was a small museum which explained the use of this building and had some pictures of funeral processions.



AwamoriRyukyu CousineAfter going back to the hotel to rest, we went to a restaurant called Yotsutake, which has traditional Ryukyu cuisine as well as dances. The food was really good, as usual. (At this restaurant, they served "court cuisine," which is what was eaten by the royal family and courtiers.) Among the dishes we had were rafute (pork cooked for hours in soy sauce, ginger, and amawari, which is the traditional Okinawa sake), kombu (seaweed, which was a lot better than it sounds), beniimo (purple sweet potato), Jiyimami tofu (a kind of tofu with a strong flavor, made from peanuts), and fresh pineapple. We also tried awamori, the traditional Okinawa sake.Ryukyu DanceRyukyu DanceAmong the dances, a couple were the same dances as we had seen at the castle, plus others. The dance called "yotsutake," after which the restaurant is named, was a traditional court dance. Dancers wear a yellow print kimono and large red and blue headdresses, so they look quite striking.The "peasant" dances were danced in much simpler costumes and were more lively than the court dances. court dancesIt was a very enjoyable evening. (We ate Ryukyu cuisine for most of our meals, but I won't mention it every time. However, we did enjoy it very much. It is an interesting combination of Japanese and Chinese cuisines.)


One of the sad things about Okinawa was how ugly the cities are. Every city I saw was mainly made up of buildings that looked like they were put up quickly and cheaply after the war. I found it rather depressing, and as beautiful as the scenery was, I think I would have found it hard to live there.