October 31, 2018 – Naha, Japan
Back to Japan! After a lovely experience in Shanghai, our next port of call is Naha, Okinawa on the very southern part of the country. This is the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Shuri Castle is located within the borders of today’s Naha City. However, since Naha was almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, only few of the city’s buildings predate the war.
Southern Okinawa was the site of the biggest battles during World War II, and there are many sites commemorating the conflict.
Lying at roughly the same latitude as Hawaii, Florida, and the Bahamas, Naha and Okinawa enjoys similar mild sub-tropical weather. The comparison with Hawaii, Florida, and the Bahamas is particularly apt as Naha, and Okinawa as a whole, are major vacation destinations for Japanese and overseas visitors from China, Korea, Taiwan and countries further afield (like Canada).
The big draw for us was Shuri Castle. From the ship, we walked to the monorail station which delivered us close to the castle.
Shuri Castle served as the administrative center and residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries until Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879. The castle is included as one of the UNESCO World Heritage designated Castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom sites. Originally built in the late 1300s, it played an integral role in the political unification of the island. Wars and fires destroyed the castle multiple times over the centuries, most recently in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The current buildings are beautiful reconstructions dating from 1992. The approach to the castle’s central buildings leads through multiple gates, including the well known Shureimon Gate.
On the top of the hill stands the castel’s main hall, the Seiden. The former venue of major affairs of state and ceremonies, the Seiden is the most lavishly decorated building and a landmark of Okinawa. Its architectural design and vermilion color differ significantly with those of castles on mainland Japan.
Una Plaza extends in front of the Seiden and was used for ceremonies in the past.
It is encircled on the other three sides by other buildings. The Hokuden (North Hall) which was used as the Kingdom’s government offices where administrative procedures and documents were prepared and conferences of senior state-men were held. Also, when messengers from China arrived this building was used to hold feasts to greet and entertain them.
The Nanden (South Hall) was used to celebrate Japanese New Years and seasonal festivals.
The Hoshinmon (Hoshin Gate) is the last gate one walks through to get to Seiden.
The interiors of the castle buildings can be explored by visitors in a circular route, beginning with the Nanden. Informative exhibits are on display outlining the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom as well as the interaction with the Japanese mainland and China. Historical artifacts, both made on the island and received during foreign trade, are also on display. While the interiors of the Hokuden and Nanden are constructed like modern museums, the interior of the Seiden has been rebuilt in its original style.
We were able to get a feel for the splendor that surrounded the Ryukyu kings. A replica of the king’s throne is among the exhibits.
After our visit to the castle, we found a lovely Japanese restaurant…very zen with good food. Karen had a fried pork dish and I had a Soba noodle dish with a couple of spareribs. Both were very tasty!
There is a legend about Shisa – The Guardian Lions of Okinawa. According to the story, the villagers were regularly attacked by a giant dragon. One day, on the occasion of a visit from the king of the Ryukyu archipelago, one of the village priestesses noticed the Shisa figure hanging from a necklace around his neck, which he had received from a Chinese diplomat in Shuri. As the monster was ready to attack, the priestess asked the king to hold up the necklace to the monster. There rose a thundering roar and the Shisha came to life, appealing to an enormous rock that fell from the sky and crushed the dragon’s tail. Unable to move, the dragon died and was later transformed into a forest. To this day, Shisha or “lion” are found everywhere in Okinawa because they are believed to provide protection. These are some of the many, many Shisa that we saw around town.
That’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed our stop in Naha, Okinawa. Thanks for reading along as we continue our journey through Asia!