Okinawa has a unique culture that differs considerably from that of mainland Japan. Until the islands were invaded by the Satsuma domain (present day Kagoshima Prefecture) in 1609, Okinawa existed as an entirely separate country from Japan, known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. I’ve mention the Ryukyu Kingdom several times before in other posts. The history here is fascinating. It’s been fun to imagine what life was like. After the invasion, the Ryukyu Kingdom served as a tributary state to Japan, but continued to be governed by the royal family from Shuri Castle. It was not until 1879 that the kingdom was abolished and incorporated into Japan as the Okinawa Prefecture. Okay Katie, I know you think this is gibberish, but I have to write the history with our pictures so I won’t forget several years from now when we have left the island! And yes, some of it is Japanese if that makes you feel better! ;o)
Castles, known as “gusuku” in the Okinawan language, are dotted all over Okinawa. One of the first castles we came upon was the Shuri Castle. It’s very well known, and after visiting we really felt like we got a good taste of the unique cultural and history of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Shuri was the capital of the Ryukyu Kindgom. As you can imagine, the Shuri Castle was quite the happening place! The castle played a huge part in unifying the island politically. The castle was originally built in the1300’s, but was destroyed multiple times by wars and fires over the centuries. The most recent destruction came in 1945 with The Battle of Okinawa. The current castle and surrounding buildings were reconstructed in 1992.
There are several entrances to the castle, and the kids had a map that they got to put stamps on when we found a gate, building, or site. They loved it, and were rewarded with stickers at the end of our explorations. We entered the castle through the popular Shureimon Gate.
We started out the trek to the castle with the stroller, and a cooler full of drinks, but soon realized that there were WAY TOO MANY stairs. We played around the gate while Daddy took the stroller back to the car! One thing we’ve learned here is that most places aren’t stroller friendly. If they are, you miss a lot if you go that route.
Nathan always chose the unconventional way of climbing the stairs, and tried very hard to leap off the steps into the dragon fountain! We drew a lot of attention from the locals!
This is Kennedy at the bell house. The kids had fun beating the bell around, and Nathan nearly ripped the doors off the bell house! The strength of a child!
Once we climbed to the top of the hill, we came to the castle’s main hall called the Seiden. It was the fanciest and brightest building of the castle, and it had a big courtyard called the Una Plaza that extended in front of the Seiden. This courtyard was used for ceremonies. Three other Halls circled the main castle and the courtyard: the Hokuden (North Hall), Nanden (South Hall), and the Hoshinmon (Hoshin Gate). The Hokuden and Nanden served as administrative buildings and venues to welcome envoys from China and mainland Japan respectively. If you visit the castle around the New Year, they do a reenactment of what it was like, and the locals come to pay respect. We were able to enter the castle and see how vibrate and fancy it was inside. It was intersting to learn how much the Chinese really have influenced Okinawa. It really gives Okinawa a unique flair that sets it apart from mainland Japan.
As Kennedy was striking a pose, a gaggle of Japanese high school aged girls had gathered around the kids to watch them. There was a continuous chatter of, “kawaii neh!” The girls thought the kids were so cute! Poor little Nathan got his head rubbed about a million times! The girls wanted a picture with the kids. I think Kennedy and Nathan have found it interesting to have so many locals want to take pictures with them. We were able to see the King and Queens thrones, their crowns, and other interesting ceremonial pieces like the tea carts and rooms.
After exploring the main buildings, we were able to explore the grounds a bit more. Without fail, Nathan tried to climb every castle wall!
Somehow in our wanderings, we ended up on a balcony off of the main building. Pretty sure that we went the wrong way to exit. Too bad we couldn’t read the signs! We decided to put on a little show for the locals while we were up there. The kids and I were just being silly. Sometimes it’s really fun living in a foreign country where you can’t read or understand most of what goes on around you!
After we found our way back to the courtyard, we discovered a tent where a geisha was dancing. She was beautiful, and all her movements were very precise, and controlled. Kennedy said it well, when she said, “It looks like she’s dancing in slow motion!”
The kids got a good workout, especially Nathan with his little man legs! We hiked all over the castle grounds. We should have counted stairs, but we didn’t! He was all sweaty, and it made the ends of his hair curl up so cute!!
It was about here that Kennedy realized that she had drunk all her water, and now needed a potty! We raced down the path back towards the car snapping pictures as we went. Hey, we couldn’t miss too many photo opportunities! Right???
Luckily we found the restrooms, and a restaurant. What more could you ask for! We had the whole place to ourselves, and the waitresses would literally run to serve us. I’ve never had service like that in my life! We ordered Soba noodles, and they were delicious. It has been very fun to see the kids soak in all the new history, culture, and language. Kennedy especially seems to find the reality of castles fascinating. I don’t blame her, I do too! One castle explored, and many more to explore in the future!