Saturday, May 11, 2013

Shuri Castle - Japan 2013 trip report part 13

The weather may have limited our options in Okinawa, but it's kind of obligatory that you go to Shuri Castle (Shuri-jo), so we braved the rain and fog. It actually ended up giving the place kind of a period-movie look - somehow it's easier to pretend you're really in the 1500's when the atmosphere's a bit dank. This castle was the seat of both political and military power in the old Ryukyuan Kingdom, when Okinawa was an independent country.

The path upward. Like most castles in Japan or China, Shurijo is up on one of the highest hills in the area - so you do a lot of climbing.

And the view downward to the surrounding area from inside the castle grounds. You can imagine how the king would have watched over his minions, and kept attackers at bay. It actually is genuinely interesting being in a place like this - it's very easy to put yourselves in the shoes of a castle guard and imagine what he would have been thinking as he saw this same view 500 years ago.

This is the main building, where the king would have lived.

Actually, Shuri-jo was almost totally destroyed during WWII, and this is a rebuilt structure. This doesn't mean as much in Japan as it does in the US - we're very hung up on originality, mostly because our country is so young that we still have a lot of our original historic buildings. Those we've lost have been replaced with strip malls more often than not, making us even more protective of the ones that remain.

But Japan (and Okinawa) are old enough that their historic buildings have often been rebuilt many times over already. By the time our country was born in 1776, this castle had already been here for 400 years, and had burned down and been completely rebuilt at least twice. So what's another rebuild after WWII?

This is one of those little things about Japan that I think most people probably don't realize (including tourists at these types of sites). I don't think any of the historic buildings I've been to in Japan are really more than about 40 years old, yet they remain major tourist attractions because the Japanese don't care about how old a piece of wood is, they care about the history of a place. And there seems to be a defiance about letting anyone destroy that history - they are going to rebuild things exactly as they were, whatever the cost.

This is part of the interior. My wife says you couldn't go inside at all when she came here during high school - probably it hadn't been rebuilt yet! Anyway I believe this is where the king's wife would have sat (I'm not sure if she was actually ranked a "queen"). The king's throne room is a lot more understated - basically just a raised platform in a plain room; not even a chair. All this ornate painting and decoration was associated with femininity.

I love miniatures. This is what the outdoor plaza above would have looked like during the coronation ceremony (at least I think that's what the sign said here).

The weather cleared up enough for me to buy this crazy ice cream. I actually don't remember all these flavors but none of them were what you'd expect by looking at it. I think one of them was persimmon, and I do remember the purple was sweet potato!

Like anyplace else touristy in Japan - including religious sites - there's a little village of souvenir stands and snack bars on the way down the hill, and there's a real restaurant that my wife said was also new.

The hill going down is lined with these trees with creepy above-ground roots!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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